Planning Commissioners meet with City Councilors at a Comprehensive Plan work session

After two years of review and more than 60 meetings, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the document that will help shape land use decisions through 2018 and beyond.

“I am hopeful this Comprehensive Plan provides a framework for meaningful discussion about the kind of lives we want to lead here in Charlottesville,” said Commissioner Kurt Keesecker.
State law requires the plan to be reviewed every five years. Charlottesville’s plan was completely rewritten in 2001, which set the stage for a rezoning in 2003 that created opportunities for denser and taller development.
The last review was a minor revision that was completed in 2007. Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager, said the 2013 plan has been streamlined for online use.
“While accessed and used online, a user has access to an array of supporting documents, plans and studies which are digitally embedded throughout the plan,” Creasy said.
Public outreach was conducted with the assistance of a $999,000 livability grant obtained by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Nearly 200 individuals attended the workshops and over 700 public comments were gathered, in addition to over 500 surveys that were completed online,” Creasy said.
The TJPDC also assisted in holding joint meetings with the Albemarle CountyAlbemarle CountyAlbemarle County Planning Commission. Through this input, the commissions decided that the Rivanna River would have a special focus in both plans.
“We want to improve the ecological value of the river and retain a sense of retreat while also identifying areas where land use changes could make the waterfront more vibrant and connected to the adjacent neighborhoods,” said city Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky.
The plan also includes an analysis of the city’s ability for future growth. There are currently around 10,000 potential residential units that could be built by-right, though only 800 of those would be in the city’s lower-density neighborhoods.
“Any substantial increase in city population will require the construction of additional multi-family residential structures,” wrote city planner Brian Haluska in what is known as a “build-out” analysis.
Haluska also said that the city is running out of vacant land for new residential development, so new homes will likely be built on sites that will have to be redeveloped.
Sienitsky said most of the commission’s time has been spent working on the land use sections of the plan. The plan will actually beget smaller plans similar to one currently under way.
“The intent is to apply strategies from the Strategic Investment Area study that is currently being done of the area south of downtown including the IX project and portions of the Martha Jefferson neighborhood to develop plans that work for each unique area,” Sienitsky said.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said much of the panel’s debates concerned how to balance the city’s desire for more density while also maintaining its existing character.
“We set out to try to generate a plan update that gave more firm guidance about how to resolve many of the central tensions we’ve experienced over the years,” Rosensweig said “Perhaps, though, in a community with such a wonderful diversity of opinion, these big issues can’t be resolved globally but rather will always require a more piecemeal approach.”
Creasy said that although the latest review of the Comprehensive Plan is nearing an end, the future of Charlottesville is always up for discussion.
“When working with long range documents, it is hard to keep things contained into an update when there are always new things to explore,” Creasy said.
Input taken at the meeting Tuesday will factor into the version of the plan will be submitted to City Council for final approval later this year. The portion of the planning commission meeting on the Comprehensive Plan will be at about 6 p.m. in City Hall.
“If there are good ideas, we want to hear them and will consider incorporating them,” said Genevieve Keller, chairwoman of the commission.
Keesecker said he wants the plan, and decisions made following its update, to help build a Charlottesville that his children will want to live in when they grow up.
“The City staff or the Council members or the planning commissioners are not going to make Charlottesville any better in the coming years,” Keesecker said. “It really comes down to creative, caring people in this town putting their best talents forward to help move the City in the direction that is appealing for us all.”