A national community-design organization has awarded a grant that will assist Charlottesville planning staff with an ongoing audit of the city’s zoning ordinance.
A team of experts from Smart Growth America will travel to the city in early spring to offer its perspective.
“This will provide a valuable assist to city staff’s work on the code audit,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin, who has frequently expressed concerns that many zoning code requirements conflict with aspirations in the Comprehensive Plan.
Smart Growth America is a nonprofit organization that aims to build awareness of land-use policies that seek to create mixed-use neighborhoods. Many of these elements are called for in both the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Comprehensive Plans.
Charlottesville was one of 14 communities across the nation, out of more than 100 applications, selected to participate.
“Your [application] in particular stood out as among a select few that exhibited the strongest interest in and need for smart growth tools and clearly demonstrated a commitment from local business, community and political leaders to implement local smart growth solutions,” wrote Roger Millar, director of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, in a letter to city officials.
The grant comes at a time when the city is both reviewing the zoning code and soliciting input from the public through the Streets that Work initiative.
“The technical assistance will come about halfway through so it will be a good check-in,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Galvin said there are many conflicts between the legalities of zoning and aspirational goals. For instance, she said the environment and transportation chapters of the Comprehensive Plan call for walkable streets and for a larger tree canopy.
“The code, however, currently provides a one-size-fits-all sidewalk width of five feet everywhere, including areas with high pedestrian activity such as around restaurants, shops and apartment buildings,” Galvin said.
Galvin added that the current zoning code allows developers to avoid putting in street trees in certain mixed-use areas when the opposite should be true.
“Areas of the city zoned for mixed use and higher densities are the very places we need street trees the most, since trees make walking comfortable, slow down traffic and absorb auto exhaust emissions,” she said.
Galvin said the city’s parking requirements encourage the construction of too many impervious surfaces, which contradicts aspirations to reduce stormwater runoff.
“I’ve seen many instances where entire front yards of new residential buildings were covered in asphalt, with barely enough distance between driveway curb cuts to park a car,” she said.
The funding comes from a grant that Smart Growth America received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.