Charlottesville-Albemarle Project

Charlottesville's downtown pedestrian mall is a model of community planning.


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Charlottesville adopts needed zoning protections for West Main More »

At its meeting tonight, the Charlottesville City Council adopted a welcome set of zoning changes that strikes an effective balance between protecting the character of the historic West Main Street corridor and promoting its redevelopment.

Among other improvements, the new zoning ensures a more compatible scale for new development on West Main by revising the maximum allowable building heights and no longer allowing developers to seek special permission from City Council to construct buildings up to 101 feet tall. In addition, once building facades along the street reach 40 feet high, they must now include a “stepback” before going any taller to help keep buildings from overshadowing the street and sidewalk below. The changes also require that space be set aside between buildings and the street on both sides of West Main to allow room for things like trees, landscaping, and café space. To protect nearby neighborhoods, larger buildings must now “step down” in height as they approach adjacent residential areas.

SELC strongly supported the overall package of amendments, and worked hard to advance the changes over the past two years. Our efforts included developing detailed recommendations on drafts of the ordinance, working closely with City Councilors and Planning Commissioners to craft solutions, commenting at numerous public hearings and meetings, and helping to keep the package of amendments moving forward through an extensive public review process.

Although these zoning amendments will not impact prior building approvals along West Main, they will result in a much more appropriate scale and form for projects from this point forward, helping to preserve the valuable historic fabric that helps define this part of Charlottesville. We applaud the new City Council for getting these overdue amendments across the goal line. Much work remains to be done to ensure new development respects Charlottesville’s rich history and special character, but this is an important step forward.

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Preserving a Community’s Special Character

The secret is out: the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and attractive neighborhoods and landscapes, is now widely considered one of the country’s best places to live. But an influx of new houses and retail space is changing the look and feel of the area. Traffic is on the rise, water quality is declining, and farms and forests are giving way to buildings and pavement.

SELC’s Charlottesville-Albemarle project is tackling these issues head on in our hometown.  We are focused on ensuring a thriving community that respects and protects the natural, historic, and community resources that make the Charlottesville-Albemarle area such a special place to live. 

Protecting Rural Albemarle

Albemarle’s cherished rural areas face ongoing pressure to convert more land to industrial and commercial use.  Through our work to strengthen the county’s comprehensive plan and our extensive involvement in local planning decisions, SELC is defending Albemarle’s longstanding growth management policies and discouraging local leaders from making decisions that could irreversibly alter Albemarle’s distinctive rural character, undermine key segments of our local economy, and harm residents’ quality of life.

Safeguarding Local Waterways

One of the biggest threats to the area’s water quality is polluted runoff, which increases with every acre of land that is cleared and paved. SELC is helping to develop fair and effective solutions to this growing problem, including ensuring faster stabilization of denuded construction sites, placing reasonable controls on building on steep slopes in the city and county, and developing a city stormwater utility fee that encourages pavement reduction while providing funding for long-overdue work on our stormwater system. 

Ensuring a Thriving Downtown

Charlottesville’s historic downtown is the heart of the broader community. While a wave of redevelopment has in many cases complemented and even enhanced the downtown area’s distinctive charm, lately a number of buildings have been built or approved that are out-of-scale with their surroundings, overwhelm historic buildings, and threaten to suffocate street life. SELC is playing an active role in updating the city’s zoning regulations and is weighing in on building proposals to ensure that new development fits the existing urban fabric and better reflects the area’s historic character.  

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