Category Archives: Newscast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy Johnson represents the Public Housing Association of Residents.

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

Work will continue on the details of the study. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Engagement newscast for July 14, 2020

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

Coming soon to a podcast host near you!

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

Source – Virginia Department of Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Community Engagement for July 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teacher protest, Virginia population estimates: January 29th newscast

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of this experiment newscast, designed to give you a quick overview of what’s happening in and around greater Charlottesville in a format you can listen to quickly, or read quickly. Next week we debut out Smoke Signals edition. Look for it above a hillside near you. Today’s sponsor is Court Square Tavern, a great place where you can get a great meal while having a great time. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, open for dinner and drinks Tuesday through Saturday evening. That’s Court Square Tavern.

Teacher protest

Nearly 2,500 teachers from across Virginia marched on the state Capitol in Richmond on Monday to call for wage increases, according to a report in the Virginia Mercury. Organizers with Virginia Educators United stress that the event was not a strike, but a march attended by instructors who either covered their shift or were part of a school district who had the day off. Virginia allows teachers who go on strike to be fired. Delegate Lee Carter has filed a bill that would change that, and that legislation is before the House General Laws Committee..

 

Buyaki not running

There will be at least two new members of the Albemarle School Board when it convenes for the first time in 2020. That’s because Rivanna District incumbent Jason Buyaki announced last week he will not seek a third term. That’s according to a story in the Daily Progress from Thursday. Earlier the newspaper reported that Steve Koleszar will not seek a seventh term representing the Scottsville District. We still don’t yet know if White Hall member Dave Oberg or at-large member Jonno Alcaro will seek re-election.

 

Population numbers

The latest population estimates are out from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. Over a thousand people moved into Albemarle County between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, a figure based on calculations from building permits and other measures of growth. The Weldon Cooper estimate for Albemarle is 108,639, or a 9.7 percent increase since the 2010 Census. Charlottesville has grown 13.5 percent since 2010 to an estimated figure of 49,281.

Other college towns in Virginia have also experienced a high rate of growth since 2010. Harrisonburg has grown 11.6 percent to an estimate of 54,606. Fredericksburg’s rate of growth is 16.9 percent to an estimate of 28,387. Over 22,000 people have moved to Richmond since 2010, a growth rate of 11.1 percent.

 

Waltons B&B

Fans of the Waltons may soon be able to stay overnight in a replica of their fictional Nelson county homestead. The Lynchburg News and Advance reports that Nelson County Planning Commission has recommended a rezoning and special use permit for a Waltons-themed Bed and Breakfast in Schuyler, which is the home of the Walton’s Mountain Museum as well as the home of Earl Hamner Jr, the late creator of the world-famous television program. The Waltons ran for nine seasons from 1972 to 1981 and the applicant says the project will boost tourism in Nelson County. The Board of Supervisors will take up the rezoning later this year.

 

Long Bridge resolution

It has been nearly five years since state officials approved funding for a second daily train between Lynchburg and Washington’s Union Station. Amtrak, private railroads and state officials have been unable to come up with a time slot for the train in part because the bridge that carries freight and passengers across the Potomac River is at capacity. Last week, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization passed a resolution expressing support for a plan to expand Long Bridge. Planning for the project is currently in its third phase.

 

220 improvements

At the other end of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation is taking comments through February 2 on a study of possible new roadways that would travel between Martinsville and the North Carolina border. The Martinsville Southern Connector Study is intended to come up with an alternative for the project, even though there is currently no funding to purchase land for the right of way or for construction.

 

And that’s it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with another installment. Now we’re off to go binge-watch some Walton’s.

 

Fossil fuel moratorium, Bedford train stop: Newscast for January 24, 2019

Good morning and welcome to a rainy-day version of the experimental newscast, dedicated to bringing you information about state and local government since January 1. Thanks for joining us again as we work out what we’re trying to do here. Today’s edition is brought to you by HairSmith and Co, a fine place to take care of your appearance, located at 1208 East Market Street in the Coterie Suites. I recently had my best haircut of the last ten years there, and can attest to the quality that comes with every cut. Thank you, HairSmith and Co! And now, on with the news.

