On March 15, 2021, the Albemarle Architectural Review Board discussed the Fontaine Avenue entrance corridor. They also discussed another roadway that connects to the University of Virginia on roads that travel through both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.
The ARB reviewed the urban portion of 250 West from I-64 to Old Ivy Road, and touched on the continuation of the roadway into Charlottesville.
Currently under construction on Ivy Road is the 195,000 square foot UVA Musculoskeletal Hospital on the former ground of the now-demolished Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital.
Sentara Martha Jefferson is building a facility to the west of ViVace and WTJU. On the latter, ARB Member Frank Hancock noted its form is more urban that what is currently along the corridor.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see that redevelopment, that level of redevelopment, if other parcels adjacent to that,” Hancock said. “I know that’s taller and maybe a little bit closer to the corridor which I think is appropriate as we’re moving into the city and of more of the urban area.”
The ARB’s newest member, Chris Henningsen, also said he was interested to see how the corridor is becoming more urban.
“I’m interested to see how the Sentara building looks and gets landscape in its final form, as with the orthapedics center, too,” Henningsen said.
The ARB reviewed the Sentara building but not the orthopedics center because UVA is exempt from formal review by the ARB.
Many buildings have been constructed on Old Ivy Road across the railroad tracks, which serves as a barrier to pedestrian connectivity. ARB member Fred Missel is the director of design and development for the UVA Foundation, which has purchased and consolidated many properties further to the east in Charlottesville for the future Ivy-Emmet section of University Grounds where a new hotel and academic buildings are planned. Missel said the section of Ivy Road in Albemarle County has issues.
“That railroad, and especially the utility lines along that side, it’s just not a great entrance corridor,” Missel said. “With the development of the hotel and conference center, the School of Data Science, and everything on that corner up to Arlingon, that whole area has about 14 acres of land and it’s got capacity for about three-quarters of a million square feet of development long-term.”
Missel said that would mean a lot of vehicular traffic coming through the area, something that will need to be addressed.
“It’s one of the two sort of front doors to the University which is why the Visitor’s Center is located there, unfortunately in the Police Station,” Missel said. “That’s looking to be relocated to the Hotel and Conference Center.”
The next time you walk, bike, or drive along Fontaine Avenue in Albemarle County, think about possible futures. Much of the land is owned by the University of Virginia or its real estate foundation. The road itself is one of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors, and as such is under design guidelines of the Architectural Review Board.
“The majority of the land is either owned or controlled by the University,” said Fred Missel, director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation. “Some land, primarily Foxhaven Farm, Morey Creek, Observatory Hill, are all being held for long-term needs of the University.
The Albemarle Architectural Review Board reviewed the corridor at its meeting on March 15.
Fontaine Avenue is sign-posted as U.S. 29 Business and runs through the county for a brief stretch before hitting the city line.
“We developed that over the span of about 25 years,” Missel said. “We started in the mid-90’s and we sold the Fontaine Research Park to the University back in I think it was 2018 so that is now considered Grounds, University Grounds.”
“There has been discussion about whether or not what’s at Piedmont is still the highest and best of the property or if there is some other alternative use that might could be considered longer term and I can tell you that that’s been a question that has been around as long as I’ve been at the Foundation and that’s been 20 years.”
Coordination of land use planning in this area used to the purview of a public body called the Planning and Coordination Council. PACC consisted of officials from Albemarle, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia and meetings were open to the public. However, that ended in late 2019 when both the city and the county agreed to convert the body to one not subject to open meetings rules.
“PACC was formed out of the Three Party Agreement that was established by the UVA, the city and the county back in the 80’s and PACC was dissolved about a year and a half ago,” Missel said.
In its place is the Land Use, Environmental and Planning Committee, which is not open to the public. However, the meeting notes are posted on a public website. Missel is a member of LUEPC in his capacity at the UVA Foundation. And this newsletter is intended to shine as much light as I can on what’s happening.
One item on Charlottesville City Council’s consent agenda for the March 15, 2021 meeting were the recommendations of a task force for how a small pool of federal funding should be spent in the Ridge Street Neighborhood.
The group is suggesting that $25,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money be spent on traffic calming and another $220,000 be spent on three sidewalk projects. As part of the traffic calming, speed limit signs would be installed on the old section of Ridge Street.
Council gave their approval as part of the consent agenda vote. Before the vote, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked a question.
“How was it determined that there was excessive speeding?” she asked.
City traffic engineer Brennen Duncan responded.
“There have been a few traffic studies, speed studies, that were done on that section over the last five to ten years and all of them showed that there is a speeding issue on old Ridge Street,” Duncan said.
The 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.
An audio and written summary of Council’s September 30 work session on the $49 million project
The current Charlottesville City Council has directed staff to proceed with a study to find ways to bring down the costs of the West Main Streetscape, a long-planned project that has a current cost estimate of $49 million and a construction start time of 2024.
