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Zoning is a land-use regulatory mechanism that determines what can be done with property. This article is intended to be a compendium of zoning history in both Albemarle County and Charlottesville.

"Zoning" or "to zone" means the process of classifying land within a locality into areas and districts, such areas and districts being generally referred to as "zones," by legislative action and the prescribing and application in each area and district of regulations concerning building and structure designs, building and structure placement and uses to which land, buildings and structures within such designated areas and districts may be put. Virginia Code § 15.2-2201 [1]

The first significant case regarding the relatively new practice of zoning, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (1926), opened the floodgates for use-based zoning in the United States.

The first zoning enabling legislation for Virginia was adopted in 1922 and gradually expanded in scope and coverage until the present framework was adopted in 1962. These basic statutes continue to change in greater or lesser measure with almost every session of the General Assembly. [2]

2009-City Zoning Map.JPG
2009-City Zoning Map Color Key.JPG

The Virginia General Assembly has identified the manner in which a locality may exercise its zoning power with great specificity in a number of statutes, including the following:

Code Section Provision
Va. Code § 15.2-2286.1 Clustering single-family dwellings
Va. Code § 15.2-2296 et seq Conditional zoning (proffers)
Va. Code § 15.2-2305 Affordable housing programs
Va. Code § 15.2-2316 Transfer development rights
Va. Code § 15.2-2241-2242 Subdivision housing

Albemarle County

The Origins of the Zoning Power

Refer to [4] of The Albemarle County Land Use Law Handbook, prepared by Albemarle County Attorney’s Office, published by Albemarle county, July 2019.




The Colonel T. L. Preston and Andrew F. Craven farms were on the Northwest and North and extended to the old Southern Railroads on the outskirts of Charlottesville. When the Civil War ended, Colonel Preston divvied up small parcels of land and gave them to his former slaves, whom included Rives C. Minor.[5] By the 1900's, Preston Avenue had become a corridor of African-American settlements in Charlottesville with small loosely defined neighborhoods such as Tinsleytown, Kellytown and Lincoln Heights. The Rose Hill plantation property remained within the Craven family until it was sold to the Charlottesville Industrial and Land Improvement Company with the purpose of dividing the land into zones (e.g. residential, industrial) in which certain land uses would be permitted or prohibited. Lots were advertised as “within three to ten minutes’ walk to the Junction depot” and inclusive blocks “reserved for manufacturing purposes.”

After the Civil War land use patterns around Charlottesville began to change. Without access to slave labor, once-wealthy landowners could no longer afford to cultivate large tracts of land. At the same time, Charlottesville was outgrowing its boundaries and began promoting the growth of local industry. Newly established real-estate development companies divided up farmland for industrial usage. By 1890, most of the estates that ringed Charlottesville no longer belonged to individual farmers but to companies such as the Charlottesville Industrial and Land Improvement Company. In fact, this company owned all but 50-60 acres of the Rose Hill land.(Source: The City as a Park: A Citizen's Guide to Charlottesville Parks. Prepared by Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects. Historian Aaron Wunsch.)
  • Rose Hill mixed-use neighborhood
Mixed-Use plat layout of Rose Hill Subdivion, ca. 1895

In 1916, Charlottesville more than tripled its size with the annexation of the land surrounding the city. By the 1950's the Rose Hill neighborhood had developed into a mixture of working-class housing, small family-owned businesses, boarding houses and several large manufacturing companies built to be served by the rail spurs. As with Preston Avenue, black-owned businesses continued to grown along Rose Hill Drive and Forrest Street (later renamed Forest Street). After WWII, homes were built on parcels which had been designated for commercial/industrial use. Business growth and neighborhood employment opportunities declined with the closing of manufacturing companies, such as the Essex Corp. fountain pens and pencils company, by the 1970's.


The first zoning code was initiated in June 17, 1929 and written by Allen Saville of Richmond, VA. The author argued for single family zoning but after community protest, the initial zoning code had two family residential as the lowest density option. [6] At this time, zoning restricted businesses from encroaching on white residential areas, but not black ones.[7] Within a few years, the black neighborhoods of Kellytown and Tinsleytown (now known as Rose Hill) were disrupted by new industries, such as Monticello Dairy, City Laundry, and the Triangle Service Station on Preston Ave.

How 1920s-era zoning laws separated people from what they love about cities. Planning By Christina Sturdivant Sani (Fellow) October 4, 2018 [8]


Letter to Planning Commission from Harland Bartholomew Associates

Harland Bartholomew Associates submits a revised draft of the Charlottesville zoning ordinance to the Charlottesville Planning Commission. [9]


City Council decided to discourage construction of any types of housing besides single-family homes in the white and relatively wealthy neighborhoods of Fry's Spring, Johnson Village, Lewis Mountain, Venable, Barracks-Rugby, and Greenbrier.[7] That year, the city instituted a new R-1A single-family zone. This affected 4,500 parcels of land in the City, lots that had previously been too small for R-1 single-family designation, a process referred to as "downzoning." Proponents of downzoning intended to protect neighborhood stability and encourage homeownership. Opponents said that single-family zoning is exclusionary and would make housing less affordable. The change essentially prohibited multifamily apartment buildings in those neighborhoods.


