City seeks to have developers pay for greater share of public infrastructure and affordable housing

A proposal to reduce the residential densities allowed by-right in some areas of downtown Charlottesville has been endorsed by the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on August 12, 2008. A few zoning districts were deferred from consideration after Commissioner Cheri Lewis pointed out discrepancies between the matrix depicting the changes and the actual language contained in the zoning text amendments.

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In May 2008,

City Council approved changes to the building heights allowed by-right

in downtown Charlottesville. A committee was appointed to review those heights after some members of the community became concerned that the City’s 2003 rezoning allowed for too much development to occur in the City’s central districts. Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, said that staff added the density changes to that committee’s final report in 2007, but the two issues were separated at the request of that committee.

South Street, looking east. The right hand side of the road is in the South Street District, which retained the ability to develop at 87 DUA under a SUP

“While our Comprehensive Plan encourages greater density and we desire a greater density in a lot of these corridors, I think we’ve come to an understanding that it’s not the best thing in every particular piece of property,” Tolbert said. He said by lowering the densities required by-right, the City can ask for conditions to be placed on approval of a special use permit (SUP) in those areas. Tolbert said the public can also weigh in, as a public hearing would be required for each SUP.

“We feel like this will give us the ability to a greater density, but with the ability to do it where you can impose conditions to mitigate any concerns that we have,” Tolbert said. He added that the greater densities would also allow the City to capitalize on the

enabling legislation

that will let Charlottesville require up to 5% of housing units be classified as affordable. However, the Commission deferred consideration of that item until a future meeting.

The changes include:

In the South Street District, Tolbert had originally proposed dropping the by-right allowance from 87 to 21 DUA, and totally eliminating any ability for a developer to ask for increased density with an SUP. However, he changed that from 87 to 43 DUA, and allowing up to 87 DUA with an SUP. Some property owners in the South Street area said they should be allowed greater development potential given that Water Street could be developed with up to 240 DUA with the changes. During the public hearing, two South Street residents waited until after midnight to publicly say they supported Tolbert’s revisions.

The Commission dropped consideration of changes in three other districts (RUMD, RUHD, and McIntire-Ridge) after Cheri Lewis noted that the matrix listing the changes did not correspond to the changes in the ordinance. “This is about the fourth time we’ve had this same issue,” Lewis said.

The site of the proposed 9-story Waterhouse building, as viewed from South Street

Commissioner Mike Farruggio asked if the City was looking to increase density in order to get developers to pay for the infrastructure upgrades in order to grant the SUP. Tolbert said the density changes would give the City additional leverage in that process.

“Right now we’re wide open if somebody comes in and proposes a building at some of the higher by-right densities, and we don’t have the utilities to support it,” Tolbert said.
“We don’t have any ability to deny that by-right development because of that. Rather than put the onus of all those upgrades on the taxpayers individually, it shifts some of that burden to the development community.”

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig asked why these changes were not being applied to the Cherry Avenue Mixed Use corridor, a district created in the 2003 rezoning. Tolbert said that may come in the future, but that staff has not performed a thorough review of that area.

In July, the Commission granted special use permits for

two phases of the Grove Square project

, which will see the construction of two four-story buildings on Roosevelt Brown Boulevard.


Earlier in the meeting, the Commission voted to initiate the consideration of a zoning ordinance change to alter bedroom limitations. Jim Tolbert said several owners of large apartment complexes in the University area are concerned that existing regulations force them to create 3 or 4 bedroom apartments, rather than 1 or 2 bedroom units. Staff will come back with a full report within 100 days.

Sean Tubbs

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Charlottesville Tomorrow

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