Albemarle prioritizes strategies, strategizes priorities

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors spent five hours on Friday,  September 7, looking back at accomplishments made under the county’s Comprehensive Plan as well as giving direction on what staff should focus on in the coming years.

“Today we are about promoting our community’s future,” said County Executive Jeffrey Richardson. “The economic vitality and quality of life in this community is just astounding.”

This is the first chance that Richardson has had to lead the board on these issues. He’s been in the position for less than a year.

Richardson said each supervisor has different interests and that the strategic planning session was intended to give staff a sense of what the collective will is in terms of priorities.

This is also the first chance that Kristy Shifflet, the director of the county’s newly-created office of project management, has the chance to lead the discussion on strategic planning. Current projects underway include the development of the Rio Road small area plan, implementation of the Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative and the creation of the Regional Transit Partnership.

This process takes place at the beginning of the budget cycle for fiscal year 2020. Supervisors will adopt that document next April, but not before several strategic planning meetings.

At the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) brought up the board’s decision in July to not move forward with a bond referendum to support parks projects. She said there is a need to catch up and that those requests should move forward.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel’s main interest is education but she also wants to focus on revitalizing the urban ring. Her district, Jack Jouett, is the most urban of all six of the magisterial constituencies.

“Our focus in this county for many years was the rural area and that’s great and certainly deservingly so, but if we really want to protect our rural area, we have to figure out how to make the development area, and especially right now the old aging neighborhoods in the urban ring, places that people actually want to live,” McKeel said. “I’m thrilled about the work we’re doing with the environment now and coming back to looking at resiliency and climate change and how the work around that is especially pleasing to me.”

Supervisor Rick Randolph (Scottsville) said he was glad that the Parks and Recreation Department have concluded their needs assessment. He stated that the county has “added two new parks” at Biscuit Run and Hedgerow. (It is true to state that the county now has a ground lease to manage Biscuit Run and it owns the Hedgerow land, but it is unclear when either of these will open to the public.)

“There are others also in the wings I understand though they have not been officially announced yet,” Randolph said. “As we grow we have to think clearly about school capacity but we also need to think about recreational capacity because the fact is that with land costs having gone up in Albemarle County, it becomes more expensive per acre to own property, hence the units get smaller. They’re more affordable and thereby requires the county to provide more open space for people to be open to recreate and enjoy.”

Rio Road Small Area Plan

The Rio Road small-area plan is intended to guide private development of the area around the Rio Road and U.S. 29 intersection. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands on two consultants to come up with a vision and to ascertain the economic feasibility of public investment to entice redevelopment of a dense, mixed-use community.

Supervisors want a draft vision for the idea and possible service districts to pay for it by the end of the year. The goal is to add this information to the Comprehensive Plan first. After that they will develop a draft ordinance for a form-based code, based on examples in Arlington and Henrico counties.

“We have a framework that’s built out as to what we think we’ll recommend but we haven’t had the opportunity to have a conversation with you all about that because we want to get this vision and the comp plan amendment first,” said senior planner Rachel Falkenstein.

Falkenstein said it will take a year to develop the zoning. After that, the goal is to leverage public investment to attract private capital. Economic development will take up that effort.

Public works

Albemarle is in the early days of establishing a future public works department to maintain and build its own infrastructure. This is called for the strategic plan goal to “revitalize aging urban neighborhoods.” As part of that effort, they have mapped private stormwater infrastructure as a way of better managing the effort collectively. The Board of Supervisors are expected to see a report on this initiative in November and give direction on how to proceed. The Capital Improvement Program for this year contains $620,000 toward this purpose.

McKeel expressed concern that her input wasn’t consulted before the pilot project began. Mallek suggested consulting experts in each district to help with this work.

The most recent Comprehensive Plan update contains many objectives related to transportation. Part of that work is reflected in the regional transit partnership, which became fairly contentious at its last meeting. County transportation planner Kevin McDermott is seeking input from supervisors on what projects should be applied for through VDOT’s revenue-sharing program. The next cycle of applications is for next year. This current year is the SmartScale application, and that will happen again in 2020.

Randolph wants information about how much staff time has gone toward Southwood.

Courts relocation and other things

Supervisors have not yet decided whether to co-locate the general district court downtown or to move to a new location. There are conceptual drawings, but there are no construction documents. Supervisors put the development of such plans on hold as they studied a possible move to elsewhere in the county.

“We’re not starting from scratch, we’re starting from a pretty good conceptual starting place, but there’s a lot of work to do to get us to that point,” said Trevor Henry, the assistant deputy county executive.

It was unclear from the discussion when a decision point will be reached.

Mike Culp reported on progress to extend broadband internet to rural parts of the county. He said the Albemarle Broadband Authority have worked with VDOT and other stakeholders to the Greenwood area.

Roger Johnson reported on public-private partnerships and how they might move forward. There will be a discussion about them in September and potential grant applications being brought forward in the near future.  

Water infrastructure

Greg Harper, Albemarle’s water resources manager, said capital investments in stormwater infrastructure fall into two categories. The network of pipes and other drainage techniques is known as greywater infrastructure. The other is green infrastructure, which Harper refers to as watershed infrastructure. In the current fiscal year, there is one-time funding for new staff positions for which funding will have to be found to turn them into permanent ones.

Harper said there is a pilot infrastructure project underway where drainage in a particular area is being assessed by video surveillance. There are over 160 property owners the county has asked requested for permission to inspect those pipes.

“In the future, if we decide we want to adopt some of this infrastructure as public infrastructure, if we’re going to start maintaining and repairing the infrastructure, we would need to get permanent easements from these property owners as well,” Harper said.

