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November 03, 2009

City planners evaluating how developers might contribute to off-site mitigation efforts; City role in a transfer of development rights program also discussed

Reader comments (0) By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20091027-CPC-Retreat1Commissioners Bill Emory, Genevieve Keller, Jason Pearson and Dan Rosensweig discuss their priorities before choosing study areas
In their third retreat in the past two months, the Charlottesville Planning Commission has directed staff to study how the City might create something called the Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange (CMX) and to assess how the City might participate in a transfer of development rights (TDR) program with Albemarle County. Staff will also study the potential of protecting the Rivanna River corridor through the City.

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The idea of the Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange was born after the Commission debated whether the City should be required to daylight culverted streams in exchange for a critical slopes waiver for a new fire station on Fontaine Avenue. There is currently no provision in the City’s code that would allow for a developer to be required to make off-site mitigations in exchange for a rezoning, site plan approval, special use permit or critical slopes waiver. Commissioner Kurt Keesecker suggested the CMX could operate as a mechanism for the City to prioritize specific environmental clean-up projects.

Keesecker drafted the following proposal:

“Charlottesville is a city that has seen virtually all of its vacant, non-impacted, privately held land fully developed in the years past. The remaining undeveloped parcels may have a variety of characteristics that would impact the City if they were fully developed to their potential. Mitigation of these impacts within the bounds of the single parcel is becoming increasingly difficult and/or expensive as available parcels become smaller and smaller. At the same time, the City has a variety of properties (both publicly and privately held) that have characteristics that should be preserved but there are no formal agreements or easements that would protect these areas against development in the future… The solution might be the creation of a mitigation exchange that would allow private parties to reach agreements to protect some areas of the City in exchange for the development of other portions of the City, on a site by site, proffer by proffer basis…”

Deputy City Attorney Richard Harris said the proposed CMX would not be legal unless enabling legislation were passed allowing Charlottesville to accept proffers for site plan and special use permits, an authority the City does not have. Additionally, he said proffers are intended to be used to make a rezoning of a particular property more palatable.

Chairman Jason Pearson said that he liked the idea because it was radical, but he doubted the City would be able to get the General Assembly to grant the necessary enabling authority.

Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, said the creation of a “mitigation checklist” would help educate developers about what improvements are expected for approvals. However, that idea would only apply to individual properties, and not off-site locations.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she thought the CMX might be a good tool for controlling land use across the City, and could help protect historical and physical assets that she said make Charlottesville a desirable place to live.
Transfer of Development Rights

The Commission also discussed whether the City should participate in a potential TDR system with Albemarle County, where Charlottesville would be one of the receiving areas for County development rights.

The General Assembly has passed legislation allowing Albemarle County to establish a TDR system, but the Board of Supervisors has so far declined to move forward with implementation.

Keesecker pointed out that a TDR system would also require a clearinghouse, or TDR
bank. He suggested that neighborhoods that want less density could potentially sell their development rights to downtown developers who want to add extra floors to buildings.

Tolbert was skeptical that a TDR system would work in Charlottesville, where some zoning districts already allow up to 200 units an acre.  He also said he wasn’t sure Charlottesville residents would automatically support more density.

Commissioner Keller said the time to implement a TDR system would have been before West Main Street was up-zoned to allow more development in 2003. She also said if the City were interested, it could test a TDR system by starting first in neighborhoods with historic protections in place. Keller said a TDR system might make more sense if Charlottesville and Albemarle County were one jurisdiction.

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, who suggested the idea for study, said he intended the idea to be something for the City to have in place for use in several decades as redevelopment occurs.  Rosensweig participated in a 2008 discussion on TDRs facilitated by the Weldon-Cooper Center for Public Service.

20091027-pearson Chairman Jason Pearson. Above his head is the list of potential study areas. Commissioners got two votes and indicated their preferences with the use of red dots
Pearson said in a conversation he had with Albemarle County Planning Commission Chairman Eric Strucko, he learned that development in the County’s growth areas has not been as dense as planned.

“Where the development is occurring, they’re not getting build-out to the maximum densities so nobody is squeezed,” Pearson said. He added he was concerned that adding a TDR system might create an extra barrier for developers.

Keesecker said the TDR system would allow developers looking to add units to have the incentive of purchasing additional rights in order to build taller buildings.

The Commission was less interested in the TDRs, but agreed to keep that possibility open for discussion when they meet with the Albemarle County Planning Commission in December.

“I think this gives [staff] a road map for the types of things we’d like to be working on,” Pearson said. “I don’t think any of us want to just sit around and talk and not get something done… Maybe it does result in much more productive conversations with the development community about the way development happens in Charlottesville.”

Commission passes on “form-based zoning”

Commissioner Genevieve Keller made a request to study whether the City should switch to different system of zoning based on “form-based codes.” Under this system, codes depend more on what the physical structure of a block should look like, as opposed to separating out different types of uses. Currently the City can only regulate design in entrance corridors and historic districts. 

“I think there would be a greater comfort level in the city if people knew what things would look like,” said Genevieve Keller.

Tolbert said when the City’s zoning code was rewritten in 2003, that idea was considered but was taken off the table because it was felt that design reviews would become too lengthy.  He said that certain streets, such as Monticello Avenue through Belmont, could be added to the list of entrance corridors in order to require more design scrutiny.

However, the idea did not receive enough votes to be studied in the coming year.

Other items that staff will work on for the Commission’s consideration include:
  • Rewriting of the City’s critical slopes ordinance
  • Improving the planning process in the Belmont neighborhood
  • Rewriting the “dance hall” section of the City zoning code
  • Study of the Cherry Avenue corridor
  • Review of the process for prioritizing sidewalk additions
  • Review of entrance corridor guidelines
  • A request from the Fry’s Spring neighborhood to downzone some residential properties
Tolbert said the dance hall review is to establish clear guidelines on what establishments are allowed to offer music and which ones are not.

“We made a list the other day and came up with 35 places that have music in them,” Tolbert said. “Maybe five of them have been allowed legally. The others have morphed and happened and one definition doesn’t fit all of them.”


  • 01:00 – Chair Jason Pearson opens with discussion of location of fire station on Fontaine Avenue
  • 08:00 – Planning staff Ebony Walden provides status report on tree canopy initiative
  • 15:05 – Planning staff Melissa Celii provides status report on density discussion
  • 17:23 – Planning staff Nick Rodgers provides status report on Rivanna River discussion
  • 23:15 – Planning manager Missy Creasy discusses revised proposed work plan items
  • 27:24 – Pearson discusses slope waiver review language
  • 39:45 – Creasy opens discussion of potential work plan items
  • 43:50 – Commissioner Kurt Keesecker asks whether Charlottesville Mitigation Exchange (CMX) is legal
  • 53:27 – Jim Tolbert discusses transfer of development rights
  • 1:07:04 – Pearson discusses form-based codes
  • 1:17:10 – Pearson discusses density in relation to transportation of all types
  • 1:20:56 – Pearson discusses alignment of the comprehensive plan
  • 1:30:15 – Commissioner Dan Rosensweig discusses affordable housing item
  • 1:36:00 – Keesecker discusses environment-sensitive development
  • 1:47:14 – Commissioners vote on priorities for work plan
  • 1:51:00 – Discussion of CMX


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