Category Archives: Meeting Reports

Regional housing group “Planning for Affordability”

(This newsletter originally was published in the June 29, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership is nearly finished with a plan intended to coordinate efforts to increase the number of below-market housing units across the six localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. The title of the document is Planning For Affordability: A Regional Approach. (download the draft plan)

“We felt that it was important to somehow identify what was particular to the region instead of just rehashing individual action steps that might be in the individual chapters for each locality,” said Anthony Haro, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. “And this led to some good conversations about how to track regionally these goals.” 

The plan is intended to foster collaboration that pools resources and improves communication about housing issues in order to reduce pressure on individual localities to shoulder the burden alone. But Haro said that won’t happen without coordinated implementation.

“This naturally led to the question of who is going to track these regional goals and who is responsible for overseeing the region,” Haro said. 

There’s also an additional chapter for each locality in the region. Each of these will be presented to the governing body in each before being approved by the entire Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Christine Jacobs, interim director of the TJPDC, outlined what would happen the June 23 meeting and that consideration for approval. 

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Fifth and Avon Group Gets Update on Southwood

After years of planning, construction is well underway for the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville’s redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home Park in Albemarle’s southern growth area. Land has been cleared along Old Lynchburg Road to make way for the first phase of the project.

Andrew Baxter is the director of operations for Habitat and he briefed the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee at their meeting on June 17, 2021. 

“Last September as you probably are aware we had the ribbon-cutting, have owned the park for a number of years, invested a great deal in basic infrastructure and safety over the years,” Baxter said. 

In August 2019, The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning of nearly 34 acres of land from R-2 to the Neighborhood Model District, and the concept plan in the application is for up to 450 homes. 

“We’re operating now under a 2019 approved non-displacement plan,” Baxter said. “That’s our primary commitment in this redevelopment, that we will not displace current residents of the park, unless they choose to go somewhere else.”

Baxter said the idea had been not to move any existing residents in the first phase, but issues with aging septic systems on the site forced a change. 

“If you can imagine, a trailer park that was initially put in place in the 1950’s and 1960’s, about half the park is not on public sewer so that’s created some challenges,” Baxter said.  

In all, 26 mobile homes are in the process of being relocated and that work is expected to be complete in August. Baxter said Habitat is complying with the federal Uniform Relocation Act as part of those efforts. (watch a video on the URA)

“The options vary from physically moving a trailer to an empty pad in the park and the family goes with it, to moving a family to a vacant trailer that we own, to moving the trailer off property to a location that’s identified and desirable by the family, by the homeowner,” Baxter said.

The first lots to be used for new homes will be ready this fall. 

“That will allow for the construction of what we call Village 1, so Phase 1 Village 1, which will be a combination of duplexes, there’s one single-family dwelling in Village 1, and then four condo buildings that constitute twenty units total,” Baxter said. 

Baxter said the process is also underway for existing residents to apply for Habitat’s homeownership program.

“And that is an incredibly detailed, individualized process for each family that involves financial coaching, to get those folks ready if they want to be homeowners,” Baxter said. 

At the same time, the Piedmont Housing Alliance has been successful in their application for Low Income Housing Tax Credits for 70 units in what’s to be called Southwood Apartments. (2021 LIHTC rankings)

“So there’s very low rent units will be available for certain folks if they qualify as well,” Baxter said. 

A second rezoning application is also being prepared for the rest of the park’s redevelopment. 

Partners in the project so far are Faulconer Construction, Atlantic Builders, and Southern Development. Atlantic is building the condominiums and Southern Development is building the market-rate units. 

Concept included with the rezoning request from the summer of 2019

There is other construction happening nearby on Old Lynchburg Road. After Baxter was County Planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave details on site plans that are under review, such as part of the Albemarle Business Campus development for which ground has already been broken. 

“Block 5 includes a 103,500 square foot self storage building with additional retail space and restaurant that would be 3,800 square feet,” Kanellopoulos said. 

Crozet Master Plan talk turns to implementation; Crozet Plaza update

(This article is adapted from the June 21, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Albemarle Planning Commission will next take up the Crozet Master Plan at a work session on Tuesday, June 22. At the June 9 CAC meeting, committee members and participating residents got a presentation on the implementation of projects intended to bolster Crozet’s urban character. They also had the chance to comment on the plan update to date.  