They also told staff to proceed with removing the Lewis, Clark and Sacagewea statue by using local funds as a separate project that would happen sooner.
The origins of the plan date back to 2012 when Council followed a recommendation from the PLACE Design Task Force to hire a consultant to develop an overall design for the three-quarter mile stretch between the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. The Alexandria-based firm Rhodeside and Harwell was hired to do the work. They have been paid $2,854,389.18 to date according to city communications director Brian Wheeler.
At the beginning of their September 30 work session dedicated to the topic, Council was reminded up front that the overall West Main Study was more than just the development of construction documents for sidewalks, bike lanes and street trees.
“This was not just a streetscape project,” said Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s urban construction initiative manager. “This was an overall look of West Main.”
Janiczek is the city’s liaison to the Virginia Department of Transportation. She became manager for the overall project a couple of years ago, taking over from a person who had been hired by the city to be the urban design planner.
Local funding has been used to cover the costs of turning the concept approved by a previous Council into construction documents, and those are currently at what engineers refer to as the 60 percent phase.
The Rhodeside & Harwell process was overseen by a steering committee that met seven times between the fall of 2013 and March 2016.
“There were also stakeholder group meetings where we grouped people by interest or by relationships,” Janiczek said. “So, independent foundations, and landholders, developers, businesses and restaurants, community groups, that was over a two-day period.”
There were four large public meetings with the last one in December 2016.
“We are planning to continue with our public involvement depending on our direction forward,” Janiczek said. “Then we’ve also been meeting the City Council and updating you.
When Council opted to move forward in March 2016 with a conceptual design, Janiczek said they disbanded the steering committee. At that time, they became the steering committee.
Since then, there have been two elections and all of Council has been replaced.
Councilor Heather Hill was elected in November 2017. To begin the meeting, she asked for an update on what’s happened since.
“I know that a couple of times, things have been put in front of me through two-two-ones, or some things to Council,” Hill said. “What do we say is what’s the current status, apart from us obviously keeping moving forward. What has been the gap that we’ve been seeing in these timelines when it was a lot of movement going on, and know there’s been kind of lull?”
Janiczek said one reason for the delay is that staff oversight of the project moved to her department.
“We have been working with the consultants in adapting what was developed as a local project into now a state-funded project,” Janiczek said. “Revisiting the contract, making sure all of the requirements are met.”
Project’s budget history
The West Main Streetscape has been in the city’s Capital Improvement Program since FY2009, when a total of $1.75 million was anticipated to be allocated over five years at $350,000 a year.
“This initiative will allow the City to address design and construction of improvements to West Main Street by partnering with private developers,” reads the narrative for the project at that time. “Over the next few years the City will have opportunities to partner with several development projects which will allow for continued streetscaping projects, similar to what the City has done in previous years in partnership with UVA. This project is being phased in accordance with potential coordination with private development efforts.”
Like many major infrastructure projects, the funding source was anticipated to be through the sale of bonds which the city would pay off through debt service. Interest is low due to the city’s AAA bond rating.
In 2008, none of the anticipated multistory buildings talked about on West Main were even close to production. An economic downturn also put a freeze on many construction projects. At the time, Gary O’Connell was city manager.
Due to the lack of a design for construction, allocation of $350,000 in each adopted budget was theoretical and actual appropriations were deferred for several years. That means it was not actually put into a virtual bank account to accrue money for eventual use.
The project local cost increased sharply in FY2014, when the five-year program suddenly anticipated $750,000 a year for three years for a total of $2.25 million in local funding. By this point, Maurice Jones had been city manager for three years, and the Flats at West Village and the Battle Building were under construction.
Fiscal year 2015 began on July 1, 2014. That was the first year in which Council voted to program funding for West Main, which means that $750,000 was set aside and began collecting a balance. By that point, Rhodeside & Harwell was under contract for the streetscape project and the community process was underway.
In January 2015, then-Mayor Satyendra Huja announced he would not support the plan. At this point, the project had a working total cost estimate of $30 million, which included undergrounding utilities. Former Councilors Bob Fenwick and Dede Smith also opposed the project.
Nevertheless, the project continued accumulating money.
Fiscal year 2016 saw another $500,000 allocated to the project. The other four years anticipated setting aside $1.5 million each year as the Rhodeside & Harwell process envisioned many urban amenities.
The election of November 2015 saw Councilor Kathy Galvin re-elected, but both Fenwick and Smith were defeated in the Democratic primary that year. Mike Signer and Wes Bellamy joined Galvin on Council. They would lend their support to the project and voted to select a design concept in March 2016. As noted above, they became the steering committee.
The city made their first application to VDOT’s Smart Scale process that year, and asked for $18.3 million in state funding with a match of $11.7 million in local funds.
The adopted budget for FY2017 programmed another $3.25 million in local funds for the project.
“Utility betterment costs will be funded by the City (a local contribution at $1,670,500) and CIP funding ($10 million over the next five years),” reads the application.
