Monthly Archives: July 2020

Council moves forward with application for Preston/Grady intersection

The Charlottesville City Council has agreed to proceed with a funding request to redevelop the intersection of Preston and Grady, along with three other transportation projects. This happened despite concern from some that the city has not yet done enough to prepare for development on the Preston Avenue Corridor. 

City Council voted 3-2 on Monday, July 20, on a motion to proceed with applications, which are being made under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program. This is the fourth round of the program, which ranks candidate projects according to a series of metrics, including how they will improve public safety. 

The first phase of the Dairy Central project is nearing completion, and on July 22 a section of 10th Street NE is closed to facilitate construction (Credit – Sean Tubbs)

The projects are:

City engineer Jack Dawson told Council said these will compete with other projects in VDOT’s Culpeper District for an available $20 million. 

“Some projects may also qualify under the high priority projects program which allows these projects to compete for another pool of funds if they provide capacity on a corridor of statewide significance or a regional network,” Dawson said. “However it is unlikely that our projects would be competitive for that.” 

The Preston Avenue Grady project was submitted in the third Smart Scale round in 2018, and was eventually suggested for funding after another project in the Culpeper District was canceled. City officials decided to submit the application again. 

“We started from a list of projects that had originated in our department from the various transportation planning documents, and most of the projects had been previously scored by VDOT so we had a good feeling for their likelihood of receiving funding this time,” Dawson said. 

He added that the city’s Streets That Work and new Standards and Design Manual also played a factor in what got selected.

In this round, the third phase of the West Main Streetscape was the city’s first priority, followed by the Preston / Grady intersection. That project was briefly selected in the last roud but the city opted to use the funding for another project at Elliot Street and Ridge Street. The two other projects are on Emmet Street and Ridge Street. Dawson said the Preston / Grady project is conceptual, but safety concerns played a role in having it be chosen again. 

Several nearby residents had asked for the Preston/Grady project to move forward at this time. Vizena Howard is the president of the 10th and Page Neighborhood. She said she and others in nearby neighborhoods collected nearly 300 signatures opposing the project. 

“I believe that rerouting the traffic through Grady Avenue is an error with which a high volume of traffic would create additional congestion issues for residents on the adjacent side of the street,” Howard said. ” I believe it is important more than ever that those in positions of power to be listening to residents who have long lived in this neighborhood,” Howard said. 

The application concerned some who thought the design should be informed by a more comprehensive look at the entire Preston Avenue corridor

Dawson said the application being submitted is just a concept and that the exact parameters can change. 

“If we get these funds, we won’t be able to use these funds at least until 2025 without a special deal with the state about how we’re going to use them,” Dawson said, adding it is a matter of securing money now for eventual use in the future. 

“What we’ve given to VDOT in this application is a description, more of a narrative description of what we’d like to do in the intersection with regard to safety improvements, multimodal, pedestrian crossings,” Dawson said. 

City traffic engineer Brennen Duncan explained he did not think vehicles would be pushed onto Grady Avenue because many want to get elsewhere. 

“Each individual spot whether it is the hospital or the university acts like a magnet and draws traffic to it, it wants to go to where it wants to go,” Duncan, adding people going to Barracks Road not likely to go down Grady Avenue. He said future development on Preston Avenue as well as the redeveloped Dairy Central require the intersection to be reconfigured. He said the current configuration is flawed.

“We know the history of it and we know that when Preston happened it did separate the historically African American community of 10th and Page from Washington Park,” Duncan said. “Reducing this back down to one intersection and one light where we can control pedestrian crossings I think is a huge benefit for trying to reconnect that community to the park that was historically theirs.” 

Duncan said there would be full public participation in creating the actual design, but the budget, project boundaries and narrative would have to stay within the scope of the application. Councilor Lloyd Snook said the drawing as submitted didn’t give that impression.

