Snook, Payne and Oschrin win the Democratic City Council primary

A collage shows the headshots of three people side by side. At the bottom are the words, "2023 Voter Guide.:

Charlottesville City Council won’t look too different when it reconvenes next year. Incumbents  Michael Payne and Lloyd Snook have won the primary election — thus the race — and will return, joined by newcomer Natalie Oschrin.

The three beat out Dashad Cooper and Bob Fenwick on Tuesday.

No Republican, third party or independent candidates filed to run this year (their deadline to do so was Tuesday, June 20), which means the three Democratic primary winners will be unchallenged in the general election this fall.

It was a desired outcome to a stressful few months of campaigning, Payne told Charlottesville Tomorrow on election night.

“You can never take anything for granted,” he said. “Been out campaigning and feeling good about the conversations I’ve had. But again, you never know, election days are full of surprises.”

For Oschrin, the results were a welcome end to a challenging few months that she said she is thankful never turned nasty. It was a “civil nice campaign,” she said, despite candidates’ positions sometimes contrasting sharply.

Having a council that is ready to work with each other come 2024 is important, Payne said. Council will be responsible for some big decisions in the coming year, including implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan and solving the myriad of issues with the city’s public transportation department, both for citizens and City School students, including driver shortages and accessibility gaps. 

“I think they are all going to be huge priorities,” Payne said. “And we’ve got work underway on those things, but it’s kind of like seeing them to completion.”

More from the 2023 Voter Guide

Looming largest, said Payne, is the zoning bylaw change that is a priority of all three candidates, and could continue into the next Council’s term.

“The first thing we have to do is to make sure we get the new zoning ordinance finished,” Snook said. “And if we can’t get it done during the calendar year, 2023, that’ll be absolutely job one in 2024.”

But the Council wants to finish it this year. The current Council “has made it clear that they wish to vote on the new ordinance this year,” said James Freas, head of Neighborhood Development Services. Cville Plans Together, the group of consultants, city officials, and neighborhood leaders working together on the ordinance, expects to have a new proposed zoning ordinance before City Council “with sufficient time for them to deliberate and vote before the end of the year,” Freas said.

All three winners broadly support the proposed changes to the zoning code. They agree the changes could be a strong mechanism to create more affordable housing in the city, by making higher density housing easier to build. Though notably, all three newly nominated Council candidates have some changes and expansions to the proposed zoning bylaw in mind.  

Snook would like to see the “double-density-for-affordable-housing” bonus eliminated from the proposed ordinance because he said the city can’t afford the subsidies it requires. The bonus is designed to use public subsidies to motivate builders to create affordable housing units.

Payne said he would like to see zoning regulations adopted alongside environmental protections to help expand the city’s tree canopy, public areas, and greenspaces.

Oschrin said she is reserving final judgment on the proposed zoning law change until a final iteration is actually in place, but believes the need for big change is incredibly apparent.

“If we don’t change anything, we’ll continue to see relatively affordable houses flipped into McMansions — what the current zoning ordinance supports and what’s been plaguing neighborhoods for the past lifetime,” she told Charlottesville Tomorrow on election night.

Charlottesville’s rising taxes are also on all three candidates’ minds, as property tax assessments have risen notably the last two years. 

“Too many families are being driven out of Charlottesville by rising housing costs, including dramatic increases in assessments,” Payne told Charlottesville Tomorrow, a sentiment also shared by Snook and Oschrin. Both expressed similar views in a Charlottesville Tomorrow questionnaire sent to candidates.

All three candidates, however, also agree that the funds brought in by taxation are critical to the city’s ability to maintain services, and that simply cutting taxes creates more problems than it solves.

“Short-term tax relief by lowering taxes overall will make it harder to fund future projects and address deferred maintenance,” Oschrin said.

Snook agreed, noting that when the city dropped the tax rate from $ in 2003 to $ in 2009 a lot of “necessary maintenance” didn’t get done. Payne said taxes are fundamental to funding “critical priorities” for the city.

That means it’s unlikely these candidates would support raising local tax rates next year. But, it’s equally unlikely they would support lowering local tax rates.

All three candidates will be on the ballot for the general election on Nov. 7 As they will be the only ones, their victories are all but guaranteed — barring something unprecedented happening with write-in candidates.

Their terms will begin on January 1, the first day of the Council’s 2024 session.

Citizens can register to vote in the general election online at this link, in person at your local registrar’s office, or by mailing a voter registration form to the address on the form up until 30 days before the Nov. 7 election. Voters can also register to vote in person on Election Day at their polling location.

Reporter Erin O’Hare contributed to this article.