Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: School rezoning maps, single family zoning update, and assessments

Good morning, RVA! It's 71 °F, and we’ve got another heckin’ hot day on deck. You should expect highs in the mid 90s throughout most of the day, and steamy temperatures continue through the weekend. If we make it through Sunday, there’s a chance things will cool down the tiniest bit on Monday.

Water cooler

I feel real bad about this, but yesterday I forgot to mention that the Richmond Public Schools rezoning committee met to look at some first drafts of the school rezoning maps. Here are is the PDF you’re looking for: maps of all the new zoning options for elementary, middle, and high school plus a bunch of tables of potential enrollment numbers. You can also zoom around on this digital version of those same maps. Additionally, this page on the RPS website has a bunch of additional maps and resource that are probably worth scrolling through as well (make sure you tap on the “Committee Meeting #2” header in the menu). There is a lot a lot going on with all of this information, and I have taken absolutely zero time to try and process it all. But! We should all get to processing and then get to letting the committee know all of our thoughts and feelings! This sounds like a great plan for the weekend, right?

At this past Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Kim Gray introduced RES. 2019-R025 (PDF) which would “initiate an amendment to the City’s zoning ordinance to require a minimum lot area of 750 square feet per dwelling unit when a nonconforming use is changed to a multifamily dwelling within certain residential zoning districts.” To translate out of zoning and into human English, this resolution would require 750 square feet of land for every dwelling unit when converting something to a multi-family development if it sits in certain single family zones (R-1 through R-8). To further translate, if you’re taking a big old building in a residential neighborhood and converting it to apartments, this sets a pretty significant cap on the number of units you can put in that big old building. For example, the Lee Medical Building on the southwest corner of Lee Circle sits on about 17,000 square feet of land. Today, developers are planning to covert those offices into about 60 apartments. This zoning change would limit that building to about 22 units, unnecessarily increasing the size (and probably cost) of those apartments. If you scroll down to the human-readable summary in the resolution PDF you’ll see that “The patron’s goal is to prevent the inappropriate development of units that are too small in [sic] and that would result in inappropriate dense conversion in neighborhoods that are designed for such conversions.” Reducing residential density is the absolute opposite direction of where our City’s housing policy should be headed, and I’d argue that dense conversion are exactly what we need in more and more neighborhoods across Richmond.

Mark Robinson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch says that City Council’s Governmental Operations committee recommended for approval the Mayor’s ordinance to preemptively ban guns in City-owned parks and City-owned buildings (ORD. 2019-165). I didn’t realize it, but Council has scheduled a special meeting this coming Monday to vote on the ordinance—I guess to get it on the books before the General Assembly meets on July 9th to do whatever it is they’re goign to do about gun violence.

If you’re a homeowner in the City you probably got your real estate assessment this week. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear if yours went up, by how much, in which neighborhood you live, and your general thoughts and feelings about that. Up here on the Northside, my assessment went up about 6%. Remember from this past budget season, a significant stack of the Mayor’s proposed investments were funded not with a real estate tax increase but with this anticipated increase in assessments. That increase is a chunk of change, for sure, but we’ve still got hundreds of millions of dollars of investments to make—including schools, transit, public housing, streets, sidewalks, public art, riverfront infrastructure, and vacant City positions—so get ready for those assessments to continue to rise or the real estate tax to increase...or both!

Update! It didn’t even take eight hours for y’all to donate over $600 to RAICES! While I’m not surprised at your generosity, I am certainly impressed with its speed! As promised, I’ve gone ahead and matched that. With the original $300 I put in the pot, together we’ve raised $1,590 for an organization that helps families separated and detained on our country’s southern border. I think that’s incredible. This is, however, an ongoing crisis, and if you had planned on giving but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet please still do so and still send me your receipts! I think $2,000 before the 4th of July is probably an obtainable goal for readers of Richmond’s premier daily zoning and rezoning email newsletter.

Related, Rabbi Michael Knopf has a Back Page for Style Weekly that you should definitely read about how it is appropriate to call America’s detention camps on our southern border “concentration camps.” More importantly though, he encourages us to go beyond semantic arguments and actually do something to oppose our government’s denial of folks’ basic human rights. To quote a bit: “What happens in our time will never be identical to what happened in an earlier era, but it will be similar enough that, if we are wise enough to recognize it, we can be courageous enough to do everything in our power to oppose it. Terms are imprecise, and historical analogies are imperfect. But while we're debating these abstract concepts, tens of thousands of human beings, including many children, are being torn from their families, indefinitely locked in cages and denied basic human necessities. Whatever we choose to call it, and to whatever we choose to compare it, what will we do to resist it?”

This morning's longread

Against car supremacy

Here’s what I really mean when I joke about banning cars. OR AM I??

This reflects the all-pervasive car supremacy in the design of the American built environment. From our massively-skewed funding priorities, to the dysfunctional politics of rail construction, to the simple engineering of American city centers, we send signals that automobiles are the only truly legitimate way for people to get around, and that drivers are entitled to priority over any other transport method. It's long since time for a revolution in American transport — not to abolish the use of cars altogether, but to place them as just one among many transportation options.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

Good morning, RVA: Banning guns, help out at schools, and a RAICES update

Good morning, RVA: New police chief, FOIA’d documents, and a chance to do something