Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert addresses City Council (File photo)

On October 6, 2008, the Charlottesville City Council initiated a zoning text amendment that was meant to allow the Planning Commission more time to focus on strategic issues, provide incentives for affordable housing and streamline the site plan review process. At the City Council meeting on January 5, 2009, Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert presented the Planning Commission’s recommendations for meeting these goals.

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A major change that the proposed Zoning Text Amendment would bring about would be the requirement that staff review site plans with affordable housing components in 21 days or less rather than the typical 45 days. This faster turnaround time is meant to save developers money and therefore provide an incentive to include affordable housing in new projects. In order to be considered for this expedited review, a project must include at least 15% residential units that households with incomes of 80% or less of the area median income could afford. As of 2008 the Charlottesville area median income for a family of four was $68,500 and thus 15% of the housing units would need to be priced as affordable for families with an income at or below $54,800.

One local developer present at the meeting said that even with the shorter review process, the requirements are too restrictive to encourage the developers to build affordable units. “Right now I think it’s kinda set on the high end and I worry that some people, or a lot of people, may not be able to take advantage of it where the thresholds are now,” said Charlie Armstrong, Chair of Housing Advisory Committee and the Blue Ridge Homebuilders’ Association Government Affairs Committee.

The Planning Commission also recommended they weigh in on site plans that require a special use permit at the preliminary stage rather than the final site plan stage. “This way they [developers] get the approval for a special use permit and come back and do the detailed engineering,” Tolbert said. This would prevent developers from having to invest heavily in a project for which they are unsure they will receive a special use permit. Furthermore, the Commission would like to shift some of the more detailed requirements from the preliminary site plan stage to the final site plan stage of review.

While current practice requires only one Commissioner to call up a site plan for review, the Commission suggested that it require that two members must find reason to bring a site plan before the Commission.

The Commission also recommended that the streamlined review process include better notification to community members and stakeholders of the staff’s site plan review meetings. The Commission would like to notify all landowners within 500 feet of proposed projects, run advertisements in the paper and post the date and time of each conference on the website. All neighborhood associations would be notified of the staff site plan review hearings and the meetings would continue to be open to the general public.

The Council voted to approve this first reading of the amended zoning text based on the Commissions recommendations. A second reading and adoption of the zoning text amendment will occur at a future City Council meeting.

Fania Gordon


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