Monthly Archives: March 2021

Low-income housing project gets $4.25 million boost from CACF

(This story first appeared in the March 29, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation has made its largest ever grant with $4.25 million going to Piedmont Housing Alliance for their redevelopment of land on U.S. 29. Piedmont Housing is working with the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless and Virginia Supportive Housing to redevelop the Red Carpet Inn site for a total of 140 units that will be guaranteed to be rented at prices for people with extremely low and very low incomes. Eboni Bugg is the director of programs for the CACF. 

“This first came on our radar last April when we received a grant application from TJACH and PACEM and the Haven regarding wanting to ensure that there was a non-congregate option for our homeless community members so that they could weather the pandemic without being in congregate shelter,” Bugg said.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors rezoned the land for the project in February. The Red Carpet Inn will continue to be used as a shelter by TJACH in the short-term as the project moves forward. Bugg said the CACF’s investment is made in the spirit of community health. There will be an update on grant at an event on April 15. 

Anthony Haro of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH) speaks with Eboni Bugg of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation at the Red Carpet inn (Credit: CACF)

Albemarle ARB reviews Ivy Road corridor

On March 15, 2021, the Albemarle Architectural Review Board discussed the Fontaine Avenue entrance corridor. They also discussed another roadway that connects to the University of Virginia on roads that travel through both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.   

The ARB reviewed the urban portion of 250 West from I-64 to Old Ivy Road, and touched on the continuation of the roadway into Charlottesville. 

Currently under construction on Ivy Road is the 195,000 square foot UVA Musculoskeletal Hospital on the former ground of the now-demolished Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital.

The Musculoskeletal Center is expected to open in February of next year (Image: ZGF Architects)

Sentara Martha Jefferson is building a facility to the west of ViVace and WTJU. On the latter, ARB Member Frank Hancock noted its form is more urban that what is currently along the corridor. 

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see that redevelopment, that level of redevelopment, if other parcels adjacent to that,” Hancock said. “I know that’s taller and maybe a little bit closer to the corridor which I think is appropriate as we’re moving into the city and of more of the urban area.” 

The ARB’s newest member, Chris Henningsen, also said he was interested to see how the corridor is becoming more urban. 

“I’m interested to see how the Sentara building looks and gets landscape in its final form, as with the orthapedics center, too,” Henningsen said. 

The ARB reviewed the Sentara building but not the orthopedics center because UVA is exempt from formal review by the ARB. 

Many buildings have been constructed on Old Ivy Road across the railroad tracks, which serves as a barrier to pedestrian connectivity. ARB member Fred Missel is the director of design and development for the UVA Foundation, which has purchased and consolidated many properties further to the east in Charlottesville for the future Ivy-Emmet section of University Grounds where a new hotel and academic buildings are planned. Missel said the section of Ivy Road in Albemarle County has issues. 

“That railroad, and especially the utility lines along that side, it’s just not a great entrance corridor,” Missel said. “With the development of the hotel and conference center, the School of Data Science, and everything on that corner up to Arlingon, that whole area has about 14 acres of land and it’s got capacity for about three-quarters of a million square feet of development long-term.” 

Missel said that would mean a lot of vehicular traffic coming through the area, something that will need to be addressed. 

“It’s one of the two sort of front doors to the University which is why the Visitor’s Center is located there, unfortunately in the Police Station,” Missel said. “That’s looking to be relocated to the Hotel and Conference Center.” 

The city was awarded $12.1 million in funding for a Smart Scale project in the first round to improve the streetscape along Emmet Street. A VDOT dashboard indicates that project is behind schedule

Developers argue local policy affects cost of housing

How much of a role does local policy play in determining the cost of housing? That was one theme of a panel discussion held on March 18, 2021 by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership. (watch the video)

“There are a lot of factors that go into making something affordable, many of which we just don’t control locally,” said Charlie Armstrong, the vice president of land development for Southern Development, one of the area’s most active property developers. 

