(Left to right) City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio)

The City of Charlottesville has stepped further into the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) discussion. A stakeholder group met on January 29, 2009 for the final installment of the TDR discussions hosted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. For the first time, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris joined the group and announced that the City is considering what role it may play in a TDR system.

The possibility of adopting a TDR system in Albemarle County has been a topic of conversation ever since Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) initiated the idea in 2006 . The stated goal of Slutzky’s TDR proposal is to limit growth in rural areas while compensating owners for their loss of property rights. A market would be established, allowing property owners in rural areas to detach the development rights from their land and sell them at market price to developers in a designated receiving area. The Weldon Cooper Center meetings began in August of 2008 as a way to begin a community dialogue on TDRs that used Slutzky’s original proposal as a launching point. In the course of the stakeholder meetings, strong opposition has been expressed to expanding the County’s existing growth areas to serve as a receiving area for new development. However, in 2007 the Virginia General Assembly passed enabling legislation which allows a county to transfer development rights to an adjacent city.

The City was not represented at the meetings until October, when Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig first attended. While he has expressed personal interest in the TDR proposal in the past, until this last week, he has been hesitant to elaborate on whether Charlottesville could receive development rights from County landowners. During the meeting, however, he indicated at least a possible willingness on the part of the City to designate certain urban areas to be a “receiving area” for a TDR system.

In order to accept these development rights, the City has to determine where additional housing density could be accommodated and where it is inappropriate. Rosensweig said that if TDRs could be received in the City it would have to involve the upzoning of some R1 areas, areas characterized by low-density detached houses.

While there is some difference of opinion in the City over whether this would be a beneficial change, Rosensweig personally favors a selective increase in residential density. Alternatively, the City could downzone some mixed-use corridors that were rezoned in 2003 for higher density by Special Use Permit. The more intensive uses could be made conditional upon the purchase of a development right. Mayor Norris assented to this possibility, and mentioned that it would require a discretionary act by City Council.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission raised the topic of residential density two days earlier, during their January 27, 2009 work session. Commissioner Rosensweig suggested then it would be appropriate to be “looking for opportunities to rezone some areas for increased density and/or more intensive use.” According to Rosensweig, these selected areas could serve as TDR receivers. As an example, he mentioned the possibility of rezoning an area of Woolen Mills from Industrial to high-density mixed-use. He noted that such a transition may require an update of the Comprehensive plan and that this will likely be an ongoing conversation.

How would the city benefit from a TDR arrangement? Rosensweig offered two answers to this question in an interview with Dexter Auction.

First, the City has a vested interest in preserving the natural landscape of the county. He said the City’s drinking water, access to local foods, and recreational opportunities are all at stake.

Second, increases in density, if managed well, could help the city “redevelop in a pedestrian- and transit-oriented way.” According to Rosensweig, this is an issue that requires a wider scope.

“In all critical planning matters, we must begin to resist the urge to be Balkanized,” Rosensweig said. “We must really commit to regional, national and global solutions to problems attendant with unhealthy, sprawling development.” .

The Planning Commission will evaluate residential densities over the course of 2009, as part of their adopted work plan. While no clear resolutions were reached during the course of the TDR meetings, many of the participants indicated an interest in continuing the dialogue.

Daniel Nairn