The Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia has released its annual population estimates for localities across the Commonwealth. Albemarle County has grown by 11.7 percent since the 2010 Census, with an estimated population of 110,545 as of July 1, 2020. The population of the City of Charlottesville increased by 13.8 percent to a population of 49,447. (Weldon Cooper Center site)
There are also increases in most other localities in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Fluvanna County jumped 5.9 percent to 27,202. Greene County is estimated to be at 20,323, or an increase of 10.4 percent. Louisa County increased by 11.6 percent to a population of 37,011 people. Only Nelson County is estimated to have declined over the past ten years, losing just over a hundred people to 14,904 people.
When added all together, the planning district as a whole increased 10.5 percent to a total population of 259,432. Other planning districts that experienced that level of growth include Northern Virginia with 13.5 percent growth, the Rappahannock-Rapidan with 8.7 percent, the Richmond Regional at 10.6 percent, the Crater District at 7.7 percent and the George Washington Regional Commission at 14.9 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau, however, organizes localities into Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The Charlottesville MSA is similar to the Planning District, with the exception that Louisa County is replaced with Buckingham County. When viewed that way, the MSA grew by 10.4 percent. Buckingham County remained flat in the Weldon Cooper estimate with an increase of just 16 people.
The U.S. Census results are expected to be posted later in the year, later than the usual release date of April 1.
To put this into perspective, I asked Hamilton Lombard at Weldon Cooer a few questions.
These numbers show a ten percent increase in growth in the TJPDC. How does this fit into overall demographic trends in Virginia?
Growth in the TJPDC was the fastest outside Northern Virginia and Richmond (I’m counting Winchester as part of NOVA since it is in the same combined statistical area). The Charlottesville area has grown in part because of UVA, most other college metro areas around the country and in VA, such as Blacksburg and Harrisonburg, have also grown as universities have expanded their enrollment, employment and spending. But the majority of the region’s growth has come from people moving into the Charlottesville area from Northern Virginia and Richmond, particularly younger families and to a lesser extent retirees.
What can you tell us about the Census? When will we see those numbers come out?
The 2020 Census numbers are coming out much later than they have in the past. Right now we probably won’t have any local numbers until the end of September at the earliest. When the 2020 numbers are released they are going to need to be used carefully for two reasons. One reason is that the disruptions from the pandemic may have impacted the Census count.
For example, many UVA students were no longer in Charlottesville when the census was conducted on April 1st, 2020. The bureau has made an effort to ensure students were counted where they attend school but Charlottesville’s 2020 numbers may still be missing some UVA students.
The other reason the 2020 numbers will need to be treated with caution is the bureau’s use of “differential privacy” in the 2020 census which masks respondents identities by moving some respondents to different geographies. As a result the 2020 Census numbers below the state level won’t be 100 percent accurate. For smaller geographies or populations, such as the population of Mineral or the number of Stanardsville residents who identify as Black, the 2020 Census numbers will often not be reliable enough for use. See more here.
On Monday, February 15, Chip Boyles will officially become Charlottesville’s City Manager. On February 4, the Board of Commissioners of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission said goodbye to Boyles in his capacity as their executive director. He has been there since April 2014. Greene County Supervisor Dale Herring is Chair of the TJPDC Board and he read from a proclamation.
“Whereas the influence and reputation of the TJPDC and the quality of programs and services during Chip’s tenure has been greatly enhanced by the vision, skills, and passion he brought to TJPDC’s mission, therefore be it resolved that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission expresses enduring gratitude and appreciation for the generous and faithful service provided to the TJPDC and this region by Chip Boyles.”
Commissioner Keith Smith of Fluvanna County said Boyles took over at a time when the TJPDC had opted to not renew the contract of a previous director.
“We were in a bad way and just to do a 180, it was purely upon his skill, his leadership, and that funny accent of his, people apparently trust him,” Smith said. “Who knew?”
Charlottesville City Councilor Michael Payne said he appreciated the comments from other TJPDC Commissioners.
“I’m just incredibly excited to work with Chip going forward and I think there are really bright days ahead for the region as a whole,” Payne said.
Nelson County Supervisor Jesse Rutherford praised Boyles’ optimism but also made a threat in jest.
“Michael and you all, I’m just saying,” Rutherford said. “My threat out there of saying that if this doesn’t go well, we will ban all fruit products and beverages from going into Charlottesville from Nelson County. That’s a serious one and whoever the reporter is in here, write that down!”
Rutherford also sounded a more positive tone.
“We look forward to the success of Charlottesville,” Rutherford said. “That is not only important to Nelson County but the region. I can’t say this enough, but we have sent you our best, alright?”
One of TJPDC’s achievements with Boyles in charge is the creation of the Regional Transit Partnership, a gathering of various agencies that has spent the last few years laying out the foundation for a more integrated system. Recently the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) awarded TJPDC a grant to help build more of the framework.
“This award is $175,000 for the development of a regional plan as recommended by the Regional Transit Partnership,” Jacobs said. “There is a match for this of $175,000 to be provided both by Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville over two fiscal years.”
This plan will involve coordination between Charlottesville Area Transit, the University Transit Service, JAUNT and Albemarle County. The DRPT also awarded a $106,500 grant to TJPDC to study expansion of transit in Albemarle. The county will have to pay half of that as a match.