A bill that would prohibit new fossil-fuel power plants in Virginia was passed out of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, according to a report from the Capital News Service. House Bill 1635 was introduced by Delegate Sam Rasoul of Roanoke with Delegate Elizabeth Guzman serving as co-patron. Here’s some sound from the meeting yesterday beginning with committee chair Terry Kilgore.

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The legislation would also commit Virginia to a plan that would require energy suppliers to only use “clean energy resources” after the year 2036.

One Republican joined eight Democrats in voting for the bill, while two Democrats joined five Republicans in voting no. Six other Republicans did not vote on the bill. A vote by the full House of Delegates has not yet been scheduled.

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If you live in southeast Virginia, you may be been moved this into a House of Delegates new district. The Virginia Public Access Project today released a visualization tool which depicts the results of a recent 4th District Court of Appeals decision to redraw 26 state House districts. However, VPAP also reports in their newsletter today that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Republican appeal of the decision this spring.

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The Bedford Town Council has added its voice to a growing call for Amtrak service to stop in that community, according to a story in the Lynchburg News and Advance. This month, both Council and the Bedford County Board of Supervisors adopted resolutions calling for a $9.8 million grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation for a new train station. A passenger train has traveled through Roanoke every day since service to Roanoke was established in 2017, and train activists say a stop in Bedford would boost economic development.  Franklin County is also interested in the idea because it could help bring more people to Smith Mountain Lake. A study commissioned in 2017 by a grassroots group demonstrated such a stop would add 12,000 new riders to Amtrak’s service in Virginia.

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A developer in Afton has told the Nelson County Times he will build six cabins on a portion of his property off of Route 151. Earlier this month, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors turned down a request for a special use permit for that use. The cabins are part of the Afton Depot development, which is across the street from Silverback Distillery. The company Rockfish Valley Events eventually wants to build a nanobrewery, farm winery and tasting room as part of the entire project. The Times reports that the Nelson County Planning Commission was set to take up a permit for a restaurant at their meeting this week.

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Today is the first meeting of the Regional Housing Partnership, an advisory panel that will “focus on housing production, diversity, accessibility, cost, location, design, and increasing stability for the region’s residents.” Members include elected officials from throughout the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which includes Albemarle, Charlottesville, Nelson, Green and Fluvanna counties. The idea behind the partnership is to address the need for more affordable housing on a regional basis. The meeting begins at 9:00 am at the Water Street Center on Water Street.

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This next story from Louisa County is written by citizen journalist Tammy Purcell.

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors continued to wrestle with its vision for the locality’s future Tuesday night, listening to dozens of citizens share their concerns about the county’s proposal to develop a sprawling industrial park just off Interstate 64.  In a 4-3 decision, the board voted to purchase more than 700 acres near Shannon Hill in hopes of bringing both jobs and revenue to the county. The proposed industrial park met widespread opposition when it became public last summer. The original proposal spanned some 1600 acres, spilling far beyond the county’s designated growth area.  The board eventually downsized the project but many residents still expressed concerns about its threat to Louisa’s rural character. Thanks to citizen journalist Tammy Purcell for that story.

Dangerous streets, Albemarle elections, city leases: Newscast for January 23, 2019

Good morning and come on in as we read some top headlines from in and around the greater Charlottesville area. We’re entering our fourth week of this experiment, which is intended to  help you learn more about what’s happening. Today’s installment is brought to you Rapture, a restaurant and nightclub on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Tonight’s Wednesday Music Showcase presents the band Toad Head in a free show beginning at around 10:00 pm. Before, come on in for a great dinner. And now, that news we told you about.

The Equal Rights Amendment may have been defeated in the Virginia House of Delegates. The House Privileges and Elections Committee voted 4 to 2 to “pass by indefinitely” a bill that the Virginia Senate approved last week on a 26 to 14 vote. The Virginia Mercury reports that the only woman on the subcommittee, Delegate Margaret Ransone, said she did not need “words on a piece of paper” because she said “God made us all equal.” Supporters of the bill are still hoping it can be brought to the house floor for a full vote.

