The Charlottesville City Council met Monday for its second hybrid meeting since 2019. The only update on the agenda for this meeting was the consideration of a special use permit to enable the conversion of an apartment complex on 14th Street into a hotel.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, university professor Amanda Nelsen and students from the Write Climate: Art and Engagement university course expressed concern about climate change.
The students shared an artistic mural they spent the last semester making. The mural is made up of postcards and uses color to depict surface temperature anomalies between 1880 and 2022. On the back of each postcard are statements written by community members documenting their feelings about climate change and its impact on Charlottesville.
Third-year College student Johnny Lindberg, one of Nelson’s students, spoke on behalf of the class in presenting the piece to the Council and called on Council members to support strong climate action policy and to reduce the city‘s carbon footprint.
“Our mural visibly represents the warming of our climate,” Lindberg said. “On the other side, each postcard, individually stitched, expresses a community member’s feelings about the climate crisis…members of our community express feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, frustration and sadness, but above all they express the need for change. ”
Council then considered an application for a Special Use Permit to permit a hotel at 207 14th Street NW, which is currently the location of a 21-building condominium. The developer hopes to renovate the existing building to create a 19-room hotel and residential apartment. The proposed change would reduce the number of rental units available, but according to plaintiff Bill Chapman, the conversion could generate $10,000 a month in tax revenue.
Councilor Sena Magill expressed concern about the proposed special use permit as it could impede the availablity already scarce housing in the Charlottesville area. By a 2018 Housing Needs Assessment23% of Charlottesville renters spend more than half their income on rent – the US Department of Housing and Urban Development says affordable housing should cost no more than 30% of household income.
“I cannot in good conscience, when we are facing such a huge housing crisis, vote to reduce the housing stock,” Magill said.
Council voted to deny the Special Use Permit with Councilors Magill, Payne and Mayor Snook opposing the permit and Councilor Pinkston and Vice Mayor Wade in favor of the permit.
During the report meeting — which takes place before the start of the official council meeting and allows council members to hear updates from community agencies or city staff — the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless gave a presentation. TJACH is an organization that aims to reduce homelessness through the coordination of regional resources.
TJACH Executive Director Anthony Haro discussed local homelessness, including the Point count which counts the number of people in a city who are homeless each year in January. According to Charlottesville’s January tally, 228 people were living in emergency shelters, an increase from 144 in 2021. Haro expressed his belief that this is due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of affordable housing in Charlottesville.
Haro also noted that the number of homeless people – homeless people living outdoors – has remained about the same since 2010. The PIT tally indicated that around 20-30 people are unsheltered. each year, Haro drawing attention to the city’s inability to address these issues. needs of individuals.
“What he’s saying is there’s a group of people living outside of our community that we haven’t been able to meaningfully address,” Haro said.
In addition to hearing from TJACH, the Council heard a presentation from Josh Powell, director of support services at the Charlottesville-U.Va.-Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center on how citizens can access emergency services. According to Powell, citizens can access emergency services by calling or texting 9-1-1. Powell also noted the development of a new emergency services number — 9-8-8 — staffed with mental health crisis counselors for those facing a mental health crisis.
Sonny Saxton, executive director of the Charlottesville-U.Va.-Albemarle County Emergency Communications Center, then provided details on the Marcus Alert system, created to comply with the Act of Marcus David Peters which was signed into law by former Governor Ralph Northam in November 2020.
According to Saxton, the goal of the Marcus Alert system is to make it easier for emergency services to identify people in mental health crisis and provide them with adequate assistance while minimizing interactions between law enforcement and people in crisis. Under the new procedure, the emergency response to a mental or behavioral health crisis will be analogous to the physical health response – allowing a person in crisis to contact a crisis care team via 9-8-8 or a local number and receive help from a mobile crisis team.
The city council will meet again on May 16.