CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In early July, crews showed up downtown for some long-delayed evictions. After years of protest, litigation and even violence, the statues of two Confederate generals, Lee and Jackson, were finally carted out of city parks, expelled by the city’s drive to right its past wrongs.
Now the really hard work awaits.
It has been four years since white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, wreaking bloody havoc in the streets and killing a young woman. The horror of that August weekend sent the city into a deep study of its own racial past and a debate over what to do about its legacy. The catalog of lingering artifacts of that bigoted history is daunting, beginning with statues but quickly getting to the basics of civic life like schools and neighborhoods.
In a city that prides itself on its progressivism, the push for justice has, in general terms, enjoyed broad support. That this push may entail changes to people’s neighborhoods — streets of one- and two-story brick homes, lovely dogwoods and abundant Black Lives Matter signs — is another matter.
Charlottesville’s planning commission is considering a proposal to roll back some of the city’s zoning restrictions in an effort to encourage construction of more affordable housing, a plan that has drawn reaction ranging from fervent opposition to disappointment that it does not go further.
roots in discrimination and consequences in soaring housing prices and more segregated neighborhoods, Charlottesville is joining communities across the country in debating whether to ease these restrictions. Several Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 pledged to encourage the loosening of zoning rules, and President Biden’s infrastructure bill includes grants for cites that do so.
Donald J. Trump to Tucker Carlson to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis lawyers who were given a speaking slot at the 2020 Republican National Convention after waving their guns at protesters, have accused Democrats of wanting to “abolish the suburbs” by curtailing single-family zoning. The results, Ms. McCloskey said, would be “crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments.”
This kind of fire-breathing partisanship is relatively rare in Charlottesville, a liberal college town. But the colors on the land-use map — particularly the gold, which shows up all over the city and particularly in comfortable neighborhoods like Lewis Mountain and Barracks Rugby, indicated residences of up to 12 units allowed in places where single-family homes now sit — were, to many, alarming.
A “huge social experiment on our city,” said a law professor at one of the hours-long virtual planning commission meetings this summer. “I just don’t understand what is driving this,” another commenter said.