But first, the implementation projects. The master plan is a large overview of the entire area, and further studies are suggested. The draft implementation chapter shows a list of ten potential topics ranging from a Downtown Neighborhood Architectural and Cultural Study to a stream health study for Parrot Branch, a local waterway. Initial feedback has already been submitted and planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave the rundown for how planning projects scored.

“The top ranked projects were the Crozet Avenue Shared-Use Path feasibility study, the Three Notch’d Trail feasibility study, and the Route 250 West design guidelines,” Kanellopoulos said. “And then the policy projects were also ranked and the top priority was updating residential zoning designations to allow for more preservation of natural resources.”

Potential capital projects were also ranked. Kanellopoulos said the highest ranking projects are the completion of Eastern Avenue, downtown Crozet intersection improvements, and sidewalk connections. 

Let’s hear more about that Three Notch’d Trail.

“Lately there’s been a lot more focus and attention on the potential Three Notch’d Trail which would ideally connect from the Blue Ridge Tunnel along Crozet and over to Charlottesville,” Kanellopoulos said. “A feasibility study would look at this alignment and there are opportunities to partner with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and the Planning District Commission and trails groups to look at the feasibility study for the alignment.” 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said later in the meeting that VDOT planning may not have staff to conduct that feasibility study this year, but community work can be done now to prepare for that work possibly in 2022. 

“And the other blessing that goes along with that is 2022 is when [Virginia] is going to take over the rail access right of way from CSX and therefore that increases greatly the possibility that we will be able to have a trail beside the rail,” Mallek said. 

Another “catalyst” project now in the implementation chapter is Western Park, which has long been called for in the plan and for which the county received 36 acres in 2010 as part of the Old Trail rezoning. A master plan for that project was created in 2018 that identified three phases. The first is recommended for funding, a decision which would be made by the entire Board of Supervisors during the budget process.

“This phase one would include the access road with parking, a playground, and additional support of infrastructure and utilities,” Kanellopoulos said.

Committee member Sandy Hausman noted the rankings were based on responses from fewer than a hundred people. 

“I wonder if anybody feels like this there needs to be a bit more outreach, like a mass mailing to everyone who lives in Crozet,” Hausman said. “It just feels to me that this is a relatively small group of people who tend to be paying attention to this stuff and everybody else will be unpleasantly surprised in a year or two when things start happening.”

Committee member Joe Fore said he wanted to see all three phases of Western Park listed as catalyst projects, meaning they would be prioritized first.

“I think just given the fact that it’s been in the works for so long, that the phases of at least getting started, the land is already there,” Fore said. “I understand it’s expensive but it’s not an Eastern Avenue or Lickinghole Creek bridge expensive.” 

Fore also said he would support the creation of a special taxation district to help pay for new infrastructure. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has previously been briefed on how service districts or a “business improvement district” could be levied in certain areas to fund amenities. 

“I looked through currently, and this may be a comment for the full draft, there’s only one mention of service districts in the entire draft and that’s in reference to funding ongoing activities and services at the plaza and downtown,” Fore  said. “But I would like to see maybe a little bit more and maybe a full suggestion saying maybe this is something we should explore in Crozet to fund some of these capital projects so we’re not constantly having these be projects are ten years out.” 

The Board of Supervisors last had a formal presentation on service districts at their meeting on December 7, 2016. (presentation) (story)

Fore has looked up the section of Virginia code that allows for the creation of such districts.

“It’s a pretty broad statute as I read it,” Fore said. “Things like sidewalks, roads, programming, cultural events, economic development, beautification and landscaping. It’s a very broad statute. It seems to me you could raise money for most of the kinds of projects that we’re looking at.  When we look at the list of priorities and say, yikes! Where are we going to get all the money for this? Well, rather than say let’s raise taxes on everybody in the county, you might be able to say let’s raise funds specifically from Crozet that would stay in Crozet for some of these projects we want to see in Crozet.”

CAC member David Mitchell is skeptical of the idea and said it would lead to Crozet receiving fewer direct funds from the county.

“Over time we will start to be looked at by the other Supervisors as ‘they have their own money, they can do their own thing’ and you’re going to slowly over time lose your share of the general fund,” Mitchell said. 

