Charlottesville is in the midst of a major rezoning project that will help shape the city’s future. Literally.
Both the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Affordable Housing Plan, adopted by City Council last year, outline the need for more housing in the city. One of the major recommendations for achieving that is revising the city’s zoning code to allow for more housing density, and therefore more variety of housing.
Charlottesville is making progress on that massive rezoning project. Here are 7 things to know about it, right now.
1. It’s about one-third done.
The Cville Plans Together team wrapped up the first of three major steps over the summer. It involved creating two preliminary reports:
- A draft zoning and diagnostic approach report, which identifies problems with the current zoning ordinance and suggests ways to solve them;
- and an inclusionary zoning analysis, which looked at how the city’s housing market might respond to zoning changes, and how to increase the city’s supply of more affordable housing.
2. An inclusionary zoning policy is taking shape.
In 2020, Charlottesville received special permission from the state to create and implement an inclusionary zoning policy. Charlottesville is one of just five Virginia localities allowed to do so.
Inclusionary zoning policies can help communities increase the production of affordable housing, advocates say, by mandating developers to build them.
Just joining Charlottesville’s zoning conversation? Need a refresher? Here’s more information.
These policies require developers to make a certain percentage of the new units “affordable.” That usually means offering a home that families earning up to 80% of the area median income can afford. (In this case, the government considers a home affordable if the family is paying less than 30% of its income for it.)
Under the current zoning ordinance, developers can either make a portion of new residential units affordable, or make a donation to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. Most opt for the latter.
The proposed inclusionary zoning ordinance would change that:
- Any residential project of 10 or more units must make at least 10% of its units affordable to households at 60% AMI (rather than 80%), for as long as that building exists;
- The affordable units must be indistinguishable from the market rate units in that building — so, a developer can’t put all of its affordable apartments in the basement, or make them smaller than the building’s market-rate ones, said James Freas, Charlottesville’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services.
As the report points out, for Charlottesville, 60% of AMI for a family of 4 is $56,220 annually. So, an affordable home would cost no more than $1,560 per month.
The report also recommends incentives for developers adding affordable units.
3. The new zoning ordinance will increase the number of housing units allowed across the entire city.
This is what the Affordable Housing Plan recommends, and what the Comprehensive Plan calls for. But the details haven’t been hammered out. They’ll be determined in the next phase of the process, as Cville Plans Together drafts a detailed zoning map. That process begins this week.
4. Officials are encouraging people to convert, not tear down, existing buildings.
Under the current zoning code, someone who owns a large home in most areas of the city cannot convert that building into, say, a duplex.
The new ordinance proposes not just allowing for that, but encouraging it, said Freas. What’s more, the analysis done in the first phase of the rezoning process showed that “at most of the densities we’re talking about, the financial feasibility to do a teardown isn’t there,” he said. Converting a building from a single unit to multiple units, or adding on to an existing building, is more likely.
5. Officials are aiming to make the new zoning ordinance more useful than the current one.
By using more plain language (and less jargon and legalese), more illustrations, tables and graphs, the average person will be able to pick up the new zoning ordinance and understand what can happen on their property and within their neighborhood. At least, that’s the intention, said Freas.
Clear language also makes the zoning ordinance easier for the city to enforce, he added.
6. Up next: a draft of the zoning ordinance.
“That’s where it gets detailed,” said Freas of the second step in the rezoning process. “That’s where we produce a map, that’s where we start producing text, that’s where it starts to get real.”
Cville Plans Together will release the draft zoning document likely in late January or early February, said Freas. After that, there will be another weeks-long public comment and feedback period. With those comments in mind, Cville Plans Together will once again revise the draft ordinance and present it to the Planning Commission in the spring. If the Planning Commission approves it, it will go to City Council for a public hearing, and, after that, a vote to adopt, or not.
7. There’s still time to get involved.
Community members can learn about the process, submit feedback, or ask questions at any time, not just during designated public comment periods. The Cville Plans Together team, which includes Freas and his Neighborhood Development Services colleagues, as well as Rhodeside & Harwell consultants, can be reached via an online form, or at engage [at] cvilleplanstogether [dot] com.
Reach Freas, directly via email at freasj [at] charlottesville [dot] gov, or via phone at 434-970-3182.