Zoning- Don’t Ignore Low-Income People!

The Charlottesville City Council will be issuing a “Request for Proposals (RFP)” to hire a firm to design new zoning rules for a piece of the Strategic Investment Area (SIA). Some in the City think that community input has already occurred and that all that is left to do is write the code. PHAR and concerned community members recognize the potential for low-income people and communities of color to be negatively affected by zoning changes and have sent a letter to City Council asking for more community input into the process and to make sure that the needs of the existing community are addressed.

December 28, 2016
Charlottesville City Councilors
City Hall
P.O. Box 911
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Dear Councilor,

We write to share input about the process of modifying Charlottesville’s zoning to include a Form Based Code. While we understand Form Based Code (FBC) has assisted some communities to expand, we are also aware of many problems FBC has created, most of which stand to disproportionately harm low-income residents and people of color in Charlottesville.

Although the Strategic Investment Area (SIA) planning began a few years ago, the current approach to Form Based Code changes is moving quickly. We request a process that is transparent, inclusive and understandable to community members. We hope you will not rush this process, but ensure we are making changes that will stand the test of time, preserve racial diversity in our community and increase the quality of life for our more vulnerable residents.

Our initial recommendations are as follows:

  1. Maximize community involvement, including low-wealth residents and people of color, at every step of the process of selecting a consultant, including:
    a. Drafting of the RFP,
    b. Reviewing applications, and
    c. Interviewing candidates.
  2. Include requirements in the RFP which
    a. Respond to the concerns of low-wealth residents and people of color who are involved in the process,
    b. Require applicants to demonstrate expertise in zoning work which positively impacts affordable housing, racial and economic diversity and stability for vulnerable residents,
    c. Require applicants to show compatibility with community-based values, such as those demonstrated in PHAR’s Positive Vision for Redevelopment (see below for more information), and
    d. Provide expectations for substantial involvement of neighborhood residents – including low-wealth residents and people of color – in the process of developing the code, and require a process that will be responsive to their concerns and ideas.
  3. Conduct rigorous outreach to help the people who are most at-risk of adverse impacts – lower-income residents and people of color – to understand the issues, choices, and potential impacts, and to listen and incorporate their input.

Charlottesville’s increasing gentrification has already displaced an alarming number of people and some of our neighborhoods have changed significantly. According to the city department of Neighborhood Development Services, the African-American population declined from 51.1% to 38.8% in the Strategic Investment Area as of 2012. This data needs to be updated, but we venture to say that the last few years of escalating upper income development have driven out even more African American residents. The proposed plan for Friendship Court will more than triple the numbers of residents, with the proposed new housing being overwhelmingly created for upper income residents. These issues underscore the need to involve people of color and low-wealth residents throughout the FBC process, starting with rigorous community education and information-gathering.

The community input process for the SIA plans should not be considered an adequate foundation for the process of adopting a Form Based Code or any other significant changes to Charlottesville’s zoning or neighborhood planning. Input from lower-income participants was largely ignored in the SIA plan. Many concerns were raised related to density, mixed income, neighborhood integrity and quality of life. Most of that feedback was not included in the final report, and is not reflected in the plan.

The tragic history of Vinegar Hill cannot and will not be repeated. We urge you to ensure residents’ voices are heard, and the code changes significantly improve the quality of life for lower-income people.

As you’re aware, the Public Housing Association of Residents conducted extensive outreach and community education to develop the Positive Vision for Redevelopment. Although the document focuses primarily on public housing redevelopment, it includes key principles which we hope will be incorporated into the FBC process, such as the following points:

  • Residents should be included in all decision making regarding redevelopment and should inform redevelopment planning.
  • Unused land can be used to provide more affordable housing for Charlottesville’s population and is the proper avenue for exploring increases in density and relocation plans.
  • Mixed-income communities can be built in ways that protect existing neighborhoods from increased gentrification and large increases in density.
  • Redevelopment offers historic opportunities to fundamentally repair low-income communities and make amends for the past.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working with you to make Charlottesville a healthy and opportunity-rich home for all.

Sincerely,

Pete Armetta
Brandon Collins
Emily Dreyfus
Frank Dukes
Holly Edwards, Former Vice Mayor
Jeffrey Fogel
Edith Good
William M. Harris, PHAR Advisory Council
Walt Heinecke
A’lelia Henry, Former member of the SIA Steering Committee
Joy Johnson
Peter Kleeman
Legal Aid Justice Center
Cynthia Neff
Todd Niemeier
Dave Norris, Former Mayor
Audrey Oliver
Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR)
Lena Seville
Dede Smith, Former Vice Mayor
Nikuyah Walker

cc: Missy Creasy
Brian Haluska
Alex Ikefuna

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