Supervisor Mallek agreed.

“I would really discourage our citizenry from burdening themselves because I think David is right,” Mallek said. “We need to go to toe to toe, to say, this is a need that’s been on the books.”

Mallek singled out the Eastern Avenue connector road that will provide north-south travel. A major obstacle is the cost of a bridge required to cross Lickinghole Creek. 

“We have made all of these zoning changes prior to 2007 that were counting on that bridge and we absolutely have a moral obligation to build it,” Mallek said.

Eastern Avenue is ranked #8 on the county’s transportation priority list and there was an update in May. There’s not yet a full cost estimate on what it will cost, but engineering work is underway. 

“This project is currently being evaluated through an alignment study and conceptual design which is funded through the Transportation Leveraging Fund in the [Capital Improvement Program],” reads the update. “The alignment report was presented to the Board in January and the preferred alignment was selected. This project is being considered for a Revenue Sharing Grant application.”

Allie Pesch, the chair of the CAC, said she wanted Eastern Avenue to be the top implementation priority.

“I like seeing Eastern Avenue at the top of that list,” Pesch said. “That is a priority for everyone in our area and just so overdue.”

After this discussion of implementation, county planner Rachel Falkenstein turned the conversation to the working draft of the master plan. The draft that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at their work session on Tuesday incorporates feedback from the June 9 CAC meeting. (download the draft

“We still have a couple of steps to go before we get to our public hearings and we’ll continue to accept feedback and make revisions to the chapters and to the content,” Falkenstein said. 

A work session with the Board of Supervisors will take place in August. (Watch the CAC meeting on YouTube)


A few days after the CAC meeting, the Downtown Crozet Initiative held a public meeting to talk about a 30,000 square foot plaza intended to be located at the former Barnes Lumberyard. The plaza would anchor a mixed-use building and a hotel through a public-private partnership. The idea involves construction of a connector road using revenue-sharing funds from VDOT. That process requires a local match. 

Frank Stoner is a principal at Milestone Partners which seeks to redevelop the space. They’re putting up $2 million to serve as that match. 

“This project started in 2014,” Stoner said. “We developed this road plan in 2016, 2017. Most of the design elements of the road have been resolved. We felt strongly and I think the community felt strongly and the county felt strongly that the streets had to be appropriate for the small town that is Crozet and not be a highway through the middle of downtown which is kind of where VDOT wanted to go with it.” 

In all, VDOT is providing $2.49 million in funds for the road improvements. Milestone is paying $2 million and donating the land for the plaza and roads. The Downtown Crozet Initiative will raise $1.6 million or more to program the plaza. Albemarle County has contributed $1.6 million in cash to the project, and will provide another $1.6 million in rebates through a process known as tax increment financing. (read the June 2019 performance agreement)

Stoner said the idea is to build an urban plaza, not a park. 

“And most importantly we wanted this plaza to be the heart not just of the neighborhood but the Crozet community,” Stoner said. 

CreditDowntown Crozet Initiative

VDOT is contributing $2.5 million and the Downtown Crozet Initiative is seeking to raise over a million in private funds. 

“Which will be used to fund essentially the furniture, fixtures and equipment, sculpture, artwork, seating, all of that kind of stuff that goes in the plaza,” Stoner said. 

The designs aren’t close to final yet, but Stoner wanted to get feedback from the community. There are also no identified tenants for any of the spaces yet. 

“We haven’t really been in the position to take commitments because there have been so many unknowns because of the VDOT plans and then we had some stormwater issues we had to work through and so it has just been one obstacle after another,” Stoner said. 

Stoner said if all goes according to plan, construction could get underway next year. To Stoner, success means making sure it’s a place to expand what already makes Crozet Crozet.

“If we can’t create a place that’s affordable for local businesses, then we’re not going to succeed,” Stoner said. 

In April 2020, the firm Downtown Strategies unveiled their report on a Downtown Strategic Vision for Crozet. Stoner suggested interested parties might take a look. (take a look)

Nearby there is a separate VDOT project to rebuild the existing Square to add sidewalks and address ongoing stormwater issues. (watch the June 14 presentation)

City Council to review Recovery Roadmap on June 21

(This piece originally was included in the June 15, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Economic Development office has been working on a recovery plan for the city, and the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority got a look at their meeting on June 8. Director Chris Engel said his department will seek American Rescue Plan funding from City Council to pay for projects within the initiative. 