‌Every‌ ‌structure‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌in‌ ‌America‌ ‌is‌ ‌reviewed‌ ‌at‌ ‌multiple‌ ‌levels‌ ‌of‌ ‌government‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌the‌ ‌edifice‌ ‌conforms‌ ‌to‌ ‌rules.‌ Armstrong said ‌too‌ ‌much‌ land use regulation‌ ‌increases‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ ‌housing and that localities can play a role through their own policies.  ‌

“We‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌community‌ ‌really‌ ‌do‌ ‌this‌ ‌to‌ ‌ourselves,”‌ ‌Armstrong‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“We‌ ‌intentionally‌ ‌through‌ ‌our‌ Comprehensive‌ ‌Plans‌ ‌and‌ ‌our‌ ‌zoning‌ ‌ordinances‌ ‌limit‌ ‌the‌ ‌supply‌ ‌of‌ ‌land‌ ‌for‌ ‌new‌ ‌homes.‌ ‌We‌ ‌intentionally‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌community‌ ‌limit‌ ‌the‌ ‌density‌ ‌of‌ ‌new‌ ‌homes‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌allowed‌ ‌on‌ ‌any‌ ‌one‌ ‌piece‌ ‌of‌ ‌land.”‌ ‌ ‌

Albemarle’s‌ ‌Comprehensive‌ ‌Plan‌ ‌sets‌ ‌aside‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌5‌ ‌percent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌county’s‌ ‌726‌ ‌square‌ ‌miles‌ ‌for‌ ‌residential‌ ‌development.‌ ‌Armstrong‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌community’s‌ ‌choice‌ ‌to‌ ‌let‌ ‌the‌ ‌rest‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌county‌ ‌ be‌ ‌rural‌ ‌has‌ ‌impacts‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ ‌housing.‌ ‌Limited‌ ‌supply‌ ‌drives‌ ‌up‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌because‌ ‌those‌ ‌with‌ ‌more‌ ‌money‌ ‌can‌ ‌offer‌ ‌higher‌ ‌prices.‌ ‌ ‌

For‌ ‌the‌ ‌land‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌available,‌ ‌it‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌time-consuming‌ ‌and‌ ‌expensive‌ ‌to‌ ‌navigate‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌zoning‌ ‌and‌ ‌special‌ ‌use‌ ‌permit‌ ‌process‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌unlock‌ ‌higher‌ ‌residential‌ ‌densities.‌ ‌ ‌

Chris‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌of‌ ‌the Stony‌ ‌Point‌ ‌Development Group‌ said‌ ‌housing‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌affordable‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌past‌ ‌because‌ ‌developers‌ ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌comply‌ ‌with‌ ‌regulations‌ ‌to‌ ‌reduce‌ ‌stormwater‌ ‌runoff,‌ ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌requirements‌ ‌to‌ ‌build‌ ‌sidewalks‌ ‌and‌ ‌other‌ ‌public‌ ‌infrastructure.‌ ‌ ‌

 “Municipalities‌ ‌used‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌business‌ ‌of‌ ‌even‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌cases‌ ‌of‌ ‌building‌ ‌roads,”‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌said. “They‌ ‌would‌ ‌put‌ ‌in‌ ‌stormwater‌ ‌and‌ ‌things‌ ‌like‌ ‌that.‌ ‌A‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌off‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌private‌ ‌sector‌ ‌for‌ ‌various‌ ‌reasons,‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌are‌ ‌reasonable.‌ ‌But‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌added‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ homes.”‌ ‌ ‌

 For more on this discussion, I’ve got an article in this week’s C-Ville Weekly that goes into more detailYou can also watch the whole presentation on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s YouTube page

Albemarle Supervisors seeks faster review of Comprehensive Plan

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors said last week they want a faster review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and that three years will be too long. 

Supervisors last updated the plan six years ago and much has changed since then, according to Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein. 

“Since the 2015 update, we have had significant work on: climate action planning; economic development; and equity, inclusion, and infrastructure investments and we want to better align the plan with those initiatives,” Falkenstein said.

Falkenstein said the Comprehensive Plan also needs to inform a rewrite of the rules of where development can go, and how. 

“We’ve identified the need for a zoning ordinance update and doing the comp plan update now to incorporate these initiatives will help set that stage,” Falkenstein said. 

In February, Supervisors had pushed back on the three year process staff recommended to update the Comprehensive Plan and asked for a more expedited review. However, Falkenstein said staff still believed in a 36-month process. 

“We feel that given the level of engagement and the breadth of topics that are covered in the comp plan, that three years is really a realistic timeline for this work,” Falkenstein said. 

A detailed community engagement plan will come back to the Board later this year. A project advisory group would be formed to oversee the process and members would be paid a stipend. Staff has now changed that to have the funding to used to “reduce barriers to participation.” These could include access to language as well as transportation. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said the existing plan is clear to read, and she did not want that to be lost as the current plan is amended.

