“Snob Zoning” Request Returns to Charlottesville City Council?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In a blog post just under a year ago, Is the Lorax Guilty of Snob Zoning?, we raised concerns of so called snob-zones-640-for-web-194x300“Snob Zoning” in Central Virginia.  Included in that post was a quote from Councilor Dede Smith about new residential developments.

[City Councilor Dede] Smith also wanted to know what population was being attracted to Charlottesville based on the nature of the new developments.

“Who is going to live at City Walk?” Smith asked. “Our number of families is declining in the city and it has been stated as a priority that we would like to at least maintain or grow housing for families.”

Well, she is at it again.

Last week, Smith  strong armed the panel into considering a proactive downzoning in opposition to the wishes of the property owners.

Despite a majority of Councilors indicating their opposition to the rezoning, they were bullied into a public hearing process that will likely result in significant staff work, unrealistic citizen expectations as well as potential legal liability.

In The Daily Progress article written by Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs, Jim Tolbert, Director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services is quoted:

“Essentially, they are asking for the properties on Stribling, Crestmont and Shamrock to be downzoned,”

The reality is this is not a new issue.  The neighborhood association has been attempting to get these properties rezoned since at least 1999.

DEDE_portrait_200Perhaps most troubling was Councilor Smith’s dismissive attitude regarding the property owners wishes (and their property rights).  According to the Daily Progress:

Tolbert said the rezoning is opposed by 16 out of 23 residents of Crestmont Avenue.

Councilor Dede Smith, a Fry’s Spring resident, said that half of those owners do not live in Charlottesville. [Emphasis added-NW]

Property rights are NOT dependent on the owner occupying the property NOR their domicile.

The Free Enterprise Forum tends to agree with the opinion of City Attorney Craig Brown in describing this action as a downzoning.  He indicated that to initiate such an action there would be a need for the Council to have a finding of some change (since 2003) that

“materially affects  health, safety and welfare to justify that downzoning.”

We also concur with Councilor Szakos who indicated her belief that the holding of these hearing will create a false expectation of the citizens that the Council is prepared to downzone these properties.

We are also concerned that one councilor suggested the research phase of this process “may uncover a legal reason why the rezoning could be permissible”.

The ultimate motivation for this move, which was approved 4-1 (Szakos opposed)  may however also be an activist litmus test to expose the reluctance of some members of Council to reach beyond their legal authority and downzone the properties. 

There are some politically active community members that have suggested this is the first salvo in the next city council election (AKA Democratic primary).  To those fully engaged in these issues, it is not hard to see how supporting illegal “Snob Zoning” may win votes in an at-large City Council primary campaign.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson




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