Citizens for Responsible Planning (CFRP) is a group of Charlottesville residents who came together in 2021 out of a concern that the Housing Chapter and Future Land Use Map of the city’s draft Comprehensive Plan has serious flaws of both process and content. The group believes that a plan that is not grounded in an inclusive, data-driven and analytically sound process risks failing to produce affordable housing while inflicting collateral damage on the city.

CFRP has prepared a series of presentations and research articles that provide in-depth analysis of Charlottesville’s housing situation and the Future Land Use Map. We welcome feedback and would be happy to attempt to answer any questions you might have on our materials. You can email us here. Below, you can find our research in chronological order of release.

  1. Narrated Presentation: Analyzing the CP’s Diagnosis of Charlottesville’s Housing Challenge (June 2021).

2. Narrated Presentation: The Upzoning Prescription (July 2021)

3. Short paper summarizing the problems with the FLUM (August 2021).

You can read the paper here.

4. Presentation Slides: Getting to the Bottom of the Student Household Distortion (August 2021).

You can view the slides here.

5. Constructing a Repeat-Sales Housing Price Index for Charlottesville City.

Participants in the debate over the CP/FLUM refer to many different and potentially mutually inconsistent measures of housing price level and growth. We attempted to help clarify the debate by constructing an RSI for Charlottesville City single-family housing using the fullest transaction dataset possible. We compare this index with other measures and illustrate the importance of using care in selecting and comparing different housing price metrics.

You can view the whitepaper here.

6. We made an attempt to analyze and plot the city’s parcel-level data from the Open Data Portal to better understand current development capacity, commercial conversion potential, and (at a very rough-cut level) the extent of economically feasible “tear-down” activity under the proposed FLUM. You can see the analysis here. This is a work in progress, and we encourage people to look at the plots identified in their own neighborhood and let us know of errors and omissions. UPDATE 9/24/21: We added analysis of underutilized R-2 plots and subdivisible R-1 plots. SUBSEQUENT UPDATE: MOre granular map of underutilized parcels is here

7.We took a look, using city data, at multifamily housing production in the city and the city government’s success in getting affordable housing resources out of developers. The results were sobering.

8. This is not CFRP’s analysis, but rather the product of a community member who agreed to let us share it on the website. The FLUM aims to reduce Charlottesville’s carbon footprint through the encouragement of denser development. If a planner were building a city from scratch and optimizing for GHG emissions, nearly everyone would agree that the city should be built at relatively high density. Charlottesville, however, already exists. Whether the FLUM will be positive or negative for GHG depends on how certain variables turn out: where do the people filling new MFH units come from (are they city workers who were living in Louisa County for economic reasons, or are they arriving from NYC where they lived in small apartments and walked to work); what sorts of buildings are developers putting up (high efficiency or low efficiency) and what fraction of the development is via infill versus teardown? The linked set of slides is intended to frame these questions and point out the sort of analysis that would be required to determine the direction of full-cycle GHG emissions impact. You can view it here.

9. Some participants in the FLUM debate have pointed to instances of houses selling above assessed value as an indicator of housing stress. We took a more systematic look at assessment-to-sales ratios in Charlottesville today and over time, as well as offering some perspective on the usefulness of ASRs versus price indices. The short answer: ASRs for Charlottesville are neither unusual relative to local history nor to other Virginia jurisdictions, though generally ASRs are less useful indicators of market state than price indices. We did find some interesting evidence in recent ASRs by market segment, suggesting the “FLUM development option” is already getting priced into lower-priced properties. You can read about it here

10.  In recent months, we have done a lot of cross-sectional work on the housing situation in Cville vs other localities.  Now, we wanted to focus on how the Cville situation itself has evolved over time.  We found that whatever you think about the Cville situation, there is very little evidence it has been on a worsening trend over the last decade.  The lack of deterioration militates against the idea that the city must act in haste.  You can find the research here.

