By. Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern
On a Presidents’ Day delayed, second monthly meeting of the Charlottesville City Council only one major issue was voted on, an amended definition of Bed and Breakfasts, while a few significant reports were presented, most notably a quality of service and efficiency study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center.
Quality of Service and Efficiency Study
The most prominent portion of Tuesday February 17th’s, meeting was an extensive report of the quality and efficiency of the city’s services. The purpose of the study, presented and led by Brad Hammer, former Assistant County Executive in Chesterfield County, Virginia, was to find ways to potentially cut expenses within city government while maintaining the level of service Charlottesville residents have come to expect. The consulting team spent months combing over records and interviewing city staff and elected officials in order to come to numerous recommendations.
Much of the first portion of the report was spent pointing out a praising Charlottesville’s strengths, as compared to its peer cities across the state and country. Hammer highlighted Charlottesville’s high quality of life, appearance in lists of top cities to live and do business, tourism industry, outstanding credit, and impressive array of human service programs making Charlottesville praiseworthy as a city that provides “compassionate” services. However, the prognosis was not all positive, a wide variety of deficiencies, coupled with potential solution suggestions, were pointed out. Most outstanding, was the city’s foster care placement rate, which is five times the state average. Hammer was quick to point out, though, that the city is providing plenty of money and social services staff committed to dealing with issues of this kind. Additionally the report criticized the city for not having enough vocational training and job availability for young people with less than a college education and a weak middle school system. Despite strong elementary and high schools Hammer identified the middle schools in the city as an area that needs a lot of work in order to keep students on the path to high school graduation.
The Weldon Cooper Center consultants also presented quite a few long term planning and growth ideas to Council. Among which, were the need for more hotel capacity South and West of town to continue to allow Charlottesville’s strong tourism industry to grow, the recommendation that Preston Avenue between 29 and downtown become a mid-rise, mixed use area allowing for retiring baby boomers, UVa graduates, and commercial activity to move closer to downtown, and finally the reuse of the old Martha Jefferson building as a priority. The report also suggested that the city try to save money by combining many of its services, such as IT, finance, purchasing, and risk management with its school system. Also, in what was seemed like quite a significant surprise based on rhetoric around city hall, Hammer claimed that the city has an “excellent public, affordable housing program”, which could be improved by setting goals and performance measures for continued improvement into the future.
Overall Charlottesville got a pretty favorable assessment in the report, there was no commentary claiming the city is wasteful with tax dollars or overstaffing, in fact the city was slightly below the national average in public works staffing for a city its size. The report required no motion or vote but was as Mayor Dave Norris commented simply “the start of this conversation”.
Zoning Ordinance Amendments related to Bed and Breakfast Establishments
In the January City Planning Commission meeting a recommendation was made for City Council to amend, what was widely understood to be a poor definition for Bed and Breakfasts. Tuesday’s meeting saw a vote on the ordinance. The definition as recommended by the Planning Commission broke Bed and Breakfasts down into three groups, Bed and Breakfast Homestay’s containing one to three rooms acceptable in all zones, Bed and Breakfast’s containing four to eight rooms acceptable in R-1, R-2 zones, and above, and Bed and Breakfast Inn’s containing nine to fifteen rooms acceptable only in commercial and mixed use zones. This definition, however, received significant criticism by Councilor Satyendra Huja who, without any objection from the rest of Council, claimed that Bed and Breakfast’s and Bed and Breakfast Inn’s should not be acceptable in R-1 and R-2 zones. Huja argued that such, higher occupancy, establishments would threaten the integrity of R-1 and R-2 neighborhoods, as well as burden traffic. Mayor Norris also suggested raising the sign size maximum for all establishments under this ordinance from one square foot to two. The discussion closed with Councilor Huja’s motion for approval of the ordinance with the alterations above passing 4-0.
Other Items on the Agenda
There were quite a few other items on the Council’s agenda, including two reports, one from the Piedmont Council for the Arts and another from the Rivanna River Basin Commission. The latter concluding with the Councils 4-0 vote for a letter of support to the National Fish & Wildlife Service on behalf of the RRBC, affirming a planned project that the Commission is proposing in order to get a $72,000 grant. The grant, from the National Fish & Wildlife Service, would go towards a proposed demonstration of stormwater retrofits at the Charlottesville High School Performing Arts Center and toward the Commissions work in developing workshops, outreach, and incentive programs. Council also voted to move an ordinance to convey a lot on Elliott Avenue to the Habitat for Humanity, which would be used to build an ecohouse, to a later date. The meeting ended with Council unanimously voting for a, Huja requested resolution, opposing a cut to City Drug Court funding.