“Essentially we met and did a series of outreach efforts including a series of phone calls that was led by Jason Ness on our team with previous recipients of our grants from last year to find out how they’re doing,” Engel said. “We found four basic buckets in which there was desire for additional assistance.

Items in the roadmap include direct financial assistance through continued grant programs and  additional training programs including a “specific hospitality focused training program.” Other ideas include updating maps for business corridors and creating a marketing leverage program. There are also ideas to create new infrastructure.

“One of them is a unique opportunity that is now available to municipalities to seek out what are called designated outdoor refreshment areas,” Engel said. “These are areas where alcoholic beverages can be served in an outdoor environment without putting up the traditional hard barriers that people might be accustomed to for these types of things.”

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Albemarle planning commission endorses new hydroelectric plant on the hardware

(This episode was initially posted as part of the June 5, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

A plan to update  a hydroelectric plant at the Jefferson Mill Dam on the Hardware River obtained a recommendation of approval from the Albemarle Planning Commission on June 1, but not without a tough question intended as a softball. In beginning of the 21st century, construction of dams is strongly discouraged in most cases, with the exception of impoundment for water supply. But the Jefferson Mill Dam dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. Bill Fritz is the county’s development process manager. (staff report)

“The existing dam and the adjacent building date to the 1800’s and the mill building is now used as a home,” Fritz said. 

Power has been generated at the location for much of that time, but the proposal is to update the turbine that’s within an underground water room through which a diverted portion of the river flows. 

“The project will improve the outfall from the water room, install new inlets to bring water to the turbine,” Fritz said. “The applicant has submitted by far the most extensive and complete application I’ve seen in thirty plus years I’ve worked for the county.”

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Albemarle Supervisors updated on Broadway Blueprint

In 2019, the Albemarle County Economic Development Department began a planning study of the roadway that leads to the Woolen Mills factory, a historic property that has renovated in recent years by developer Brian Roy. The main entrance is along Broadway Avenue, which extends from Carlton Avenue at the border between the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. In all, there are about 45 acres of land that were the subject of an interim study presented to the Board of Supervisors in November of 2019. 

“The goal at that time was to leverage the public and private investment that had taken place and projected to take place at the Woolen Mills redevelopment and the Willow Tree relocation at that site,” said J.T. Newberry in the economic development department. 

Much of the land is zoned for light industrial use, and several businesses are operating in the area. Construction of the new Woolen Mills Industrial Park is underway. The Board of Supervisors was to have seen the results of an implementation study in April 2020, but the pandemic put a pause on the work.

“Nevertheless we have tried to stay engaged with stakeholders on the corridor,” Newberry said. “There have been a number of projects that have continued on the private side.”

After the interim study, Albemarle staff met with city staff at least twice, and the blueprint has been run by the Planning Commission, the Economic Development Authority, and the Office of Equity and Inclusion. The latter suggested a new approach to the project following the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the topic by Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia. Roger Johnson is the director of economic development for Albemarle.

“We are going to pause our project and go back and review the Broadway corridor through an equity lens,” Johnson said. “We don’t know if that will change anything substantively or not but we expect that it will.” 

That will include a meeting with the city’s new Deputy City Manager of Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Ashley Marshall. 

Next steps could include creation of a business association for the area, similar to the Downtown Crozet Association. Another would be to create an arts and cultural district for the location. 

“Some other types of activities we are contemplating are to complete pedestrian and bike connectivity, multimodal streetscape, enhanced public transportation,” Johnson said. 

Those activities are now considered to be long-term goals. 

A map of the area covered by the Broadway Blueprint

Oversight group discusses Cville Plans Together initiative

(This article originally appeared in the May 25, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The steering committee overseeing the Cville Plans Together initiative met on May 19 to take a mid-month review of the latest round of the public engagement efforts. To recap, Rhodeside & Harwell is overseeing an update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as well as a rewrite of the city’s zoning code. They’ve already produced an affordable housing strategy that City Council adopted in March. (review the plan

In February 2019, Council voted to approve spending up to $1 million to hire an outside consultant to take over oversight of the Comprehensive Plan. For background, read my story from then to explain the reasons behind the decision. 

