City Planning Commission initiates review of three zoning changes

Reviews of three potential zoning changes were initiated during the September 9, 2008 Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting: whether theaters ought to be included in mixed-use zones; how exactly the term Bed and Breakfast should be legally defined; and whether the category of conservation district should be adopted. These decisions will launch investigations over the next few months for each of the three issues, in order to determine whether the Commission will take further action.

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The proposal concerning theater allowances was made by the city staff, who were concerned that current zoning would not allow a future use similar to the Paramount theater in the downtown area. While the initial staff proposal focused on the downtown corridor, Commissioner Dan Rosensweig suggested that the staff apply the investigation to all mixed-use zones in the city. Several of the commissioners speculated as to why theaters had been excluded from the zoning in the first place, and the staff was asked to clear up some apparent discrepancies in the definition of theater.

The Dinsmore Bed and Breakfast on West Main Street qualifies as a B&B.

But can a B&B have dozens of rooms


All of the commissioners agreed that the city’s current definition of Bed and Breakfast is not sufficiently clear, particularly a clause stating that it must be “in the nature of an inn.” Since Bed and Breakfasts are currently allowed in R3 residential zones, the Planning Commission wanted to ensure that neighborhoods would be protected from lodging out of character with their surroundings. The city staff made the preliminary suggestion of limiting the number of allowable rooms to eight. Commissioner Michael Osteen also floated the idea that Bed and Breakfasts could be allowed to open up their breakfast meal to non-guests as another place for neighbors to “share a cup of tea together.” The city staff was asked gather information on current Bed and Breakfasts in Charlottesville and also to investigate ways other areas have attempted to capture nuances in lodging definitions.

Finally, the planning commission discussed the initiative on establishing conservation districts, which had already passed through the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). The proposed districts will provide an alternative to the existing historic districts, although the intent is less to regulate usage than it is to mitigate uses deemed to be out of context. Several on the commission expressed reservations. Commissioner Rosensweig requested to know why two members of the BAR objected to the conservation districts. He questioned whether conservation districts would have an adverse effect on affordable housing, asking the staff to consult with local housing organizations before moving forward. Commissioner Osteen expressed a worry that the existence of charming, smaller houses may be precluded by these districts. Commissioner Genevieve Keller concurred and added that the creation of yet another historical preservation zone could be confusing to the public. As a possible alternative, Commissioner Cheri Lewis recalled a program used in Chicago to reward good design with a medallion rather than prohibit unfit design. The staff agreed to research these different possibilities and bring the findings to the table for the final discussion.

Daniel Nairn