However, the project was not funded. In October 2017, Council agreed to split the project into four phases in order to leverage multiple sources of revenue including millions of dollars in capital funds.
The FY2018 capital budget programmed another $3.25 million, as did the FY2019 budget. Another $4 million was programmed in the FY20, and another $4 million for the current fiscal year.
Janiczek said that local funds have been used to develop the master plan for all four phases of the concept.
“Each of these phases can be done independently,” Janiczek said. “That’s a requirement that there is a logical termini, that they serve a transportation use, that they do not require you to complete another phase and do not preclude you from doing something else. We could do one, or two, or none, or what have you of these phases.”
The expenses listed for Phase 1 total $16.7 million. Funding sources include $3.276 million from VDOT’s revenue sharing program, which requires a local match. In all, the city is placing $13.4 million in local funds towards this phase.
The expenses listed for Phase 2 total $11.1 million. Funding sources include $2 million from VDOT revenue sharing, $2 million from a successful Smart Scale application, and $7.1 million in local funding. There is another $2.4 million that has not yet been identified.
The total cost to acquire right of way for all four phases of the project is listed as $12.58 million.
“A lot of the right of way on this corridor is for temporary construction easements,” Janiczek said. “The other is permanent easements for the utility undergrounding. We’re not looking to acquire any parcels, displace any businesses, or anything of that nature.”
No bonds have been sold yet for the project, but subsequent decisions by Council in each budget cycle has authorized millions of dollars to be spent on the West Main Streetscape project.
“We have about $18.2 million that have been approved in terms of approved CIPs to sell bonds for for this project,” said Kristy Hammil in the city’s budget office. “There’s an additional $4 million contemplated in the FY22 CIP.”
The city has applied for $10.4 million in additional Smart Scale funds for Phase 3. In all, there is likely only about $20 million in the pool of money for which the city qualifies.
“We will hear about the outcome of that in early 2021, and we would expect funding to be available at the latest July 1, 2025, with the possibility of escalating if we actually got funded and we can move these phases along faster,” Janiczek said, adding that the costs have been increased to anticipate rises in construction costs.
There is currently no identified source of funding for Phase 4. The packet for the work session included a March 2018 letter from a former top official at the University of Virginia committing as much as $5 million toward the project.
Other projectson West Main
Another cost facing the city is replacement of water and gas lines on West Main Street.
“We’re at the end of our useful life for the waterline,” Janiczek said. “We also need to increase capacity for all of the things that are being built on West Main. So we’re looking at 3,700 linear feet of 10 inch water line that will need to be installed and its being upsized to 12 inch. The gas line that is 10 inch is also at the end of its useful life, or if you’re digging up the water line you may as well dig up the gas because it wouldn’t be far behind. That was installed in 1930 and we’re looking at 5,000 linear feet of low-pressure 10 inch gas line that will be replaced with a high-pressure four inch gas line.”
These utilities will be replaced before the streetscape is built, but Janiczek said doing so will create room for where overground electric and communications cable wires will go when they are undergrounded.
The cost of these utilities are not included in the West Main Streetscape. They are paid for from the capital improvement program for the Department of Public Utilities.
Let’s hear from Janiczek about how this process would work out. This gets us closer to some idea of when this project would get underway.
“The soonest we could get things going would be the water and gas line design mid 2021 with construction and bidding ending mid 2022,” Janiczek said. “That gives us time to design not only the rest of the streetscape but also the undergrounding of the public utilities and completing the right of way acquisition for both of those activities. That would allow construction of undergrounding to start at the end of 2022 and ending at 2024, and then the streetscape project itself would be for a year. We’re only looking at phase one and phase two hopefully, and that would be through 2024.”
Dominion will not pay for the cost of undergrounding power lines. Neither will VDOT.
Council discussed the matter of the Lewis, Clark and Sacagewea statue at a work session on November 15, 2019. Their message was clear. (minutes)
BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that staff is directed to present the Council with a plan for the removal of the statue from West Main Street and such plan shall include a cost estimate for the removal of the statue as well as options for the disposal of the statue;
and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Charlottesville that staff is directed to present a plan to the Council of a new statue of Sacajawea and other memorializations of Virginia native people with primary consultation from indigenous people on the design of the statue and other memorializations of Virginia native people.”
Janiczek said staff is assuming the cost to relocate the statue is $125,000 as part of the West Main project, or it could be relocated before that project gets underway.
“This will impact how the coordination with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources takes place and I need to know what the eventual direction is because we don’t want to relocate something with state funds only then to take local dollars and completely remove it,” Janiczek said.
Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the intention had been to remove the statue as quickly as possible. She reiterated she wanted it moved as soon as possible but she wanted to hear from the three new Councilors.
“I thought it was already decided that the statue was being moved,” said Vice Mayor Sena Magill. “I honestly thought that was already a done deal and we were just waiting on it to double check if it was going to Darden-Towe and the Lewis and Clark Center there.”
Janiczek said a plan needed to be developed before the statue was relocated.