The Charlottesville Planning Commission sought to implement a goal to increase home ownership in the city. They brought forth a proposal to rezone 200 properties to restrict them to single family residential. That would have eliminated several commercial uses and lowered density. [10]


In 2003, the City of Charlottesville rewrote its zoning ordinance:

  • Increased mixed use zoning throughout the city
  • Increased the by-right density in many locations. [citation needed] The allowable number of unrelated people within a household was reduced from four to three in R-1U and R-1US university residential zoning districts.[11]
  • Entrance corridor overlay along main roads. [1]
  • New university-specific districts close to grounds: By increasing the number of University of Virginia students who live near central grounds, the new zoning ordinance has reduced student demand for parking spaces. U.Va Architect David Neuman reported to the Charlottesville Planning Commission on June 8, 2010 that "fewer than 10% of the students" use their cars to commute to school.[citation needed]

Timeline 2003 rezoning

  • June 2, 2003: Council receives report on new zoning ordinance[12].
  • July 7, 2003: Council holds a public hearing on the new zoning ordinance [11]
  • July 17, 2003: Council holds a work session to go through details of suggested ordinance [13]
  • July 21, 2003: Council holds additional discussion on the rezoning [14]
  • August 4, 2003: Council holds additional discussion [15]
  • September 2, 2003: Council holds additional public hearing and moves ordinance on first reading [16]


Some residents of the Fry's Spring neighborhood petitioned City Council to downzone 68 parcels in the neighborhood from R-2 to R-1. City Council voted 3-2 to deny a rezoning on September 2, 2014. [17]


In 2017, the city considered form-based code.[18] Form-based code is a type of zoning ordinance that focuses more on a building’s style and size, and less on its use.

"Among the innovations championed by the New Urbanist or neo-traditional movement, and by many other architects and planners, are "form-based" zoning codes. The primary goal of form-based codes is to guide the configuration and architectural quality of urban and suburban environments. That contrasts with conventional zoning, which often concentrates on the use of buildings, such as whether a block is residential or commercial." [19] By Roger K. Lewis, The Washington Post, July 24, 2004.


Department of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS) Director Alex Ikefuna referred to the zoning ordinance as a "wastebasket of errors.”[20] Ikefuna was making a point that if NDS is to improve its efficiency, the city must update its zoning ordinance.


Discussions regarding "upzoning" and "downzoning"

History & Impact

In May of 1924 the Commerce Department published the "Standard State Zoning Enabling Act" (SZEA) which was widely circulated and adopted by most states. [21]

A new video by the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University shares some history of the impact of car-centric planning and zoning for single-family homes.[22]

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  1. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title15.2/chapter22/section15.2-2201/
  2. http://mccandlishlawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Virginia-Planning-and-Zoning-Law1.pdf
  3. Web. County of Albemarle, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Minutes, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Albemarle County, November 11, 1977, retrieved July 15, 2019.
  4. https://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/Forms_Center/Departments/County_Attorney/Forms/LULH_Consolidated.pdf Chapter 2: The Origins of the Zoning Power
  5. Web. Minor Preston: Major Impact, David A. Maurer, February 24, 2008, retrieved April 11, 2019.
  6. Web. Altered Zone Law Commission, Staff Reports, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, June 18, 1929, retrieved October 9, 2017 from University of Virginia Library. Print. June 18, 1929 page 1.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Web. Zoned out: How neighborhood associations and zoning regulations have shaped our city, Caris Adel, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, 2019-01-23
  8. https://ggwash.org/view/69332/have-you-ever-wondered-why-so-many-american-streets-are-bad
  9. Web. A Preliminary Report Upon Land Use and Zoning, Charlottesville, Virginia : Prepared for the City Planning Commission, Harland Bartholomew and Associates, book and map, Atlanta, 1957, retrieved October 9, 2017.
  10. Print: Planners to discuss city zoning proposal, Kimberly O'Brien, Daily Progress, Media General A, Page .
  11. 11.0 11.1 Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, July 7, 2003.
  12. Charlottesville City Council Minutes, 2 Jun. 2003. City of Charlottesville, Virginia. Retrieved 10 Apr. 2009
  13. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, July 17, 2003.
  14. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, July 21, 2003.
  15. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, August 4, 2003.
  16. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, September 2, 2003.
  17. Web. Charlottesville City Council Minutes for September 2, 2014, Council Minutes, retrieved April 8, 2019.
  18. Web. A new type of zoning worries residents, Jordy Yager, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, 2017-02-28, retrieved 2019-02-07.
  19. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2004/07/24/traditional-zoning-cant-meet-the-challenge-of-modern-development/08753d68-ed3c-49ed-93e4-cfb145eccee0/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.09490cf131ec
  20. Web. City zoning director calls ordinance a ‘wastebasket of errors’, Nolan Stout, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, 2018-10-24, retrieved 2019-02-07.
  21. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015086414615;view=1up;seq=3
  22. https://youtu.be/7pq-UvE1j1Q