Monday, July 23, 2007

Is a 315-unit development right for Coal Tower project?

A front page article by Seth Rosen in the Sunday, July 22 Daily Progress entitled "Coal Tower project nears start" states that this project is "believed to be the largest project in Charlottesville's history," and also that it is a 'by right' development meaning that neither the planning commission nor city council will have any opportunity to officially consider the potential impacts of this project. Planning commissioner Cheri Lewis questioned "if Water Street provides enough access for 315 units plus the retail and offices." She stated "that's a lot of traffic to add."

I have been impressed by Cheri Lewis' dedication to issues before the planning commission and on this issue I definitely share her concerns. If developments done by right can be of a scale that may overwhelm our downtown road system, I feel there may be a need to review what levels of development can be done in our city neighborhoods under our planning commission approved comprehensive plan soon to be considered for final approval by city council. Shouldn't our comprehensive plan provide safeguards against development that is too big for thee capacity of our road, sewer, water, stormwater or other infrastructure?

I commented to the planning commission during their July 2007 public hearing on approving the comprehensive plan that it is desirable to focus attention on elements of that plan during the five year life of the plan and to amend those elements as needed. Such ongoing review, element by element as necessary, could make our comprehensive plan a significantly better guide to growth and development in our city. I didn't recommend what I suggest as a first element or concept to explore at that hearing, but based on this news on the Coal Tower project I suggest that the comprehensive plan balance available infrastructure availability and growth with realistic limits on by right development in all of our city neighborhoods. I wonder how many other projects are possible that could exceed our infrastructure capacity yet can currently be built by right. A comprehensive review of this type would be a valuable improvement to our comprehensive plan.

I am impressed by the commitment of planning commissioners to address growth, development, transportation and environmental issues relating to matters brought before them. I believe a review of the just recommended comprehensive plan to identify and act to eliminate opportunities for other very large developments that put unreasonable demands on our infrastructure is neccessary. Yes, I guess there will be some significant opposition to eliminating what I consider to be 'development loopholes' in our comprehensive plan, but our quality of life in Charlottesville will be greatly reduced if supersized projects are allowed without any review of their scope by either our planning commission or city council.

I suggest that our planning commissioners consider this suggestion and take some action as soon as they take a sufficient recovery time after the lengthy development of the comprehensive plan now before council. Action of this type is better done sooner rather than later, however.

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