“What I would like to do is that if that plan does not come to fruition before West Main that the city would use local dollars and move the statue before West Main began and give assurances to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources that that is our intent and that what is planned to do,” Janiczek said.
Snook said the November 15 resolution clearly states that the plan had been for staff to prepare a plan.
“Are you waiting for additional guidance from Council before developing the plan or who is waiting for whom?” Snook asked.
“I think there’s a question as to where the money will come from in the CIP to move the statue,” Janiczek said. “I think it also creating a plan of where that will eventually be housed appears to be a long process.”
“A long process for us, or a long process for other people?” Snook asked.
“I think we know we want to get rid of it but I don’t know if there is agreement for where it’s going to go,” Janiczek said.
Walker said she had expected to have been presented with that information as well as what a replacement might be for the existing space. Phase 1 calls for a pocket park at that location.
“And then there were some concerns about where it sits currently what would happen at that space and I thought we would be presented with what those options were,” Walker said.
Janiczek said she was not sure if those options were.
“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be doing that,” Janiczek said, but added the area was being reserved for a future public art area but the West Main project did not anticipate a specific replacement statue.
Janiczek said the plans for Phase 1 currently anticipate the statue being moved 25 feet away anyway in order to remove the right-hand turn lane from West Main Street onto southbound Ridge Street. That is a core element of the project.
“We’re trying to remove that and create a little pedestrian area,” Janiczek said.
Snook asked how much Albemarle County spent to remove the Confederate statue from Court Square. In response to a question from city staff, Albemarle officials said they had spent $106,000 to do so. About two-thirds of that was construction related to remove the concrete pedestal.
If local funds are used to pay for removal, the work might not trigger review required by the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. That would come into play if state funds were used.
“VHDR does not want to dictate what the locality does with their resources but if we do use state funds then yes, they do have a say,” Janiczek said.
Magill said she wanted to see an estimate of using local money. Walker suggested putting out an request for proposals to see if any entity would pay for its removal.
Value engineering will seek to find efficiencies in the project that has been designed to the 60 percent stage and to see if there can be alternatives.
“We always consider the project’s purpose and need when evaluating these alternatives, the previous public input, other city department’s responses, public commitments to other boards, and if we’re going to change something we’re probably going to have to redesign it and incur those costs as well,” Janiczek said.
Value engineering saved $1 million on the Belmont Bridge.
The firm RK&K will be paid to do the work. They were the firm in charge of designing the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange and are currently working on the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape.
Janicezk said the hope is to coordinate Phase 1 and Phase 2 at the same time. There will need to be a design public hearing under VDOT’s process. The value engineering work could be revealed at that meeting.
Hill supported the value engineering.
“I certainly want us to stretch ourselves to try to value engineer this as much as possible but also have the option to evaluate like, ‘Oh does that even make sense? Or is that going to diminish the objective of the project is,” Hill said.
Janiczek said possible variables could include the kind of light fixtures used, what kind of transit stops are built, and mechanisms to place new street trees in a way that would allow them to grow without infiltrating nearby utilities.
In this latter point, the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review was shown in April 2018 how the new trees would be installed in something called a “silva cell” as part of an intricate stormwater management network. They are manufactured by a company called Deep Root.
“There are ways to save money but I’m not sure,” Janiczek said. “With this project more than any other project this has a lot to do with design.”
Councilor Michael Payne said he could see the need for a value engineering study to question some of the fundamentals of the project and to acquaint the new Council with the project.
“The intent of the project from the design perspective and some of the bigger picture visions of the project, what of those things get lost or sacrificed in bringing down the cost and some of the questions that brings up,” Payne said. “It’s so expensive because there’s this much larger vision of it being a unique streetscape from a design perspective way beyond the most necessary infrastructure needs.”
Janiczek said the University of Virginia’s contribution of $5 million could go to Phase 3 or Phase 4.
“They came up with that figure based on a letter from the city where we took all of the pedestrian improvements from each of the phases and tallied them up and that’s how the $5 million figure kind of got established,” Janiczek said. “I would imagine they would be most interested in applying it to as close to Grounds as possible.”
The conversation also touched upon how the streetscape would change the Drewary Brown Bridge. The group Preservation Piedmont has called for signage and a greater awareness of the names enshrined upon the bridge, including the late John Conover.
“It had to do with adding some additional signage on the bridge, that’s certainly doable,” Janiczek said. “Adding banners to the light poles. We’ll just have to make sure that can be accommodated on the light pole that we choose.”
Janiczek said a third option was to put artwork on the bridge itself, but she said the West Main Streetscape had not intended any work on the actual structure due to the additional cost as well as coordination with Norfolk Southern.
“It sounds like it may make more sense for that to be done, something done the city does as a separate process but sort of timed in conjunction with the West Main Streetscape,” said City Councilor Michael Payne.
“Please let’s not have the engineering division do that, yes,” Janiczek said.
Mayor Walker said the project has to be balanced against other city priorities. She said she would support cutting the project’s price tag in half.
