The city of Charlottesville will spend up to $228,000 to hire a consultant to rewrite the zoning code for a portion of the so-called Strategic Investment Area.
The City Council’s authorization for the funding is one step in what has come to be known as the city’s Regulatory Framework Review.
“Right now, our zoning standards are vague, which leads to unpredictable and inconsistent built outcomes,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said. “That hurts the physical character of our neighborhoods.”
The 2013 update of Charlottesville’s Comprehensive Plan called for the city’s zoning code to be reviewed to ensure the city’s aspirations are not being hampered by those regulations.
This review, once known in city planning circles as the “code audit,” has entered a new stage since the council adopted a policy called Streets That Work in September.
Streets That Work is intended to be a manual that tells developers and city officials how roadways should be crafted as different parts of the city are redeveloped.
The completion of Streets That Work satisfies one portion of the review.
“The provisions in Streets That Work are designed to inform the code audit,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Streets That Work was crafted by the Toole Design Group at a cost of $95,000, according to Ikefuna.
The council’s action Monday specifically authorized spending for a consultant to write the form-based code for a section of the city’s Strategic Investment Area — 330 acres south of downtown Charlottesville that were master-planned by the firm Cunningham & Quill at a cost of $190,000.
The SIA plan became part of the Comprehensive Plan in February 2014. One step called for in the plan is a conversion of the zoning code to what’s known as a “form-based” code.
Form-based code focuses on the physical form of a building as opposed to the separation of uses as the basis for deciding what is appropriate in a given location.
“Right now, our review processes are slow, which adds costs and makes housing too expensive for our longtime residents and workforce,” Galvin said.
The council gave general direction to approve the expense at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission and the PLACE Design Task Force on Nov. 30.
Planning staff performed a preliminary review of 12 potential firms that can perform the work. Cost estimates for similar work in other communities range from $100,000 to $250,000.
“Given the above information, it is staff’s recommendation that a minimum of $228,000 be allocated for consulting services to create the form-based code for the Strategic Investment Area,” reads the staff report for the item. “This number is an average of the above estimates, with an additional 20 percent for contingency and to accommodate the cost of inflation for today’s costs.”
A request for proposals for the work now will be drafted.
Even though the item was on the consent agenda, Councilor Bob Fenwick said in an interview before the meeting that he opposed the idea.
“This is something that can be done by staff,” Fenwick said. “The problem is the staff is overburdened by continuing council-imposed programs such as the Strategic Investment Area, Streets That Work, West Main Street and so on at a time when the natural pendulum flow of development work is crashing over us.”
Galvin said public participation is critical to ensuring that the review of the city’s planning and regulations is understood by the community as a whole. She said many residents know there are issues with the city’s zoning that need to be fixed.
“Residents understand when development doesn’t fit and what they can and can’t afford,” Galvin said. “They know when they love the architecture in places that they live in and visit, and when they don’t.”
Galvin said many residents may not know the various planning terms but they recognize the importance of good spaces.
“The quality of the built environment, in fact, is very important to our residents, regardless of class, age, length of residency and race, and it is increasingly vital to the success of our local economy,” Galvin said.
But Fenwick said many in the community are overburdened by a series of overcomplicated processes that are not well understood.
“Because of this huge flow of requirements, it is hard for the community to focus and understand each additional new program before they fully digest the previous one,” Fenwick said. “For example, what is the point of a program called Streets That Work when every neighborhood has streets that don’t work?”
The firm will not be conducting a review of the overall city zoning code. That decision will come before the council at a future date.
The council’s direction is the latest to hire outside firms to do work on the city’s regulations.
The city has been working for more than three years with the consultant Rhodeside & Harwell to create a new streetscape for the West Main corridor.
Part of that work involved the creation and adoption of new zoning districts for West Main Street that limit the height of future buildings.
Rhodeside & Harwell was paid $475,230 to help create a master plan and is being paid another $733,049 for a schematic design to turn the plan into blueprints for new bike lanes, sidewalks, street trees and other amenities designed to make West Main a destination rather than just a transportation corridor.
Two other phases will be necessary before the project can be put out to bid, and there is no estimate for how much more Rhodeside & Harwell will be paid.
Last week, the city announced it will award Kimley-Horn a contract worth $1.98 million to design the Belmont Bridge replacement. That work is expected to result in a final design by the spring of 2018.