11. We have heard from many FLUM proponents that their support of upzoning stems in part from their desire to be able to walk to a coffee shop or grocery store. We share the view that walkability is important. There we undertook to quantify walkability and its interaction with the FLUM. Some highlights:

  • The city is quite walkable — 16mins median walk (by Google, which always overestimates) to a grocery store, 17 minutes to a coffee shop
  • Overall walkability for the city is almost as high as Toronto and Denver, on one common metric
  • Some of the more expensive neighborhoods and ones where there has been strongest FLUM opposition are among the least walkable.  They may not therefore be highly appropriate places to put MFH and they are not occupying the most walkable or amenity-adjacent land in the city
  • Correlation between walkability and property value is opposite for SFH vs MFH, suggesting density is a preference linked to housing-style preference. SFH owners value space and are willing to accept some isolation.  MFH owners value walkability and proximity highly.  Lower-value MFH tends to be isolated and inaccessible –suggesting a problem of exclusion that may require efforts to draw amenities to places that lack them.

You can read the results here.

12. The most controversial category of the FLUM has proven to be Medium-Intensity Residential. We demonstrate why this might be. While MIR Zones will have buildings of up to 4 times as many units by right as General Residential, there is in fact little difference between MIR and GR zones today on any of the important predicates of dense development. The selections are hard to understand or justify. See more details here.

13. Proponents of up-zoning claim that higher zoned intensity will lead to more affordability in part by driving higher land-efficiency of development. So what does the evidence say about the assessed land value per residential unit in various zoning categories? Take a look here, to see why land-intensity by quantity does not equate to land-intensity by value. Updated with new data March 2022.

14. CFRP created a new dataset of certificate of occupancy issuances in order to assess housing unit additional in Charlottesville over the past decade. The city has added housing units at rate that contradicts pro-FLUM talking points.

15. Our research has found very little evidence of zoning-related restriction in housing supply in Charlotteville. While we don’t believe base zoning is very restrictive, land use policy looks even more permissive when we consider rezonings and special use permits. Our research quantifies deviations from base zoning and finds upzoning and variance requests are approved at a high rate.

16. The city engaged HR&A to review the city’s deployment of affordable housing funding and catalog affordable units, only after approving the CP and its Housing Chapter. The initial report fell far short of providing the necessary insight. CFRP attempted to fill in some of the gaps with publicly available data and proprietary analysis here.

17. FLUM supporters claim that more development in the city will alleviate a serious environmental problem of lengthening commutes. While density can certainly lead to more environmentally sustainable commuting patterns in certain circumstances, supporters offered little data to support the applicability of this dynamic to Charlottesville. We tried to fill the gap here

18. Scale matters. Whatever one’s belief about the effectiveness of upzoning carried out on a very wide scale, there are reasons to believe that the effects are vitiated or even reversed when the policy is enacted only at a very local level. We look at the variation in zoning across Charlottesville census tracts to illustrate.

19. FLUM proponents have cited the statistic that “71% of Charlottesville’s residential land is under R-1 zoning” as evidence of a highly restrictive land use regime. In our initial presentation, we cited research that listed several major cities with a higher R-1 fraction than 71%. But we decided to compile some comparative statistics ourselves. The results show that the 71% statistic is wrong, or at best misleading, and that many similar-size college towns have higher R-1 fractions. Further, we could find very little correlation between “R-1 fraction” and any meaningful patterns in prices or built form.

20. We studied the Zoning Diagnostic document put out by the city in mid-June 2022. You can read our reactions here.

21. A follow-up to our earlier time-series work on affordability in Cville, exploiting some new and more timely datasources, reveals the hollowness of claims of a housing-supply-generated housing affordability crisis in Cville.

22. We have looked at Charlottesville’s zoning both de jure and de facto and found it less than highly restrictive. Now we look at results of Charlottesville’s zoning and other land use regulations. Does Charlottesville have a low elasticity of housing supply?

