Charlottesville boards will continue meeting electronically over the next two months and the city will begin accepting development applications as the world starts to adjust to the new normal of the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council approved continuing electronic meetings and partially opening the Department of Neighborhood Development Services during its meeting Monday.
The council adopted an ordinance that allows NDS to start accepting applications that only require administrative review. The department has not been accepting new development applications since March 25 under an emergency declaration related to the pandemic.
Such applications include items like a boundary line adjustment.
Developers have asked the city to begin accepting more applications, and a few speakers asked for it during public comment.
Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local business advocacy group, said the city should expand the scope of the applications it is willing to accept.
“Right now, you have housing proposals sitting in the queue,” he said.
Ashley Davies, of Riverbend Development, who is also part of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable, said more proposals should be accepted. She said new technology has allowed meetings to be conducted electronically so developers could maintain public engagement.
City code requires developers to hold community meetings before submitting a final site plan to the city for proposals that need a public hearing, such as special-use permits and rezoning.
However, such large meetings are discouraged under health guidelines to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The council directed NDS staff to create standards for community engagement in the era of a pandemic.
“I absolutely don’t want to bypass that community engagement piece; I just believe it can be done in creative ways in this current environment,” Councilor Heather Hill said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker cautioned that changes to the public engagement process could exclude certain residents who don’t have necessary technology.
Councilor Lloyd Snook said the pandemic could continue for another year and the city can’t halt development for that long.
“We just can’t do that for that long of a period of time,” he said. “Maybe if it was truly only two or three months as it has been, but we’re talking possibly a year or more.”
The council voted to allow the city to accept all applications, but only begin review of projects that can be approved administratively. Review of other proposals would not occur until the council signs off on community engagement standards.
The council also extended its electronic meeting policy through July and August for the boards and commissions that it previously had approved.
The council previously authorized virtual meetings for the Board of Architectural Review, Board of Equalization, Community Development Block Grant Task Force, Housing Advisory Committee, Human Rights Commission, Planning Commission, Police Civilian Review Board and Retirement Commission.
The list was amended to allow one virtual meeting each of the Tree Commission, Sister City Commission and Community Policy and Management Team.