Charlottesville City Council Initiates Development Review ZTA

Late Monday evening (10/6/08), Charlottesville City Council unanimously approved a resolution to improve the development review process and, in turn, potentially improve the supply of affordable housing in the city.

Over the last twenty four to thirty six months, Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert has been discussing potential improvements to the City’s approval process with the applicant community.  He has also been meeting with the Planning Commission Chair, Jason Pearson, to discuss ways to improve the Development Review Process and improve the Planning Commission function.  According to the staff report:

This effort has three objectives:

  1. Focus more of the Planning Commission’s (and staff’s) time on strategic issues.
  2. Streamline the site plan review process while maintaining adequate oversight.
  3. Provide incentives for affordable housing

The manner contemplated to address number 3 is elegant in its simplicity and significant in its potential application:

  • Ask Council to pass a resolution that guarantees a three week turn around on all site plans containing affordable housing as outlined in the new legislation that has recently been passed.  This will be effective if complete plans are submitted and may be suspended if the plans are not complete
  • Frame the overall streamlining as an effort to produce economic efficiencies that will enable the development community to offer affordable housing in their proposals.

There is a great deal more in this well thought out Zoning Text Amendment; but the bold logic of the affordable housing provision is evidence of a clear understanding of the needs of the applicant community, their desire to produce affordable housing product and a recognition of the regulatory obstacles to such production.

In a discussion shortly after the vote, one applicant suggested it was likely all his future applications in the city would include the required amount of affordable housing to receive the “fast track” once this measure is enacted.  He indicated that with a guaranteed three week approval time frame, his savings on interest (carrying) costs on many projects would make building affordable housing economically viable.

To be clear this is only a first step.  The Planning Commission has been charged by City Council to:

initiate a study of proposed amendments to Chapter 34 (zoning) of the Charlottesville City Code, 1990, as amended, to provide for an improved development review process and allow the Planning Commission to focus on other priorities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Planning Commission will submit its findings and recommendations to the City Council no later than January 14, 2009.

City Council even took the logical step so often missing in government action to create a deadline as a part of the resolution. 

If this process works as envisioned, the City of Charlottesville will have much more efficient plan review and increased affordable housing stock while the Planning Commission can focus on larger issues. 

Laudable goals indeed.

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