The latest version of the schedule for the process

The work got underway in January 2020 and continued during the pandemic with virtual meetings. There were two previous community engagement periods last year in addition to the one underway now. 

Jennifer Koch is a project manager with Rhodeside & Harwell.

“We fully recognize there are folks in the community who may not have been aware of this process that was going,” Koch said. “We’ve been working hard to reach folks but it’s been quite a year… We’ve been doing a lot of virtual engagement for the past year and we don’t anticipate that will completely go away as we move forward but we also know it’s really nice to speak with people in person.”  

First, members of the steering committee had the opportunity to weigh in. One of them is City Councilor Michael Payne, who will be one of five votes to adopt the Comprehensive Plan and the updated zoning code sometime next year. At this stage, he wanted to suggest a change in the title of one of the draft chapters.

“With the Economic Prosperity and Opportunity [chapter], I know it mentions community wealth building in the update but I still wonder if it may make more sense for the chapter itself to be focused on community wealth building, again to try to gear that chapter towards more system change thinking about things like community land trusts, community development corporations, [and] community gardens all interconnect as a system for wealth creation that’s different than the normal way of doing economic development,” Payne said. 

Seven draft chapters of the Comprehensive Plan are available for review (download)

Christine Jacobs, the interim executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, applauded language about regional partnerships. However, she wanted her organization to be more specifically referenced given the number of bodies it runs on which Charlottesville City Councilors serve. 

“The TJPDC does have the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO,” Jacobs said. “It also has the Regional Transit Partnership and the Regional Housing Partnership.” 

Diana Dale represents the leaders of neighborhood associations in the city, some of which have expressed concern about too much density. She drew attention to the chapter on Land Use, Urban Form, and Historic and Cultural Preservation. 

“And I’m thinking in particular of goal two,” Dale said, reading from the chapter summary. “Protect and enhance existing distinct identitiess of the city’s older neighborhoods while promoting housing options, a mix of uses, and sustainble reuses in the community.” 

Dale said some residents of neighborhoods are concerned that some of their portions have been changed from low-intensity to medium-intensity, such as most of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood and some of the Martha Jefferson neighborhood. That could allow between four to 12 units per lot, but that will remain unclear until it is time to rewrite the zoning code. 

“What is aspirational? And what is actually codifiable?” Dale asked.

The zoning rewrite will be conducted by the firm Code Studio, a subcontractor whose work will be informed by the affordable housing plan and the Future Land Use Map. 

“I’m not certain that we have a whole lot of the answers,” said Lee Einsweiler of Code Studio. “We were hoping we could work through things at the more generalized level of the Future Land Use Map and then begin to craft strategies for implementing those tools.” 

Einsweiler said that each category on the future land use map will not be represented by a single zoning district. 

“There would be two, three, four implementing zoning districts that might all have appropriate strategies for different types of the community but those can’t quite be figured out until we can understand where they are likely to be applied,” said Lee Einsweiler. 

Dale remained concerned. 

“The vagueness is not helping people’s confidence in the plan,” Dale said.

The Lewis Mountain Neighborhood has been designated as medium intensity in the draft future land use map. (interactive map)

Dale also expressed concern about the impacts of a more people on the existing infrastructure. She said roads might need to be widened to accommodate additional traffic, and stated the city has issues delivering on infrastructure projects such as frequent buses and a consistent bike and sidewalk network. 

“The guidance is recommending multimodal strategies, and that’s going to take time and funding to implement and that’s been a long struggle for a lot of improvements over time for those of who have been in the city,” Dale said. 

There are 19 neighborhoods across the city, and the 2007 Comprehensive Plan contains an entire appendix of specific requests from neighborhoods that came from a city-wide design day arranged by a now-defunct non-profit called the Charlottesville Community Design Center. That approach was abandoned for the 2013 Comprehensive Plan and the 2017 process did not seek a thorough capturing of what residents of neighborhoods wanted. 

Ashley Davies, who represents the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable on the steering committee, suggested an approach that built upon previous efforts to plan at a neighborhood level. 