“If we start comparing, for me and my one fifth vote, projects like this up against where we are now with schools, reconfiguration project and things like that then it takes a very different turn for me than it has been for me because we’re in a different climate,” Walker said.
The firm RK&K will be paid to do the value engineering. They were the firm in charge of designing the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange and are currently working on the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape.
“It’s good to communicate to them that we might be open to something that we wouldn’t necessarily have been open to on previous projects,” Janiczek said, adding it would take about two months for the work to be done.
Possible cost savings could come through changing the selected light fixtures, the type of materials used in the sidewalk, and more alterations to the design the city has already paid for.
Councilor Payne said one of the questions he will have when the report comes back is whether the original intent of the streetscape project matches where the community’s values are now in the midst of a pandemic and a need for other capital costs.
“If cuts are reached to the point where we are sacrificing the original intent and vision of the entire streetscape project, the question of what is really the purpose or intent of what we’re doing if we’ve made cuts to that extent, which I think is tied into other conversations, thinking about other competing CIP needs with school reconfiguration and housing.”
Payne also supported efforts to emphasize the city’s history on West Main Street, and not just at the Drewary Brown Bridge.
“Part of what I want this project to do is to connect the university to downtown at a bike pedestrian level in a way that is inviting, that causes people to say, ‘oh that’s an easy walk,’ or ‘that’s an easy bike ride,” said Councilor Lloyd Snook. “Right now it’s not a very pedestrian friendly place. For one half of it is under construction of various sorts. Hopefully by the time that 2024 rolls around we will have gotten through all of this construction. I would like to see it be almost a kind of boulevard sensibility that causes to like it as a bike and pedestrian way and hopefully we get away from some of the cars along there.”
Walker said this is one item that coucome up at Council’s joint work session on October 28 with the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and UVA officials.
“If the goal is to connect UVA to the downtown, then UVa needs to participate at a higher level if they are going to be the primary users of this service and with the cost,” Walker said. “If they are the primary consumer, then their $5 million is not sufficient.”
Since September 30
It’s been three weeks since the work session. I asked Brian Wheeler to tell me what’s happened since that time.
Conducted coordination meeting with the VDOT.
Conducted coordination meeting with Rhodeside & Harwell.
Responded to and posed questions to Bridge Builders regarding banners & signage requests.
Verified estimate and gave notice to proceed for the VDOT to conduct historical review and coordination with the VDHR.
Executed scope and gave notice to proceed to RK&K to conduct Value Engineering Study.
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The number of cases of COVID-19 in Virginia has increased by another 1,002 cases, and the percent positive rate rate for all testing encounters has risen to 7.4 percent. That number was 7.1 percent on Thursday. There have now been 2,013 fatalities. Yesterday the Health District reported another 14 new cases and today reported another 23 cases for a cumulative total of 1,335 cases. Since Wednesday, that’s ten new cases in Albemarle, 15 in Charlottesville, four in Greene, three in Fluvanna, four in Louisa and 1 in Nelson. There have been 29 fatalities but none reported since July 7. The positive percentage rate is 7.4 percent for the PCR test, and 7.2 for all tests.
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will meet sometime next week to discuss what steps the county might take to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The six elected officials brought the matter up at the end of Wednesday’s meeting after getting a briefing from health officials. Here’s Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District.
“I think there was a fairly strong consensus about concern over moving from phase two to phase three, but the board did not take a formal vote and did not take a formal action,” Price said.
Some supervisors are concerned that the large gathering permitted under Phase Three of the Forward Virginia plan will lead to more infections, and some want to tell Governor Ralph Northam to go back to Phase 2, which limited gatherings to 50 people or fewer. Supervisors aren’t scheduled to meet again until August 5, but Price said there is a need for a special meeting.
“What we’re anticipating is a meeting next week where we will have more information from the Virginia Department of Health,” Price said. “We’re looking to have consultation with the city of Charlottesville, UVA. Obviously from my perspective we’re going to also include the town of Scottsville.”
Price said she is concerned about what the next few months may be like and is concerned many have become fatigued by physical distancing and facial covering guidelines. The supervisor made her comments at the virtual meeting of the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee.
A local group that studies public policy in the area reports that tourism activity was down 58 percent in March and April. The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed transient occupancy and meals tax records from Albemarle and Charlottesville in its research. Neil Williamson is the organization’s president.
“The fact that tourism activity is down 58 percent is dramatic,” Williamson said “ You have to remember that the taxes are collected one month after the activity occurs, so when you look at May taxes, it’s really reflecting April activity. In May 2020, the city collected nearly 50 percent less, about a million dollars less, in meals tax revenue compared to 2019 or even 2018.
Williamson said the Free Enterprise Forum will continue to look at the numbers. When asked what steps he would recommend to improve those numbers, he urged people to follow the guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19. (blog post)
“I think it’s critically important that customers and employees follow the protocols. It is for the safety of everyone to follow the safety protocols,” Williamson said. “Wear the mask.”
