Monday night, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to adopt a new Comprehensive Plan. The vote was a major milestone nearly five years in the making.

But the work is not over.

“The real work is in implementation,” said public housing resident and tenants’ rights advocate Joy Johnson during Monday’s public comment period. “That’s where the real work is going to happen.”

One significant piece of that “real work” is to develop a new zoning ordinance for the city. Officials will use the Future Land Use Map, contained in the Comprehensive Plan, to guide the process.

One of the major stated goals of the new Comprehensive Plan is to increase housing density and housing types throughout the city. Officials hope that doing this will open up more homeownership and rental opportunities, and also generate more affordable housing.

“As has been noted throughout the Comprehensive Plan process, generating affordable housing is a critical component of this work,” new Director of Neighborhood Development Services James Freas told Charlottesville Tomorrow. “Therefore work on the new inclusionary zoning ordinance will need to be done as an integral part of the development of new zoning.”

The last time the city re-wrote its zoning ordinance was nearly 20 years ago, in 2003. Prior to that, in 1991, City Council voted to institute the R-1A single-family land use category, which discouraged construction of any types of housing besides single family homes, especially in majority white (and in some cases, wealthy) neighborhoods, including Fry’s Spring, Johnson Village, Lewis Mountain, Barracks-Rugby, Greenbrier, and Venable. Even though the city increased mixed use (i.e., allowing commercial and residential uses in the same place) zoning during the 2003 rewrite, for the most part, residential land use categories did not change, and most of the city remained zoned for single-family detached residential use.

City staff, along with the Cville Plans Together team (which includes consultants from urban planning firm Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc., who’ve worked alongside staff and community members on the Comprehensive Plan update and the new FLUM), will begin the rezoning process in January.

That process is predicted to take about a year, give or take a few months, said Jenny Koch, a planner with RHI and Cville Plans Together project manager.

The process of developing this new zoning ordinance has two broad steps, said Freas. They are:

  1. Analyze the existing zoning ordinance to identify what works, what does not work, and where it is inconsistent with the new Comprehensive Plan, then model outcomes for what the new ordinance could look like; and
  2. Draft the ordinance and present it to the Planning Commission and then to City Council for adoption.

“Throughout this process there will be community engagement in a variety of ways so that the community has an opportunity to learn about the new ordinance and provide us with feedback on the ideas being considered,” said Freas.

Koch added that while Cville Plans Together intended to do much more in-person outreach throughout the Comprehensive Plan process, that was largely thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they had to transition quickly and unexpectedly to mostly virtual and phone engagement. This time around, Koch says the team will look to do more in-person outreach.

Concurrent with the two initial steps mentioned above, the city will conduct an inclusionary zoning study. “Inclusionary zoning is a regulatory tool that requires new residential development to include some portion of affordable units,” Freas explained. “If that requirement is set too high, it could challenge the financial viability of residential development, resulting in few or no new residential units, affordable or otherwise. So first we study the residential development market, its costs and revenues, in order to better understand what is feasible.

“The result of the study will be recommendations for the new zoning ordinance relative to how many affordable units will be required, from what scale of development project, over what timeframe, and at what level of affordability,” he added.

Before its regular meeting Monday night, City Council attended a public work session on the Comprehensive Plan with Freas, Koch, and others. During that meeting, Freas mentioned that one of the new chapters in the plan, the “Community Engagement and Collaboration” chapter, will have its first major test throughout the zoning ordinance rewrite.

“Community engagement is a big part of this work,” said Freas, noting that throughout the Comprehensive Plan process, city staff and the Cville Plans Together team “heard from a large number of people […] all of whom have significant expectations about what the new zoning can accomplish in terms of the creation of affordable housing as well as respecting the context of neighborhoods and the values of the City.”

Many of the specific questions that people had, like whether or not a multi-unit apartment building could be built on their street, were unanswerable, because that information can’t be provided until the zoning work begins, Freas said.

“Now that we are moving into the zoning project, we need to show our work by explaining how the zoning would address the objectives identified in the Comprehensive Plan as well as respond to many of the concerns raised,” he added.

“The new community engagement chapter of the Comprehensive Plan outlines how we intend to do this work of community engagement generally, and now it is on us to demonstrate those ideas specifically in this project.”

Keep up with, and stay involved in, the Cville Plans Together process here.


I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's neighborhoods reporter. I’ve never met a stranger and love to listen, so, get in touch with me here. If you’re not already subscribed to our free newsletter, you can do that here, and we’ll let you know when there’s a fresh story for you to read. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of you.