“The benefit of our comp plan and I think why it won awards and is very well accepted is its readability and the fact that it is not just the last 12 months of something,” Mallek said. “It is a very long term history document about how we got here.” 

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she wanted the Planning Commission to weigh in about whether the plan needed to be rewritten, or just updated.

“I am concerned about this idea of a three-year plan being a complete rewrite of this Comprehensive Plan and that’s the part I’m really struggling with,” Palmer said. 

Palmer also wanted to know if the zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan could be updated at the same time given many conflicts. County Attorney Greg Kamptner said he would prefer to do the comp plan update first. 

“The ideal situation would be to have a comp plan and then immediately follow it with a comprehensive rewrite and updating of the zoning ordinance because it is 40 years old,” Kamptner said. 

Palmer asked if that would mean the zoning rewrite would not begin for three years. Planning Director Charles Rapp said supervisors will have the chance to weigh in with more direction as the work plan for the Community Development Department comes before them. He said work on the the zoning rewrite could at least begin before the comp plan is finished. 

“I think once we get to that framework for the comp plan so we know what it’s going to contain, then we can go ahead and start making progress on the zoning ordinance,” Rapp said. 

Charlottesville hired one consultant to produce an affordable housing plan, a Comprehensive Plan, and a new zoning ordinance. The Cville Plans Together initiative just completed the housing plan, which Council endorsed earlier this month. Albemarle Supervisors had a public hearing on their new housing plan last week, but sent it back to the Planning Commission for further work. I’ll have more on that in the next installment.  

As for the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan, Supervisor Diantha McKeel also thought three years was too long to wait, and that parts of the zoning needed to be changed sooner. 

“The zoning, the code, it is critical to getting it updated,” McKeel said. “To be honest with you it’s really my priority along with specific areas in the comp plan. Economic development. Climate action. I mean, I could go through and name maybe just a couple of others.” 

Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said he heard a disconnect between staff and the Board on this issue. He provided some clarifications.

“This is not intended to be a rewrite which was actually done the last time,” Walker said. “It is an update but I acknowledge that to some extent updating and rewriting may seem a lot the same if we’re not very careful about how we distinguish one from the other.” 

Falkenstein said staff will come back with a more detailed scope, but still maintained the process will be lengthy. County Executive Jeffrey Richardson agreed.

“The staff is trying to manage this and manage the Board’s expectations,” Richardson said. “Three years sounds like a long time but everywhere I have ever been, a Comprehensive Plan update takes quite some time because of the domino effect of touching all of the various aspects of the plan document.”  

(This story was originally posted in the March 23, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. )

Albemarle design panel reviews Fontaine Avenue Corridor

The next time you walk, bike, or drive along Fontaine Avenue in Albemarle County, think about possible futures. Much of the land is owned by the University of Virginia or its real estate foundation. The road itself is one of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors, and as such is under design guidelines of the Architectural Review Board

“The majority of the land is either owned or controlled by the University,” said Fred Missel, director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation. “Some land, primarily Foxhaven Farm, Morey Creek, Observatory Hill, are all being held for long-term needs of the University. 

The Albemarle Architectural Review Board reviewed the corridor at its meeting on March 15.

Fontaine Avenue is sign-posted as U.S. 29 Business and runs through the county for a brief stretch before hitting the city line. 

Physical context of the Fontaine Research Park in relation to the rest of the UVA Health System. Source: UVA Architect, Fontaine Master Plan, Page 5

The University of Virginia adopted a master plan for the Fontaine Avenue Research Park in September 2018 as a “flexible road map for future development.” This plan ultimately envisions up to 1.4 million gross square feet of building space. 

“We developed that over the span of about 25 years,” Missel said. “We started in the mid-90’s and we sold the Fontaine Research Park to the University back in I think it was 2018 so that is now considered Grounds, University Grounds.”

Other undeveloped properties include a 12 acre site to the west of Buckingham Circle which the UVA Foundation purchased from the UVA Physicians Group in 2016. The latter secured a rezoning for the Morey Creek property in July 2011 but never built the proposed office building. Missel described this as a “long-term hold for the University.” 

Proffers associated with both the Fontaine Research Park and the Morey Creek involve making the area more pedestrian friendly. The Fontaine property serves as gameday parking for UVA football. 

