Note: If you have not yet, it would help for you to read “A Cville Plans Together explainer” before reading this story. (Or perhaps you need a refresher.) Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan review process is a lengthy, complex and nuanced one, and currently, the city is working on a draft of the future land use map, as guided by Cville Plans Together.
Just half an hour before hosting a planned webinar and community comment period Tuesday evening on the draft future land map process, Cville Plans Together announced that it will extend its community comment period to June 13.
Initially, Cville Plans Together planned to close the open comment period on May 31, but a few different factors influenced the decision to postpone it by a couple more weeks.
“We decided to extend the comment period to, one, allow for folks who may just be coming into the engagement process to have time to review all of the draft materials and provide feedback,” said LaToya Thomas, founder and principal of the Washington, D.C.-based Brick and Story consulting firm who is leading the community engagement part of the Cville Plans Together process. “And, two, to define the neighborhoods and populations not currently represented in the feedback we have been hearing to date and target engagement and information to those groups so that they also have time and opportunity to provide feedback during this public comment period.”
“Given that we’ve heard a lot of people press for an extension, from a variety of voices, we felt it was appropriate” to extend the comment period, said Cville Plans Together project manager Jenny Koch, an associate principal planner with Rhodeside & Harwell Inc., the consulting firm hired by the city to assist with the Comprehensive Plan revision.
During a May 19 public meeting, a number of steering committee members (who are also locals) representing a swath of the community from public housing residents to private developers, neighborhood association presidents to housing nonprofit directors, city planning commissioners to food justice advocates and more, expressed a desire for a longer community comment period for a number of reasons.
Some felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had made robust community engagement difficult or that there hadn’t been enough engagement in general. Some were concerned that May was the first time many folks seemed to be aware of the draft future land use map and the entire Comprehensive Plan process, despite engagement efforts. Others wanted more time for more people to read and understand the plan before commenting. Others still were concerned that groups who are often not represented in these conversations, particularly folks of low-wealth, members of historically marginalized communities and renters, had not yet been sufficiently engaged.
Koch hopes that the extra time will allow Cville Plans Together to address these concerns in particular.
“We wanted to both continue to build the number of people we’re hearing from, so that it can be more representative of the Charlottesville population,” she said.
Anecdotally, the consultants do seem to be hearing from certain neighborhoods more than others right now, said Koch, but specific information won’t be available until all of the received comments are read, listened to, synthesized, and more, late in June.
“My hope is that it means we can provide a better plan, on time,” said Lyle Solla-Yates, a member of the Charlottesville Planning Commission and a Cville Plans Together steering committee member, about the two-week extension. Solla-Yates joined the Planning Commission in 2018, not long after the city began its revision of the Comprehensive Plan — which Virginia cities and counties are required to do, by law, every five years — in 2017.
Cville Plans Together encourages all residents — that includes short- and long-term renters, folks without permanent shelter, homeowners, landowners, etc. — to share their thoughts, and in the following ways:
- Cville Plans Together website
- Less intimidating than the full site is the six-page review packet.
- Comment via the survey (includes opportunities to read summaries or full documents)
- Comment via the interactive map
- Send an email to Engage@CvillePlansTogether.com
- Call (833) 752-6428 (share a recorded message or schedule a time to speak with a Cville Plans Together team member)
In addition to engaging folks through the above methods and through a number of community webinars throughout the spring, Cville Plans Together held a series of in-person pop-up events over four days in May. They set up large-scale posters of the draft land use map, handed out flyers, answered questions and encouraged folks to comment, or to learn more and then comment, at Riverview Park, the Downtown Mall, Reid’s Super-Save Market, the Saturday morning farmer’s market and North American Sake Brewery at IX Art Park, the Jefferson School City Center and the Church of the Incarnation.
Cville Plans Together also posts recordings of its virtual meetings to its YouTube channel so that folks who could not attend the virtual sessions can get caught up and comment at a later date via one of the methods above.
Koch said that the Cville Plans Together team has already begun reviewing the comments that have come in so far, and will continue to compile, synthesize and review comments all up until a June 29 public work session with the Charlottesville Planning Commission. During that meeting, Cville Plans Together will share with the Planning Commission “the major things we’ve heard” from all of the community engagement sessions and pathways, said Koch. The team will not be making specific recommendations as to which comments should or should not be prioritized or “accepted” at that time, she added, but the comments will be taken into consideration as Cville Plans Together revises the draft land use map over the summer.
Hundreds upon hundreds of people have called, emailed, posted comments on the interactive map and in the survey, spoken up in public sessions and signed in support of letters submitted by groups like the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition, said Koch. And that’s with two weeks to go and awareness of the entire Cville Plans process still on the rise.
Anyone can sign up to attend that session via Zoom, and the full agenda will be posted online closer to the date (Charlottesville Tomorrow will update this article with that information as soon as it’s available), and Koch wants the community to remember that this land use plan is still in draft form, that it is one step in a lengthy process.