“This study is to develop the financial feasibility of new transit services in three different areas,” Jacobs said. “Route 29 north, Monticello, and Pantops.”
The TJPDC also coordinates regional priorities for Community Development Block Grants. Applications to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development from non-urban localities are due on March 26.
“As of the end of January, we’ve already been notified of one project in Louisa County for a planning and infrastructure grant for affordable housing,” Jacobs said. “We know of a Nelson County potential grant for downtown revitalization of Lovingston. We have Albemarle County acquisition and redevelopment for an affordable housing project. And Scottsville has a redevelopment project going on.”
The Virginia DHCD is now directly administering a rent and mortgage relief program to assist households during the pandemic, but the TJPDC was in charge of the program in the second half of calendar year 2020.
“We were awarded a total grant of $1.8 million dollars for the region [and] $1.624 million of that went directly to pay for rent and mortgage relief for qualifying families,” Jacobs said. “That was 570 families in this region who were served with an average of $2,000 rent per household.”
Locally, the TJPDC has launched an online portal called Porch Light that allows people to find affordable housing opportunities.
“If you know people who have rental properties, direct them to our website and they can go directly to the site,” Boyles said. “We need landlords to list their properties. It’s free. It’s easy.”
Nelson County Supervisor Rutherford said the COVID pandemic has brought a real sense of urgency about housing.
“We’re going to be doing some hard soul-searching in Nelson County and what it is we can do to get some economies of scale and some more dense housing,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said he is aware that some newcomers to the area are choosing Nelson due to the provision of more broadband Internet. He said he has a tenant who works in Crystal City and commutes twice a week.
“We’re going to see some major culture changes in our workforce and in how we operate on a business level,” Rutherford said.
The Charlottesville City Council will be presented with a $160 million five-year capital improvement program (CIP) that anticipates spending $50 million on a reconfiguration of middle school education.
Council and School Board will meet Thursday, January 28 at 5 p.m. to discuss budget preparations. (meeting info)
Staff has not recommended new funding for the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville’s proposed capital improvement program for the next fiscal year, though the first phase of the project is fully funded. The future of a second phase is not certain at this time.
“The current CIP draft reflects priorities raised by City Council in previous budget work sessions,” said Charlottesville Communications Director Brian Wheeler. ”The inclusion of a $50 million placeholder for the City Schools reconfiguration project means other projects have to be reconsidered.”
While capital improvement budgets look ahead for five years, Council will only adopt an actual budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1. The proposed budget for FY22 is for $35.4 million, with $26.8 million anticipated to come from the sale of municipal bonds.
The draft CIP also continues the city’s $10 million investment in a new parking structure at the corner of Market Street and 9th Street. The project’s purpose is to support a new General District court to be used by both Albemarle County and Charlottesville.
The five-year budget anticipates a total of $13.5 million in investment in new construction of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority including $1.5 million in FY22.
“This funding is the second year of a original City projected commitment of $15 million for the redevelopment of the public housing sites,” reads a summary of projects. In October, Council signaled they would approve a performance agreement governing the use of $3 million to help finance the Crescent Halls redevelopment and the first phase of redevelopment at South First Street.
The draft CIP restores several budget line items that were zeroed out for the current fiscal year. Instead of spending about $6.7 million of general fund revenue for certain items that could not be paid for through the sale of bonds, Council agreed with a plan to put that money aside in case of a shortfall.
For FY22, the draft budget restores funding to “non-bondable” items such as “city-wide traffic engineering improvements” and “bicycle infrastructure,” as well as funding for parks.
The draft budget also includes $800,000 a year in funding for the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund, for a total of $4 million. The specific use of those funds would be determined later.
The basic details of a plan to reconfigure Charlottesville’s middle schools were presented to the City School Board in December 2018. Michael Goddard is a project manager with the city who addressed Council at a work session on November 20, 2020.
“The plan is to utilize existing public properties so no land acquisition would be required,” Goddard said. “We would like to expand the pre-school and provide best-in-class wrap-around services, move 5th grade back to the elementary schools, reduce middle year transitions. By adding the 6th grade to Buford, we would make that a three year school.”
Both Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle School were built in the 1960’s. Goddard said another goal is to eliminate students needing to go outside to transfer between buildings.
The project has a placeholder cost estimate of about $55 million based on work conducted by the firm VMDO. In the fiscal year budget for 2020, Council authorized $3 million for design and pre-engineering.
“What we expect to see from our architect as part of this initial phase is a visioning document which gives us a general idea of what we can do, a goals and objectives document which lays out exactly what it is we intend to accomplish,” Goddard said.
West Main Streetscape
The firm Rhodeside and Harwell has been paid at least $2.8 million to develop design and construction documents for the three-quarter mile stretch between the University Corner and the Downtown Mall.
A value engineering study intended to reduce the costs will be shared with Council on Monday.
A total of $12.95 million was requested for the West Main Streetscape project in FY22 , but was not included. The project was split by Council into four phases in October 2017 in order to help secure funding. Phase 1 spans from West Main’s intersection with Ridge Street and McIntire Street to 6th Street NW.
“Phase 1 remains funded from prior CIP allocations,” Wheeler said. “The local allocations to Phase 1 are $3,162,045 spent and $13,422,860 available.”
