Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Sunday, December 4, 2011




Albemarle County

prepare to update their comprehensive plans, the conversation turned last week to how both communities will meet future housing demands.

“There’s really a need for a diverse mix of housing types in the city and the county,” said Charlie Armstrong, a vice president at

Southern Development


Armstrong was one of several dozen people who attended a workshop on housing held last week by the

Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission


The TJPDC is helping both communities to prepare for the comprehensive plan review process with a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Source: TJPDC

In Charlottesville, 56 percent of the existing housing stock consists of single-family homes, while multi-unit homes make up 43 percent. One percent live in mobile homes. Three-fifths of housing units are rented and the rest are owner-occupied.

In Albemarle, 73 percent of current homes are single-unit, 23 percent are multi-unit and 4 percent are mobile homes. Two-thirds of Albemarle households are owner-occupied and the rest are rentals.

“This is what we would primarily expect to see,” said Summer Frederick, project manager for the TJPDC’s Many Plans, One Community initiative.

Both communities are expected to experience population growth over the next few decades.

In October, county planning staff estimated that there will be 34,000 more residents in Albemarle in 2030. Staff concluded there would need to be between 1,770 and 7,438 new homes to accommodate that population growth.

The report went on to state there are slightly  more than 8,000 housing units in the county that have been approved but not yet built in the county’s designated growth areas.

That work was prepared in advance of a county Planning Commission work session at which

that body voted 4-2 to end further study of several requests to expand the county’s growth area

as part of a Comprehensive Plan review.

However, the

Albemarle Board of Supervisors

will have the chance in early 2012 to discuss whether that is the direction they want to go in.

Armstrong said the county’s recent housing study is contradicted by the market.

“We still have really high, compared to the rest of the country, housing costs,” Armstrong said. “Single-family lots in Albemarle County really haven’t fallen in price that much since the top of the market. That’s an indicator there are still relatively few of them.”

Armstrong said he would support some expansion of the county’s growth area especially in light of the removal of Biscuit Run when

the state of Virginia purchased the property


“I think it’s wise to replace that in the right place, where there is infrastructure, water and sewer, and reasonable road capacity,” Armstrong said.

Southern Development is not involved with any of the expansion area requests, according to Armstrong.

Jack Marshall, president of

Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population

, said he is against any expansion of the growth area.

“In the pipeline are already thousands of approved but not built residential units in the county,” Marshall said. “We don’t need to approve more.”

Achieving affordability

Source: TJPDC

According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 37 percent of Charlottesville and Albemarle households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That’s an indicator of financial stress.

“That’s not acceptable,” city Planning Commission member

Dan Rosensweig


“Charlottesville and Albemarle ought to be communities for everybody, where people who serve food at the [University of Virginia] and who pump gas for low wages should be able to have an opportunity to live in the community.”

Marshall said he would like to see public-private partnerships created to lower the cost of building affordable housing. He suggested land trusts as one way to accomplish that goal.

“There are tremendous amounts of opportunities to build more mixed-income affordable units mixed with market-rate units in Charlottesville and the surrounding development area,” said city resident Jason Halbert.

“I would hope that we would, in order to achieve our transportation and environmental goals, that we would increase the density in the city and not expand the development area [in the county],” Halbert added.

Source: AECOM (Click to enlarge)

Vertical Charlottesville?

A report prepared by the firm AECOM for the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

projected that Charlottesville will have a population of 50,583 in 2030. The 2010 U.S. Census counted 43,475 residents.

To prepare for their Comprehensive Plan update, city planning staff analyzed existing zoning to determine how many additional residential units could be built within city limits.

“The analysis shows that capacity exists for anywhere from 27,800 to 69,100 additional units of residential development in the city,” planner Brian Haluska wrote in the report.

In an email, Haluska said a total buildout of Charlottesville would hypothetically result in a total population between 69,198 and 145,989.

Haluska concluded that most of this future capacity would come in the city’s mixed-use zones.

“This presents a challenge, as the services provided in these areas would suffer from increased demand,” Haluska wrote.

Rosensweig, who also serves as executive director of

Habitat for Humanity

, said he is not sure if the buildout analysis yields useful information because it does not take future demand into consideration.

“Total maximum potential units does not equate to what can and will be built,” Rosensweig said. “If you have a lot of housing product planned that the market doesn’t want, then that’s not going to be built.”

Rosensweig said Charlottesville will need to grow vertically in order to meet what he sees as a demand for urban residential neighborhoods.

“We need to build tight, walkable communities connected to jobs and public transportation,” Rosensweig said.

Halbert said the two communities can achieve that goal by coordinating planning in the both the city and the county’s urban ring. One idea would be to have the two planning commissions meet more often.

“The more we do that, the better, and I think we have more in common than we think,” Halbert said.

An aging population

“We have to understand that we need to anticipate future trends,” Rosensweig said. “We have a demographic that’s getting older.”

Armstrong said Southern Development is anticipating this need and is currently planning a development on Rio Road that will allow baby boomers to “age in place.”

“That’s a phrase you always hear, and it’s just any folks who are aging and want plan to be able to stay in their house,” Armstrong said.

One way to achieve that goal is to build a single-story home to avoid stairs. However, that changes the economic equation for developers.

“When you do that, you usually have a bigger house footprint, so it requires more space and you don’t necessarily get the density you would get with a smaller footprint and went up,” Armstrong said. “That’s a compromise that we have to figure out how to address.”


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