Downtown Mall central to Comprehensive Plan discussion
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After almost two years of work sessions and public engagement, Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan update is almost complete.
The Planning Commission, which has been leading the update process, met on Tuesday to edit draft versions of the chapters. The commission is scheduled to recommend the updated plan to City Council at their Nov. 20 meeting.
“I’m going to put ‘Final Comp. Plan Work Session’ on my calendar [for Nov. 17],” said Commissioner Lisa Green. “After this many hours, we should be walking out of here with some resolutions, folks. We don’t have much time to go.”
Much of the conversation focused on transportation. Rory Stolzenberg, who was appointed to the Planning Commission in October, has advocated for a transportation chapter that pushes residents to drive less. One of his suggestions has been to phase out the requirement that parking come with residential developments.
“Just be conscious of the impact [of reducing parking spaces]. We’re losing business on the Downtown Mall to 5th Street Station and [the Shops at] Stonefield because parking is so much easier,” said Commissioner Hosea Mitchell.
The Planning Commission also discussed diversity and the character of Charlottesville’s downtown, pedestrian-focused mall. The commission’s fourth phase of community engagement suggested that non-white visitors to the Downtown Mall feel less welcome than their Caucasian counterparts.
Of the people who responded to the question of whether they felt welcome on the Downtown Mall, 15 percent said that they did not feel welcome. Although 24 percent of total survey participants were non-white, 61 percent of those who did not feel welcome fell into that category. Approximately 12.5 percent of total survey participants left the question blank.
Referencing the survey results, the commissioners added a new objective to the plan’s Economic Sustainability chapter to study how to make the Downtown Mall more welcoming across demographic groups. The commissioners also added an objective of studying whether to extend the Downtown Mall to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
“What I had in my head was similar to what New Hill [Development Corp.] is doing: think proactively about how do we make the downtown more inclusive and provide more opportunities,” said Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates.
On Monday, the City Council donated $500,000 to the New Hill Development Corp. to create a financial training program and a small area plan for the Starr Hill neighborhood. The recently-founded organization’s goal is to expand Charlottesville’s African-American middle class.
The Planning Commission may discuss the Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday after their regular meeting. The commission has scheduled their next work session for Saturday, Nov. 17 from 11am to 4pm. If the commission finalizes a draft of the plan on Nov. 20, City Council is expected to review the draft in December.