“I think people are hungry to give you feedback that is more specific to their area and I think it’s a shame that we can’t have the time right now to do the small area planning because I think that’s what a lot of people want to inform the land use plan,” Davies said. 

Neighborhood plans were drafted in the 2007 plan, as described on page 285. If you’re a Charlottesville resident, what was said about your neighborhood? (download the plan)

There’s a lot of discussion of what role the Future Land Use Map plays. Is it advisory? If so, what does that mean? Ron Sessoms is with Rhodeside and Harwell.

“The future land use map is a critical component of a Comprehensive Plan and sets the stage for the city’s long-term vision of how it’s going to grow,” said Ron Sessoms of Rhodeside & Harwell (RHI). “You can think of this as the 10,000 foot view of the city and defining where there are opportunities for growth.” 

Sessoms said the land use map is a guide for development, but is not binding like zoning. 

“As we think about the future land use map, it’s much more broad and the zoning code is much more detailed with specifics of what it means to fulfil the future land use map,” Sessoms said. 

The medium intensity residential category is new with this comp plan update, and encourages construction between four and 12 units per lot. Sessoms said that did not have to be out of scale with existing buildings. 

“They can be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood,” Sessoms said. “They don’t have to be five stories to get fourplexes or any of the medium intensity development types.” 

Ashley Davies said she liked that the future land use map begins a process of reducing the amount of areas colored as low-intensity residential, but thought there should be some sense of what types of housing units are prioritized. 

“It seems to me the strategy for adding units in the city and adding residential, maybe we need to talk about the hierarchy of that can truly happen in Charlottesville,” Davies said. 

Dale said the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association’s Board of Directors supports soft density by adding accessory units and permitting apartments within structures. But they don’t support being colored as medium intensity. 

“Is there an opportunity to merge the ambitions of transforming Charlottesville to general residential, which is a big step to begin with, and to merge some of the intentions of the medium intensity?” Dale asked. “I recognize this may happen as you move to more strata, more levels of medium density.”

This draft also includes a name change for Low Density Residential to General Residential, which recommends up to three units per lot. 

Lena Seville, a Belmont resident who is on the steering committee, wanted to know why General Residential didn’t recommend allowing four units per lot. 

“There are plenty of little houses that are split into four,” Seville said. “At two stories, it’s four apartments. They’re easier to build. They mirror each other. They have the same footprint.”

Much of what is happening in Charlottesville is patterned off an effort in Minneapolis, where their City Council voted to permit duplexes and triplexes in all R-1 areas. Here’s Lee Einsweiler with Code Studio again. 

“You may have followed the exercise in Minneapolis in which they began talking about four but ended up adopting three,” Einsweiler said. “Part of the conversation was about the likelihood that the existing house would be replaced as opposed to split. The three is most likely an additional building on the property and a main unit carved out of the main house.” 

At the meeting, some members expressed concern about a perceived lack of engagement. Valerie Washington represents the Charlottesville Low Income Housing Coalition

“While this process has been going on for a while now there are still many folks in the community that I’ve spoken to who have no idea about this process,” Washington said. “Is there any plan to really put some education out there for folks who are having difficulty understanding the planning process so they can better participate?”

LaToya Thomas of the firm Brick and Story acknowledges that many people are not knowledgeable in planning issues, but the Cville Plans Together initiative wants to educate more people especially as the pandemic recedes.

“We are reaching out to as many people that we can get connected to, but we also know that many of you are connected to folks and so we will continue to make ourselves available if there are groups of folks that you want to convene,” Thomas said.

Dale suggested a pause while people get caught up on the planning process. That would give people the chance to read the many recommendations in the affordable housing plan adopted by Council in March. 

“Most of the community doesn’t really understand how it informs the plan,” Dale said. “It was previewed with the public last fall when everyone had their head down dealing with Zoom school and Zoom work and health care and everything else. It was a 100-year health event.”

The housing plan was adopted in March 2021 and informed the development of Future Land Use Map (download)

S. Lisa Herndon is a Realtor on the steering committee who wants to see a map that depicts where redlining occurred which overlays areas proposed for more intense development. 