“What I’m looking and what I’ve seen doesn’t really designate a perimeter, but if we designate a perimeter that goes far enough to the east, at least until the eastern end of Dairy Central, it would seem to me that would provide more room to do more stuff,” Snook said. 

The developer of Dairy Central, Chris Henry, asked for the project to be stopped for now. 

“The current VDOT-centric approach misses the forest for the trees, leaving many other factors of place-making, urbanism, economic development, sustainability, and equity out of the equation,” Henry said. He called for a small area plan to be conducted, similar to the one Council approved in November 2018 for the Starr Hill Neighborhood. 

“This application for Smart Scale funding for the Preston Grady intersection is being pushed through despite robust grassroots opposition from adjacent neighborhoods, property owners, and environmental advocates,” Henry said. 

City Councilor Michael Payne said the Smart Scale process itself needs to be reviewed. 

“I think it tends to promote urban sprawl, it is a flawed process, granted it is out of our control, and this is the kind of thing where if we were to approve it tonight it’s still ten years until anything even begins to happen and  if we didn’t approve it that could be fourteen or fifteen years maybe even longer than that,” Payne said. “My concern is about what happens with the institutional inertia of this process and outside out of our intentions about the future of the corridor, what will actually happen.” 

Payne said he would support a small area plan and supported not submitting this proposal forward.

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she was concerned that Henry and others were trying to stop the process so they could control the intersection in the future. 

“I’ve heard more from, minus Ms. Howard’s comments, more about people trying to control what they think this intersection should look like, and then using the fear of individuals in the neighborhood to sell that narrative that they are channeling versus their actual concern about ensuring that the neighborhood is protected,” Walker said. “They’re already doing things that are not protecting the neighborhood and the people who have lived in the neighborhood.” 

Walker said she was concerned that a small area plan would lead to further gentrification on Preston Avenue.  Payne said the street is one to watch.

“There’s going to be an explosion of development on this corridor if my memory is correct. At least portions of this corridor are going to be part of a proposed tech innovation district and I think the Dairy Central is going to accelerate that process and this corridor is going to change substantially over the next decade plus in a way that to the extent we are able to I hope we are proactive to shape it as best we can to fit the desires and needs of the corridor.” 

Council adopted a resolution supporting all four of the city’s submissions for funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program. The scoring will be made public next February.

July 17, 2020: 1,002 new cases, $1.25 in business funding and 58 percent tax revenue

Today’s edition materializes thanks to the French Press, open every day from 7 to 7 in Waynesboro for delicious coffee and light treats. Cool snacks, and cold and frozen bevvies. Order in advance on the @cloosiv app or call ahead 540.221.6568. See you there at the French Press? 

The number of cases of COVID-19 in Virginia has increased by another 1,002 cases, and the percent positive rate rate for all testing encounters has risen to 7.4 percent. That number was 7.1 percent on Thursday. There have now been 2,013 fatalities. Yesterday the Health District reported another 14 new cases and today reported another 23 cases for a cumulative total of 1,335 cases. Since Wednesday, that’s ten new cases in Albemarle, 15 in Charlottesville, four in Greene, three in Fluvanna, four in Louisa and 1 in Nelson. There have been 29 fatalities but none reported since July 7. The positive percentage rate is 7.4 percent for the PCR test, and 7.2 for all tests. 

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The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will meet sometime next week to discuss what steps the county might take to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The six elected officials brought the matter up at the end of Wednesday’s meeting after getting a briefing from health officials. Here’s Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District.

“I think there was a fairly strong consensus about concern over moving from phase two to phase three, but the board did not take a formal vote and did not take a formal action,” Price said. 

Some supervisors are concerned that the large gathering permitted under Phase Three of the Forward Virginia plan will lead to more infections, and some want to tell Governor Ralph Northam to go back to Phase 2, which limited gatherings to 50 people or fewer. Supervisors aren’t scheduled to meet again until August 5, but Price said there is a need for a special meeting. 