23. At the latest Work Session of the City Council and Planning Commission, City leadership advocated for the idea of sharply reducing or even fully eliminating minimum lot sizes. Check out this research that explains the issue and sketches out how such a move could multiply the potential density increase under the plan, and undermine the affordable housing bonus program.

24. Parking minimums were another topic of discussion at the Work Session. We take a look at how the city can reduce or remove parking minimums without unleashing parking chaos here

25. Neither the city nor its consultants have acceded to residents’ requests to provide visualization of neighborhoods build up to the limits of a Medium-Intensity context. We took advantage of a visit to Austin to make a video showing what happened to the East Cesar Chavez/East Austin neighborhood in the wake of its redesignation to a higher-density “Transit-Oriented Development” zoning category. You can watch the video here.

26. We take a quick look at underutilized parcels in Charlottesville. It turns out we have many parcels zoned for more than SFH that still contain only SFH.

27. We took a look at Freddie Mac’s Housing Opportunity Index methodology and applied it to data from Charlottesville City. Once again, Charlottesville shows no signs of being an unusually unaffordable market in level or in trend.

28. We endeavor to explore data that might undercut our hypotheses. One possible explanation for low levels of rent-stressed households in Cville according to available statistics is that households “crowd” into smaller housing units in order to achieve affordability. We looked at rental unit crowding in Cville relative to other cities and relative to itself over time. Short answer: Cville has low and declining crowding.

29. You can find our analysis of the first module of the Draft Ordinance here.

30. The city’s consultants have worked on the assumption that Charlottesville is undergoing a dramatic process of gentrification already. We have in other research expressed our worry that upzoning could kick off a gentrification process. The consultants have not presented much data to support their claim, relying on one flawed survey and some transparently poor analysis of old ACS data. We try to fill in the gaps with our own analysis here. Short answer: when it comes to gentrification, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

31. You can find out analysis of the second module of the Draft Ordinance here.

32. Residents have been asking for streetscape visualizations since the very beginning of the rezoning process. NDS and consultants have made excuses rather than accommodating constituents. We tried to fill in the gap with our own visualizations. Part 1 can be viewed here.

33. We have continued to add visualization videos! Check out the full collection here.

34. We use new sources of data to examine the nature and extent of gentrification in Charlottesville. We think the process could go much further and point out the risk of upzoning’s creating an amenity effect to intensify gentrification.

35. Short-term rentals have proven to be a controversial topic in the zoning debate. NDS and the consultant have performed Simone Biles-worthy flip-flops on the issue, lurching from removing STRs from residential areas altogether back to keeping the existing (barely enforced) rules. We took a high-level look at the issue, with some actual data behind it.

36. A parcel on Park Street recently sold to an anonymous LLC that several people have told us is tied to a member of the Planning Commission. We visualize what could be built on this parcel under R-B rules.

37. This is neither deep nor especially scientific, but a quick glance at the evolution of housing prices in the US, Canada, and Australia, in light of differing pervasiveness of “R-1” zoning.

38. The city engaged RKG Associates to redo the “rate of change” economic analysis that HR&A first performed (poorly). While the RKG report is much better, the city failed to ask all the right questions of RKG, which leads to an erroneous result. We try to answer the crucial unasked question here.

39. An extension of piece #37, we look at the evolution of home prices relative to wages in a range of OECD countries using OECD data. We find one variable with a strong effect, and it ain’t zoning.

40. There’s an old business joke where the product manager tells the CEO, “we lose money on every widget, but don’t worry, we’ll make it up on volume!”. For Charlottesville’s proponents of upzoning, it’s not a joke, but a policy prescription. Build more, expand the tax base, everybody wins! But households don’t just pay taxes, they also consume services. What’s the likely fiscal impact of upzoning, and is the city ready? We investigate.

41. We take a look at 2024 property tax assessments here.