The headlining issue before the Charlottesville City Council on its Monday April 20th meeting was a proposed increase in fees for outdoor Cafés and Vendors on the Downtown Mall. The amended fee schedule was brought before Council by city staff in order to better align the fees the renters pay with the true value of the land.
The amended fee structure would increase the price per square foot of outdoor Café space from $3 per square foot to $5 per square foot, unless the businesses choose to utilize newly available electrical outlets which would further raise the price to $7 per square foot. Additionally certificates for appropriateness for vendor stands would see significant increases under this new fee plan as well. The biggest, most expensive, assigned, spaces would leap from $800 to $1200 per year, followed by the smaller assigned spots, increasing from $600 to $800, and finally the unassigned spaces which could see an increase from $500 to $600. If implemented, the city would see more than $30,000 in additional revenue from the increase in Café fees and at least $26,000 extra from the raised vendor’s fees.
Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert highlighted the excitement he perceived from businesses that were happy to have the opportunity to use City electricity to run cash registers and credit card machines outdoors, near much of their seating in warmer months. Tolbert commented further that he hadn’t received a single serious complaint from businesses about the rate increases, reinforcing that “our [the City’s] rates are still a bargain for those who want to do business on the mall” and remain just a fraction on the price compared to similar spaces in the Fashion Square Mall.
City Council, however, did not join Tolbert in his enthusiasm about the rate increases, which they saw as steep given the current economic conditions. Despite a lack of public comment against the increases Council came out in opposition of them from the onset. Although all members of Council seemed to accept that an increase is probably overdue, the consensus was that it could be risky and unfair if done all at one time. Councilor David Brown commented that he’d “like to see us [the city] do something more incremental”. Vice-Mayor Julian Taliaferro also added his concerns about the economy and the potentially diminished atmosphere on the mall as a result of the increases, stating “I don’t want to do anything to discourage the vendors on the mall because they add a lot to the character of the mall”.
As discussion continued it became abundantly clear that Council didn’t want to see the abrupt fee increase and it was time for city staff to go back to the drawing boards to fashion a more agreeable proposal. Conversation closed with Tolbert saying that he hoped to have a new fee schedule on the agenda in a month.
Also on the agenda was a report on the state of Piedmont Virginia Community College from school President Frank Friedman, the unanimously approved initiation of a study on the potential of Single Room Occupancy housing to be added as a classification in city ordinance, unanimous approval of bond sales to go to various projects throughout the city, and a report from the ongoing Water Conservation Survey.