The city received $3.2 million in VDOT revenue-sharing funds for West Main Phase 1, and the city will still spend $13.4 million in city funds.
Phase 2 travels between 6th Street NW and 8th Street NW. The city received $2 million in VDOT revenue sharing and $2 million in VDOT Smart Scale funding for this phase. The city had anticipated spending $7.1 million in capital funds but that is not reflected in the current CIP.
“We expect City Council to provide additional feedback on both phases in the budget discussions,” Wheeler said.
City staff had not budgeted spending any city money on West Main’s Phase 3, which spans from 8th Street NW to Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. Last year, Council agreed to submit a $10.38 million request to the VDOT’s Smart Scale process. Last week, staff recommended funding of this project.
As of last September, the city had not identified a funding source for Phase 4 which has a preliminary cost estimate of $8.7 million.
A former chief operating officer at the University of Virginia said in a March 2018 letter to Council that UVA would allocate $5 million for the city to use on the West Main Streetscape. The offer still stands.
“The University remains committed to its funding pledge for the West Main Streetscape project,” wrote UVA spokesman Brian Coy. “Per discussions with the City, our intent is to focus on safety and security improvements towards the western end of Main Street, supporting both students and the broader community.”
A data-driven application process has recommended funding for several major projects in the area, including $24.6 million for improvements at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. This also includes nearly $8 million for the third phase of the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville. Both are recommended for funding under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process, which ranks projects according to a series of metrics including congestion relief, public safety, and economic development.
Albemarle and Charlottesville are both within VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“Culpeper gets a total of 20 projects recommended for funding for a total of $166.9 million dollars,” said Chad Tucker with the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment.
Smart Scale was put in place after nearly $230 million was spent on several projects to address congestion on U.S. 29 including construction of Berkmar Drive Extended and a grade-separated intersection at 29 and Rio Road. Smart Scale is now in its fourth round and nothing is final until the Commonwealth Transportation Board takes a vote in June. Under the recommended scenario, the Hydraulic project received the highest score in the Culpeper District.
“That will really augment the investments that have been done at Rio in helping to keep traffic moving efficiently and safely along the U.S. 29 corridor in the Charlottesville,” Tucker said.
Council has been waiting for the results of Smart Scale before making a long-term decision about the future of the West Main Streetscape, which was broken into multiple phases in 2017 after a previous Smart Scale application to cover the whole cost did not qualify for funding in the second round. A portion of the project was covered in the third Smart Scale round.
A roundabout at Troy Road and Route 250 in Fluvanna County has also been recommended for funding.
“I think Culpeper did a very good job of having targeted improvements that are addressing safety in congestion hotspots throughout the district,” Tucker said.
More on this as the weeks and months continue. For a more complete picture, be on the look-out for a story from Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress.
The previous City Council put the review on hold in December 2018, and hired the firm Rhodeside & Harwell in the summer of 2019 to complete an update of the plan, draft an affordable housing plan, and then begin a rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance.
This year was to have featured a series of public workshops for what has become known as Cville Plans Together, but the pandemic resulted in all of the meetings being held virtually. The consultants have expressed that the renewed outreach to the city’s youngest and lowest income populations has not produced the city’s hoped-for representation
“We’re revising the [housing] plan now and we’ll have a revision in the coming month or so, and the plan right now is to have a conversation with Council in January, and then hopefully work toward some sort of endorsement by Council of the plan,” said Jennifer Koch, the project manager with Rhodeside & Harwell.
Koch said an endorsement will allow the consultant team to move ahead on revising the Comprehensive Plan to put specific language that will lead the city to implement its principles. For instance, if there is to be more residential density, the plan needs to say so. That in turn will inform the new zoning code.
“Today’s zoning also has a number of flaws and barriers to development previously identified by City planning staff and elected and appointed officials,” reads the Cville Plans Together webpage on zoning. “This is an opportunity to cure these flaws and remove the barriers to the kind of development that will be described in the updated comprehensive plan.”
At a high level, the draft affordable housing plan calls for a dedication of $10 million each year for ten years to be spent by the city to fund affordable units targeted at extremely low-income neighborhoods. A land use recommendation is very clear in what Council is expected to do.
“Change zoning and development processes to increase the production of multifamily housing and expand feasible by-right development, and advocate for similar changes throughout the region, to begin to reverse entrenched patterns of racial segregation,” reads one strategy.
The Planning Commission itself will not take a vote on this version of the draft affordable housing plan, but will take a formal vote on a recommendation when the entire process is complete.
“At this level the endorsement would not be an approval process necessarily but more of a nod that it’s moving in the right direction so that the next phase of the project can continue forward,” said Missy Creasy, the assistant director of the city’s neighborhood development services department.
However, Chair Hosea Mitchell expressed concern that Council might see an idea that the Planning Commission did not support.
“That could cause a lot of rework and slow things down,” Mitchell said.
As it stands, Koch said a draft version of the Comprehensive Plan is expected to be ready for review in February. Review and revision has been underway since early 2017 and there were draft versions of some chapters before Council put the review on hold.
“We are working from draft chapters,” Koch said. “We’re not starting from zero here so the thought is that we don’t want to go back. We want to move forward from where you all left off.”
“I think this is eminently reasonable because you’re building on all of the work that we’ve done for the last five years getting to this point,” Mitchell said.
