After two years of meetings and four phases of community engagement, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is handing a draft Comprehensive Plan to the City Council. The draft will include a placeholder for the community engagement chapter and an incomplete land use chapter, the commission decided Tuesday. However, the portions of the land use chapter that the commission has reviewed include significant changes for many Charlottesville neighborhoods. “Some of this, we’re going to get crucified,” commission Chairwoman Lisa Green said during a work session last Saturday. “I think [people are] going to freak about the low-intensity narrative.” During the five-hour work session, the commission expanded the development corridors on its land use map and increased the density imagined throughout the city. “These are primarily residential areas made up of single-family and multiplex homes, townhomes and other smaller-scale residential structures, and supportive services such as smaller-scale childcare,” commission member Lyle Solla-Yates said, suggesting the narrative the commission is recommending for the lowest-density areas of the city. If the City Council approves the map, it will affect developments that require a rezoning or special-use permit but not those occurring by-right under the city’s current zoning map. The commission plans to set ranges for building heights, the number of dwelling units per acre and floor area-to-lot ratios in the spring. “You want the city to grow up with affordable housing in it. … Then, when a project comes through, neighbors come out and say they have ‘community values’ that don’t like height and they like sunlight. … They want density, just not here,” Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said at the Tuesday meeting. “Bottom line — I want to be encouraged, I want to see the city grow, and I want the Comp. Plan to match that vision.”

The draft Comprehensive Plan land use map published in Dec. 2017. Credit: Credit: Neighborhood Development Services, City of Charlottesville Credit: Credit: Neighborhood Development Services, City of Charlottesville

The commission attempted to steer away from changing historically affordable or predominately African-American neighborhoods. “If you notice that where we have a lot of high intensity close to the Downtown Mall, over here down West Main [Street], think about predominately African-American communities. We’re taking the big hit on all of the development,” Commissioner Taneia Dowell said Saturday. “A prime example is the 10th and Page neighborhood [next to West Main]. They don’t have a skyline anymore, in either direction.” Transportation played a major role in the map rewrite. Rather than parking being required in the lowest-intensity areas, the narrative now encourages shared parking arrangements between properties. On Tuesday, the commission discussed an outline of a community engagement chapter from the PLACE Design Task Force, an advisory group. The chapter has not been part of previous city comprehensive plans, but local activists have promoted formalizing community engagement processes in the city. “Racism and exclusion have historically been codified through Charlottesville’s planning documents. Today, the Planning Commission has the opportunity to set a new precedent — to undo longstanding racial injustices by codifying community participation and to prioritize and amplify the long-silenced voices of low-income residents and communities of color,” Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition member Annie Stup said by email. The coalition also asked the commission on Tuesday to delay adopting drafts of the housing chapter and land use map until there’s a comprehensive housing strategy, which the Housing Advisory Committee expects to be completed in summer or fall of next year. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the Comprehensive Plan on Dec. 17. The commission expects to meet again in January to discuss the council’s feedback and to fully develop the plan’s land use and community engagement chapters.


Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.