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There are now two candidates for the open race in the Rivanna District on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. The Daily Progress reports that Bea Kirtley of Keswick will also seek the Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by Norman Dill. Dill announced earlier this year he would not run for a second term representing the northeast portion of Albemarle County. Kirtley moved to the area in 2007 after a long career in public service in the Los Angeles area, including a stint on City Council. Jerrod Smith announced last week that he would run for the seat as well. Ann Mallek has said she will run for a fourth term representing the White Hall district in northwest Albemarle. She has not been opposed since 2007. Rick Randolph, the incumbent in the Scottsville District, has not announced his plans.

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In other Albemarle election news, longtime public defender Jim Hingeley is set today to announce his campaign to be the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Albemarle County. That seat is currently held by Republican Robert Tracci, who defeated Denise Lunsford in 2015. Hingeley created the Albemarle-Charlottesville Public Defender and served there for 18 years.

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The group Smart Growth America has issued its annual Dangerous by Design report, which states that drivers kill 13 pedestrians a day in crashes across the United States. The report ranks cities and states on something the group calls the Pedestrian Danger Index. Virginia is ranked as the 23rd worst state on that index.Most of the communities with the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities are within Florida. From 2008 to 2017, pedestrian deaths increased 35.4 percent while vehicle miles traveled increased by 8.1 percent. Smart Growth America calls upon states to adopt Complete Streets policies to make them safer for people on foot as well as cyclists. Charlottesville adopted such a policy in 2016 called Streets That Work that is used to help prioritize what projects get funded locally.  

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If you’re interested in transportation issues, there are a couple of meetings in the next two days you might want to know about. The Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board meets at 4:00 today at 410 Water Street in downtown Charlottesville. The MPO is made up of two Charlottesville City Councilors and two Albemarle Supervisors, as well as the head of VDOT’s Culpeper District. The policy board will discuss the Long Range Transportation Plan, the Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan and will review how area transportation projects fared in a statewide funding competition. As we reported last week, the Smart Scale process has only recommended $2 million in funding for the West Main Streetscape project. Projects to improve the area around the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road were not recommended for funding. We’ll bring you some of that conversation on today’s installment.

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Tomorrow, the Regional Transit Partnership will meet in the same place at 4:00 p.m. The partnership is similar to the MPO, but is a non-binding advisory group that works to try to encourage and implement cooperation between the three main transit agencies that serve urban Charlottesville. They are the Charlottesville Area Transit, JAUNT and the University Transit System. We’ll have a preview of that meeting tomorrow.

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Finally today, Amtrak will begin a second daily passenger train to Norfolk from Washington D.C. beginning in March. The new service was announced at the Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting last week by Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. Passenger service to Norfolk was restored in 2012, three years after daily passenger service came back to Charlottesville. Passenger service was restored to Roanoke last year. Have you taken the train? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

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Audio-only: City council discussion of the lease extension for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society. 

Minimum wage hike defeat and Seminole Square apartments: Newscast for January 22, 2019

Good morning and welcome to today’s installment of this experimental newscast. The idea of this evolving concept is to inform you and other listeners about what’s happening in the greater Charlottesville area, as well as state government. We’re glad you’ve joined us and hope this will become part of how you stay informed. Today’s sponsor is Court Square Tavern, a great place to talk about what you learn on this program. Bring some friends for lunch, Monday through Friday or dinner and drinks Tuesday through Saturday night. That’s Court Square Tavern, in the bottom of the old Monticello Hotel. Now, on with the following.

In the state Senate yesterday, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Virginia was defeated on party line votes. All 21 Republicans voted against the legislation, which would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour this July with further increases to $15 in subsequent years.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Roz Dance of Petersburg, said the legislation was intended to create more opportunity for those in low-pay jobs.

“This has been a simple bill that has been out for quite a year now… from those who find themselves that are hard workers and they want to work but they aren’t able to make a salary that will allow them to have a quality living style for their families.”

But Senator Mark Obenshain, a Republican from Rockingham County, said the measure would hurt business.

(need to transcribe bite)

A similar bill awaits action in a House of Delegates Commerce and Labor subcommittee.

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A bill for Virginia to become the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is scheduled for a key subcommittee meeting tomorrow. House Privileges and Elections SubCommittee #1 will begin at 7:00 am tomorrow. The Virginia Senate passed the ERA amendment last week on a 26 to 14 vote.

