Why PEC Supports Charlottesville’s Proposed Zoning Code

The Piedmont Environmental Council supports greater density and mixed uses in the City of Charlottesville because it is essential to our mission to protect and restore the lands and waters of the Virginia Piedmont, while building stronger, more sustainable, communities. In our area, that requires having places for people to live in the heart of our community: Charlottesville.

As the line graph below shows, Charlottesville effectively stopped accepting new net residents when the General Assembly prohibited the City from annexing County land (in the 70s) and when subsequent City Councils reduced density (starting in the 90s) through a series of downzonings that prohibited the creation of multifamily housing in many parts of the City. 

Charlottesville and Albemarle County Population. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Yet, people still came to the area. Left with few options in the City, they have tended to settle in Albemarle and surrounding counties, as the next graph shows.

Albemarle, Charlottesville and Surrounding Area Populations. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The new zoning code will provide a partial – but essential – correction by authorizing more places for people to live in Charlottesville. Focusing new development – and investments – in existing neighborhoods within Charlottesville and Albemarle’s designated growth areas will bring numerous benefits, including:                                     

  • Reduced per capita vehicle miles traveled and related greenhouse gas and other pollutants;
  • Lower transportation costs for households and the community at large;
  • Less travel stress and shorter commutes; better health;
  • Easier access to everyday activities and higher quality of life;
  • Critical mass for transit, walkability, biking and school transportation;
  • Smaller proportion of our lands are dedicated to impervious parking and roadway surfaces;
  • More compact infrastructure that is easier to maintain and less burdensome to taxpayers;
  • Protection of the surrounding area’s natural landscapes that residents cherish and depend on.

Many of these benefits apply especially to those with financial challenges, those who depend on transit and social services, and those who have been historically marginalized or segregated.

We know that a lot more investment in sidewalks and other infrastructure is still needed. We also need to emphasize that livability is key. That means increasing tree canopy, adding more parks, improving streetscape quality, and more. These are not incompatible with greater density.

The new Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code contain many good provisions that speak to community quality as well as density. Though they will not accomplish all of our goals by themselves, they provide the necessary ingredients.

The best way that we can protect all of our quality of life, address climate change and equity, and be responsible to future generations, is to make sure that development happens where it makes sense – in the region’s urban core. This is the new Zoning Code’s purpose and we support it.

Further Resources

Zoning Code, Map and Background Info

Livable Cville’s excellent Rezoning FAQ

Information about City Council and how to contact them