This week, Albemarle County launched an initiative to help businesses get through the downturn in the economy. The $1.25 million Lift Grant program will provide some funding for up to 100 small businesses. Roger Johnson is the county’s economic development director.
“We want to provide aid to small businesses, all businesses in Albemarle County, giving a preference to women, minority and veteran owned businesses, as well as the hospitality and tourism industry. As for why we gave preference to the tourism industry, they have a direct economic impact in our community of over $400 million.”
A webinar will be held on the Lift Grant program on July 27 at noon. (press release)
The University of Virginia has released its latest plans for on Grounds opening for the fall semester. Students will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning, and must have a negative COVID-19 test to attend in-person classes. The plan has details about how UVA will hire a third-party vendor to provide tests for students. All students, faculty and staff will be required to have a daily health check and must wear facial coverings. Everyone on Grounds will be given a touch tool to open doors, and there will be 2,600 free-standing hand sanitizer stations. Dining rooms will be open at 50 percent capacity, but takeout options will be increased. More information can be found in the five-page plan. (the plan)
Two months down, ten months to go. 2020 has been a busy year so far, and this week is no exception. This week features a key rezoning public hearing in Albemarle County, the formal beginning of Charlottesville’s budget development process, and the commemoration of the arrival of Union troops in the community in 1865, freeing thousands of enslaved people. City government has a public holiday Tuesday for Liberation and Freedom Day, as well as a series of events all week about equity and the pathway forward. While we look to the future, the past is always with us.
Monday, March 2: Brookhill in Albemarle, City Council
Charlottesville City Council has a full agenda that covers land use, transportation and budgetary matters. They’ll first take action on a special use permit for Harris Street Apartments, which would see 36 units built next to McIntire Plaza. The Planning Commission voted 7-0 in February to move to recommend the permit, which asks for additional residential density as well as two additional floors. Parking would be underground and the developer has to submit a traffic study before a final site plan is turned into the city. (staff report)
Next Council will take up a resolution to affirm that the $8.6 million Barracks Road / Emmet Street project funded by VDOT’s Smartscale process is compliant with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Among other things, the project will create a safer pathway for pedestrians and cyclists along Barracks Road. Why this review? Take a look at Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson’s note in the staff report. The project is only about a third of the way through the planning process and construction is not expected until spring 2023. (staff report)
After that, Council will be presented with the School Board’s budget request as well as city manager Tarron Richardson’s recommended budget. My colleague Peter Krebs is watching the process closely and is asking for restoration of funding cuts to bicycle infrastructure. (budget website)
The consent agenda is also worth a review, as always.
Council will accept $47,540 in donations to light the skate park at McIntire Park, though the cost estimate is around $300,000 (staff report)
Council will officially direct the Planning Commission to review three specific ways the city’s zoning could be changed to increase the supply of affordable housing units. They received a briefing on this on February 20 and directed staff to prepare this initiation. Read the details in the staff report. (staff report)
Council will consider raising the maximum rate that can be charged to remove devices that can immobilize vehicles that are parked in the wrong place. Currently the maximum charge to remove a boot is $25, but that figure is not enough to incentivize potential new technologies. This is an initiative of the Parking Advisory Panel. (staff report)
People who travel on U.S. 29 north in Albemarle’s northern ring may have noticed a lot of development activity south of Forest Lakes. The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for Brookhill in November 2016 that included several blocks of development. Two of these will go before the Architectural Review Board at their meeting which begins at 1:00 p.m. in Room 241 at the main county office building on McIntire Road. Specifically they’ll see a final design for Block 8B and an initial plan for blocks 9, 10 and 11. Block 8B is for 110 multifamily units and the other blocks are for 85 townhouses. These are both on the western side of the project towards U.S. 29. (agenda)
This week is the tenth year in a row that the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation is marking Telework Week in Virginia, a time when employers are encouraged to let workers telecommute from home. “Telework helps alleviate traffic congestion, reduces our consumption of fuel, and improves air quality,” reads a proclamation signed by Governor Ralph Northam. Do you have the opportunity to work from home some of the time? A “higher-use” of telecommuting is one of the University of Virginia’s strategies to manage parking and transportation on Grounds. (Telework Virginia website)
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors also meets at 5:00 p.m. in the county office building in Louisa. Items include an update on broadband initiatives and a public hearing on amending the county code to provide tax exemptions for solar energy equipment. (agenda)
The Scottsville Town Planning Commission will meet at the town hall beginning at 7:00 p.m. Scottsville is a separate town that is part of Albemarle but has its own government. That differs from Albemarle’s designated growth areas, which have no independent governance. The Planning Commission will take up a special use permit for a car wash and will continue to work on the West Downtown Small Area Plan. That covers a closed factory that town officials hope will be a major redevelopment item. (agenda)
Tuesday, March 3: Code for Charlottesville “navigation” work
While Albemarle and Charlottesville both investigate policy changes to encourage the creation of more affordable housing units, others in the community are finding ways to get information out about options that do exist. The group Code for Charlottesville is working on a project they’re calling “Building a Platform to Make Housing Navigation Easier.” The idea is to help those who have federal housing vouchers find property owners who will take them as tenants.