Another property that could have future buildings scrutinized is the 69-acre “Granger tract” which is undeveloped and currently zoned R-1. The land is currently owned by Stribling Holdings LLC. 

“Access is a real bear because you do have to go under the railroad tracks, but that would not, I don’t believe any of the Fontaine viewsheds but probably would I-64 and potentially U.S. 29.

Another UVA-owned property in the area is the Piedmont Apartments complex run by University Housing for faculty. 

“There has been discussion about whether or not what’s at Piedmont is still the highest and best of the property or if there is some other alternative use that might could be considered longer term and I can tell you that that’s been a question that has been around as long as I’ve been at the Foundation and that’s been 20 years.” 

At the city line begins a Smart Scale funded streetscape project for which a public hearing is expected in “early 2021” according to the initiative’s website.  

Page 29 of a presentation on the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape given to Council in January 2020

Coordination of land use planning in this area used to the purview of a public body called the Planning and Coordination Council. PACC consisted of officials from Albemarle, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia and meetings were open to the public. However, that ended in late 2019 when both the city and the county agreed to convert the body to one not subject to open meetings rules. 

“PACC was formed out of the Three Party Agreement that was established by the UVA, the city and the county back in the 80’s and PACC was dissolved about a year and a half ago,” Missel said.

In its place is the Land Use, Environmental and Planning Committee, which is not open to the public. However, the meeting notes are posted on a public website. Missel is a member of LUEPC in his capacity at the UVA Foundation. And this newsletter is intended to shine as much light as I can on what’s happening. 

Ridge Street CDBG projects move forward

One item on Charlottesville City Council’s consent agenda for the March 15, 2021 meeting were the recommendations of a task force for how a small pool of federal funding should be spent in the Ridge Street Neighborhood.

The group is suggesting that $25,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money be spent on traffic calming and another $220,000 be spent on three sidewalk projects. As part of the traffic calming, speed limit signs would be installed on the old section of Ridge Street. 

Council gave their approval as part of the consent agenda vote. Before the vote, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked a question.

“How was it determined that there was excessive speeding?” she asked. 

City traffic engineer Brennen Duncan responded. 

“There have been a few traffic studies, speed studies, that were done on that section over the last five to ten years and all of them showed that there is a speeding issue on old Ridge Street,” Duncan said. 

The recommendations from the Ridge Street CDBG Task Force

Watch videos of the Ridge Street Task Force:

Four Democrats introduce themselves to Fry’s Spring neighborhood at Council candidates forum

Hello! And welcome to the first election podcast of the 2021 season. I’m Sean Tubbs, the host and producer of the Charlottesville Community Engagement newsletter, and this is an edited audio version of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association Candidates Forum held on March 10, 2021. The full recording will be made available  by the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood association, and you may have heard or read parts of it in the March 11, 2021 edition of the newsletter.  

Edited audio from the forum.

This is an attempt to get as much of the candidates’ words out there as possible. Edits are made for audio cohesion to make it a better listening experience, and to provide a little context from time to time. 

“Welcome everyone, thank you for joining us, we really appreciate the four candidates, the filed candidates for the Democratic nomination for City Council joining us tonight for our neighborhood meeting,” said Jason Halbert, the president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association. The group has a tradition of inviting candidates to their meeting and this is the first chance anyone in the community had to hear all four explain a little bit about who they are and what their vision is for Charlottesville. 

The candidates are:

Even though this forum was held on Zoom, the format was similar to other forums. If you’ve never heard one before, they usually begin with opening statements.

“We’ll just do some three-minute intros beginning with Carl followed by Yas, then Juan and Brian,” Halbert said. “I rolled a die to determine the order and we’d just love to hear what neighborhood you’re in and what your top priority is to be on Council. You’ll have three minutes each.”

For the full event, you will have to listen to the audio. On to the next newsletter!

Here, though, are the first five questions.

Question 1: What practical steps do you think you can take if you’re on Council to bring more transparency to the capital planning process so that neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders understand and can reflect back to their neighbors where these projects lie as a priority for the city?

Question 2: How do we balance the need for affordable housing… with the need to have infrastructure? 

Question 3: “If you are on Council, how would you work with people with whom you disagree?”

