City to Overhaul Zoning Regulations

For the first time in decades, the city is overhauling their zoning ordinances. These rules govern the scale, scope, and nature of development throughout the city, and this major revision will have a strong impact on Charlottesville in the coming decades. reader Ray Smith attended a presentation on the planned changes last week, and provided a write up of his experiences. Ray works at Videos, Etc. here in town, a local video store that includes a back room that sells “adult” movies and novelties, and so his interest is with regard to the proposed adult use zoning standards. (If this story seems familiar, it’s because it ran about a week ago — the recent hard drive crash on the server resulted in the loss of this story, but Ray thoughtfully resubmitted this story.) Keep reading to see Ray’s write up.

Jim Tolbert of Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services answered questions Monday night about the draft of the new Zoning Ordinance. Citizens filled the dining room of the Fry Springs Beach Club and listened intently to a 30 minute PowerPoint presentation on all but one of the major changes to Charlottesville land-use regulations. I was there because of the major change that was not mentioned in the PowerPoint presentation: the Adult Use Division regulating adult entertainment. Also present for fielding questions was Kevin O’Halloran, new chair of the Planning Commission.

According to Tolbert, the current Ordinance was drafted in the 70’s and, although it has been amended over 50 times, has never been revamped in such a major way. He said that the Zoning Committee wanted to “be different” this time in their process of drafting the ordinance. No outside planning consultants, no small cadre of authors from the city staff, “but by committee. We want to involve as many people as possible in the process of drafting.” Tolbert told me before the meeting that there have been hundreds of people involved in this process over the past 2 years, and that much of the draft came out of citizen committees.

Tolbert began his presentation by explaining the Comprehensive Plan, the long-term guidelines for the vision of Charlottesville. Everything in the ordinance must comply with the goals of the “Comp Plan”.

The major changes to the zoning ordinance include: dividing the city into 23 “urban design corridors” to better provide for the different zoning needs of the city’s neighborhoods; adding new historic districts and studying the possibility of the Belmont and Locust Ave neighborhoods becoming historic districts; handicap “visitability” requirements; the ability to build a detached “accessory apartment”; eliminating heavy manufacturing zones so that businesses such as junkyards and meat-packing plants cannot establish in the city; control of spillover lighting from parking lots; and smoothing out the Board of Architectural Review’s review/appeal process.

Unmentioned in his presentation was Section 8, Division 10, the very last pages of the proposed zoning ordinance: the brand new sex entertainment section. I shot in with the first question after his presentation ended: “Why no inclusion of the adult use section in your presentation?” He responded that he just didn’t include it at this time. While I was trying to figure out if he’d just told me that he didn’t include it because he didn’t include it, he was onto the next question.

The audience had their own favorites. There were audible gasps from this JPA-heavy group when Tolbert revealed that the new ordinance would allow increased apartment density in the University district. Not only that, but it reduces the minimum required parking spaces to 1/2 per apartment. Tolbert defended these by stating that the goal was to decrease student car use by keeping them within walking distance of Central Grounds. He also noted that many apartment parking lots are currently underused. To further the goal of corralling students into the neighborhoods closer to Grounds, the ordinance creates a district around the University district wherein 1 family homes cannot be split into 2 family, and the number of unrelated people allowed to live in one residence is reduced from 4 to 3. The above-mentioned allowance of “accessory/garage apartments” would not, however, be allowed in the University district, so as to prevent drastic changes to the look of the homes in that area.

Another change to the University district would be the allowance of businesses on the first floor of buildings in the JPA neighborhood. Again, the Zoning Committee’s thinking was to provide for student needs in that neighborhood so that they would not increase traffic by driving to the shopping centers. Tolbert implied that the businesses would tend to be laundromats or convenience stores, but at the query of one citizen, Kevin O’Halloran admitted that restaurants and bars would be allowable. That citizen was very concerned that bars with live music would increase the noise pollution in the neighborhood, saying that “we have fought a 15 year battle against noise” from outdoor parties. Another citizen wondered if the JPA neighborhood was being “picked on”, and asked why there couldn’t be more residential expansion on east Emmet St or west Main. There were lots of groans and nods of approval to this.

Citizens were also concerned about Tolbert’s statement that “it only takes 3 votes” for City Council to decide to sell park land. Tolbert reassured the crowd that any sale of park land must be cohesive with the Comprehensive Plan and would have to pass public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

I got to ask more questions towards the end. “What city interests are you protecting with the adult use section?” Tolbert responded that there are “proper places” for this kind of material and that he didn’t want it to be available around our children. I asked him if he thought that retailers of sexual items caused more harm to neighborhoods than vendors of alcohol. He demurred, saying “I don’t want to debate this issue now. City Council will determine whether this is of value.” I knew this was my only chance, so I cruised in with a third question, “Do you think there is a difference between stores that sell sexually explicit literature, media and paraphernalia and businesses that engage in public nudity, like strip clubs?” He replied affirmatively, saying that the zoning ordinance treats those 2 classes of business differently. I asked him if he was sure, because I’ve read it a dozen times and know that it doesn’t. He said he was certain. (Later in the meeting he said that the draft that was publicly available was out of date and that an update would be posted to the City’s website within 2 weeks.) At this point a citizen said out loud that he wouldn’t that kind of business in the Fontaine area. For a split second, I thought he was joking. Then I responded, “There has been, for 16 years, and with no negative effects on the neighborhood.” A citizen behind me muttered spookily under her breath, “How do you know?”