“The goal of this project is to develop software for the internal use of credentialed housing navigators that provides navigators with an up-to-date and comprehensive list of the available rentals in the Charlottesville area, along with the various screening policies employed by landlords,” reads the notice for a kickoff event being held at the Haven beginning at 7:00 p.m.
Todd Niemeier with the city’s Office of Human Rights will discuss the challenges faced by people with low incomes and Code for Charlottesville representatives will talk about how the work will be organized. A series of follow-up events will be held throughout the spring. (RSVP page)
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will hold their second work session for County Executive Jeffrey Richardson’s proposed budget. This time will cover operating expenses, including funding for community development, parks and recreation, and public works. The meeting begins at 3:00 p.m. in Room 241 in the county’s main office building on McIntire Road. (agenda)
Charlottesville City Hall is closed all day and there are no meetings due to the commemoration of Liberation and Freedom Day. There are a series of events all week to mark the occasion. Check the city calendar’s website for a full listing. (calendar)
Wednesday, March 4: What will Albemarle’s planners do?
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors meets at 1:00 p.m. and after a series of proclamations they will hold a work session on something called the Community Development Work Program. This is the first time that new director Jodie Filardo will present an update on what staff feels the Department of Community Development can handle in the coming year.
“The ongoing challenge is to manage the Board’s interests while addressing the needs of the department to build capacity in a world of increasing volumes in the CDD workload,” reads the staff report.
Supervisors last reviewed the work program in September, and since then two new Supervisors have joined the Board. It is important to track what staff works on and what never seems to make the cut. For instance, a further look at the county’s lighting ordinance to strengthen Dark Sky protections has been listed as a potential project for years, but not prioritized. For me, this is one of the most crucial discussions of the year. (staff report) (2019 staff report)
In the evening session, Supervisors will hold a public hearing for 999 Rio Road, a greenfield development proposed on two acres at the intersection of Rio and Belvedere Boulevard. The property is zoned for R-4 and developer Nicole Scro seeks a change to the Neighborhood Model District. Supervisors last saw this project last September when they sent it back to the Planning Commission. The current proposal is for 28 units and a maximum of 6,000 feet of office space. That’s down from as many as 46 units. (staff report)
Following that public hearing is another on County Executive Jeffrey Richardson’s proposed $451 million budget for FY21. Have you had a look yet? This year the budget’s title is “Expanding Opportunity” and is based on no new increase in the property tax rate. (budget page)
On the consent agenda:
The Piedmont Housing Alliance is seeking to build 80 units in a section of the Southwood redevelopment project off Old Lynchburg Road. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville obtained a rezoning for the project in August 2019. PHA needs the Board’s support for low-income housing tax credits for this phase of development, which would be new development along Old Lynchburg Road. (staff report)
There is new information about when several construction projects will get underway in Albemarle County. According to the VDOT monthly report, the first of six Smartscale projects will get under construction this summer. (VDOT report)
Thursday, March 5: UVA tops a long list of meetings
The University of Virginia Board of Visitors meets all day and on Friday for their first major meeting of the year. The Buildings and Grounds Committee meets at 3:30 p.m. today at the Rotunda. The agendas for the meeting are not yet available. (BOV website)
Charlottesville City Council will hold the first work session on Dr. Tarron Richardson’s budget beginning at 5:00 p.m. in CitySpace. Have you taken a look yet? (budget page)
The Charlottesville Bike and Pedestrian Committee Meeting will also meet at 5:00 p.m. but in the Neighborhood Development Services conference room. This month features a discussion with Charlottesville Police Captain Victor Mitchell, as well as a review of the Safe Routes to School program. There will also be an update on the city’s capital improvement program. Dr. Richardson’s budget currently shows no additional funding for bicycle infrastructure in FY21. (agenda)
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will also have a budget work session beginning at 3:00 p.m. in Room 241 of the county’s main office building on McIntire Road. (BOS agendas)
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will meet at 7:00 p.m. in their offices on Water Street. There does not appear to be a major item on the agenda for this regional body. Still, the packet is worth reviewing each month as it can give clues to future events and initiatives. (agenda)
This week, Monday takes the turn as the day with the most activity. Every week is filled with key decision points for our community’s future. Every week, elected officials, staff, and the public come together to discuss options and possibilities. This newsletter tracks what’s happening before it does to keep you informed. The goal is to improve the built environment we have while preserving and protecting the natural one that sustains us all. Now, let’s get started.
Monday, February 24, 2020: Transit detour and six meetings
Our first item this week isn’t a meeting but important to civic life all the same. Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) has begun a two-week detour during which no buses will serve the Downtown Transit Center on Water Street. In all, 12 of 13 routes travel use the station, which opened in 2007 and is set up for CAT vehicles to travel only in a westbound direction in what is known as a “timed-pulse” system.