In years past, these meetings were held in the basement of the Cherry Avenue Christian Church. But in the almost-spring of 2021, this forum was held online which meant interaction between candidates and participants in the virtual channel. 

Question 4: “How do you feel about raising the property tax rate?”

Question 5: “What are your thoughts on the ward system for Council relations? How can neighborhood associations make sure they are heard?”

Albemarle Supervisors begin detailed review of $466 million budget

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have begun their detailed review of the recommended $466 million budget for fiscal year 2022. The season has been slightly extended this year with adoption scheduled for May 5 after a series of work sessions. On Wednesday, the Board began with a look at the operating budget and began recommending potential things to add or to cut. Andy Bowman is the chief of budget. 

“Fiscal year 22 is really going to be a transitional budget,” Bowman said. “Our economy is stabilizing but it has not stabilized. Our community is adapting as our circumstances change and people are impacted by the pandemic in very different ways.” 

Budget schedule for FY22

On Monday, they’ll talk about the school budget and next Thursday they’ll talk about public safety. At the Thursday meeting, they will also set a maximum tax rate for advertisement if they decide to increase from the current $0.854 per $100 of assessed value. County Executive Jeff Richardson’s recommended budget proposes no increase. 

But on Wednesday, Bowman told the supervisors that the transitional budget is intended to prepare for a post-pandemic world. 

“So even this is a transitionary budget, we had to reflect in making recommendations on what are those things we can do to build a bridge now to make sure that we are an even more resilient  organization and community when we reach the other side of our future?” 

This year’s budget is 17 percent higher than the current fiscal year, and Bowman said a lot of that is due to a larger capital improvement plan. 

“The board may recall at the state of the Fiscal Year 21 budget, many capital projects have been put on hold and some of those have been restarted and that certainly plays into that as well,” Bowman said.  

Since Richardson unveiled his budget in late February, the General Assembly adopted a state budget. Bowman said staff are continuing to review how that might affect Albemarle’s budget, so there may still be adjustments based on new revenues. They’re also reviewing the American Rescue Plan to find out that affect the budget. 

“In my mind, I think of this as almost another round of the CARES coronavirus relief funds that were received in the last calendar year,” Bowman said. 

The recommended budget does not include any of those federal funds, and budget staff are checking to see what the rules for their usage will be. Virginia is expected to receive $6.8 billion for state and local aid from the ARP, according to the Associated Press.

The county is putting $3 million in one-time funds toward expanding broadband in Albemarle and by creating an Office of Broadband Access. Supervisors directed staff to go in that direction in a joint meeting with the Albemarle Broadband Authority on February 17. Trevor Henry is the assistant county executive.

“We all experienced the tsunami of internet need that occurred over the past year and really we have all been in that mode since a year ago,” Henry said. 

Henry said that even households that thought they had good access to broadband taxed their connections when almost every group event went online. 

“And so the work that has come since a year ago has only intensified the critical needs and we have a lot of opportunities in front of us now to do some meaningful work,” Henry said. “We have programs at the federal, state and local level.” 

Some of the work will be to pay for the “last mile” where clusters of structures are near a fiber line but their owners may not be able to afford to make the connection. Details of the program will come back to the board later this spring. But to make it work, staff will also need to be hired. 

“The addition of an operations person, an administrator, will help us set up purchase orders, taking care of all of the billing, taking citizen requests, responding, tracking that data,” Henry said. “Those kinds of metrics, making sure that the action items on all of the various meetings related to broadband get tracked and captured and we’re working to executive them.”

Albemarle will also work on an effort to help people pay for the service once.

Supervisors were all supportive of the recommendations to move forward. 

Both Louisa and Nelson have announced plans to move toward universal broadband through public-private partnerships with electric cooperatives. Earlier this month, the Louisa Board of Supervisors announced a $15 million investment. There’s a meeting today facilitated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to see how the model being used in Louisa and Nelson can be expanded to cover what’s known as the “middle mile.” Legislation to allow Dominion and Appalachian Power to expand their broadband efforts passed the General Assembly this year and awaits action by Governor Ralph Northam. (HB1923)

The work session also covered public safety. Supervisor Diantha McKeel observed that new legislation requires localities to change the way service calls related to mental health crises are handled. 

“I know there’s some discussion about creating a team between so the police don’t have to respond by themselves to many of our mental health calls,” McKeel said. “There’s nothing in the budget Andy right now around that initiative.”

