Five years later, Charlottesville has a new comprehensive plan

On Monday evening, Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Recently updated global plan.

They did so in the first reading and public hearing, after nearly three hours of public commentary from dozens of community members, most of whom spoke in favor of the plan.

This was not the first time the board has discussed or heard of the plan – the review has been underway for almost five years, longer than the full board has sat on the dais. There is also a three-year delay: the state requires all localities to review their full plans every five years, and Charlottesville is implementing the plan adopted in 2013.

Last month, the planning commission unanimously recommended that Council adopt the revised plan, with some modifications. Monday evening, that is exactly what the Council did.

What’s in the plan?

“The Comp. The plan is this very broad document which covers almost every aspect of the city very broadly, ”explained Rory Stolzenberg, a member of the planning committee who recently (and unanimously) recommended the plan to council.

The plan (read it here) is a vision of what the local government and citizens would like to see in the city. But it is not binding. It just describes what could happen. It’s a vision of how buses could run, what individual owners could do, or how the city could improve its park system, to name just a few examples. And that’s something local officials take into account when making decisions.

The recently adopted comprehensive plan includes a number of major changes from the one adopted by (an entirely different council) in 2013, particularly in the areas of housing, land use and engagement and collaboration. community.

It also contains a revised map of future land use, which has been the most controversial element of the plan to date, and which will be used for a complete rezoning of the city, changing the potential of what can be built and redeveloped, where. It is also important to note that the FLUM will be revisited and modified after the city has undergone a long process of complete rezoning.

A focus on fairness

The most significant overall change to the new plan is the inclusion of equity and opportunity as a guiding principle of the plan. (The others are community culture and unity, local and regional collaboration, environmental stewardship and sustainability, and connections and access.)

As the Cville Plans Together website points out, “Land use planning and planning in Charlottesville, like in many places, has not always been equitable for everyone. For City plans to be both meaningful and effective, the issue of equity must be addressed.

According to the plan, this means that all residents should have access to housing, transportation, healthy food and a variety of employment options. In order to resolve these issues, the team said they would speak to “those most affected” in an effort to “ensure that the City’s plans and bylaws meet the needs of ALL residents, including those least. the advantaged and the most vulnerable ”.

While the word “equity” appears 84 times in the new revised plan (including when it refers to job titles and offices in municipal government), it was only used three times in the plan. 2013 – once in reference to the vision statement of the 1995 Global Plan.

Equity was a component of the values ​​of the previous Global Plan, but it has not previously played as important a role as described on the Cville Plans Together website: equity is “the requirement of effective planning.

“In many ways, the 2013 plan contains a lot of good things,” Stolzenberg said. “But fairness was at the heart of this [2021] plan from the start, especially since it evolved after 2017 [after various white supremacist-led rallies occurred that spring and summer] and how the RFP for the consultants was drafted, and really fair in the general sense given to and by the steering committee.

Work on this updated plan began almost five years ago, and over the past two years it has been guided by the The Cville team plans together, which includes a steering committee of project advisers from various communities across the city; city ​​staff and management, particularly the people from the Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Departments; the Charlottesville Planning Commission; consultants from Washington, DC-based city planning firm Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc.; and many others, including thousands of citizens.

Other changes

The new global plan also contains a new chapter structure. Housing is now its own chapter (last time it was part of the chapter on land use, Stolzenberg said), separate from land use, historic preservation and urban planning, which is yet another chapter.

The Housing chapter is full of strategies, said Jennifer Koch, urban planner at RHI and Cville Plans Together project manager. The chapter includes recommendations for funding, governance and tenant rights, housing subsidies, regional collaborations, and more, Koch said. The Housing chapter is supposed to work in tandem with the Affordable Housing Plan, which The Council approved earlier this year.

The Cville Plans Together team have heard a lot about the chapter on environment, climate and food equity, said Koch (this was the second most commented topic after housing). A key addition to this chapter is a food equity component, which encourages the city to invest long term in sustainable urban agriculture and edible landscaping. It also examines the Food Equity Initiative that city council has previously worked on with the Food Justice Network and Cultivate Charlottesville.

“There is a lot of desire in the city to see more access to both healthy food and food in general, but also local food,” Koch said. “Other things we heard about [included] protect water resources and the canopy of trees.

Much of what is in the chapter on prosperity and economic opportunity is already in the works citywide, Koch said, but they have added goals and strategies around building community wealth and building community. COVID recovery for businesses. “It’s a little piece of the Comp. Plan, but it’s obviously an important thing in the city, so we wanted to make sure it was recognized there, ”Koch said.

The chapter on community facilities and services has not received a major overhaul, but it now contains additions regarding “an important recognition of the need to coordinate city infrastructure and facilities with any growth and development. any change in the city, ”Koch explained. For example, ensuring that the land use map is implemented in coordination with transport improvements.

There are also two entirely new chapters in the plan.

The first one, the chapter on community engagement and collaboration is “a big update,” Koch said, a big change, really. “What this seeks to do is both integrate public education about planning and urban processes in general,” Koch said.

This new chapter explains how the city can be more engaged with the community (and more inclusive with its engagement) in order to help people better see and understand how municipal government works, how municipal government should work for them and give it to them. the means to speak out when the city government is not working for them. He suggests things like organizing land use trainings for residents and establishing measures to ensure community outreach is equitable.

James Freas, head of neighborhood development services, told a city council working session on Monday evening that the first major test of the strategies outlined in the Community and Community Engagement chapter will be the next year-long rezoning process. .

“Collect dust on a shelf”

The seventh and final chapter, the chapter on implementation, is another new addition, and it’s intended to keep the overall plan – and the 300 or so strategies within it – from collecting dust on a shelf.

According to Stolzenberg, much of what was described in the 2013 comprehensive plan “was not really implemented at all,” and since he was not on the planning commission at the time, he was not on the planning committee at the time. can not say for sure why.

The 2013 plan, which the city will use until a revised plan is adopted, talks a lot about creating a city with more frequent buses, housing that is suitable for all, more mixed areas including more housing. dense and amenities within walking distance, etc. “But at the end of the day, it’s just words unless you have the actual implementation driving it,” Stolzenberg said.

And the comprehensive plan document is used regularly: whenever a project application is submitted to the planning commission for review, city staff report the project to the commission what the project does and does not align. with in the overall plan. Something that lines up with the affordability components of the housing chapter may not line up with the land use map, for example, Stolzenberg said.

It’s just not being used as much as it could be, Stolzenberg said.

“It’s the ongoing problem of plans all over the place,” Stolzenberg said. “You finish them, you feel really good about yourself for adopting it, and then it goes and stays on a shelf and isn’t really implemented at all. “

The concrete implementation steps set out in the overall plan, as well as the methods for achieving this progress, mean that there is “a good chance […] to really make real progress, instead of being stuck on a shelf to be referenced when you need to find the section that supports what you love.

At Monday night’s board meeting, a number of people mentioned that while many people have worked hard on many elements of the overall plan for years, the hardest – and most important – part remains to be seen. to come.

“The real work is in the implementation,” Joy Johnson, longtime tenants’ rights and public housing advocate (and supporter of the plan), said during Monday night’s public comment period. “This is where the real work is going to happen.”

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