Updating the Future Land Use Map
One of the reasons the completion of the Comprehensive Plan stalled is due to something called the Future Land Use Map. Such a map can be controversial due to disagreements over the intensity of development that may be depicted for a specific site or group of sites, especially if the proposed uses require a different zoning to allow them. (2013 version) (February 2018 version)
The future land use map is a guidance tool for the Council to use in evaluating new proposals for zoning amendments and other changes in the type and intensity of new development.
“The Comprehensive Plan Land Use chapter contains the Future Land Use Map which incorporates some of the land use goals that are in the plan but also is a long-term strategy for land use in the city,” Koch said. “It often is sort of the basis for some zoning adjustments but the future land use map is also often a longer term vision for land use that zoning may be.”
In December 2018, Council was presented with the work the Planning Commission had undertaken to date on the Comprehensive Plan. According to the minutes of the meeting, then-chair Lisa Green asked Council what they thought of the version of the map.
“Ms. Galvin said the amount of purple (highest density) areas in the current draft was startling. She suggested within the lower density residential areas more intensity could be created there, in the yellow-orange zones, by mixing up the types of housing units.”
At that meeting, Council discussed hiring an outside consultant to take over the work from the Planning Commission. They confirmed that decision in a vote in February 2019. (read my story from then)
As 2020 draws to a close, Rhodeside & Harwell are turning their attention to the future land use map. They are starting their work with a draft map from March 2018.
“And we know there were several working versions of this map developed after this point but the reason we’re starting with this is because it was as we recall the last version that was shared at a public meeting,” Koch said.
Commissioners Lyle Solla-Yates and Rory Stolzenberg objected to not starting with the map Council had seen in December 2018. However, Creasy said the work had to start from somewhere. Current Chair Mitchell agreed
“This is the last place where we did have true consensus,” Mitchell said. “We all knew this was the starting point and that’s what we’re trying to build on. Every time we try to go beyond this, we have five different opinions.”
Koch said they will present a new version of a future land use map soon based on the Commission’s feedback.
University of Virginia
Commissioner Gary Heaton said the University of Virginia’s role needed to be taken into account.
“Where the city ends and the University of Virginia begins, our land use map should reflect how we envision the future of the city as it pertains to the effect of the University on the city,” Heaton said. He added that other university towns such as Blacksburg and Columbus appear to have had more success.
“These are places that also have been heavily affected by the University,” Heaton said. “If the city could someone get out in front of there could be ways to address affordable housing.”
The city, the University of Virginia and Albemarle County signed an agreement in 1986 to work together on land use issues. Until last year, there was a public body called the Planning and Coordination Council that served as a clearing house to work together and share information.
In the fall of 2019, elected officials voted instead to create a private body called the Land Use, Environmental and Planning Committee (LUEPC) as “a vehicle to share and coordinate land use and development plans and projects.”
There was to be an evaluation of this new arrangement, but as with the Cville Plans Together initiative and so many other matters, the pandemic changed things.
“At the end of this first year, the entities were to evaluate the Committee’s structure to determine if it had achieved the stated objectives,” reads an update on the December 2, 2020 consent agenda of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. “Given that the Committee’s work commenced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee respectfully requests that the entities postpone this evaluation until the conclusion of 2021.”
Meanwhile, UVA has made a commitment to housing. On March 10, the University of Virginia announced it would build up to 1,500 affordable units on land it or its real estate foundation owns. The topic came up at a meeting of the Regional Housing Partnership last week. Colette Sheehy is the Senior Vice President for Operations at UVA.
“We have now restarted that initiative, more probably coming in January, but we are trying to get back on track,” Sheehy said.
Bill Palmer with the University of Virginia Architect’s Office agreed that UVA’s actual reality should be depicted on the map. He is a non-voting member of the Planning Commission.
“Before we really go too far forward with this map, maybe really look at these areas around UVA to make sure that they are depicted correctly now,” Palmer said. “I know that there was quite an upzoning a good while back of the neighborhoods around the UVA to absorb student development.”
Palmer referred to the 2003 rezoning when the University Medium Density and University High Density were created. He also reminded the commission of UVA’s recent redevelopment of Brandon Avenue into a much more dense precinct.
The Ivy/Emmet corridor is also slated for redevelopment, and there is a master plan for the properties it has assembled over the years. On Friday, December 11, the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Visitors approved the schematic design for the 61,000 square foot School of Data Sciences. That project is being funded by a foundation associated with Jaffrey Woodriff, who is also the main force behind the development of the CODE building on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall.
Additionally, three large structures have been built on West Main Street and marketed for students in the past several years. However, Council is still wrestling with how to implement a plan for pedestrian infrastructure that had been intended to support the additional foot traffic and to revitalize the corridor’s retail and service economy.
The high school established by Albemarle and Charlottesville in the middle of the 20th century for Black students is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jackson P. Burley opened in 1951 on Rose Hill Drive, eleven years after the city had built a new school for whites only. Jimmy Hollins of the Burley Varsity Club alumni group said Burley also was for Black students from Greene and Nelson.
“Burley was a big part of the Black community back in those days,” Hollins said. “When they played sports, football or basketball games, those games was crowded. Pretty crowded. And we not only had Black fans, we would have white fans that would come and stand outside of the gates and look at the games.”