Bowman confirmed that and suggested Police Chief Ron Lantz will be giving an update on that in the near future. 

Another new expense in the budget is the hiring of five people to staff the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company during the day with fire and rescue service by the fall of 2022. 

“Currently there are no county staff down there, they are entirely volunteer,” Bowman said. “We received a letter from them in the fall requesting supplemental staffing during the weekday daytime.

The budget also includes purchase of an ambulance for the North Garden department. Bowman said that over the past four budgets, the county has added 32 full-time equivalents to fire and rescue. Some of those positions have been supported by grants from the federal government and to increase coverage to meet the needs of a growing population. 

A more in-depth discussion of public safety budgetary issues will be held at the March 18 work session. On March 22, they will talk in detail about transit. Charlottesville Area Transit had requested $1.47 million but the draft budget only recommends a million. Albemarle would contribute $6,137 a year for the new Afton Express and $2.18 million for Jaunt. 

CAT provided an update on proposed route changes at the February 24 Regional Transit Partnership. 

“In fiscal year 21, there are two studies that are taking through the Regional Transit Partnership,” Bowman said. “One of those is a longer-term regional transit vision plan and the other one is funded in 21 looking at some Albemarle specific transit services and we’ll be looking to what comes from that report for FY23 and beyond.”  

Supervisors wanted more information on several things, including current response times for North Garden, the status of daytime staffing of the Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company, the and cost of operating the future Biscuit Run county park. 

(This story was originally part of the March 14, 2021 episode of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

A review of the Crozet Master Plan is slowly making its way through Albemarle County’s planning process and this is a good time to check in. Crozet is one of seven designated growth areas in Albemarle County, and the master plan has been in place since late 2004. 

On Wednesday, March 10, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee reviewed the draft land use chapter for the plan which sets the vision for the future of the unincorporated area.  Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein said they are in the third phase of the community process, where the actual chapters are written based on broad recommendations that have been discussed with community members in previous phases.

“To kind of develop that content we’ve had all virtual engagement,” Falkenstein said. “Because of COVID, we’ve been virtual for this phase of work. Several CAC meetings through the summer and fall of 2020. We’ve had the online engagement opportunities, and then just feedback we’ve received through email, comments, discussions with community members and stakeholders.” 

There have also been two work sessions with the Planning Commission.

There are five goals in the draft plan:

  • Goal 1: Support the continued revitalization of Downtown as the historic, cultural, and commercial heart of Crozet with distinctively urban design and support a mixture of uses in Crozet’s other designated centers of activity. 
  • Goal 2: Provide a variety of housing options that meet the needs of Crozetians at all income levels.
  • Goal 3: Support existing neighborhoods and the historic context of Crozet through ensuring that new and infill development is compatible in design and scale with existing neighborhood fabric and allowing reuse of historic buildings. 
  • Goal 4: Maintain a distinct rural edge along Crozet’s boundary to provide a visual connection to its cultural heritage as a town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Goal 5: Leverage and amplify Crozet’s artisan community, culture, history, and entrepreneurial spirit through creative placemaking projects and partnerships. 

“I’ll remind you that this is a working draft,” Falkenstein said. “There are some sections that need some work. We have some placeholders in there. We’re still developing graphics and images to support some of the narrative. The land use content itself is still a working draft. We have this meeting. We have public engagement that we’ll put online, and we have a Board meeting coming up. All of that feedback will continue to refine the draft as we go along.”

At this meeting, some CAC members wanted to get right into their critiques of the plan. Those five goals are in support of a new guiding principal . 

“Support and strengthen Crozet’s history as a self-sustaining town, while welcoming new and infill development that is compatible in scale and design and provides housing choice for all community members.”

Staff had intended to go through a presentation before taking comments from CAC members, but Doug Bates said he wanted to get his comments out ahead. 

“And it’s at that very first guiding principle that I have my most fundamental question,” Bates said. “It says ‘Support and strengthen Crozet’s history as a self-sustaining town, while ensuring new and infill development that is compatible in scale and design… ’ with what? is my question. You can’t have a comparison with nothing.” 

“I think the intent was with the small town identity and the scale would be appropriate there, but we can take that feedback and look at revisions to clarify,” Falkenstein said. 

“Rachel, that’s great,” Bates rescinded. “I just know that things are in the eye of the beholder and if you don’t make it very specific, then it’s whatever you imagine it’s compatible to is the right answer. I would suggest that you compare it to the neighborhood model.” 

