By. Neil Williamson, President
The Belmont community consists of primarily two “1890’s era subdivisions, “Belmont” and “Carlton”. The neighborhood has experienced significant increases in affluence in recent years. In agreement with their comprehensive vision of building a walkable, sustainable community, City Council designated Belmont to be a priority neighborhood for improvements from 1996-1999, which according to the City website:
resulted in enhancements such as new paved crosswalks, street trees and planters in “Downtown Belmont.” The Neighborhood has a mixture of housing with corner convenience stores scattered throughout
City Council also permitted the conversion of several buildings into restaurants to generate more mixed use in this neighborhood.
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the concern about noise calls into question the concept of mixing residential and commercial uses that is critical to the theology of New Urbanism.
For those unfamiliar the philosophical underpinnings, here are three of the top ten principles from NewUrbanism.org:
-Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
-Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases
3. Mixed-Use & Diversity
-A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
-Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races
7. Increased Density
-More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
In seven years of listening to project reviews and examining architectural renderings, the Free Enterprise Forum has never seen a rendering featuring the nightlife of a mixed use community. Usually the renderings feature sidewalk cafes, perhaps with a nice dog in the picture and folks having coffee just steps away from their loft.
The image to the left is part of Places 29 a planners’ vision for future development along Airport Road in Albemarle County.
Note the wide sidewalk cafe seating, apartments over retail, and yes, a nice dog behaving well tied to a street tree.
What if one of the new retail spaces chooses to offer live music to go along with their lattes? Will the existing noise ordinances cover residences that are in the same building as the restaurant that is providing a live music venue?
Back to the Belmont neighborhood, property prices have increased in recent years, some may claim the increase in value is due to the revitalization of opening up commercial uses in the neighborhood. Others believe their home values are being diminished because of the late night activity and noise.
Are the residential property owners who spent thousands of dollars to remodel their home expecting to live in a quiet neighborhood setting, right in their opposition to restaurants in their district staying open late into the evening/early morning?
What of the commercial property owners who spent thousands of dollars to remodel their buildings to open an enterprise (generate tax revenue, provide jobs, within walking distance) as supported by the City’s Vision?
Or, is it possible, such divergent uses should be separated to prevent such conflict?
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org