There will be a draft for a new vision of Charlottesville by December, the Charlottesville City Council and Planning Commission decided Thursday.
Activists, particularly members of the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition, have repeatedly called on the Planning Commission to delay finalizing the Comprehensive Plan until after a city housing strategy is complete.
“The housing and land use [chapters of the December version] are going to be [very] much draft[s],” Councilor Heather Hill said Tuesday.
Virginia requires local governments to regularly review their comprehensive plans, which guide decision-making, such as how to create mixed-income neighborhoods or whether to invest in parks. Charlottesville last updated its Comprehensive Plan in 2013.
“I really appreciate the urgency that you all have reacted with [in this meeting],” Emily Dreyfus, an organizer with Legal Aid Justice Center, said at the meeting. “We need broader solutions so that we’re not chipping away at the problem a dozen units at a time.”
A recent assessment commissioned by the city found that Charlottesville needs 3,318 new units of affordable housing.
Hill sits on the Housing Advisory Committee, which has been planning how the city will address this shortage. Although the HAC will present its plans to the council in a work session next Thursday, Hill estimated that the housing strategy will not be finished until June 2019.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said that she preferred to see an early draft of the plan rather than wait until 2019.
“Council is always downriver too far, and then we tell you what we’ve been thinking, and already so much time has gone by,” Galvin said.
The Planning Commission began work on the Comprehensive Plan in January 2017. Since then, it has completed three phases of community engagement.
In the first phase, in May 2017, staff held public meetings at schools and libraries and asked attendees to self-identify demographics using stickers. The results prompted the Planning Commission to conduct a second — and then third — phase of engagement.
“We still did not feel as if we had a good cross-section or representation of the community. We were missing definitely our more low-income residents, persons of color and our younger population,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Lisa Green said.
On Tuesday, the Planning Commission asked nonprofit and neighborhood associations for advice on how to reach a broader segment of Charlottesville. Some of the organizations that attended were Sin Barreras, The Haven and the International Rescue Committee.
One of the problems that emerged from the Tuesday meeting was a public distrust of government. To combat that distrust, Councilor Wes Bellamy suggested that the city ask community leaders, like barbers and African-American teachers, to help.
“We show up at the barber shop, and we say that we want to ask you all these questions about what you think about the city, people may be like, ‘Why would I answer these questions?’ If there’s a relationship there, or there’s a conduit …,” Bellamy said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker presented a series of questions that would better fit the audience the commission has yet to reach. She said that even the most accessible of the previous questions had included assumptions about class.
“‘Where would you like to live?’ That says they would like to live somewhere, which is currently not an option for a lot of people,” Walker said.
Unless plans change with next Thursday’s meeting between the City Council and the HAC, the commission will begin the new plan for community engagement in early September and conclude the process by early October.