A Conversation about Growth in Charlottesville and Albemarle

One day ….

What follows is an email conversation with a friend last week; we’re all struggling with coming to terms with growth in the City of Charlottesville, County of Albemarle, and surrounding areas. Our community is going to grow. I’ve written before about how I, as a Realtor, and resident, struggle with growth. How we grow – from massing, location, and process perspectives matter. Italics are my words.

I think it’s (growth, the dialogue, the conversation, the plan) being done wrong. Not building sufficient infrastructure in conjunction with houses leads to a deteriorating quality of life. And no one knows how to pay for it, in large part because people don’t trust the government to do it well/right/on time/at budget.
Maybe impact fees or adequate public facilities are the right thing. I know that a $600K house with 3 kids pays $5500/year in property taxes, and schools cost ~$12K per kid per year … that doesn’t jive.
And when someone says he’s being told by builders/developers that they’re building primarily for empty nesters, I question the entire dialogue.
Short story: There’s not enough trust or common goals. And that’s societal.
I’m living in a 21st century city and the people who already live there want to stop more people from coming. I don’t get it. I understand the success isn’t spread evenly, but that doesn’t mean it should be stopped.
Last night I attended a community meeting between developers of a proposed 114-unit apartment complex at 10th Street and East Jefferson. Neighbors were opposed to the density. They say the developers want to destroy what’s made Charlottesville great.
City developers are building for the empty nesters as well as those who have yet to build a nest. The 10th Street project tonight was all about providing a housing product that the private developer believes their money will be rewarded with another carrot.  The city rules as passed in 2003 say the public’s own nutrition is fed by a higher tax base. Successive Comprehensive Plans ratify this vision and also call for amenities such as a more walkable community.
No one on this current City Council or the Planning Commission will defend this vision.
Let’s for a second define the market as “what a massive collection of people want to happen as decided by a myriad of individual actions.”
The market responded to this vision.
We live in a time where we’ve lost the ability to talk to each other to listen, to agree on the same facts and definitions.
I think that’s how many Americans feel. I think our national conversation would be served well by accounts that can get right at this feeling of insecurity.
But what comes next? I’m seeing a leadership vacuum when it comes to growth. I’m seeing massive gaps in the civics process.
There are arguments that are not being made that growth can be harnessed for everyone. Similar to the rhythms of a river, this place wants to be carved out as a successful city. All of the forces are in place. I want as many people to benefit as possible. I don’t think building a dam is good for as many people as possible.
I’ll pose the question I posed nearly 10 years ago – So here is the question – what do we want CharlAlbemarle/Central Virginia to look like in fifty years?

And this – being a citizen is hard. It takes time. It takes effort. There are so many empty seats in public meetings … surely some can be filled.

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1 Comment

  1. James King June 22, 2016 at 09:23

    “And this – being a citizen is hard. It takes time. It takes effort. There are so many empty seats in public meetings … surely some can be filled.”

    Agree completely. In order to have a thoughtful conversation & dialogue, you have to have participants who are informed about what’s going on.


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