Many people had questions and Tolbert did not get to them all. He informed us that the Planning Commission was meeting the following night (Tuesday the 11th at 7:30) and would determine a date for a public hearing for the ordinance draft, which, if passed, would go to a public hearing before City Council.

3 thoughts on “City to Overhaul Zoning Regulations”

  1. The "Adult Use" section of the zoning ordinance draft limits the retail of sex-positive items and services. I use the phrase “Sex-positive” because the ordinance only affects the retail of items and services related to enhancing sexual health and/or providing sexual entertainment: videos, sex toys and paraphernalia, strip clubs, magazines and books. The sex-negative literature passed out by some religious organizations will not be restricted. I’m certain that if the message sent by pornos and vibrators was "Abstinence!" instead of "Abandon!" these new regulations wouldn’t exist. This ordinance puts more restrictions on retailers of sexually-oriented items than it does on gunshop owners and bar owners. We are lucky in that we citizens have the opportunity to nip this in the bud before it becomes law in Charlottesville. There is a growing coalition of business owners in town who are circulating a petition to tell city officials to not restrict sexual speech nor access to that speech. There is a public hearing on the whole ordinance March 26 at 6:30.

    The highlights:

    A. The ordinance will require that any business that sells a certain amount of sexual [vaguely defined in the ordinance] literature, media or paraphernalia cannot be within 1000 feet of any house or residential zone, school or educational institution, religious institution, public park, playground, playfield, daycare center or other businesses that sell items for sexual entertainment. In Los Angeles, there is a similar regulation that only requires 500 feet. Los Angeles is 468 sq miles. C-ville is 10 sq miles. You do the math.

    B. Any kind of business where people are engaging in live sexual expression, nudity or sexual contact will be subject to the same spacing requirement. That includes strip clubs, massage parlors and *any art studios not affiliated with an accredited educational institution where models pose nude*. The problem with city ordinances that base restrictions on speech’s *content* instead of it’s *effects* is that it can end up being applied in a much wider way than drafters intend. I’m sure the drafters of the adult use section don’t mean for the ordinance to be used against independent art studios, romance novel bookstores, or franchisees of high-priced lingerie, but technically it could include such businesses. When you put something vague in law, who’s to say that C-ville won’t have a politically different climate in 50 years and this ordinance won’t be used as a weapon against a library containing books like Venus Envy and Fear of Flying?

    The businesses in existence now that sell these items and services [who, against Tolbert’s stated goal of more citizen involvement, were not solicited for input] might be grandfathered in, meaning they might be exempt. Unless: they want to expand; they want to open a new branch; they want to move; a disaster occurs and they have to move; or the city just plain decides not to grandfather them in.

    There is going to be a public hearing before the Planning Commission March 26 at 6:30pm in City Council Chambers. If the zoning ordinance passes the P.C., then a public hearing before City Council (not yet scheduled) will follow.

    So, I want to know the Zoning Committee’s justification for wasting our tax dollars on regulating a type of retail that has existed in Charlottesville for 2 decades without negative secondary effects. I want to know their moral justification for putting a chilling effect on sexual speech. I want to know why the drafters of the Adult Use section think an industry that has never caused a single car accident or a single vomit-covered rosebush is being given more restrictions than the industry that causes these things weekly in Charlottesville: alcohol. And I want to know why the idea for creating a forum for the new Zoning Ordinance on the city’s website was suddenly cancelled. Jim Tolbert initially thought that idea was so good that he stopped a Q and A session to write it down. I’m hoping he didn’t trash my idea only after he found out the issue I was interested in.

    I think anyone who cares about free speech, [whether or not you partake of porn and vibes] should tell city leaders that you’re against governmental prohibition of the sale of sex-positive items:

    Mayor Maurice Cox: 970-3113,

    Jim Tolbert, Director of Neighborhood Development Services: 970-3182,

    Kevin O‘Halloran, Chair of the City Planning Commission: 970-3182, PO Box 911, 22902

  2. The *exception* (in paragraph B) for "accredited" educational institutions abundantly illustrates the folly of the text and intent of this ordinance. In addition to directly contradicting paragraph A, it begs the question: if the city is to proscribe "live sexual expression," why do our universities and schools teach this trash!? AND the ordinance will _exclusively_ let the schools continue to do so!!!

    When this ordinance passes, the city will have to shut down most of the art galleries downtown (most have and do show figurative art). Why, right below the Rennaissance school – where the students will still be allowed to LEARN and PRACTICE to draw the nude – is the Thomas Kincaid Gallery, where I have personally stood aghast in the discovery that Thomas does indeed paint and sell figurative works (they’re a bit better than the landscapes!). This gallery, among many others, would have to be shut down…. they are all within 1000 feet of either a school or residential apartments.