“Going back to the history of Vinegar Hill and Gospel Hill, there [are] communities that were negatively impacted and now we’re going through redevelopment again and we see a lack of equity in terms of participation and I see nothing within this which shows where we were and how we’re going to prevent that negative effect in communities of African-American historical context,” Hernson said. “I don’t see that.” 

Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, said he has been through this process in other communities where he has worked.  He reminded people the intent of the initiative is to guide change. 

“One of the things that gets lost in the translation is that change is constant and people have this assumption that their neighborhoods are a thing and have always been that thing which is fundamentally not true,” Mathon said. “One of the changes that we are seeing across the city regardless of the form of the city, one of the real changes is a dramatic increase in the cost of living in the city. That’s a fundamental change. The plan itself can’t be the change that solves that on its own, but it is an ingredient in that tool set.”

Comments will be accepted through June 13 now that a two-week extension has been granted. The Planning Commission is expected to have a work session on June 29. 

council agrees to bridge funding for belmont bridge

(This article originally appeared as a segment in the May 18, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The main event at Council’s meeting on May 17, 2021 was direction to proceed with a plan to use millions of funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to cover another cost overrun for the long-planned Belmont Bridge replacement. The project was put out for construction bids in February with a $31 million cost estimate. According to the city’s Urban Construction Initiative manager Jeanette Janiczek, that wasn’t enough money. 

“The lowest responsive, responsible bid can be awarded with existing project funds, however there is a need for additional funding, $4.2 million, to cover contingency, construction inspection services, VDOT oversight, as well as utility relocation,” Janiczek said. 

VDOT has suggested adding funds from its bridge maintenance account, something referred to as State of Good Repair. Janiczek said possible reasons for the higher estimate include inflation, increases in material costs, and potential issues related to the pandemic.

Janiczek said one choice would have been to remove items from the project, such as a pedestrian tunnel on the southern end. 

“Any of these options would result in us having to rebid the project,” Janiczek said. “This adds at least a year in time but most importantly it doesn’t fulfil the commitments we’ve made to the public as well as the Board of Architectural Review.” 

Janiczek if the appropriation of the VDOT goes forward in June, construction could begin this summer. Another public meeting will be held when the contractor is hired to explain how traffic will continue to use the bridge during construction. 

“So once they submit their baseline schedule, we’ll release that to the public and let people know what to expect during construction,” Janiczek said. 

Asked by Council if the project costs could increase, Janiczek said many of the prices for materials would be locked in as soon as the construction contract begins. 

City Manager Chip Boyles said he thought construction costs would increase as the federal government prepares to make billions of investments in infrastructure projects. That’s why he r

“If this project is delayed, we’re already seeing very substantial inflationary projections into the near future,” Boyles said. “If President Biden’s infrastructure package that is in Congress is approved, you will see multiple fold of capital projects underway. If this had to be rebid, I would say that we would end up with less product and at least the same amount or more of the cost.” 

The second reading of the appropriation will be on the consent agenda for Council’s June 7 meeting. They’ll next meet on May 25 to have a work session on the 7th Street Parking garage followed by a May 26 joint meeting with the city School Board on the reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

Council adjourned their meeting before 8 p.m. something that newcomers to city government should never ever expect. 

Proposed apartments for Fifeville draw attention to planned railroad underpass

(This article was originally a segment in the May 11, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Tonight, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will have a joint public hearing with the City Council on a rezoning on a cul-de-sac on the western edge of Fifeville.  A property owner on Valley Road Extended seeks the rezoning and a special use permit to build four apartment units on just under two-thirds of land. The applicant is proffering $48,000 to build a portion of sidewalk and have suggested it could be part of a larger network. (meeting info)

“Sidewalk improvements along the new parcel frontage along Valley Road Extended that ultimately may be incorporated into a more robust pedestrian and bicycle improvement network if the multi-use tunnel under the railroad right of way, as called for in the [2015] Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan,” reads the narrative.

The narrative references a map on page 38 of the plan that depicts many desired projects throughout the city. One of them is this underpass at the northern end of Valley Road Extended.

However, there is no active project planned for such a tunnel at this site to occur, according to city Communications Director Brian Wheeler. In all, there is a distance of 4,500 feet where the railroad bisects the Fifeville neighborhood from the University of Virginia without a pedestrian or vehicular crossing, between Shamrock Road and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. 