“What we’re anticipating is a meeting next week where we will have more information from the Virginia Department of Health,” Price said. “We’re looking to have consultation with the city of Charlottesville, UVA. Obviously from my perspective we’re going to also include the town of Scottsville.”  

Price said she is concerned about what the next few months may be like and is concerned many have become fatigued by physical distancing and facial covering guidelines. The supervisor made her comments at the virtual meeting of the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee. 

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A local group that studies public policy in the area reports that tourism activity was down 58 percent in March and April. The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed transient occupancy and meals tax records from Albemarle and Charlottesville in its research. Neil Williamson is the organization’s president. 

“The fact that tourism activity is down 58 percent is dramatic,” Williamson said “ You have to remember that the taxes are collected one month after the activity occurs, so when you look at May taxes, it’s really reflecting April activity. In May 2020, the city collected nearly 50 percent less, about a million dollars less, in meals tax revenue compared to 2019 or even 2018. 

Williamson said the Free Enterprise Forum will continue to look at the numbers. When asked what steps he would recommend to improve those numbers, he urged people to follow the guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19. (blog post)

“I think it’s critically important that customers and employees follow the protocols. It is for the safety of everyone to follow the safety protocols,” Williamson said. “Wear the mask.” 

This week, Albemarle County launched an initiative to help businesses get through the downturn in the economy. The $1.25 million Lift Grant program will provide some funding for up to 100 small businesses. Roger Johnson is the county’s economic development director.

“We want to provide aid to small businesses, all businesses in Albemarle County, giving a preference to women, minority and veteran owned businesses, as well as the hospitality and tourism industry. As for why we gave preference to the tourism industry, they have a direct economic impact in our community of over $400 million.” 

A webinar will be held on the Lift Grant program on July 27 at noon. (press release)

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The University of Virginia has released its latest plans for on Grounds opening for the fall semester. Students will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning, and must have a negative COVID-19 test to attend in-person classes. The plan has details about how UVA will hire a third-party vendor to provide tests for students. All students, faculty and staff will be required to have a daily health check and must wear facial coverings. Everyone on Grounds will be given a touch tool to open doors, and there will be 2,600 free-standing hand sanitizer stations. Dining rooms will be open at 50 percent capacity, but takeout options will be increased. More information can be found in the five-page plan. (the plan)

Newscast for July 16: 2007 deaths, back to Phase 2?

Today’s assemblage of pertinent information is brought to you by the College Inn, a place that is ready to bring you a variety of food and beverages throughout Charlottesville via delivery. That includes ice cream! Place your order online at thecollegeinn.com or phone 977-2710. 

Virginia’s COVID-19 death toll is now 2,007 based on new information released this morning. The Virginia Department of Health reports another 904 new cases today, and reported 1,084 new cases on Wednesday. That brings the total number of cases to 74,431. The statewide 7-day positive percentage for all testing encounters has increased to 7.1 percent. 

Updated figures from the Thomas Jefferson Health District were unavailable at recording time. 

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The Albemarle Board of Supervisors is considering sending a letter to Governor Ralph Northam asking for permission for the county to move back to Phase 2 of the Forward Virginia plan, which would reduce the size of allowed public gatherings from 200 people to 50. It would also close indoor dining. Supervisor Ann Mallek is concerned there will be a spike in cases.

“I would encourage everybody to think about whether we really want to be in phase 3,” said Ann Mallek. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel shared that concern and suggested sending a letter to Governor Northam especially with the University of Virginia possibly returning in weeks.  

“I am very concerned about 20,000 students coming back,” McKeel said. “We now have our school division that’s saying they’re struggling to even get enough teachers. 

County staff said they would need to review whether they could enforce local rules if Governor Northam did not move back to phase two. Supervisors may hold a special meeting to further discuss the letter and next steps for the pandemic response.  County Executive Jeffrey Richardson said that county office buildings will remain closed to the public and meetings will continue to be held virtually. 