The findings from the video assessment will come back to the Board of Supervisors in December.

“Part of the program that Greg’s division is doing is to get ahead of the failures so that we can prevent those from happening,” Kamptner said.

Harper said his division is also working with the Parks and Recreation Department, the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to understand why there was an algae bloom at Chris Greene Lake this past spring.

“We believe of course its too much nutrients coming off the watershed but the question is, where specifically?” Harper said. “If there are some hot spots, what can we do about them? We’re in the process right now of collecting all the data we can starting to analyze it so we use the data to focus our efforts.”

Another project in Harper’s division is to help the Dunlora neighborhood retrofit stormwater management practices.

Parks and recreation

In the afternoon session, supervisors were taken through what is referred to as “emerging initiatives.” The first deal with parks and recreation and a perceived need to expand outdoor recreation.

There have been over 1,200 responses to a survey for the future Biscuit Run park. Crickenberger said there would be one more public engagement session. The goal is to complete the master plan by the end of the year. That will include cost estimates. The Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation would have to sign off on the plan.

“The county is currently in a deficit of 172 acres with regards to neighborhood and community parks,” Crickenberger said. “By 2032, we will require a total of 264 acres of neighborhood and community parks.”

The county may seek to acquire land for some of these parks in FY2020.

“We don’t foresee a lot of opportunities in terms of land gifts of proffers within these particular areas purely because in most cases the proffers and land gifts we’ve gotten in development areas are really not marketable,” Crickenberger said. “A lot of time they are in flood plain or the flood way and it makes it challenging to put in place some of those recreational amenities.”

Crickenberger described neighborhood parks as being less than 5 acres in size and community parks as being less than 25 acres in size. McKeel said she thought some abandoned properties in the urban ring could be used for this purpose.

Palmer said she has been told by people that there is a lack of places to walk in the southern part of the county.

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“It is all private owned and the roads are completely unsafe to walk on because there is no shoulder whatsoever,” Palmer said.

She said Biscuit Run and Hedgerow are not suitable places for those seeking a recreational walk that is less strenuous than what the area’s topography allows. She said at one point there was an idea to build trails around Simpson Park in Esmont, but that never materialized.

Mallek urged Crickenberger to phase parks so that as many can be opened as possible on a limited basis.

Gallaway said that the county should identify these locations as part of the small area planning process to find ways to reduce the deficit Crickenberger had mentioned.

“If we can conceptualize in our small area plan all of the green areas that are going in, what would that total acreage equal up to and how would that attack the deficit?” Gallaway said. “This is a conversation we can have with developers. We can still accept on-site proffers.”

Climate action plan

Andy Lowe was next. The environmental compliance manager said the development of a climate action plan for Albemarle would set goals for greenhouse gas reductions.

“The climate action plan is one of those topics that interweaves with all of these other topics so we’ve focused a lot of our internal preliminary efforts on pulling together an internal team,” Lowe said. Development of the plan will take place between now and spring, including a public meeting.

Randolph said he would like to promote anti-idling policies, both in the private sector and the public sector. Lowe said there is an internal policy within the Department of Facilities and Environmental Services to turn off idling vehicles, but the county does not have a universal policy for its entire fleet. Palmer said the Albemarle County Service Authority does have a policy. McKeel said the school board considered such a policy at one point.

Mallek said she understands the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the plan needs to cover topics.

“Adaptation, resiliency, loss of biodiversity,” she said. “All of those kinds of things are things we can do something about and start moving on.”

Affordable housing

Albemarle will spend time updating its affordable housing policy, which has not been updated in a decade and a half.

“We’ve seen some fairly recent incidents where we’re struggling with how to implement our policy and what it means with respect to certain projects,” Graham said. “It’s 15 years old and getting a little long in the tooth.”

Potential changes could include revision of the county’s inclusionary zoning policy and strategic use of the Community Development Block Grants.

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is about to create a regional housing partnership. Albemarle supervisors will see that report next spring. The TJPDC is also overseeing the Regional Transit Partnership.

“What we’re looking at is trying to make sure we mesh well with what’s happening at a regional level,” Graham said. “At 30,000 feet you have to look at the affordable housing as a regional issue. You can’t look at it as a county issue or a city issue. You have to drill down and start looking at the particulars of each locality and then come up with unique strategies.”

Mallek said she hopes more can be done to preserve existing housing stock such as the homes in downtown Crozet which were originally built to house employees of the now-defunct Barnes Lumber Yard.

“The great fear is that what will happen here is what happened in Arlington and my daughter’s former neighborhood from the 1950’s, World War II ranch houses, they were all bought up and then people came up and put 7,000 square foot houses right up to the borders and the neighborhoods are ruined or changed, and the people who were there are almost forced out,” Mallek said.

Supervisors were also briefed on the county’s Housing Choice Voucher program, which was moved from the county’s Office of Housing to the Department of Social Services in 2017. Social Services Director Phyllis Savides said Albemarle is seeking funds to assist efforts to assist non-elderly individuals with disabilities that may be at risk of becoming homeless or being institutionalized.

“And we would need to do this in close partnership with Region 10 because Region 10 would be the primary service driver for these individuals,” Savides said.

Solid waste

One key reason Palmer is interested in solid waste issues is related to climate change.

“We have predominantly a monopoly going on in our hauling industry and they want people to take their trash down to the end of the driveway,” Palmer said.  “If you’ve got a bad knee and you can’t drag your stuff all the way down to the end of the driveway, I think a lot of people will open those burn barrels again and I think they’re already doing it, quite frankly.

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