The University of Virginia is also not planning for a tunnel at that location, according to its non-voting representative on the Planning Commission. After the city agreed to hand over right of way for the Brandon Avenue corridor, UVA agreed to study for a railroad crossing and settled on a different planning concept closer to Monroe Lane and Paton Street. However, they are not pursuing a crossing at this time but will work with the city on an easement should it choose to proceed.

This map is Charlottesville’s 2015 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan and can be found on page 38. (download the plan)

Ash trees are in a “state of emergency”

(This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Tree Commission got an update on several topics at its meeting on May 4, including an update on several projects planned for Charlottesville’s McIntire Park. 

“In McIntire Park there are three projects going on that are really private-public partnerships,” said Peggy Van Yahres, a member of the Tree Commission.

Van Yahres is part of one project to install a memorial grove in McIntire Park to commemorate people who have been awarded the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s citizenship award. 

“We wanted to preserve the landmark oak trees  on the top of McIntire Park on the east side,” Van Yahres said. “The other objective was just to enliven the park and make it a better place for people to go and sit underneath these beautiful trees.” 

The memorial would be a stone terrace on which the names of the past and future award winners would be displayed. 

“There will be a beautiful lawn, people can play, a walkway, and of course, a lot more oak trees to continue the tradition,” Van Yahres said. 

Van Yahres said the grove has been added to the schematic design for the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. That’s the new name for the nonprofit that entered into a memorandum of agreement with the City of Charlottesville to operate in the northeast section of McIntire Park. She said the grove will hopefully be installed by this fall. 

A rendering of the proposed Grove in McIntire Park. Learn more on the Chamber and Grove website.

As for the garden, Jill Trischman-Marks is executive director of the newly renamed organization. There was a naming contest.

“We had over two hundred responses and selected Botanical Garden of the Piedmont because it was precise and concise,” Trischman-Marks said. “It not only identified where the garden is located but it also talked about the trees and other plants that will be highlighted in this garden.” 

The nonprofit is on the hook to raise funds to pay for infrastructure and to install the garden.

“The city of Charlottesville has dedicated the land to this project but that’s where the taxpayer burden ends,” Trischman-Marks said. “All of the funds that are needed to design, construct, and maintain the garden will be privately raised but once it is built just like any other city park, the Botanical Garden will be free and accessible to all.” 

Trischman-Marks said the plan for the garden is to utilize native species and demonstrate the ecosystem of our area. You can weigh in on a survey they have listed on their website

“And share the survey with your friends, families, and neighbors because the more feedback we get, the better this garden will be,” Trischman-Marks said

Trischman-Marks will update the Charlottesville Planning Commission at their meeting on Tuesday.

The third project is a more low-key initiative from the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards to plant new specimens. 

Later in the meeting, the Tree Commission got an update on plans to fight the Emerald Ash Borer from the city arborist, Mike Ronayne.

“The Emerald Ash borer is an invasive insect from Siberia and it will be killing all of our untreated ash trees in Charlottesville,” Ronayne said. “And now it seems like it’s come through other parts of Virginia like northern Virginia and now we’re really just starting to deal with all the dead ash trees that we’re finding in Charlottesville.”

The goal is to protect 31 individual trees in the city, and have sought additional funding from City Council for the purpose and to remove the dead trees. About one to two percent of trees in the city’s parkland are ash trees. A draft cost estimate to remove the trees over five years is $480,000. That does not cover the cost of planting replacements. The cost to annually treat those 31 trees will be $8,425 a year. Todd Brown is the city’s director of parks and recreation.

“Basically this is a state of emergency situation,” Brown said. “These trees are dying. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to die and right now we’ve been hitting at a tiny fraction of them. For everyone we’re doing, there are ten more that need to be done and ten more that die. We’re chasing a moving target that’s eventually going to stop and eventually we are going to have to catch up to it.” 

Brown said that presents a safety issue and more and more limbs become prone to falling. For more on the Emerald Ash Borer, take a look at the Virginia Department of Forestry website. The agency is offering a cost share program for individual removals. (learn more)

The woods shroud this dead Ash tree near Crozet. The homeowner took advantage of the Virginia Department of Forestry cost-share program to help treat some of its fellow specimens, but this one was too far gone. (Credit: Grace Reynolds)
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