The Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a special meeting next week to deliberate on two items that were postponed after activist groups took over its regular meeting on Oct. 10.
About three dozen supporters affiliated with Solidarity Charlottesville and Showing up For Racial Justice interrupted the meeting as a public hearing began for a special-use permit for the additional height of a proposed building at 201 W. Water St. The meeting did not resume after Charlottesville police ordered everyone to leave City Hall.
“Community members and University of Virginia students shut down the planning commission meeting to stand in solidarity with DeAndre Harris and declare that business cannot go on as usual in the face of injustice,” the group said shortly afterward in a statement.
Harris is an African-American man beaten by white nationalists after the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally. He turned himself in last week on a felony charge of unlawful wounding stemming from accusations that Harris struck another person before the beating. Harris’s attorney claims the charge is based on misleading evidence.
There were no arrests last week, but that could change.
“The police department is actively investigating the events that took place at the planning commission meeting,” said Lt. Steve Upman, a city police spokesman. “Charges could be forthcoming.”
An email request for comment from Solidarity Charlottesville was not returned.
Because three public hearings were not held last week, the commission will reconvene at 5 p.m. Oct. 24 so members can make a recommendation on the two other public hearings that were completed before the meeting was canceled.
“There will not be additional time for comment at the meeting, but interested parties are always welcome to provide input in writing to be forwarded to the commission prior to the meeting,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.
That means the commission will make a recommendation on a rezoning request from the Monticello Area Community Action Agency and New Millennium Senior Living.
The plan would see MACAA moving into a new building on the site and a 146-unit senior living facility that would occupy a new four-story structure. Four units of housing would be built on Park Street that would be restricted to senior households that earn less than 80 percent of the area median income.
The other item that will be acted upon is a special-use permit for a storage facility at 901 River Road. The commission did not make a recommendation on either because of a relatively new scheduling rule that states the group must hold all of its scheduled public hearings before taking action.
After they make their recommendations, the commission will go into closed session to discuss potential changes to meeting procedures. When that is over, the commission will resume its discussion on the development of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. Public comment will be taken after that item.
The three other public hearings that were postponed will be scheduled for the Nov. 14 meeting of the planning commission.
They are for the additional height at 201 W. Water St., a special-use permit for a dog run on Cynthianna Avenue and a Comprehensive Plan amendment for the small-area plan for the area around the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29.
Several of the candidates for Charlottesville City Council weighed in on the disruption and canceled meeting at a campaign forum held on Oct. 11 by the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area.
Independent candidate Kenneth Jackson said the shutdown of the meeting showed a lack of social respect.
“For someone to disrupt a meeting like what happened [on Tuesday] is ridiculous and it’s really sad,” Jackson said. “The planning commission had nothing to do with [DeAndre Harris] being arrested.”
Jackson said people are afraid to come to meetings in City Hall to express their views.
Democrat Heather Hill said the city needs to provide forums for people to be heard, but she questioned whether disrupting the planning commission meeting is an effective way to communicate.
“I don’t want to diminish that there is still anger and pain and we need to find ways with which to have productive conversations,” Hill said, adding that disruptions will make it less likely more people will get involved with city government.
Independent Paul Long also said the disruption of the planning commission was wrong, but he supported a similar disruption of City Council on Aug. 21 because it was directed at Mayor Mike Signer.
Independent candidate Nikuyah Walker said that meeting was disrupted because people did not feel heard.
“We live in a city where even if you come to council meetings regularly, until the events of the summer, most people weren’t paying attention,” Walker said, adding that the Ku Klux Klan and Unite the Right rallies brought out many people concerned with economic disparity within the city.
Walker said the disruption of the planning commission meeting provided an opportunity for local people to be heard by a national audience. She said protests can yield results.
Democrat Amy Laufer said dialogue between opposing sides is critical to resolve the tensions in the community.
“I heard one of the planning commissioners say that the 20 people could have had the two or three minutes [each] for public comment,” Laufer said. “The business of the planning commission still has to get done.”
Independent John Edward Hall offered the final comment on the topic.
“I think people being disruptive can be a criminal offense and people, when disruptive, can be removed by the police, and that’s how it should be,” said Hall.