With no end in sight for Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan update, developers are beginning to struggle in deciding what to build in certain areas of the city.
That was clear Tuesday as a divided Planning Commission recommended that City Council amend a 1.6-acre portion of the future land-use map.
The Comprehensive Plan, which is a guide for local land-use decisions, was last updated in 2013.
The plan update started in 2017 but has essentially ground to a halt since the winter.
Last month, the city published a request for proposals to finish the plan update, revise the zoning code and come up with a plan to tackle affordable housing needs.
Officials have estimated a contract could cost in the range of $1 million.
On Tuesday, planners considered a proposal related to a rezoning request by Charlie Armstrong, of Southern Development, for several parcels at the corner of Maury Avenue and Stadium Road.
Over the years, the 1.6-acre property was divided and Armstrong bought pieces. He originally planned to put duplexes on the land before recently purchasing the final portion.
Armstrong is now considering student housing because of the property’s proximity to the University of Virginia. It is also surrounded by other homes that have become rentals.
Armstrong wants the city to change the property from low-density residential zoning to a higher density.
However, his rezoning request came with no site plan or concept, which was a sticking point when it was presented to City Council earlier this month.
“I have never been in a situation where I haven’t had a concept plan to look at,” Councilor Kathy Galvin, who is approaching eight years on the panel, said earlier this month. “I just can’t make a decision without a plan.”
Armstrong told councilors that he brought his proposal because the Comprehensive Plan’s land-use map, which was adopted in 2013, has a lower-density designation in the area. However, drafts of the updated map lists the area as high density.
“All of the draft Comp Plan maps that have been published, but not adopted, show it as very high-intensity use,” Armstrong told the council. “The question was just to wait for however long that process might take and have guidance from that or come to the Planning Commission independent of the process and come to you and have guidance.”
Armstrong said he didn’t want to spend money on engineering for a high-density site plan if the city didn’t actually want that in the area.
On Tuesday, the Planning Commission backed an update to the 2013 map to show high-density use in the area.
Commissioner Taneia Dowell, who cast one of two votes against the proposal, acknowledged that the location could be a prime spot for student housing. However, she said the map needs to be updated all at once.
“I would prefer we stop doing this piecemeal,” she said. “If we’re going to do our land use map and update, let’s do it all at one time.”
Commissioner Jody Lahendro voted in favor of the amendment, but he was also frustrated with the plan update. He’s “not optimistic that it’s going to be done any time soon.”
Commissioner Lisa Green, who voted against it, said it’s “not the best approach to planning.”
“I feel like we do too many little spot plannings in the city and that’s the biggest problem we have in our Comprehensive Plan today,” she said.
Some of the commissioners who voted in favor of the project cited the existing plan’s emphasis on higher-density regulation near UVa. Green, on the other hand, said the plan also highlights a need for transitions between high- and low-density areas.
“We like to pick apart the zoning ordinance like we do the Bible and pick out the parts that we like that apply to us,” she said. “We’re not doing what we really want to do in providing the transition zones.”
Justin Shimp, of Shimp Engineering, told the Planning Commission that the sluggish Comprehensive Plan update makes it hard for projects to start. He said the longer it continues, the more likely it is that houses near Grounds will be converted into student rentals.
“As these things do drag out, they have an impact on people,” he said. “For people trying to find a house, every day that goes by and there’s not a house built, it’s a little harder for them.”
The Comprehensive Plan amendment requires a public hearing and two readings to pass City Council. The hearing and first reading will likely be held at the Aug. 5 meeting. A second reading of the rezoning request is tentatively planned for the Aug. 19 meeting, when both proposals could be considered.
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