As the January 6, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement was being recorded, Charlottesville City Council was holding an emergency meeting in closed session. That meeting comes a day after news broke that the firm Ralph Andersen and Associates has stopped work on a search for a new city manager.
The official call cites the discussion states it will be for “‘discussion or consideration of one or more prospective candidates for City Council,” “discussion of a public contract involving the expenditure of public funds,” “discussion or consideration of the performance of one or more city councilors,” and consultation with legal council about one or all of the above.
But that meeting will not be Charlottesville’s first meeting of 2021. That honor goes to the Tree Commission which met yesterday to discuss several items and get updates. One of them was an update on the PLACE Design Task Force, a group created by a previous City Council in March 2012 to advise Council on urban design issues. That body has been pondering its existence, and here’s Mark Rylander, who serves on both PLACE and the Tree Commission.
“The last few meetings have consisted of strategizing among ourselves how to best be useful,” Rylander said. “PLACE was originally charged with reporting to Council and now is sort of under the [Neighborhood Development Services] umbrella which means that without sort of more assertive planning by PLACE itself, as a group it will sort of morph into an advisory body that chases after whatever NDS wants them to look at.”
In November, Parag Agrawal accepted an offer to be the new director of Neighborhood Development Services, but he decided instead to take a similar job in Prince William County, according to the Daily Progress.
This year, Council will need to decide what to do with the West Main Streetscape, a project conceived of in 2012 at the request of PLACE members at the time to replace an earlier conceptual design for a street that had been anticipated to see several large buildings constructed. Now, the project has a cost estimate of tens of millions at a time when the city is coming close to its debt capacity.
“It’s becoming apparent that maybe the city can’t afford everything that was planned for the West Main Street project, and it’s a sensitive topic because a lot of work has gone into it, but that’s potentially what PLACE will be working on,” Rylander said.
The Tree Commission also discussed their annual report, which will unveil the percentage of the city’s land mass covered by trees, a term known as the “tree canopy.” Higher levels of tree canopy can reduce heat in urban communities and the Tree Commission is working to educate the public on this point, especially as the city works on a climate action plan.
“This Commission really sees its mission as having fully evolved, not beyond its charge, but that we are looking things beyond aesthetics and beauty and even just tree types, that we really are undertaking larger issues,” said Brian Menard, the commission’s chair.
Menard noted that the Tree Commission celebrated its 10th anniversary, and that the Commission is poised to be part of the conversations on social justice and climate change. The report will be presented to the Council at their meeting on January 19.
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