“There are a couple of high level questions we need answered to make sure we’re on the same page,” said city planner Brian Haluska.
NDS Director Jim Tolbert briefed the commission and council on land use policies since 2001
Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said the city planned for high-density development by amending its comprehensive plan in 2001 and then changing the zoning code in 2003 to encourage development along key corridors.
“In many communities, when you see their planning commissions meet, there are always re-zonings on the table,” Tolbert said. “We said, ‘Let’s make everything we can permitted [by-right] so we don’t have to go through the debate of what we want every time.’”
Commissioners and councilors were generally in agreement that the city’s growth policies should proceed.
“I think the idea for strengthening corridors is still a valid idea and should continue,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja.
However, Councilor Dede Smith said if the city continues to encourage growth, there would be an effect on city neighborhoods.
“As we bring in more industry and jobs and density, we also need to be very cognizant that we need to protect our neighborhoods from cut-through [traffic],” Smith said. “We already have a big problem.”
Tolbert said one of the biggest successes has been the creation of the University of Virginia’s high-density district, which encouraged the development of large apartment complexes to house off-Grounds students.
“When I first got here in 1999, I kept going to meetings and heard about pressure on neighborhoods from students moving in,” Tolbert said. “One of the things we thought we would do to correct that is permit development of higher-density housing in areas within walking distance to the university.”
Around two–thirds of the new units have been built for UVa students, according to Tolbert.
“It seems to me that’s an unquestionable success in terms of numbers and the feel of the area around the university,” said planner Dan Rosensweig.
He asked if there are other opportunities for similar zoning districts in the area apart from corridors.
“Taking the corridor approach in general is pretty good, but it puts a lot of pressure on corridors to accommodate all the growth that we want,” Rosensweig said.
Tolbert said that West Main could become a destination, as well as the area south of the railroad tracks on Avon Street. Another could be the redevelopment of the former Martha Jefferson Hospital.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin said the city should expand beyond corridor-based development and identify areas of the city where “nodes” of high-density development could occur.
“What we have now is a great skeleton, and now we’re talking about putting the organs in the body,” Galvin said.
Galvin and others also advocated for a shift to form-based zoning, where the city regulates how buildings should be built with less emphasis on what should take place inside of them.
Planning Commission Chair Genevieve Keller said she wanted to review areas zoned for business, citing a commercial section of Rose Hill Drive. In the past few years, she said, a developer purchased a business and expanded it over the objections of residential neighbors.
“If we had something that was more of a form-based code, we would have been coming up with solutions that were more amenable to the neighborhood that has co-existed with the mini-commercial area for years,” Keller said.
Haluska also wanted to know how economic development should be factored into the study of the zoning code.
“The classic definition of [manufacturing and industrial] from 20 years ago is obsolete,” Haluska said. “A lot of new industries are things that are appropriate and shouldn’t be segregated.”
Commissioners agreed that definitions of industrial zoning should be reviewed and possibly changed.
However, planner Michael Osteen said manufacturing has certain requirements that may not make that use appropriate in mixed-use settings.
“There are tremendous logistics with deliveries coming and going,” Osteen said. “We can’t handle trash on the Downtown Mall. We can’t have semis showing up at these places all hours of the day either.”
No decisions were made at the work session, which was a chance for staff to gather ideas for review. Commissioners have requested a work session to identify potential centers by going through maps of the city.
The city will hold a public information session on the comprehensive plan later this spring. Haluska said a date for that meeting had not yet been set.