Hollins said that’s because Burley was the only school in the area with a winning record. The National Register of Historic Places is an honorific designation that recognizes the historic significance of a property. (read the nomination form)
“The building represents a rare instance in which two localities—Charlottesville and Albemarle County—sought to achieve “separate but equal” educational facilities during segregation—and at a time when successful legal suits underway elsewhere in Virginia challenged the unequal and overcrowded conditions in black schools,” reads the page for Burley on the website for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
The two localities built the school in order to justify continued segregation of students by race, a practice that was declared unconstitutional in 1954 in the Brown vs. the Board of Education case. Burley did not close until 1967 after all surrounding counties had lost their fight to keep schools separate.
Albemarle County now owns the building and operates as one of their middle schools despite being within city limits. All across Virginia, the majority of Black schools like the Christiansburg Institute and Dunbar High School in Lynchburg were closed rather than become desegregated themselves. That’s one reason Hollins says this designation is so critical.
“Originally in the state of Virginia, they had as far as Black high schools, they had 115 of the Black high schools,” Hollins said. “Now out of those 115, there are only three that are still high schools today that are working high schools.”
Charlottesville’s appointed officials sought fiscal clarity from Charlottesville’s elected officials during a budget work session on November 12 that sought to gauge Council’s willingness to seek additional revenues to pay for major projects. John Blair is the interim city manager.
“As you all know there are a number of large scale capital projects that have been talked about in various iterations through the past few years but what I’ve asked our budget team is to provide you with some numbers that are going to demonstrate using your debt capacity for various projects,” Blair said.
Blair said that the city is close to its debt capacity and more projects will likely require tax increases, but he said that topic was not directly before them. Blair’s budget for FY2022 will not be unveiled until March. It will also be the first to be prepared under this Council.
“Obviously I think a number of you have interest in various capital needs whether it be affordable housing, education, infrastructure,” Blair said. He also said this would send a message to would-be city managers about the kind of city this Council wants it to be.
For now, the budget is in the very early stages of formation because exact revenues aren’t yet known. Budget staff needed to know Council’s thoughts on whether to change a key policy to increase the amount of bonds that could be sold to pay for capital projects. Doing so will increase the amount the city needs to spend on debt service to pay back those who buy those bonds for a steady return.
We have been in fiscal year 2021 since July 1, and a decision was made by Council earlier this year to continue with $25.8 million of projects in the capital budget, and they signaled support for a total five-year plan of $124.1 million.
“We were going to fund $84 million of this five year plan with bonds, and if you recall, due to COVID, just about all of the cash that was originally intended to go to the CIP was held in a reserve with the general fund to offset any of the unknowns,” said Krissy Hammill, Senior Budget and Management Analyst for the city of Charlottesville.
Practice has been to use a mixture of cash and bonds to pay for capital projects and since 2010, the average has been 37 percent in cash. For this year’s capital budget, 93 percent will be paid for through bonds. Currently the city has about $90 million in government debt, $80 million of which is for bonds that have been approved for projects but not yet issued.
“That means that we typically issue bonds on a cash-needed basis so we don’t issue the bonds until the project is either imminent or underway because we do have spending requirements that once we issue the bonds we typically need to spend that money within 24 months,” Hammill said.
Hammill said the city has been building up a fund balance to help reduce the amount of cash that needs to go to debt service each year. But at some point, the city will need additional cash from property taxes to make up the difference. Hammill showed a hypothetical situation where $32 million in new bonds are floated each year through FY2027. That would increase the debt service steadily over time, from $11 million in FY2022 to $19.2 million by FY2026.
“You’ve basically built in the need for a penny of additional revenue, that’s equivalent to basically a penny a year,” Hammill said, adding that in further years, the need for additional revenues would continue to grow.
To put it colloquially, Hammill effectively stated that the city can float an additional $52 million in bonds without maxing out the credit card. Potential projects include additional spending at the future parking garage, reconfiguration of city schools and continued investments in affordable housing.
After a long discussion about debt financing and how much additional capacity can be found, Council then began discussing potential projects. The first was whether a $10 million project to build a new municipal parking garage could be altered to provide more building height.
In a ten-page white paper dated October 14, Economic Development Director Chris Engel lays out the current plans.
“The City has plans to construct a parking structure on a one-acre assemblage of property it owns at the intersection of Market Street and 7th Street,” Engel wrote. “A conceptual design study indicates that a four level structure of approximately 300 parking spaces and 12,000 square feet of street front commercial space is feasible on the site and such a structure is permissible by-right within the City’s current zoning ordinance.”
Engel also included a contingency of an estimated $5 million to build a stronger foundation and employ other measures to ensure the taller building would be structurally sound.
At the November 12 work session, Engel said the project will be built using a design-build contract, which means one firm will be asked to do both tasks. A request for qualifications is expected to go out this month, followed by a request for proposals early next year.
“When we go through the process of seeking a design-build contractor, their proposals will have those types of details that we can compare one to another and that’s when the city chooses the best respondent and gets into a contract with them to actually build it,” Engel said.
The city has never pursued a project through a design-build project before. Engel explained this project is not a public-private partnership in part because of a bad experience within the last decade when a project to develop a city-owned parking lot fell apart.
