By. Neil Williamson, President
“When you are provided your opportunity at the plate, make the most of it” – Anonymous Coach
Later this month (June 25) the Charlottesville Planning Commission will have a work session to discuss potential reforms to the Planned Unit Development regulations (PUD). The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the review of the PUD regulations and hopes to work with the commission to create new flexibility and reward ingenuity while ensuring future PUDs are an asset to the community.
While this may look like inside baseball to many, the reality is this issue is a critical question regarding future economic vitality, employment opportunity and redevelopment potential.
Please let me explain.
It has been said that development is much like water and electricity; it takes the path of least resistance. Therefore those parcels in the city that are/were naturally prime for development due to topography, location or zoning are mostly built out. The remaining parcels, including redevelopment opportunities, will likely require significant engineering, creative approaches and flexibility of PUD regulations.
What is a Planned Unit Development? According to the Cooperative Extension Service:
Compared to other types of zoning approvals, the PUD process is a flexible application of zoning. Through the PUD approval process, there is often great flexibility in siting and design regulations for buildings and land uses with the PUD project site. Density requirements, setbacks, and building height restrictions may be relaxed, and the mixing of land uses may be allowed in order to improve the design of the project as a whole and its integration with the surrounding community. In return for greater flexibility in the design of planned unit developments, local government zoning ordinance provisions often require the developer of the project to provide public benefits, such as the preservation of open space for public use.
But all PUDs are not created equal. According to Stuart Korfhage of The St. Augustine Record:
The St. Augustine City Commission chose maximum flexibility over stringent property use standards in its recent revision of the planned unit development (PUD) ordinance.
At Monday’s Commission meeting, commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of a new ordinance that does not severely limit applications for PUDs in the city’s historic district. The commission considered three options in recent months and chose the plan with the fewest restrictions.
The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the Charlottesville Planning Commission June 25th work session produces this kind of deep examination of their ordinance applications. Frankly, we are concerned with the low level of questions the staff report seems to be asking.
Is this really about reform or merely housekeeping? None of the staff proposed changes encourage ingenuity or allow flexibility with the subdivision ordinance or design guidelines.
Considering PUDs were designed to provide the opportunity for flexible application of siting and design requirements (see above) we ware dismayed that no parcel under two acres could qualify as a PUD. While we anticipate most parcels would exceed two acres, it is not difficult to imagine an infill project that might need regulatory relief in order to achieve the community vision. We suggest that this limitation be lifted.
We are aware of concerns raised regarding the level of transparency regarding PUD applications and the public’s right to review plans. The Free Enterprise Forum believes such sunlight is good and any formally filed documents should be readily available for public review. However, we also recognize pre-application discussions with City staff are often required to determine the potentiality of such an application, such meetings should not require public notice.
The Free Enterprise Forum hopes Charlottesville City Planning Commission will make the most of their time at the plate and expand the lens of this PUD review and refocus staff energy on improving PUDs as a tool to get better development. A refined PUD process will increase the use of the PUD and foster innovative development and redevelopment of the City core.
We stand ready to assist in this important Charlottesville economic vitality effort. As John Fogerty said, “Put me in Coach; I am ready to play”
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Free Enterprise Forum