- How did we get here? According to the 2001 Comprehensive Plan, there was “a fragile nature to the Charlottesville economy” because the City’s share of the regional retail sector was declining and not enough housing was being built to meet demand. The City’s zoning ordinances were changed in 2003 in large part to turn this situation around by allowing more density, more mixed use and taller buildings all “by right.” Developers could exceed “by right” densities and building heights with a special use permit (or SUP) which also meant they had to either build more affordable housing or contribute to the housing fund. From a fiscal standpoint, that strategy worked. Recently approved projects on West Main Street will eventually generate roughly $3 million in property tax revenue which is 18 times more revenue than from the previously empty lots and garages. (That’s about 5 to 6 cents on the real estate tax rate.) Revenue from growth keeps our taxes low and pays for services like education and police. Plus more supply drives rental rates down. But just as people deserve more than empty parking lots and abandoned garages, they deserve development that creates the kind of places we grow to love and value.
- Is Status Quo Inevitable? Existing zoning has been the law of the land since 2003, and most people don’t realize that councilors cannot vote against a project simply because they don’t like the aesthetics or style of a building. Back in December 2012 I expressed concern about how the ACD guidelines left a lot of room for interpretation by 21 people (7 PC members, 9 BAR members, 5 councilors.) The 2013 PLACE Design Task Force Annual Report summed up the problem best however. “The different character of West Main along its length was not reflected in the planning guidelines and codes governing the corridor, and the expectations for development were not clear, creating a difficult review process for those wishing to build along the corridor.” City councilors must follow the law and strict standards of review which means there are no short cuts. If we want new development to reflect the best of Charlottesville, now is the time to put new rules in place with the force of law.
4. How can we move forward? The March 2015 Existing Conditions Report by Rhodeside Harwell also stated, that the factors that contribute to the character of a place “include the height and mass of existing buildings, as well as the relationship between buildings and the street.” On March 17, Rhodeside Harwell presented their recommendations to City council on how to change our zoning ordinance so that new development contributes to the character of the place we call West Main. Strong points for me included:
- Restricted and reduced building heights along West Main Street, especially east of the Drewary Brown Bridge.
- Rear building heights that step down to match the heights of adjacent residential neighborhoods.
- Measurable standards instead of design guidelines subject to unlimited review and interpretation.
I believe the changes proposed by Rhodeside Harwell will head us in the right direction without hurting the City’s bottom line or discouraging the kind of redevelopment we need. That’s why on April 20, (with the help of Councilor Szakos,) I introduced a resolution to initiate a public process to consider zoning ordinance changes within the West Main Street Corridor District, using Rhodeside Harwell ’s recommendations as point of departure. That resolution and the proposed zoning code changes will be discussed on May 18.
Why do I want another four years on City Council and why should you re-elect me? The skills I’ve acquired in my profession, the values I’ve inherited from my parents, and the affection I feel for this City, all shaped the principles of my 2011 campaign: Charlottesville can be Greener, Smarter, Stronger by Design. These same principles have guided my decisions on City Council from day one and act as a scorecard of my tenure. They remain the bedrock of my platform in 2015, to build “a beautiful city where all children thrive.” With my Council, this is what I’ve done……
To Protect the Environment=Greener. Across the country, the places we live, visit, and value are threatened by a changing climate. To restore the planet and become healthier ourselves, we need to make it easier for people to get out of their cars and walk, bike, or take a bus to work, to play, or to school. We’re not there yet. As one woman who participated in a West Main Street open house said: “Our sidewalks aren’t wide enough for a double stroller!” That’s why I championed initiatives like the “Streets that Work” project; to make our streets safer for all users and our sidewalks and bike lanes more protected, comfortable and connected.
To Demand Good Government =Smarter. We need a local government with a culture of accountability and excellence and a City Council that is collaborative and visionary. We also need to make sure that growth does not destroy the very character of the city we love. We’re not there yet. As one West Main restaurant owner said to me, “I want to always see that church steeple.” That’s why I’ve championed new rules for development along West Main and elsewhere in the City, so that new buildings and places reflect our community’s values.
To Grow Economic Opportunity =Stronger. The foundation of Charlottesville’s prosperity has been the success of places like the Downtown Mall and the Corner. Our future depends on our ability to attract and retain talented people who want a city where they can easily walk, bike, and take buses to jobs. Our future also depends on educating the next generation so that someday, our children might be able to find jobs in their own hometown. Children who are not thriving in our schools today however, often come from neighborhoods that are not thriving. We need to cross boundaries of race, class and geography in order to provide more opportunities to everyone. We’re not there yet. As one woman said during a community workshop, “I don’t care about a park, I need a job.” Our citizens shouldn’t be given false choices. We need both healthy places to live and economic security to thrive. That’s why I championed: a Downtown Workforce Center with career pathways for adults without traditional diplomas; a vision for a south-side neighborhood that unlocks the potential of its residents; and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainable School Funding to keep our schools fiscally strong.
To Build Community by Design…not by default. We face two big challenges today; how to manage growth well and how to share the prosperity that managed growth brings. Great places don’t just happen. We must be intentional about the kind of growth we want, to pay for services we need. All boats don’t rise with the tide. We must be intentional about channeling the benefits of managed growth to all our citizens. I ask that you let me finish the work I’ve started to meet these challenges. With a City Council pulling together and an experienced staff, Charlottesville will retain its character, protect its natural and historic resources, and grow opportunity for all.
Please join me when I announce my campaign on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 11:30 AM at the Bridge PAI, located at the foot of the Belmont Bridge next to Spudnuts and across from the Beck- Cohen Building.
I ran for City Council in 2011 on a theme of Greener, Smarter, and Stronger. I am running for City Council in 2015 to continue the work I began four years ago to make Charlottesville “a beautiful city where all children thrive” and even greener, smarter and stronger than it is today.
Charlottesville is a great city. It has been called The Happiest City and also the Best Place to Retire, among many other compliments. Charlottesville has an open door to new people, people who like to walk to work, school, shop, restaurants, and entertainment. Our success brings challenges however, as more people want to live here. How Charlottesville grows matters.
What also matters is opening doors for more young people and for more long-time residents. Charlottesville needs more employment pathways to success, and these pathways must include opportunities to complete high school degrees, get apprenticeship training, and gain access to more entry level jobs in a diverse economy.
Great places don’t just happen. We must be intentional about the kind of growth we want and how we are going to pay for the services we will need. We must focus more on building great places for all the people.
Much of my first year on City Council was spent learning the “lay of the land.” By my second year however I:
- Worked to make our streets safer and greener, our developments more aligned with community values, and citizens more engaged in the process through improved planning and zoning practices on projects such as Streets that Work, West Main Street Project, Code Review, and the Strategic Investment Area Plan.
- Improved quality of life in our neighborhoods by negotiating agreements with Albemarle County, which resulted in relocating the Pump Station and reducing odors at the Moore’s Creek Treatment Plant.
- Increased access to jobs by promoting a downtown workforce center and creating career pathways for adults without traditional diplomas through programs such as Plugged In Virginia-PIVA- and neighborhood-based GED prep programs.
If I am given the honor of serving a second term, I will hit the ground running to continue the work I’ve started and address the new challenges I’ve heard about from citizens. With a City Council pulling together and an experienced staff, Charlottesville will retain its wonderful character, protect its natural and historic beauty, and improve opportunity for all.