    If their concern is sincere, the city should go to the source and adopt a supply-side solution (it has worked so well for drug policy!). Let them outlaw nude art and its pedagogy altogether. After all, as long as they have schools training pornographers, they’ll never be able to rid us of the stuff.

    (Just in case you can’t read sarcasm: I’m not in favor of the ordinance as written, nor of its "improvement," whatever that might be…)

    in re:

    This was posted on Ray Smith is the owner of Videos Etc.

    Note Part B – which appears without my editing, but was apparently emphasized. Mr. Smith attended a recent zoning meeting of City Council. …

    B. Any kind of business where people are engaging in live sexual expression, nudity or sexual contact will be subject to the same spacing requirement. That includes strip clubs, massage parlors and *any art studios not affiliated with an accredited educational institution where models pose nude*.

  3. I am not the owner of Videos, Etc.

    Here is the Adult Use Section:


    Sec. Application.

    In any district in which a use is otherwise permitted, if such use constitutes an “adult use” as defined herein, the minimum requirements and standards set forth within this division shall apply to such use.

    Sec. Definitions.

    In this division, unless the context otherwise requires, the following words and terms are defined as set out herein:

    Adult bookstore: A bookstore that devotes more than fifteen percent (15%) of the total floor area for the display and sale of the following:

    (1) Books, magazines, periodicals or other printed matter, or photographs, films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides, tapes, records or other forms of visual or audio representations which are characterized by an emphasis upon the depiction or description of specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas; or

    (2) Instruments, devices or paraphernalia which are designed for use in connection with specified sexual activities.

    The term adult bookstore shall not include a bookstore that sells adult books or periodicals as an incidental or accessory part of its principal stock-in-trade and does not devote more than fifteen percent (15%) of the total floor area of the establishment to the sale of books or periodicals.

    Adult entertainment: Live performances by topless and/or bottomless dancers, strippers or similar entertainers, characterized by the display or exposure of specified anatomical areas.

    Adult entertainment establishment: (i) A restaurant, nightclub, bar, cabaret, lounge, club or other establishment, whether private or open to the public, which features adult entertainment; and (ii) Any commercial establishment, including but not limited to a restaurant, nightclub, bar, cabaret, lounge, club or other establishment, which, as its primary business, offers for sale any book, publication or film which depicts nudity, or sexual conduct or which offers services such as bath houses, massage parlors, wrestling parlors or similar activities.

    Adult massage parlor: Any place where, for any form of consideration or gratuity, a massage, alcohol rub, administration of fomentations, electric or magnetic treatments, or any other treatment or manipulation of the human body occurs as a part of or in connection with specified sexual activities or where any person providing such treatment, manipulation, or service related thereto, exposes any of his or her specified anatomical areas.

    Adult model studio: Any establishment where, for any form of consideration or gratuity, figure models who display specified anatomical areas exhibit themselves to be observed, sketched, drawn, painted, sculptured, photographed or similarly depicted by persons, other than the proprietor, paying such consideration or gratuity. The following is excluded from this definition: any school of art which is authorized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia to issue and confer, a diploma.

    Adult motion picture theatre: A theater, concert hall, auditorium or similar commercial establishment, where, for consideration, any films, motion pictures, video cassettes, slides or similar photographic reproductions are shown, and in which a substantial portion of the total presentation time is devoted to the showing of material which is distinguished or characterized by an emphasis upon the depiction or description of specified sexual activities or specified anatomical area for observation by patrons. Movies rated G, PG, PG-13, R or NC by the Motion Picture Association of America, or live theatrical performances with serious artistic, social or political value, that depict or describe specified anatomical areas, are expressly exempt from regulation under this division.

    Adult use: Any business or establishment subject to the definitions and regulations of this division.

    Specified anatomical areas:

    (1) Any human genitals, public region, buttocks or female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola, which area is less than completely and opaquely covered; and

    (2) Human male genitals in a discernibly turgid state, even if completely and opaquely covered.

    Specified sexual activities:

    (1) The fondling or intentional touching of human genitals, pubic region, buttocks, anus or female breast, whether covered or uncovered;

    (2) Sex acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including masturbation, intercourse, oral copulation or sodomy;

    (3) Human genitals in a state of sexual stimulation, arousal or tumescence; and

    (4) Excretory functions as part of or in connection with any of the activities set forth in (1) through (3) above.

    Sec. General Standards and Regulations

    (1) No adult use may be established within one thousand (1,000) feet of a residentially zoned district or property used as a residence regardless of zoning, or a school, educational institution, religious institution, public park, playground, playfield or day care center.

    (2) No adult use may be established within one thousand (1,000) feet of any other such adult use in any zoning district.

    (3) The following activities shall each constitute the “establishment” of an adult use, as referred to herein,

    a. the initial opening of an adult use (including, without limitation, the conversion, in whole or part, of an existing business to any adult use)

    b. the relocation of an existing adult use,

    c. an increase in the floor area of an existing adult use, by twenty-five percent (25%) or more.

    (4) All distances specified in this section shall be measured in a straight line from the property line of the adult use to the nearest regulated use. The distance between an adult use and a residentially zoned district shall be measured from the property line of the use to the nearest point of the boundary line of the residentially zoned district.

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