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Do you or someone you know need assistance paying your rent or your mortgage due to the pandemic? A local organization has begun coordination of Virginia’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has a central website for information on how to apply for relief funding in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson Counties, as well as the city of Charlottesville. Details on eligibility are on the website, which can be seen in the show notes and the newsletter version of this newscast. (more info)

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The Dean of the Students at the University of Virginia has written a letter to undergraduates warning them that continued public gatherings in violation of COVID-19 restrictions could end plans to return to on Grounds instruction about a month from now. Dean Allen Groves responded to photographs and accounts of students crowding into Corner bars and fraternity houses, with people not wearing masks or staying six feet apart. Groves called such activities “selfish and ignorant” and chided them to follow the rules. He stated – “If such behavior continues, we will not make it long into the fall semester before a significant outbreak occurs and we then need to send students home.” (NBC29 story

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There will be another COVID-19 testing event this evening at Booker T. Washington Park in Charlottesville from 5 to 7 p.m. Sentara Martha Jefferson does not require preregistration for the event, which is being offered at no cost with a focus on “communities of color.” People can either drive through or walk up. There will be another event at the same time and place on Thursday, July 23. The University of Virginia Health System will have a COVID-19 test at Buford Middle School on Saturday from July 18 from 2 to 5 p.m. This event is also offered for free. More details on events in Nelson County and Greene County coming in the days to come, or on the Thomas Jefferson Health District website. (testing information)

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In recent years, many people across the world have opened their doors to paying guests who seek short-term rentals. The AirBnB phenomenon has led some to question the impact this may have on the availability of affordable places for people who live here. Phil d’Oronzio is the chair of the Charlottesville Housing Advisory Committee, or HAC.

“There had been some queries to the HAC about the impact of short-term rentals, AirBnB and their analogues, and its impact on housing stock,” d’Oronzio said.

The HAC reached out to the Center for Civic Innovation at SmartCville to take a look at the underlying data. Nathan Day is one of the fellows who took a look at property records and zoning for an initial report to share with the many members of the HAC. (Smart Cville blog entry)

“This is a data gathering from my standpoint,” said Day. “I’m good at getting data and visualizing it but I rely on experts like you for the interpretation and what the policy changes will make going forward.” 

The data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has not been collected since. The study found that about one percent of the city’s total housing stock is being used for transient use, or about 200 units. 

“It’s a small fraction of the total number of houses out there and we haven’t begun to dive into what that trend looks like over time because I think that’s the next question,” Day said.  

Joy Johnson represents the Public Housing Association of Residents.

“I’m just wondering how many of those AirBnB is actually in the low-income neighborhoods or around the low-income neighborhoods because we know that a lot of houses are being bought up in our neighborhoods,” Johnson said.

Work will continue on the details of the study. 

Newscast for July 15, 2020: Masks, water, meetings

Today’s edition of the program is sponsored by Mead Oriental Rugs, located on 4th Street NE. Open by appointment, call 971-8077 to set up your visit. Mead Oriental Rugs. 

Governor Ralph Northam held his first press conference in three weeks Tuesday and stated there are currently no plans to move on with an additional phase in the Forward Virginia plan. That’s because there is an increasing number of positive COVID cases in eastern Virginia.

“The eastern region’s moving seven day average of new cases was around 60 in early June. Today that average is 346.”

Northam said the percent positive rate in eastern Virginia is 10.1 percent, which is causing concern that there is “substantial community spread.” The percentage in the Thomas Jefferson Health  District around Charlottesville is around eight percent. The governor said he is directing the Alcoholic Beverage Control and other agencies to step up enforcement of masks in indoor restaurants

“It’s just like the signs in so many store windows that say no shirt, no shoes, no service. Now it should be no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” 

Northam said he is directing alcohol sales to stop at 11 each night. More information from this press conference can be heard in the next installment of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report. 

The Greene County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing to get comment on proposed fee increases to help cover the cost of building a new reservoir. Mark B. Taylor is the Greene County administrator. 