The Neighborhood Model is a zoning district in Albemarle that is intended to be used in the designated growth areas where developments are required to conform to 12 principles including pedestrian orientation, human-scale buildings, and redevelopment of existing buildings when possible. 

Image of 12 principles taken from appendix to the Comprehensive Plan, page A.8.3

Tom Loach, a CAC member who also served on the Planning Commission from 2008 to 2015 called for the guiding principles to be removed in favor of keeping what is already in place. 

“There are already a set of guiding principles that were in the first master plan in 2004 and they were repeated in the second master plan in 2010,” Loach said.  “There are seven guiding principles and I think we should stay with the guiding principles that have stayed with use for all of these years.” 

Image of seven guiding principles from the 2010 Crozet Master Plan, page 7

Loach also wanted two statements inserted into the plan to retain guidance to limit future growth.

“One statement is a restatement of the original intent of the consultants in the master plan that Crozet wouldn’t build out in about 20 years to a population of 11,200 to 12,000 and that we have reached that mark.” Loach said. 

Loach said his second statement would state that the existing infrastructure cannot support existing traffic. 

This came before a presentation of recommendations from staff such as “update residential zoning categories to remove barriers to housing affordability where appropriate such as minimum lot size requirements, minimum frontage requirements, and minimum parking standards.”

Falkenstein carried on with her presentation on land use changes.

“The majority of the land use changes, this is to the map itself now, are kind of clean-up related changes to kind of do two things,” Falkenstein said. “To try to bring greater consistency across all of the county’s master plans in terms of our land-use categories and the second is to bring consistency with existing zoning where appropriate to make sure that expectations, you know, we set expectations for what development can happen when existing zoning is there to allow development.” 

Falkenstein said growth projections remain similar to the 2010 master plan in part because there are not many vacant parcels of land in Crozet. She said the new land use map doesn’t make too many significant changes. One change, though, is the creation of a “middle density residential” land use category. Other changes relate to downtown Crozet. 

“Themes of the feedback we’ve heard [include] concern about neighborhoods around downtown  experiencing teardowns, and then also experiencing new construction that would be out of scale with some of those existing neighborhoods,” Falkenstein said. “So we’ve heard a desire for more protection for some of these homes, especially the historic homes and those are existing affordable housing in some of these neighborhoods.” 

Falkenstein said staff also had support for new housing types to add a little more density while not being out of scale, such as bungalow courts, duplexes and accessory units.” Staff suggested a downtown overlay district to allow that additional density, but also heard concerns from many.

“Concern about inadequate infrastructure to support new density here and concern there was not enough clarity in it so that there is a cap on the density and the ‘infill’ wasn’t defined,” Falkenstein said. 

The new draft chapter recommends further architectural and cultural resources study to further inform how development might look in the future with an eye toward neighborhood preservation. Another recommendation is an acknowledgment that there may not be as much demand for commercial uses in some of downtown. 

Doug Bates said existing neighborhoods could not support that additional density. 

“Just because there may be more land behind some of these older homes, the roads do not support new growth at the expansion level that’s being described in this document,” Bates said. He said there be no higher density by-right than R-2, or two units per lot. 

“And if you want to build something more, you’ve got to ask if we can build something more,” Bates said. 

Loach said the draft reflected the words of the staff and not the words of the community. Before the meeting, he circulated a five page list of changes he wanted to see and said he would ask for a motion on his changes. (download Loach’s suggested changes)

“Otherwise what’s going to happen is that we’re going to be here, we’re going to be talking, it’s going back to the staff and it’s going to go forward the way it is,” Loach said. 

Loach would have to wait to make his motion, as Falkenstein had not yet finished her presentation, which included details on the “middle density residential” category that is new to the updated plan. The idea is to encourage development of townhomes with accessory apartments.

“We pulled feedback from the community survey kind of two sides of the coin here,” Falkenstein said. “One is that there’s not enough affordable housing or increasing the availability is very or somewhat important to the community, but also limiting growth is important as well so trying to strike that balance was what we were trying to do with this category.”

Falkenstein said the Planning Commission had supported this concept, but Loach objected and said they and staff were overstepping their bounds. 

“So, let me get this right,” Loach said. “This is no longer the Crozet Master Plan, this is now the Planning Commission and staff master plan. Because we voted against middle density and here we are back with it again.”

