After consulting city staff in a work session Tuesday, the Charlottesville Planning Commission decided it will conduct a fourth public engagement phase before finalizing the update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Similarly to earlier this year, when activists and local developers asked for a delay, housing activists asked the planning commission on Tuesday to delay adoption of the plan and include a stronger commitment and strategy for combating racial inequity in the housing market.

State law requires localities with a planning commission to update every five years their plans for development within their boundaries.

City officials began working on the update to the plan in late 2016 and conducted two public engagement phases before the City Council approved a resolution in March, giving the planning commission until October to finish its work.

After briefing the commission on where the process stands after the recent series of public meetings in May, the assistant director of the Neighborhood Development Services department confirmed that they have until the end of the year to finalize the plan.

“I think that message has been communicated, and [the City Council] seems OK with it at the moment,” said Missy Creasy.

In a statement before Tuesday’s work session, organizers with the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition and Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville said they want the city to delay adoption of the plan and devise a “housing strategy that will ensure the wellbeing of extremely low-income citizens and make amends for historic racial discrimination.”

The city’s Housing Advisory Committee is currently working on creating a housing development strategy. A recently completed housing needs assessment is expected to help guide the creation of the strategy.

“It’s going to take at least one year to complete the housing strategy. When it’s done, we can come back and amend the Comprehensive Plan,” said NDS Director Alex Ikefuna. “The planning commission at this point can review the data [from the housing needs assessment] and use it to inform the housing section of the Comprehensive Plan.”

Several commissioners expressed frustrations, alleging that they have not been adequately included in the recent discussions about the housing needs assessment, which was presented to the council last week.

But several community members who spoke at the meeting said they were grateful that the commission decided to delay the process again.

Officials relocated the work session from a conference room to the City Council Chambers due to relatively large attendance.

In an interview after the meeting, commission Chairwoman Lisa Green said there will be a new approach to community engagement.

“We’re going to reach out to community leaders and organizations,” she said. “We’re going to go to people and those organizations rather than ask these people to come to us.”

Taneia Dowell said she thinks the planning commission should do more to engage the public and include historically underrepresented communities.

However, she said community advocates need to do more to help inform the public about the Comprehensive Plan and what’s being proposed in each of its chapters and different parts of the city.

“It has to be a team effort. You can’t just depend on the planning commission. … We can’t do it all,” Dowell said. “You have the connections.”

The planning commission will meet for another work session next month. Green said she and her colleagues would like a formal briefing on the housing needs assessment.

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Chris Suarez is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, or @Suarez_CM  on Twitter.

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