By Julia Glendening & Sean Tubbs
Saturday, August 1, 2009
How much land should Charlottesville reserve for industrial uses? Would it be beneficial to preemptively rezone that land to mixed use in order to attract more businesses and homes?
On July 28, 2009 the
Charlottesville Planning Commission
held a work session on the City’s future land use and those two questions figured prominently in the discussion. After two hours, Commissioners decided to reexamine their overall priorities at an August 25, 2009 work session and consider looking at the issue of rezoning industrial areas in advance the next review of the Comprehensive Plan in 2012.
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The reason for the work session was originally triggered
by a request from a resident of the Woolen Mill’s neighborhood
to remove language from the City’s comprehensive plan that encourages industrial uses there. City Planner Brian Haluska said in order for the Commission to recommend such an action, it must first take a City-wide approach to determine if doing so would affect the City’s future economic development strategies.
Chris Engel, the Assistant Director of the Office of Economic Development, advised the Commission to keep the existing industrial zones for now in order to not restrict the future economy.
City Planner Brian Haluska began the meeting by describing some of the mismatches between the City’s comprehensive plan and the zoning code. These are areas where the comprehensive plan calls for one use, but the zoning on the property does not allow it. Haluska said these areas provided opportunities for the Planning Commission to determine how to shape the City’s future.
However, there are also areas of the City where residents do not agree with uses that still remain embedded in the comprehensive plan. Some residents of the Woolen Mills neighborhood, for instance, are concerned that both the comprehensive plan and the zoning code allow for industrial uses near their homes.
The Woolen Mills neighborhood is partially zoned as M-I (Manufacturing/Industrial). According to Sec. 34-440 of the Charlottesville Code of Ordinances, the purpose of the M-I district is:
“The M-I district is established to allow areas for light industrial uses that have a minimum of environmental pollution in the form of traffic, noise, odors, smoke and fumes, fire and explosion hazard, glare and heat and vibration.”
During public comment, Victoria Dunham, the President of the
Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association
, stressed the importance of removing the industrial zones from neighborhoods, while engaging residents throughout rezoning.
“It’s just been matter of fact that neighborhoods that have this industrial zoning are treated differently and we need to acknowledge that and we need to have that be a part of our planning process,” said Dunham. “If the industrial zoning stays as it is, God only knows what can move here. “
Redevelopment as economic strategy
Chris Engel was on hand at the work session to discuss the role industrial zones play in the City’s economic development efforts. He began his presentation by reminding the Commission that the regional economy has dramatically shifted from manufacturing jobs to service-sector jobs. He said there were four areas in which Charlottesville’s economy would grow – health care, education, hospitality and high-technology industries. He suggested maintaining the 3.5% of Charlottesville’s land zoned for industry so land is available if a high-tech company needs the space. At the very least, he advised the Commissioners to wait to rezone until projects are presented to them for those areas. Engel claimed that there are currently 270 firms and 3,000 employed in the technology sector in Charlottesville.
Engel also recommended that the Commission continue to maintain a zoning code that allows living and working opportunities to co-exist. He said the City’s rezoning in 2003 was a step in this direction with the creation of mixed-use zoning districts. However, Engel said there is a problem for some neighborhood services that are classified as industrial, such as car repair shops. Mixed-use areas like the Preston Avenue corridor don’t allow for any industrial uses. Additionally, the high cost of land in the City pushes these businesses into the surrounding Albemarle County or other localities.
He listed the high cost of living for workers and the availability of space as other constraints on businesses moving into Charlottesville.
Engel said it was very unlikely another major industry would be developed in Charlottesville, like
Frank Ix and Sons
, that employs hundreds of people. He said if manufacturing rebounds in the United States, it is not likely to do so in a community like Charlottesville where the costs of land are higher. He recommended waiting for projects to come forward for rezoning rather than doing so preemptively.
Commissioner Cheri Lewis was somewhat skeptical that the City really wanted to attract additional industrial uses.
“I’ve been hearing for 20 years that the City wants to attract technology firms and I was wondering if there’s data to say that we’ve actually done that,” Lewis asked. She wanted to see more data about how many firms have come to the City since 2001, and where they are located in the City. Lewis also objected to special tax breaks that are given to firms who can claim they are a technology firm.
said he thought that most of the growth in technology companies was occurring in Albemarle County. He wondered how many companies initially begin operations in Charlottesville but then move to the County when they expand. Farruggio said that any zoning changes done to attract businesses should create zones where developments can be done by-right.
“If a company is going to come in, do you want to put down hurdles in front of them where they have to invest time and money into maybe getting a special-use-permit?” Farruggio asked.
said the City should begin to consider cleaning up any environmental issues that exist in the M-1 Lands and suggested there may be state and federal funds to help pay for the reclamation of these brownfields. Haluska said one consideration to keep in mind is that as these zones redevelop, the zoning code must have be written to make the clean-up and subsequent economic development affordable to a developer.
“If there’s no willingness to entertain a development where a property owner is going to be able to financially float the redevelopment and clean-up of those sites, they’re going to sit there,” Haluska said.
Emory also said the City should play to its strengths and create mixed-use developments where people can age in place. He suggested converting industrial land to the
Neighborhood Commercial Corridor
(NCC) designation, similar to what exists on Belmont’s Hinton Avenue and Fontaine Avenue near Fry’s Spring and the University of Virginia.
Planning Manager Missy Creasy brought up the discussion of redefining the definition of the industrial zone. She said Charlottesville is not a city where industrial activity occurs; rather there is a movement towards a high amount of businesses. Therefore, if the term industrial is redefined, the Planning Commission might be able to restrict heavy industrial activity without limiting businesses or neighborhood services.
As the discussion wound down, Commissioners sought more data on where jobs are, and how they are spread out throughout the City. The decision on whether or rezoning industrial lands should become a Planning Commission priority will be left until two new Commissioners join in September. Commissioners Mike Farruggio and Cheri Lewis are leaving at the end of August.
Could Charlottesville’s industrial zones be receiving areas for Albemarle TDRs?
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig presented an alternative idea for removing the industrial zones to make these parts of the City receiving areas for Albemarle’s development rights. The proposed
Transfer of Development Right (TDR) system
has been examined as an option for the County to preserve its rural areas by creating a market for land rights. Rosensweig has been part of the
TDR discussions at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service
since October 2008 and has expressed interest in working with the County on this topic. He said the city has more of a market for development than the “urban ring” in the County. He also said the County would have to increase their revenue sharing agreement in order to offset the loss of potential tax revenue from businesses that could be developed in the city.
“If we really are serious about keeping industrial area regionally and perhaps also extinguishing some industrial use in areas where it is not appropriate, we are going to have to work with the County,” said Rosensweig.
Farruggio told Rosensweig it is a creative idea and worth developing the idea even further. However, he said the revenue sharing agreement is a “sore subject” between the City and the County.
Commissioner Genevieve Keller said it would take a lot of cooperation between the City and County to actually create and implement a TDR program.
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