“[West 2nd] started as a design competition really and then lead to a development agreement,” Engel said. “The path that we are on now is not that. The path that we are on now is that this is a city-owned facility. We build it with our money and we own it and we control it. That’s in part to eliminate risk and that’s done in part to honor the agreement with [Albemarle] county and best control those parking spaces so that they have confidence. Entering into a third-party agreement complicates that a little further.”
In the case of West 2nd, the city asked private developers to submit proposals to redevelop the City Market lot with a mixed-use building and space for the market.
“We spent four years and we ultimately got to a point where the project did not proceed from there,” Engel said.
Engel said the parking garage is expected to be operational in three years.
Councilor Heather Hill said she remembered when these questions were asked two years ago.
“It just seemed like it wasn’t a feasible option to go that route and invite a partner given the significant cost between what we’re proposing here and how much additional it would cost to do more than what we’re proposing,” Hill said.
Councilor Lloyd Snook asked how much delay there would be if Council decided to go on a different path.
“If we said, okay, the courts aren’t actually going to be built until 2025 and we’ve got sort of a slow-down in parking needs at the moment because of COVID and working at home and all the rest of that stuff, and some of that is going to maybe happen for the next couple of years, maybe we don’t need desperately need to get things done by 2023, maybe we work something out with the county to say, okay 2024 is fine. These are all just hypothetical here.”
Engel said it would be hard to predict the delay but again repeated that negotiations would likely take six months to a year.
Councilor Michael Payne asked if the city could just provide the required spaces for the county at the Market Street parking garage.
“When we’re looking at our CIP budget we’re going to have to, there’s no way around trying to revisit past decisions and figure out what to prioritize and re-adjust,” Payne said.
Another question before Council was whether the city should invest in improvements to make the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial in McIntire Park more accessible. Staff had recommended working on a way to build a parking lot closer to the memorial to replace the one removed for the skate park. Council did not reach consensus on how to proceed.
Council needs more info to provide direction
Council was asked to come up with priorities to help the budget staff develop a preliminary CIP budget.
“Without cutting something out, we are anticipating the need for tax increases,” Hammill said. “Not this year necessarily, but soon in the future.”
The city’s property tax rate has been $0.95 per $100 of assessed value since 2008.
One of the big questions is this Council’s willingness to proceed with school reconfiguration.
Hammill said $3 million was allocated to the school reconfiguration in FY20 to help with design. According to that budget, the purpose is for “architecture and engineering services and [to] determine preliminary designs and costs.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he was not sure how much direction he could give at this time.
“As a general proposition it’s hard for me to think of anything that’s more important that we do than educate our kids and we ought to be allocating significant resources to educating our kids but whether significant resources means $60 million over six years or $3 million next year and we’ll see or anywhere in between, I don’t know how to answer that question,” Snook said.
The West Main Streetscape has $18.5 million in approved funding, but the bonds have not yet been issued. Hammill said staff would be asking for another $8 million to complete the financing for the West Main project.
A value engineering study to bring the cost of the West Main Streetscape down is not ready. That project currently has a total cost estimate of $49 million though some of the four phases have been funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Council had a work session on this topic on September 30 and are expecting a report from RK&K about how adjustments can be made to save money.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she couldn’t make a decision until that information was ready.
As the budget work session came to a close, Councilors said they needed more time before making decisions on specific items. But let’s hear from three of them.
“There is no way that we’re getting out of this without cutting things that we all care about tremendously,” said Vice Mayor Sena Magill.
“This has to be put out to the community and they’re going to have lead that conversation with us given the scale of this investment and what it could mean to taxpayers,” said Councilor Heather Hill.
“I echo Councilor Magill’s point that I think that as well as in the context of COVID which is creating greater uncertainty for us in terms of our revenues could be worse than what we’re thinking, the composition of the Senate at the federal level should make us contemplate the reality that there will not be additional support coming from the federal government to bolster state and local governments,” Payne said. “Even if we assume tax increases, if we’re just taking an honest look at it, I think our only path forward is to look at some of our previously committed expenditures and evaluate what the trade-offs are and make cuts.”
Council will have another work session on the budget this Friday beginning at 1 p.m. Before that, they will have provided direction on whether to proceed with additional local spending for traffic calming efforts on 5th Street at their meeting on November 16.
The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has indicated at a preliminary review that it would support a mural on the side of 1001 West Main where Starbucks wants to open a new pick-up only franchise.
“It’s one of our latest new formats of a store that we’ve been rolling out,” said Ena Yang, a designer with Starbucks. “We have three stores that are open. Two in New York City and one in Toronto, Canada. This particular store we do not have any seating. Our lobby space is only 300 square foot where the customers are encouraged to pick up their order and be on the go.”
At issue before the BAR was whether the east-facing wall that slopes down 10th Street should be adorned with a colorful mural. The building in question is a former auto repair shop that is a contributing structure in the West Main Architectural Design Control District. Historic preservation planner Jeff Werner said there were some restrictions
“Anything within a mural that is interpreted as a Starbucks related or coffee related could be interpreted as a sign so be very careful with the artwork so that it doesn’t come across as ‘come in here and buy coffee,” Werner said.
Yang said there would be no images to promote coffee. Chair Carl Schwarz said he supported the preliminary design of the mural.
“This is an interesting part of town where you can have a lot of color and excitement and it’s not going to distract from anything historic,” Schwarz said.
Werner encouraged representatives from Starbucks to reach out to the community and to be ready for comment. Yang said they would do so.