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One of Charlottesville’s underused commercial shopping centers could soon have a new future as a residential community. The Great Eastern Management Company will present a conceptual idea to the city’s Planning Commission tonight. That’s in advance of an official application for a special use permit on the site of a former Giant grocery store. The plans depict demolition of a portion of the existing building and construction of 11 five-story buildings, most of which would contain apartments for rent. Most of the units would have one or two-bedrooms, while only a dozen would contain three-bedrooms.

 

The work session is an opportunity for commissioners to weigh the proposal against the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The ongoing review of that document is currently on hold while a search is conducted for a company to facilitate further discussions. In the meantime, the property under review tonight is within the area of a small area plan adopted by both Charlottesville and Albemarle County last year.

 

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Location of property under consideration by Greene County Board of Supervisors on January 22, 2019

Further to the north, the Greene County Board of Supervisors tonight will consider a special use permit for up to 212 apartment units off of Moore Road. Without the permit, the 13 acres of land would only be allowed up to 78 units. The staff report for the proposal states that “the demand is emerging for housing options that offers a more affordable and convenient lifestyle that is offered by many low-density suburban communities.” A market study conducted for the new complex found that the occupancy rate for apartments in Greene and Northern Albemarle is at ‘just under 99 percent.”

 

As part of the plan, the developer would build a new connector road and would pay $2.4 million in fees to connect to water and sewer. Greene County is currently working with the Rapidan Service Authority to pay for a new reservoir to increase the community’s water supply.

 

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And finally today, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will meet today. Among the items on their agenda is a plan in Norfolk for a “community-wide coastal resiliency project” for two flood-prone neighborhoods. The idea is to build a series of berms and restore “living shorelines” to mitigate or halt the rising waters. Part of the project involves a restoration of oyster habitat.  

 

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Climate change, school employee benefits: Newscast for January 21, 2019

Good afternoon and welcome to this late edition of the daily newscast. Today’s installment is brought to you by Court Square Tavern, a downtown institution since 1976. Come by and have a conversation with a stranger, all while having a great meal and a great ale. That’s Court Square Tavern in the street level of the old Monticello Hotel.  Now, on to the stories.

 

The U.S. Defense Department has presented a report to Congress that outlines the security risks that come with climate change. The $329,000 report states that erratic weather and sea-level rise pose potential impact to “missions, operational plans and installations.” The Pentagon has been studying the issue for years. The Langley-Eustis air force base in Virginia has seen a 14-inch sea level rise since 1930 and flooding “has become more frequent and severe.” The report also lists thawing permafrost as a threat to critical infrastructure in Alaska, and said armed forces may also have to help with a growing number of humanitarian relief projects following catastrophes. 

 

The Charlottesville City School Board is seeking to raise the minimum wage for support staff to $15 an hour. The Daily Progress reports that the increase would cost the school system an additional $423,789 a year. According to materials presented at last week’s budget work session, enrollment in Charlottesville schools has increased from 3,855 students in fiscal year 2009 to 4,238 in the current one. School officials also report that enrollment will continue to increase as more dwelling units are built within Charlottesville city limits. The school board is currently down one member with the resignation earlier this month of Amy Laufer. Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever told the Progress that the board will appoint an interim member and are looking for a previous member who will not run this year to permanently fill the vacancy. (USE IMAGE)

The Staunton News Leader reports that Augusta County schools may offer health insurance and other benefits to bus drivers. The system stopped offering health insurance to new employees in 2013 in order to save money. In November the News Leader reported that the system has 160 bus routes but only 150 drivers. Localities across Virginia are experiencing similar shortages.

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The Lynchburg News and Advance reports that the continued shutdown of the federal government will mean no new varieties of Virginia wine and beer until there is a resolution. The formula for new products must be inspected and approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of Treasury. A notice on the agency’s website said that no new applications will be reviewed ‘until appropriations are enacted.” The shutdown is now entering its second month.

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Charlottesville City Council will not meet today as it is a holiday to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Junior. Council will meet Tuesday for a relatively light agenda at which they will discuss the lease terms for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society to continue occupying the McIntire Building. The society has been in the former library location since 1993. The current lease expires at the end of April and to renew it, the non profit society must complete a series requirements, including “accountability for racial and ethnic diversity in staffing practices and representation on the Board of Directors that reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of our region.” The staff report for the discussion indicates that the society has met that goal, but has not submitted an audit of it finances.

