More than 100 people from the Belmont, Carlton and Woolen Mills neighborhoods crowded into the cafeteria at Clark Elementary School on Thursday to express their concerns about a changing city.
“We’re all here because we love Charlottesville and all of us are concerned about the path the city is taking,” said Eugenio Schettini, the president of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association. “You’ll hear issues here tonight on noise, parking, traffic and playgrounds.”
This was City Council’s first town hall meeting for 2017, a tradition that dates back to 2010.
“These are a way for us to get ideas differently from what we get during regular City Council meetings,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.
Schettini said the neighborhood commercial corridor zoning district on Hinton Avenue has been abused, especially now that a seventh restaurant is set to soon open on the street.
“With the multiplication of restaurants, we estimate there are 700 seatings a night, and that’s a lot,” Schetinni said. “We have tour buses coming in and dumping customers. There are some issues that need to be addressed.”
Julia Williams, of Belmont Avenue, said the intense use has caused noise and unsafe conditions for pedestrians.
“I feel like we are not being supported in this, and we’ve been coming to you for years,” Williams said.
City Councilor Kristin Szakos said the city has changed the noise ordinance in response to concerns, but elected officials may need to make other changes.
“With every new restaurant there, it becomes more of an issue,” said Szakos. “We need to look at it again.”
One Belmont resident asked for a free shuttle bus between downtown and the commercial district on Hinton Avenue to reduce the number of vehicles.
“If you think people are coming from [the University of Virginia], it would make sense to explore that,” Szakos said.
All five councilors supported the idea, which could include extending the Charlottesville Area Transit’s free trolley-style bus.
Schettini said he is also concerned about the development of the Strategic Investment Area, which includes a portion of his neighborhood.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin, the lead proponent of the SIA small-area plan, had an update on the initiative.
“We are at a point now where we are pulling together a community engagement strategy,” Galvin said. “We are also focusing on changing the zoning in the heart of the SIA in the area that is currently under the ‘downtown extended’ zoning.”
Galvin said this zoning change is intended to include transition zones that would prevent tall buildings from being built right alongside single-family homes.
Councilors have agreed to spend up to $228,000 to hire a consultant to write that zoning, which will take a form-based approach.
Another member of the BCNA board of directors said she wants city officials to attend her organization’s meetings.
“We would like a return to the days when neighborhood planners would attend our regular meetings,” said Erin Hannegan.
Hannegan said neighborhoods are stuck in the middle between city officials and developers.
“We’d like to work with you on a plan for how a developer can approach neighborhoods up front so that concerns don’t end up being at the Board of Architectural Review, the Planning Commission and council meetings that extend far into the night,” Hannegan said.
Szakos said planners are divided across the city by neighborhood, and planners should attend neighborhood meetings.
Councilor Bob Fenwick pointed out that many neighborhood association meetings are all held on the same night, making it difficult for planners to make it to all of them.
Brian Shullaw, of Steephill Street, asked for repairs to be made to a bridge on a roadway whose ownership is disputed.
“The bridge has been in existence since the 1950s but has now deteriorated to the point where it cannot be crossed,” Shullaw said. “We can no longer … drive over it, even though our parked cars are just on the other side of it.”
The city has been in a long-running dispute with a nearby landowner regarding whether the roadway is public or private.
“It is a complicated issue that we are working with folks in that neighborhood adjacent to Steephill Street and trying to address and get an easement so we can do the utility work,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. “We’ve had some fruitful discussions that we hope will result in an agreement.”
Anna Towns endorsed the proposal to hire a city architect, which was discussed by councilors in late December.
“We’re going to see things even more transformed over the next five years if we don’t have a vision,” Towns said.
Galvin said that topic will come up during the city’s budget discussion which gets underway in early March when Jones presents his recommended document to City Council.
Jason Ivy, of Market Street, said many in his neighborhood are opposed to the creation of a Woolen Mills historic protection district. The Planning Commission endorsed the concept in November, but Ivy said the process has seemed rushed.
“There were a lot of properties that are not covered,” Ivy said. “[The district] doesn’t set out to do what it would like to do. Some of us would like to have a compromise where we can opt out.”
Ivy said the district will hurt property owners who do not have the resources to go to the Board of Architectural Review for approval to make changes to their property.