“I understand it is a very prominent location and it’s a very busy intersection,” Yang said. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We are Starbucks. We are a global company. We want to make sure that what we put on a building of this size and at such a prominent location could be messaging that represents Starbucks. As to getting some of the community involvement, I would love your advice and guidance on what are some of the steps we can take to ensure this mural really speaks true to the community.”
Yang said the next step is to continue working with the artist in a way that will not cover up any of the existing windows.
Charlottesville City Council spent about an hour last night discussing ways to address speeding concerns on 5th Street Extended, a four-lane highway that heads south from downtown Charlottesville that has seen more residential neighborhoods built over the years.
One person concerned with recent crashes on 5th Street lives around the intersection at Bailey Road.
“I walk on 5th Street almost everyday,” said Kristen Lucas. “I bike to work sometimes on 5th Street. And I walked out my door when there was a crash and someone had passed away on 5th Street and I strongly support changes to 5th Street to make it safer not only for drivers but also for pedestrians and bikers and those that are living on this road.”
Lucas and about 1,400 other people signed a petition to ask Council to push for changes to the roadway. She said she wanted more than for the city to limit the speed, and she supported roundabouts and other traffic calming measures.
Traffic engineer Brennen Duncan wrote a report that outlined how vehicular speed has played a role in the five fatal accidents that have taken place in the past four years.
“It’s my assertion that there’s really not a speeding problem with the posted speed limit of 45 but I have said in my report to Council that we do have a corridor that allows for higher speeds for those that want to break the speed limit,” Duncan said.
Joan Albiston of the Willoughby neighborhood singled out a specific intervention that she favored.
“I have read the traffic engineers report for 5th Street and I would like to thank them for their recommendations to make 5th Street safer,” Albiston said. “In particular I would like to thank for recommending a flashing yellow area in place of a green light.”
These would be for permissive left-hand turns. Duncan explains the logic behind adding these flashing yellow lights.
“Nothing changes about the functionality,” Duncan said. “You’re supposed to yield on a green ball anyway but it really has been found that it alerts drivers more they are supposed to yield in that condition.”
For a mid-term solution, Duncan is recommending a roundabout just north of Bailey Road.
“What the roundabout would do is really put a damper on [high speeds] right in the middle of the corridor where drivers are forced to slow down,” Duncan said.
Duncan said that 18,000 vehicles use the roadway every day, and more efforts need to be made to get people out of their cars and onto buses. He said there could be as many as 500 more residential units in this area in the several years if undeveloped property is built upon.
The mother of a man who died in a motorcycle crash had the chance to address Council about the issue.
“My name is Binta Rose and my son was one of the fatalities on 5th Street Extended,” Rose said. “I had some concerns about that roadway as well. Even though speed may have contributed to his fatality I just had a question about the, I know that you guys are talking about some lighting in the area, and I know that the cars that pull out of the driveways there. My son driving down that road, an SUV pulled out into the traffic so he tried to avoid the vehicle and he hit a tree.”
Rose said the crash happened at night when there was no lighting. She also said she wants the roadway’s character to be less of a speedway.
Council agreed to the lower speeds and the flashing yellow light. For other solutions, Council will further discuss the topic at a budget work session on the capital improvement program budget on Friday that begins at 1 p.m.
Charlottesville City Council has endorsed an agreement that describes how a $5.5 million loan from the city to the Piedmont Housing Alliance will be used for the first phase of the redevelopment of Friendship Court.
“It has been over four years getting to this point and with a tremendous amount of work from in particular on the part of residents of Friendship Court and in particular the advisory committee at Friendship Court,” said Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of Piedmont Housing.
There are currently 150 rental units at Friendship Court, which was built in 1978 on land cleared through the urban renewal of Garrett Street.
“Resident-led redevelopment efforts propose a four-phase approach to replace all of the existing units and add additional residential units over the next eight to nine years,” said Brenda Kelley, the city’s director of redevelopment.
In 2019, Piedmont Housing was awarded funding from the Virginia Housing Development Authority through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to help finance the first phase of the project. The loan from the city helped make that application more attractive. The VDHA is now known as Virginia Housing.
“In total, the overall redevelopment proposes to construct approximately 450 new affordable units and more details to come before City Council in the future,” Kelley added. “This approach allows current residents to move directly into newly constructed units in each phase so that there is only one move associated with the relocation of residents.”
The first phase will be built where playgrounds and the community gardens have been. Mathon said the gardens will be relocated elsewhere within the development.
There will be 106 units, 46 of which will be new replacements for existing subsidized units at Friendship Court. The terms of the deal require the affordability restrictions to be maintained for 99 years.
“The item in front of you tonight provides for a master covenant that spells out the overall master plan requirements and also more specifically provides a separate phase one covenant that identifies the terms and the conditions for allocating the forgivable loan,” Kelley said.
In fiscal year 2019, Council allocated $5.545 million in capital funds to the project to pay for public streets, infrastructure, utilities, and affordable units for households with low to moderate incomes.
“The master affordable housing covenant will be recorded in the public records to provide assurances of affordability for the entire site,” Kelley said. “However, in the event of foreclosure, the affordability restrictions will terminate.”
Piedmont Housing will be required to submit an annual report. When the terms of the LIHTC funding are up, the city will have first right to lease or purchase units that are constructed. They’ll also have that right if the projects are ever foreclosed upon.