Votes by the Community Advisory Committees, and the Planning Commisison, are not binding. 

CAC member Joe Fore said the vote against middle density had been based on an earlier definition that had a higher density. He supported the updates staff had made. 

“I very much appreciate Rachel and staff’s tweaking of the middle density category,” Fore said. 

“I really like this definition and I think this gets at…I appreciate the form recommendations, the scale recommendations. I do think, Tom, the point of whose plan this is, I do think a lot of this in terms of the form guidance… tiny houses, accessory units, cottages, bungalow courts, that kept coming up at meetings where people were putting stickers on things and saying what they liked and wanted to see more of.”

Fore said he was disappointed that the middle density residential wasn’t shown on many more areas of the map, which would mean those kinds of units won’t be built. Loach interjected.

“Joe, we voted on this,” Loach said. “I understand you like it, but we voted on it. If you want to redo the vote, based on the new information maybe that’s something we should think about.”

Fore tried to respond, but Loach kept talking until Chair Allie Pesch told him to let Fore finish.

“I’m just suggesting Tom that the thing we voted on previously has been changed,” Fore said. “It’s not what it is now. We voted on something that is now different.”

The presentation continued. Next were changes to the section of Crozet were the Old Trail Development is to reflect what’s been built and to better align terminology used in other master plans, such as the Pantops Master Plan. Tori Kanellopoulos is another county planner. +

“With our public feedback online as well we heard support for designating Old Trail as a village center and heard it needs to continue to be a distinct and secondary center of activity compared to downtown and heard the same feedback about why Crozetians visit Old Trail for those gathering, shopping, and recreational uses,” Kanellopoulos said. 

The Board of Supervisors will have a work session on the draft land use chapter on April 7. Before then, many Crozet residents want their views heard and they took that opportunity at the CAC meeting.

“I’m Matt Helt, born and raised in Crozet, and live off of St. George Avenue. I’m going to drop about fourteen things.”

Let’s hear the first two. 

“One, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructures. We’ve talked about it. We’ve beat the dead horse. Sidewalks, bike lanes, parks. It doesn’t matter what zoning you do. We need the infrastructure investments, period. No more ifs, and or buts or excuses from the county, period. Number two, whatever zoning allowed the development of the apartments on Jarmans Gap Road, or the intersection of Jarmans Gap Road and Blue Ridge should be banned from Crozet permanently. Quite frankly it should be demolished. If we’re going to say it’s providing low-income housing, I would love for the county to produce a survey that shows any of the residents who moved into those apartments are former residents of Crozet who needed low-income housing.”

Helt was referring to the Vue, a 126-unit development under the R-6 zoning built by Pinnacle Construction on land that Piedmont Housing Alliance had previously intended to build at a slightly lower density. A historic home was demolished to make way for new buildings, prompting a lot of concern. 

Helt also took aim at those who spoke from Old Trail, revealing a divided community.

“Really interesting perspective from the Old Trail Community, I greatly appreciate your sentiment but I don’t know that you recognize the irony in your statements,” the speaker said. “For those of us who grew up here, played in those fields and sixth-grade science class in Slabtown Branch Creek, I’m glad you finally are opposed to more dense zoning. I would have preferred Old Trail not be developed either, but we’re 20 years past that conversation.”

Loach wanted to keep on with the critique of the plan, but Pesch suggested waiting until the public comment period opens. There’s a lot more time to continue these discussions.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors discussed the matter on April 7, 2021.

UVA Panel Endorses Hotel and Conference Center Design

(This article was originally published in the March 6, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met yesterday and approved the schematic design for a new hotel and conference center, as well as an athletics complex. The $130.5 million hotel project will be located near the new School of Data Science within the emerging Ivy Corridor. (meeting packet)

“A mixed-use hospitality, convening, and social destination in this central location will provide a catalyst to achieve these strategic goals set by the President’s Emmet Ivy Task Force,” reads the staff report. 

Those goals include supporting the Democracy Initiative, an initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences and other institutions.

The University and its real estate foundation have been purchasing land along Ivy Road for many years to assemble enough space, including the Cavalier Inn. That structure was demolished in the summer of 2018 and the place where it stood will remain undeveloped according to a 2020 site plan. 

The hotel will have 215 rooms and 28,000 square feet of space for conferences. It will wrap around the existing parking garage. 

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