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August 29, 2008

City Planning Commission discusses work plan; Preston Avenue study de-prioritized

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Preston-avenue
According to the City's website, a formal corridor study of the Preston Avenue area has never been conducted.

A study of the Preston Avenue Corridor is no longer at the top of a list of items that the Charlottesville Planning Commission will address in the coming years. The proposed project had been championed by former Commissioner Bill Lucy, but current Commissioners decided it should be put on hold given that the City cannot fund the implementation of such a study in the next few years. The decision came during the Commission’s work session on August 26, 2008.

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The Commission keeps a list of priorities, called the work plan, to direct the activities of planning staff. Planning Manager Missy Creasy also keeps a running list of various requests from Commissioners about potential items for the work plan. At the beginning of the work session, there were twenty-six requests for projects, ranging from the Preston Avenue study to a request by Commissioner Genevieve Keller to find ways to restrict drive-through windows in the City. Other requests involve finding ways to increase the City’s tree canopy, rewriting the City’s ordinances that deal with accessory apartments, and altering the City’s critical slopes ordinance.

Chairman Jason Pearson recently met with Bill Lucy, who was the immediate past chair of the Commission. Pearson said Lucy told him that he felt the Commission should be thinking bigger as it approaches the next year.  For instance, Lucy said that the Commission should take steps to reduce vehicle-miles-traveled and single occupancy vehicles. Both are elements of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which was rewritten in 2007. Pearson suggested that the Commission’s priorities could be re-ordered to address those goals.

“Are there so many trees here that we can’t see the one forest that we should really be focusing on?” Pearson asked.

Commissioner Hosea Mitchell, who leaves the Commission at the end of this week, suggested that a new Entrance Corridor Review Board (ERB) be created to take some of the work load off of the Planning Commission. Commissioner Michael Osteen suggested that the new ERB consist of members of the Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission. Missy Creasy said that even if a new board were created, there would not necessarily be staff time to support its activities.

Commissioners agreed to merge some of the requests into concrete steps. For instance, a general request by Commissioner Mike Farruggio to explore “housing quality” will now accommodate several of the other requests including accessory reports. Farruggio wanted to find ways to create incentives for home owners to remodel smaller and older homes in order to increase the quality and size of the City’s housing stock. That project will now be bundled with a request by Carla Mullen, a Charlottesville resident, to study if accessory apartments are allowed to be too large.  A project to reduce storm water run-off will be bundled with efforts to increase the tree canopy coverage. Planning staff will be meeting with the Southern Environmental Law Center to follow up on recommendations Morgan Butler made to City Council earlier this year.

Commissioner Cheri Lewis suggested that the Commission could check in with the Comprehensive Plan goals once a year in order to measure progress. Keller said she would support that given that there are now three Commissioners who did not participate in the recent update. 

Rosensweig acknowledged that there is more work to do than available time, and said he has been working with staff to develop a document that will address Comprehensive Plan goals. His suggestion is that the Commission pick three or four goals a year.

“And then if we make requests to staff that don’t fit under one of those goals, those are the ones that get less priority,” Rosensweig said.

Tolbert said he understood that the Preston Avenue Corridor study  was something everyone wanted to do, but pointed out that it might not be the best use of City funds during an economic slow-down.
“The reality is, we’ve had five urban design studies done for West Main, and we’ve now just finally begun funding it,” Tolbert said. “There’s no money to implement it if you do it.” Farruggio asked if the Commission should lobby City Council to include the project in the Capital Improvement Program. Tolbert said the Council places a higher priority on Downtown and West Main.  Commissioner Cheri Lewis said she would prefer the High Street corridor receive attention first.    

The Commission’s conversation on priorities will resume at a future meeting. After the discussion, Rosensweig suggested that something needed to be done to reduce the length of Commission meetings. He said he personally had become sick after two consecutive meetings that ran after midnight, but he said he was more concerned about how the late meetings might affect public participation. Tolbert said planning staff will monitor future public hearings to make sure that the situation does not happen again.

One solution would be to hold a second regular meeting instead of a work-session during months when they are multiple public hearings. 

Pearson said that the reason there were so many public hearings in July and August was because the Commission has taken on ERB responsibilities, initiations to adopt zoning text amendments, as well as the Individually Protected Properties discussions.

Missy Creasy said there are only three public hearings scheduled for the September 9th meeting of the Planning Commission, and there might not be any in the October meeting.

Sean Tubbs

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