Community members from the Fifeville area of Charlottesville gathered at Buford Middle School on Sunday afternoon to provide input on what they want to see for the neighborhood’s future.
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is working on a small area plan for the Cherry Avenue corridor, and has been seeking input from residents in a number of ways, including Sunday’s open house.
In June, Nick Morrison, a planner with the TJPDC, started attending front-porch discussions with residents, where small groups of people would meet at a neighbor’s house to hear about the plan and give feedback.
The idea came from a member of the task force working with the TJPDC on the plan, who wanted to engage other neighbors who couldn’t make it to larger meetings.
“I think being on people’s own turf allows them that opportunity to really be open and honest with us, and it’s not always positive, but it’s good to get that feedback,” Morrison said.
The effort was driven by the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, which established a committee and ultimately drafted a visioning document. In 2016, the city Planning Commission designated the corridor for the next small area planning initiative.
“Gentrification and displacement are huge concerns in the neighborhood, [as is] being able to provide affordable housing for the long term,” said Alisa Hefner, treasurer of the neighborhood association.
According to American Community Survey data posted at the open house, about 3,700 people live in Fifeville and 56 percent of the neighborhood’s population is black. More than half of the neighborhood’s current residents moved in since 2010. The median household income is $36,400, according to the data.
Hefner said the association wants to see action items come out of the small area plan process.
“We really don’t want another plan that’s going to sit on the shelf — we want to be able to have real tools that the city can use, as well as the neighborhood, and things we can do as residents to have the neighborhood in the future that we want to see,” she said.
At the open house, attendees were able to learn about small area planning, hear about the process so far and give their own feedback. They also could participate in an interactive zoning exercise.
The area has a variety of zoning, including different types of residential, mixed use and commercial.
Prior feedback that was presented at the open house showed residents want more sidewalks and parking spaces, and are concerned about the effect of increasing density and rentals on parking. They also worry about increasing traffic in the area.
Many were concerned about what they were seeing on nearby West Main Street.
“I feel like we’re succumbing to [the University of Virginia], and the buildings are getting bigger and prettier on Main Street and trying to hide everything else behind,” said Felice Boling-Key, who lives on 7 ½ Street Southwest.
She also expressed concern about the effect of new development on infrastructure, and has been experiencing issues with stormwater runoff flooding her property every time it rains, she said.
“I find that a lot of what’s being done on Cherry is not looking at the impact it is bringing to the surrounding neighborhoods and streets,” she said.
Matthew Gillikin, who lives on Orangedale Avenue, said he thinks Fifeville has the potential to lead the city in creating affordable housing through potential new land-use policies.
“We have a lot of land that can be developed or is underdeveloped and we have a higher portion of low-income people than a lot of parts of the city,” he said. “Things are going to change no matter what. I think this process that they’re doing is a really nice opportunity to let things change in a way that supports the community.”
Nathan Walton, who lives on Forest Ridge Road, said he was enjoying the small area plan process but it was bringing up a lot of questions for him.
“The relationship of functionality/justice and aesthetics on the other side — I’m trying to figure out in my own head how to navigate those two things,” he said,
Walton said he was thinking about what it means to respect the wishes of current residents while also thinking proactively about the fact that a transient city like Charlottesville also means new people moving in.
“How do we make this space accessible for any type of person who wants to move into this neighborhood? I don’t have any answers to those questions, but I feel like this brings a lot of questions up for me,” he said, with a laugh.
The TJPDC will compile the feedback gathered at Sunday’s meeting and use it to start to develop recommendations. There are plans to have a smaller open house in the fall with a draft recommendations list for people to respond to, and ultimately the final plan will be presented at the end of this year.