Piedmont Housing’s repayment will be deferred for 40 years as a forgivable loan, but if the nonprofit breaches the terms of the agreement, they will be responsible to pay for the full amount plus interest.
Part of the funding structure involves an agreement between Piedmont Housing and the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority.
“To help facilitate the financing of the project, Piedmont Housing has requested that the city consider an agreement that will share the incremental increase in real estate tax revenue generated by the investment,” reads the staff report for Council’s discussion. “With a commitment from the city to contribute the future revenue stream (as a grant), Piedmont Housing will borrow on this with a private lender to create the cash needed to begin the project.”
Mayor Nikuyah Walker was concerned about how this was set up given the number of other projects that will have the city paying to cover the costs if its own taxes, such as with Crescent Halls and South First Street.
“Essentially [Piedmont Housing] is taking out a $3 million loan for the gap funding for this and the request for the [Tax Increment Financing] would mean that the city would then forgive taxes up to the amount of the initial loan plus the interest that would accrue over the 30 year period,” Walker said. “Is there a better option than this arrangement where they’re taking out a loan that we will pay back anyway?”
Councilor Heather Hill said she thought this was a result of increased costs for the project.
“Things change,” Hill said. “There are a lot of moving parts, there are some inflationary costs in terms of the construction and that’s what I remember being like, you know, things were covered. Things are now not coming in like we thought. I remember sitting around a table with staff and another Councilor and that’s kind of where I remember that precipitating and then a lot of brainstorming going on to feel like what are some ways to get through this because we knew the city wasn’t going to be in a position to just outlay that capital outright.”
Walker said her caution is based on not knowing what future financial requests will be for the additional phases.
“I think these are two very important projects,” Walker said. “Of all the projects that I have voted on or not voted on that have been in front of us, and I’m just speaking for myself have looked at it, I think [CRHA redevelopment and Friendship Court] are going to take us to places and help us in ways that none of those other projects could do, and so it’s very important but I don’t think we’re looking at any of these projects in a fiscally sustainable way.”
Mathon said this approach was first discussed with city leadership in the spring of 2019. Phase 1 is being built atop a buried creek called Pollocks Branch.
“The site costs for doing work on Friendship Court continued to go in the wrong direction because of the soil conditions there being far worse than we originally anticipated,” Mathon said. “The proximity to the underground creek just caused site work to increase significantly and so we were trying to search for some additional source to cover that delta.”
Chris Engel, the economic development director, said these discussions occurred with Mike Murphy was interim city manager, before former city manager Tarron Richardson began work in May 2019.
This section of the discussion took place before Engel had a chance to give his staff report.
“What you’re going to hear about next in the performance agreement is a way to use the increment without the borrowing and it’s a mechanism that works and we’ve used it in a couple of cases,” Engel said. “This case is a little different in that it involves not a commercial interest, but commercial and residential, primarily residential but it can be helpful in funding something.”
Mathon said he believed this mechanism was in keeping with common practices. He gave a quick overview of how he believes capital budgeting works.
“The city has prioritized in terms of how it uses dollar on an annual basis out of its general revenue fund to pay for its priorities and it bonds a whole number of different items for infrastructure, schools, to pay for things it can’t afford in the short term,” Mathon said.
In this case, the $5.545 million the city is spending on the project will be paid for through the sale of bonds. All localities are evaluated by ratings agencies to determine their creditworthiness at paying bond holders over time. Charlottesville has a AAA bond rating which affords a lower interest rate. There are limits to how much a locality can borrow without jeopardizing that rating, and so the additional $3 million was above the city’s capacity. Hence the need to find a different way forward.
Walker said she was also concerned about the lack of details about phase 4. Mathon said it may take Piedmont Housing another year to begin to plan because of physical distancing protocols caused by the pandemic.
“In the schematic diagram that is included in the performance agreement, Phase 4 continues to be a bit of a placeholder because we are working in a co-design process with the residents,” he said. “Our focus on the last nine months, and COVID has complicated this of course, and has slowed down the process even further but our focus has been on the one hand preparing them and the community for start of construction and on the second hand we’re deep in the throes of final design of phase 2 so that we can apply for tax credits for LIHTC in March 2021 in a few months.”
Council reached consensus to move the loan to the consent agenda for the November 2 meeting.
Before we go, let’s hear one last time how the tax increment financing would work from Chris Engel.
“Essentially what the performance agreement does is use the tax increment that’s created by the project… PHA pays real estate tax that is assessed on the new project. And we would then transfer, the city would set aside as has been discussed, that amount to the [Charlottesville Economic Development Authority] and the EDA would grant back to PHA in this case 100 percent of the incremental taxes created by the project.”
The agreement has a 40 year term, but ends as soon as the EDA has granted a total of $6 million back to Piedmont Housing.
Walker voted for the agreement but said she still did not support it.
There will be a budget work session on capital financing in November, and interim City Manager John Blair said they could have a more full discussion about potential financing arrangements.
Councilor Michael Payne said he supported the agreement.
“I do think the timing is critical on these projects,” Payne said. “I do think that this has something that has helped made the project actually be able to come together and keep together the tight timelines for LIHTC applications and other funding sources and I do think that this is a real critical way to make sure able to be a a shovel-ready project that is able to happen.”