Planning Commission briefed on city’s future growth possibilities
By Sean Tubbs
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Charlottesville Planning Commission discussed a key question on Tuesday — how dense can the city become within its footprint of 10.4 square miles?
“If all vacant land in the city were developed at maximum by-right density with no regard for any limiting factors, it would yield 4,328 additional residential units, or 10,514 additional residents,” said Brian Haluska, city planner.
“With special-use permits, these same parcels could accommodate 14,536 additional units, and 34,625 additional residents,” he added.
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Haluska’s figures were derived as part of a build-out analysis that calculated a hypothetical number of potential dwelling units that could be constructed under existing zoning regulations.
There are currently 17,778 dwelling units within city limits. The 2010 Census recorded 43,475 people as Charlottesville residents.
“Build-out potential generally exceeds reality,” said Genevieve Keller, chairwoman of the Planning Commission. “What the numbers say to me is that our city can meet growth demands that could occur as a result of university expansion or other economic development that could occur.”
Haluska said most of those additional units would be in mixed-use zoning districts, and not those zoned for low residential density.
“We are facing a situation where density potential lies in higher buildings,” Haluska said.
Most of those taller buildings are only allowed in mixed-use districts on corridors such as West Main Street, Cherry Avenue and Preston Avenue. However, commissioners agreed that the city’s vision for any of those corridors has yet to be realized.
“I feel like we’ve diluted the impact of the mixed-use zones by having so many of them,” Keller said. “We have an opportunity in the Comprehensive Plan review process to look at areas of the city to see if they’re being used in the ways we want them to be used.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig, who is also executive director of the Charlottesville branch of Habitat for Humanity, said he disagreed with Keller and feels the city needed to retain its existing mixed-use zoning.
“It’s hard to find a developable piece of land in the city where the economics make sense financially and you can build something that’s harmonious around it,” he said.
Rosensweig suggested the city could jumpstart West Main by helping to finance parking structures to alleviate what he perceives as a lack of parking.
Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky said if city money is to be used for that purpose, the commission needs to prioritize which corridors it wants to invest in.
“It seems like there is so little money to go around that there needs to be some focus to that discussion,” Sienitsky said.
Rosensweig also said he wanted more analysis of how other uses could be inserted into neighborhoods that are currently zoned for single families.
“I see swaths of acreage that are a single use and I don’t think that supports the goals of the Comprehensive Plan,” Rosensweig added.
One commissioner disagreed.
“We’ve already identified that none of these mixed-use corridors are being developed,” said Commissioner Michael Osteen. “We should do that before we start breaking down existing single-family neighborhoods.”
Woolen Mills resident Bill Emory called on the city to take another look at the High Street corridor and to address traffic concerns along Carlton Avenue in Belmont.
“We can do fabulous things for our city if we do things for the east side,” Emory said.
Jack Marshall, of the group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, said he was impressed the city had conducted the study.
“Projections are not destiny and we can control the kind of growth and development we want in our communities,” Marshall said.
Haluska said the build-out analysis provides a way to envision Charlottesville’s future, but the real details will come through decisions made by landowners on how they want to develop their land.
There are several construction projects under way in the city, ranging from the 66-unit redevelopment of the Sunrise Trailer Park by Habitat to the development of the 60-unit single-resident-occupancy facility being built at the corner of Fourth Street and Preston Avenue.
The city has a much longer list of developments that have been approved but not yet built. These include the 302-unit City Walk in Belmont and the 189-unit third phase of the Johnson Village neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the city will be reviewing other projects in the coming year, such as a plan to place several hundred units near Barracks Road Shopping Center on land currently used for office space.
“I never imagined 300 residential units on Arlington Boulevard,” Osteen said.