Charlottesville adopts needed zoning protections for West Main

New zoning for Charlottesville’s West Main Street will ensure new development better respects the corridor’s unique historic fabric. (© Heather Dodge/SELC)

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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