“The water supply project that Greene County is undertaking is responding to a very real need. Our existing water system works pretty well in wet years, but our customer’s peak demand exceeds the capacity of our water plan. When it’s not wet, Greene County has problems.”

Taylor said Greene’s ability to support a growing population depends on building the White Run Reservoir, a plan approved in 2009 and updated in 2011. The Rapidan Service Authority increased has some fees already. The land for the reservoir has been completed, and now negotiations are underway for easements for water pipeline from the Rapidan River to the reservoir. (meeting presentation

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The Daily Progress is reporting that the Albemarle County School Board is preparing plans to begin the school year entirely online. More than five hundred teachers and school staff signed an open letter asking Superintendent Matt Haas to prepare for online learning given the potential risks of opening schools while positive cases increase locally. Last week, Haas presented a plan that would echo Charlottesville’s plan to have elementary students attend four days a week and middle and high school students. Read Katherine Knott’s story in today’s paper for more details

Today in government meetings, the Charlottesville Housing Advisory Committee meets virtually at noon, and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors meets at one. The HAC will be presented with the findings of analysis and visualization on how AirBnB and other short-term rentals are affecting the housing market. The presentation was made by a group associated with SmartCville. The Board of Supervisors will talk about how human services agencies are funded, details on a $1.25 million grant program for businesses affected by COVID-19, and how to improve stream health. There will also be a presentation from Jaunt on how on-demand transit could help provide more options for people who don’t have a car, or who choose not to drive.  (agenda)

Community Engagement newscast for July 14, 2020

Hello and welcome to the Community Engagement podcast newscast for July 14, 2020. It’s the 196th day of the year, but who’s counting? Today’s edition of this informational nugget is sponsored by Rapture, open for lunch and early dinner on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, weather permitting. Now extending brunch to Fridays, consider Rapture for your next family meal. 

Coming soon to a podcast host near you!

The Virginia Department of Health is reporting another 801 cases of COVID-19 this morning, bringing the cumulative total to 72,443. Nine more deaths have been reported for a total of 1,977. The 7-day percent positive rate for all testing encounters has risen again to 6.8 percent. That’s the third day in a row that metric has increased by a tenth of a percent.  In the Thomas Jefferson Health District, there are 41 new cases reported today for a cumulative total of 1,277. The 7-day positivity rate in the area for all testing encounters is 7.5 percent based on 27,858 tests. 

Source – Virginia Department of Health

It has now been four months since the State of Emergency was declared in Virginia for the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Nikuyah Walker and other city officials held a press conference yesterday to reinforce the need for vigilance.

“After a few months spending trying to figure out how we  protect each other, I think we all understand that we at some point have reached a fatigue around this COVID-19 virus. There have been a lot of mixed messages from state, federal and even here at the local level and it’s been a very confusing time to try to figure out how to keep yourself and your family safe.” 

Mayor Walker and other speakers warned that the fatigue can be hazardous as people stop using masks and stop keeping physical distance. Dr. Denise Bonds of the Thomas Jefferson Health District said her agency is responsible for enforcement of directives requiring facial coverings.

“To date we’ve had 180 complaints almost all of them related to individuals not wearing masks in restaurants or shops. Our policy right now is to inform and educate  for the first few times we get a complaint about a particular organization. If the complaint continues and its an agency that we are responsible for regulating, we do have the authority to issue more serious compliance orders with that.

The full video of the press conference can be seen on the city of Charlottesville’s archive and excerpts will be included in the next edition of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report. Governor Ralph Northam will hold his first press COVID-19 conference in several weeks. 

