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New zoning ordinance draft divides Charlottesville community

The latest version of the multi-year project affects mixed-use development, affordable housing

The zoning draft ordinance introduces several significant changes.
The zoning draft ordinance introduces several significant changes.

City residents have shown mixed reactions to Charlottesville City Council’s latest revision of the zoning ordinance draft. Proposed changes would increase provisions for density and multi-use developments, but citizens have raised concerns over the potential consequences for affordable housing.

The zoning rewrite is one product of the city’s multi-year Cville Plans Together initiative, created in 2020 with the goal of expanding affordable housing in Charlottesville. However, the recent draft has divided the city’s residents, with some voicing concerns that the ordinance will unintentionally produce more high-end and student housing rather than achieving its intended goal of supporting affordable housing.

The zoning draft ordinance introduces several significant changes. The first module updates zoning districts, allowing for more mixed-use development and higher density of buildings. The second modifies development regulations, which will affect parking and landscaping. The third module adds new regulations regarding inclusionary zoning, with the aim of increasing the amount of affordable housing in the city. 

Charlottesville City Councilman Michael Payne said that a provision known as the inclusionary zoning requirement will require every housing development with 10 or more units to make at least 10 percent of them affordable — defined as having rent equal to or below 60 percent of the area’s median income. 

Payne also said that the draft had previously included another anti-gentrification provision known as a sensitive communities overlay, which would have limited development size and incentivized smaller-scale affordable housing in certain areas of pre-existing zoning districts. He said that consultants from the firm Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc. removed the provision to allow homeowners to sell their properties for a greater value. 

Dr. Peter Gray, Lewis Mountain Neighborhood Association member and Charlottesville resident since 2016, said the new ordinance plan will push out the lower-income residents that it was originally intended to help. He said he’s very concerned about gentrification and resident displacement resulting from the zoning change. 

“When this whole process started several years ago, there were strong assurances against gentrification and displacement amongst lower-income Charlottesville residents,” Gray said. “That’s been a key part of the plan, and it was, under the dark of night, removed from the plan.” 

Meadowbrook Hills-Rugby association member Ben Heller said that he supports some parts of the draft zoning ordinance — such as its clearer language, allowance for some duplexes and accessory dwelling units — but he anticipates that the new ordinance plan will mainly lead to residences that attract students. 

“[Student housing is] just so profitable,” Heller said. “The teacher wage for Step 5 teachers earning $60,000 a year is going to compete with students who come from households that make $200,000 a year.”

Heller also said that students often share apartments and are less concerned with the quality of the housing than other potential renters, describing Charlottesville’s student housing market as “an economic juggernaut.” 

The University community has long affected the Charlottesville housing market. Part of the University's 2030 Strategic Plan aims to reduce student housing demand in Charlottesville by providing mandatory on-Grounds housing for second-year students. 

“[The plan has] been a huge impact on availability of student housing,” Gray said. “They’re doing all the right things… to me, that's the way you can get affordable, high-quality student rentals — the University owning and managing properties..”

In contrast, Heller said there is no real pressure on the University to improve their student housing, which could make its goal to provide mandatory on-Grounds housing for undergraduate students’ first two years of study unrealistic. 

“I’ve been hearing since the time I got here, ‘oh, we’re going to house all second-years,' and people I’ve talked to from Charlottesville [say] ‘oh yeah, they’ve been saying that forever,’” Heller said. 

While the 2030 plan could eventually alleviate pressure in the Charlottesville housing market for residents, the issue of affordable housing in Charlottesville persists for the near future. Although the zoning ordinance is close to finalized, it will likely undergo more changes before it’s enacted — after the Charlottesville Planning Commission finishes making amendments to the ordinance, City Council will hold a series of work sessions to make final changes and then vote to approve or deny the new zoning plan. Councilman Payne said the earliest the final vote will happen is December. 

The Charlottesville Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing about the draft zoning ordinance rewrite Sept. 14. 


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