(city council agenda)

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There are over a dozen items on the City Council’s consent agenda. That is a list of items that are all approved at the meeting without public comment. These items include appropriation of $875,000 in state money for two trail projects, and acceptance of nearly $550,000 in intersection improvements in the city’s Belmont neighborhood. The latter projects were prioritized through the city’s Street That Work problem as well as a 2016 study of unsafe intersections in the city by the Timmons Group. The city will need to spend around $66,000 of its own money for the Belmont work, and that money will come out of a fund set aside for the Strategic Investment Area.

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Also on the consent agenda is an appropriation to pay the group Smart Growth America an additional $42,553 to tailor presentations on form-based zoning to the Board of Directors for both the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Public Housing Association of Residents. As part of the additional work, Smart Growth America will come up with an estimate of how many “affordable” units can be built at the Ix Park, which is itself within the Strategic Investment Area.

 

General Assembly updates: Newscast for January 18, 2019

Good morning, and welcome to the end of the week. You made it! Two and a half weeks into the year. Come on by Court Square Tavern this Saturday where I’ll be working behind the bar, and in the kitchen, and as your host. As this newscast moves along, I’ll likely advertise that last, but for now, come on in tomorrow night to learn more about what this is all about. And now, on with the news, which today is mostly about the General Assembly.

Today is the final day for legislators in the House of Delegates and the State Senate to introduce legislation for this year’s session. There’s less than a month to go before the two chambers adjourn.

Bills introduced on Thursday include one from Senator Adam Ebbin that would limit the number of rounds in a publicly brandished firearm, one from Senator Amanda Chase what would prohibit further construction of coal ash ponds to contain waste from coal-fired power plants, and one from Senator John Cosgrove that would direct the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to study ‘peer-to-peer’ vehicle rental services. The state of Maryland passed legislation last year requires car sharing services such as Turo to comply with tax laws and insurance requirements.

Another bill from Delegate Todd Pillion would clarify that motorized scooters can use designated bike lanes.  Legislation from Delegate David Toscano would allow elections for local office to use “ranked choice voting.’  Neither Toscano nor any other legislator has so far introduced a charter amendment that would allow Charlottesville City Council to raise the salary level for elected office.

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Also on Thursday, the Virginia Mercury reports that several bills that would place limits on firearms were voted down in both House and Senate committees. One bill from Delegate Rip Sullivan would have allowed firearms to be temporarily confiscated from people judged by a court to pose a risk to public safety.  That bill was passed on indefinitely in a House subcommittee on a 4 to 2 vote. The Roanoke Times reports that another bill to allow that city to ban guns at public meetings has also been defeated.

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Meanwhile, environmental organizations are hoping the General Assembly will pass legislation that would create a state body to promote and study wildlife corridors.  The bill from Delegate Mark Keam defines a wildlife corridor as “a habitat linkage that joins two or more areas of wildlife habitat.” Such corridors can help species migrate and part of the idea is to have the group make suggestions on how to make road projects safer for the safe passage of wildlife.

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Speaking of roads, the American Trucking Association has sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam expressing their opposition to tolls on Interstate 81. The Bristol Herald Courier reports that the association has hinted at a legal challenge if an annual pass were only available to automobiles and not commercial vehicles. Last year, the ATA sued the state of Rhode Island for tolling only trucks, a practice the organization said violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Legislation for tolls on Virginia’s portion of I-81 await action in the House Rules and Senate transportation committees.

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Klöckner Pentaplast in Louisa County is set to invest $25 million to increase the size of its factory. That includes a $300,000 grant from the Virginia Investment Performance program, a state incentive program that encourages new capital investment by existing companies. The Gordonsville factory is part of a large German company that has had a presence in Virginia since 1979. Klöckner Pentaplast is the fourth largest employer in Louisa County, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

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The man behind a new office building at the western end of the Charlottesville Downtown Mall has donated $120 million to the University of Virginia for the creation of a new school of data science. The Daily Progress reports that investor Jaffray Woodriff will make the gift from his Quantitative Foundation. Woodriff is also behind the new triangular CODE building which will replace the Main Street Arena and its ice park. Demolition of that building is just about to get underway. The donation to UVA is the largest in its history. According to the Progress, the previous gift was $100 million and went to establish the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

 

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