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A University of Virginia media studies professor has published an article in the Guardian about whether American schools are ready to reopen in the fall. Siva Vaidhyanathan writes in a July 13 article that Charlottesville schools are not prepared to reopen, and he writes that the pressure from the federal government to resume in-person classes isn’t helping. Albemarle County plans to open on September 8 with students attending school twice a week in two different cohorts, with schools Friday for a teacher workday and deep cleaning. Charlottesville is considering a plan that would see students in kindergarten through 6th grade attend school days four a week, and older students on the same plan as Albemarle. A growing number of faculty and staff are pushing back on the concept as a number of metrics appears to indicate further caution. (Open letter to Albemarle County schools) (Siva Vaidhyanathan article in the Guardian

In government meetings today, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on how to spend nearly an additional $250,000 in federal funding for COVID-19 relief, as well as a rezoning that would allow a car wash located on Long Street to expand onto a nearby property.  The Albemarle County Planning Commission will take consider a request to fill in the flood plain for a stream crossing to enable more homes in Crozet. And the Greene County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on raising water connection fees to help raise funds for a proposed reservoir. 

Daily Community Engagement for July 13, 2020

This is the first of what will be many daily newscasts based on all of the various things we are recording in the community. This continues an experiment conducted in January 2019, and picks up right where we left off. The goal is to produce a quick five to ten minute daily briefing that you can also read. All reporting is original unless stated otherwise.

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Over the weekend, there were three consecutive days where more than 800 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Virginia, That brings the cumulative number of cases to 70,670, with a reported 1,966 deaths. The 7-day percent positive metric for all testing encounters has risen from 5.9 percent on July 5 to 6.6 percent on Sunday. Meanwhile the Thomas Jefferson Health District reported 35 new cases on Sunday and 29 new cases on Saturday for a cumulative total of 1,208. There were also reports of outbreaks at two area long-term care facilities. Nationwide, there were 62,918 new cases reported in Virginia, for a total of 3.2 million. (Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 page)

A forecast model produced by the University of Virginia estimates that 495,799 cases of COVID-19 have been avoided since May 15 due to physical distancing and other measures. That comes from the July 10 update produced by the UVA Biocomplexity Institute, which also states that the novel coronavirus now has a reproduction rate of 1.124. That’s an indicator of how the disease spreads, and numbers above 1 raise concern. (July 10 update)

The community of Forest Lakes opted to close their outdoor pools on Friday, July 10 “out of an abundance of caution, due to an indirect exposure of the COVID virus.” That’s according to an email sent out by the Forest Lakes Community Association. They said the pools would reopen after being sanitized. 

Charlottesville City Hall will reopen on a limited basis beginning on July 10 for in-person transactions with either the Commissioner of Revenue’s office or Treasurer’s office. However, you’ll need to make an appointment to do so. (press release

Moving on to Community Engagement news, Albemarle County has hired a Washington D.C. firm to help conduct a new round of analysis of the future of the area around the Rio Road and U.S. 29 intersection. Smart Growth America will “review and provide comments on a draft, form-based code for the Rio29 area and/or provide hypothetical design scenarios for properties in the study area.” Supervisors adopted a master plan for the Rio-29 area in December 2018, and that included a recommendation to update the zoning ordinance to allow for creation of a “vibrant and diverse mixed-use community with interesting character and a human-scale built environment.” Supervisors heard an update on the plan earlier this month.  

A child care center that failed to get approval from Albemarle Supervisors for a new home on Pantops has purchased land on East Market Street in downtown  Charlottesville. An LLC associated with Our Neighborhood Child Develpment Center has purchased the site of the former ABC Preschool on East Market Street for $1.325 million. That’s about 20 percent below the 2020 assessment. ABC Preschool closed its doors last October five years after opening in a new building. In May, Supervisors deadlocked 3-3 on a request to build in the flood plain to allow for the Our Neighborhood center to move to a location on Stony Point Road. 

And that’s it for the July 13 edition of the Community Engagement newscast, picking up from our last such event from late January 2019. The world has changed a lot since then, and I’m putting myself in a position to help bring you information to help get you through these times. Please consider supporting my Patreon account with a modest monthly donation so I can keep going and get my eye back on the world around us. I’m Sean Tubbs, and thanks for listening.