By. Neil Williamson, President
On Tuesday evening, Charlottesville’s Planning Commission is being asked to endorse a new “concept” that would seek to merge the development regulations and subdivision ordinances and refer to the consolidated requirements as a “Unified Development Ordinance” (UDO).
This staff driven concept is allegedly being prompted by a change in state code that no longer allows localities to mandate a preliminary AND final submission. Therefore, staff desires City Code clearly delineate all requirements for subdivision and zoning final plans in one ordinance.
Originally presented as “housekeeping items”, the Planning Commission balked and questioned the breadth of the significant changes. The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA) also weighed in with two pages of concerns.
After meeting with BRHBA representatives, Chief Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson dismissed their concerns suggesting now was not the time to discuss “substantive” provisions of the two ordinances being merged. In addition she wrote that the concerns
relate to existing provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance (“Z.O.)” or subdivision ordinance (“S.O.”) and are not new within the draft UDO:
For those not following the ordinance merry-go-round already in motion – Charlottesville has initiated a “Code Audit” that will likely result in significant ordinance changes beyond (and perhaps in conflict with) the changes contemplated under this UDA “concept”. If they move forward with the UDA this will result in two confusing massive overhauls in City Code. Why not wait until the audit is completed before going forward with the UDA concept?
With all due respect to the Chief Deputy County Attorney, if the UDO “concept” has significant problems, it is important to raise those concerns prior to endorsing the concept. It may be that the entire ordinance structure needs to be “substantively reviewed” prior to the Planning Commission providing their proof of concept.
Further complicating matters is the imminent departure of Jim Tolbert who has served as the Director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) since its inception. While we have not always agreed with Tolbert, we know him to be a pragmatic professional and will miss his wit and wisdom. We fully anticipate a lengthy national search for Tolbert’s replacement and have heard rumors of a potential reorganization of the entire City Planning/Zoning Department. In the interim, the departments will likely run shorthanded.
If the Planning Commission decides now is the best time to push forward an UDO, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates this will be yet another outside consultant exercise where local understanding of the regulations and policies regarding development operations may become lost in the mirage of charettes and renderings of other localities.
It is rather sad that rather than dealing with the substantive issues raised by the very people impacted by the ordinances, the Chief Deputy City Attorney was dismissive of their concerns.
Could the staff concerns regarding the elimination of preapplication plans be solved without a massive consolidated UDA?
Of course it could.
Will Charlottesville’s Planning Commission challenge staff to deal directly with the issues raised, choose to wait for their own Code Audit to complete prior to overhauling the City Code or will they chose to follow staff’s direction and put off the important substantive problems with the existing (and proposed) ordinances and push forward with the UDA concept?
I know which way I am betting.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: Free Enterprise Forum, aggieworkshop.com, arbroath.blogspot.com