Charlottesville’s Dangerous Density Desires?

by. Neil Williamson, President

This morning’s (4/14) Daily Progress features a well written letter to the editor, “Density Must be Carefully Done”  penned by Kathleen M. Galvin.  Ms. Galvin raised concerns regarding the City of Charlottesville’s density desires as Rachana Dixit reported in her  February 15th  story “City Planners Aim for Dense Downtown”.

Charlottesville City staff is seeking to eliminate new single family residential construction on West Main as well as part of Preston Avenue and East High Street.  Ms. Dixit’s article quotes Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig:

“In order to channel development, more specifically density of development, where we’d like it to be … it makes sense to extinguish a right to build single-family homes in favor of higher density,” he said.

Rosensweig added, “I think the reality is, the market restricts what can be built there. It would be prohibitively expensive to build a single-family home on a parcel on West Main.”

Ms. Galvin’s letter raises significant concerns that must be addressed before moving forward with the implementation of a more dense city.

Cities and towns all over the country are realizing that their economic survival depends upon cultivating a character and “sense of place” that attract creative people and growing businesses. As a result many jurisdictions have adopted objective, graphic-rich tools to regulate key aspects of the built environment such as number of stories, parking and building placement and streetscape design. Consequently, review processes become more objective and predictable.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the city desire for increased density.  The City is in a unique position in the market to provide a   lively, urban form that appeals to a segment of the population.  The “sense of place” question Ms. Galvin raises is critically important to creating that desirable, dense community.   Bellvue Washington

But we are drawn to the question, How much of the “sense of place” that exists today was generated by regulation versus grown organically by market forces?

Photo: Private investment, market driven form Bellevue, Washington

Where the Free Enterprise Forum may also have a concern is in the creation of “graphic rich tools to regulate key aspects”.  Considering City density increases are philosophically being driven by consumer demand, shouldn’t the regulations allow for increased design flexibility rather than stringent bureaucrat driven demands?  

Density can be dangerous, but overregulation is not the answer.  The freedom of the market to be permitted to make attractive development investment choices could pave the way for a new, attractive and more dense downtown Charlottesville.


20070731williamson 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


3 responses

  1. Before building MORE, the City should concentrate on refurbishing the existing homes. According to the latest government figures (now dated since there’s a new census), the MEDIAN (half above/half below) Year Build of US homes is 1973. Furthermore, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, residential housing accounts for one-fifth (22.3 percent if memory serves) of the TOTAL US energy consumption. Transportation is only +3% more!

    Look around the City, at all those nice classic homes which are probably leaching heat like a dryer vent. The City should encourage modernization of existing homes and neighborhoods instead of clearing new lots.

  2. I see lots of great ideas here, but I’m not sure why they are being presented as mutually exclusive.

    Ms. Galvin pinpoints some really important features of good urban design, but I don’t know what she is arguing against. Did the article imply that city planners are ONLY concerned with density and nothing else? That would be a problem, but I didn’t see that. Can we not do those things (street trees, sidewalks, short blocks, etc) and allow for greater density in the corridors mentioned at the same time?

    The same goes for Mr. Hawkins’ comment above. Surely the most sustainable house is the one that already exists. Let’s rehab away. Yet again, I didn’t read anything implying that city planners want to bulldoze or ignore current housing stock. I suppose my problem is with “Before building MORE.” Why not at the same time?

    I’m also not clear about the ominous headline, given that you do support these goals.

  3. Daniel – Thank you for your question. the goals are not mutually exclusive but the manner used to reach the goal will likely dictate the level of success.

    Regarding the title, Ms. Galvin’s letter to the editor opens with the following, “The primary emphasis on increased density and land use (to the exclusion of other aspects of the urban environment) as reported in a recent Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting was disturbing.”
    This was the genesis for the headline. In hindsight it should have been included in the post.

    The Free Enterprise Forum position regarding design regulation is to create flexibility within the guidelines that allows for creative expression. Others believe such regulation should more strictly dictate form.

    As you are aware, we believe the dynamic marketplace is better at creating a “sense of place” than government mandates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: