If Charlottesville is to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and ensure 4,000 more units of deeply affordable housing by 2040, then it must change its car-centric, equity-blind zoning. The Charlottesville Planning Commission made a step in that direction when it sent its recommendations about to the City Council.

Councilors now have a chance to fully realize the principles of sustainability and equity established by the Strategic Investment Area Plan eight years ago, by moving to complete the FBC.

Those principles include: developing inclusive communities with a “sense of place” but without displacing existing residents; building streets that are safe for all users; and honoring the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Residents Bill of Rights.

The FBC actualizes these principles by requiring developers to build affordable units on site for households making 50% and 60% of the Area Median Income, in exchange for added height. (“Affordable” is now pegged at 80% AMI, and zoning allows nine-story, mixed-use buildings without conditions). It also requires streets designed for walking, cycling and taking the bus; smaller blocks with no minimum lot sizes or maximum density limits (which will expand housing choices); and transition zones that respect adjacent neighborhood scale.

Conflicting opinions were expressed at the January public hearing, however, such as the claim that new affordable units built on site would depress property values, when research by Trulia argues otherwise; or that the FBC was a down-zoning, when no entitlements were eliminated. Some said the FBC would encouraged tear-downs and would overshadow a cemetery, but that’s what current “downtown extended” zoning already does — not what the FBC will do.

Another person urged using Habitat for Humanity’s resident-driven Southwood Mobile Home Park design process as a model for zoning reform, when in fact Habitat’s excellent resident-driven design process operated within the confines of Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model zoning regulations, adopted 19 years ago.

Consequently, commissioners recommended changes to the FBC, such as removing Graves Street from consideration and adding protections around the cemetery. Council should now direct the commissioners and city staff to finish the FBC. Otherwise, if we can’t rezone just the 80 acres currently under consideration (one-quarter of the SIA) — after 50 community meetings across eight years for $550,000 — how can we possibly hope to rezone a 6,400-acre city in two years for $926,000?

As Andrew Cuomo said: “You can’t be a progressive without making progress.”

Kathleen “Kathy” M. Galvin

Charlottesville

References:

Strategic Investment Area Plan, Guiding Principles, pages 1-4, by the consultant team lead by Cunningham Quill, December 13, 2013 and appended to the Comprehensive Plan in February 2014; https://www.charlottesville.org/home/showdocument?id=27996

“There Doesn’t Go the Neighborhood” by Cheryl Young of Trulia Research, Nov. 16, 2016; www.trulia.com/research/low-income-housing/

“Cuomo Says Progressives Have It All Wrong: ‘I Am the Left’” The New York Times

Editor’s note: This letter was submitted prior to the City Council’s expected consideration of the issue on Feb. 3 and was published online on Feb. 3.

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