Construction of a utility duct for the CODE Building will shut down Water Street through March 7, which will force all but Route 5 to travel on an alternate pathway as it comes through downtown. The city is blocking off eight on-street parking spaces across from City Hall on East Market Street to serve as a temporary transfer point, as all buses will travel west on a street on which they normally travel east. They’ll also all use High Street, testing the city’s streets.
This two-week shut-down offers an opportunity to take a good look at a system that currently is overly downtown-centric. Of course Charlottesville is a major destination, but this shutdown illustrates how dependent the entire transit system is on downtown. This period of discomfort is an opportunity for the community to think about how future transit routes might be drawn differently. (CAT page on detour)
According to a calendar on Albemarle’s website, the county’s Historic Preservation Committee meets today at 4:30 p.m. in Room 241 of the main office building on McIntire Road. Last month, the group endorsed the idea of asking the Board of Supervisors to require that the Miller School of Albemarle be required to update historical documents as a condition of a pending rezoning. Last week, Supervisors deferred a vote when Miller School officials said they had not been told of the committee’s request and were thus not prepared. That may come up at the meeting today, but there’s no agenda posted. (calendar item)
The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority gathers at 6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers for their February meeting. On the agenda are resolutions supporting CRHA’s participation in the redevelopment of South First Street and the renovation of Crescent Halls. There is also a resolution supporting the appointment of Kathleen Glenn-Matthews as the interim director of CRHA. She has served as interim director of operations since November after becoming relocation coordinator last June. The CRHA website does not have this meeting listed, nor the agenda. (CRHA website)
The Pantops Community Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:15 p.m in the Kessler Conference Room at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. The agenda hasn’t been posted yet, but the Pantops area faces many changes over the coming years, including the conversion of the I-64/U.S. 250 interchange into a diverging diamond. (Pantops CAC page)
Charlottesville City Schools begins a four-part series of Community Conversations on Equity with the first installment at Charlottesville High School beginning at 6:00 p.m. (website)
The other events are:
February 25th at Friendship Court at 6:30pm,
February 26th at the Boys and Girls Club on Cherry Avenue at 6:30pm
February 27th at City of Promise at 12 noon.
Last week, the Charlottesville City Council gave the go-ahead to install another temporary marker for an auction block in Court Square where enslaved people were bought and sold. One set in the sidewalk was stolen earlier this year by an activist. A subcommittee of the city’s Historic Resources Committee had already been working on something that conveyed the enormity of slavery, and will take up the temporary markers at a meeting today at noon at the Gordon Avenue Library. (Historic Resources website)
Finally, the Social Services Advisory Board will meet at noon in the Basement Conference Room in City Hall. The meeting is open to the public. (agenda)
Tuesday, February 25, 2020:A look at recycling in Albemarle
In a time when there’s much confusion about what can be recycled, the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (RSWA) is a major resource. RSWA Recycling Director Phil McKalips will update the Board of Directors on the issue at their meeting which begins at 2:00 p.m at the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The group is transitioning to a monthly meeting, which will increase the profile of solid waste policy in our community. That gives us all a chance to take a look at our own habits and see what we can do to reduce the tonnage of waste that reaches the landfill. (agenda and board packet)
The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors meets immediately afterward. The RWSA is responsible for maintaining the supply of treated drinking water and selling to the Albemarle County Service Authority and the city of Charlottesville. The main item on the agenda is the introduction of the $135.2 million Capital Improvement Program for FY2021 through 2025. That figure includes long-planned projects such as renovations of the South Rivanna, Observatory and Crozet water treatment plants. Planned wastewater projects include the second phase of replacement of a sewer line that runs along McIntire Road. (agenda and board packet)
The Greene County Board of Supervisors has a full agenda, including an application to rezone a 2-acre parcel in Ruckersville from A-1 to B-3. The owners do not have a specific business in mind for the property, but want to add this property to three other lots that are already zoned for business use. In this case, the property is not within the designated growth area. That’s lead to a resolution from staff to recommend denial. (staff report) (presentation)
Nelson County’s Planning Commission meets at 7:00 p.m. to discuss changes to the zoning code regarding how structures with non-conforming uses are to be treated. There are no active land use applications on the agenda. (agenda)
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
The Charlottesville Planning Commission will take a look at three topics at a work session scheduled for 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Neighborhood Development Services conference room in City Hall. That includes a first look of the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan, a document crafted by Fifeville residents with coordination from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). (Staff report and plan)
Next, the Planning Commission will meet with the consultants who are part of a nearly $1 million contract to oversee completion of the city’s next Comprehensive Plan. Current members of the group have different interpretations of why the Commission’s state-mandated review has not yet resulted in a completed product and they’ll have a chance to discuss the work that has been undertaken since 2017. They’ll also be asked questions about housing, and I will be curious to see if the presentation will take into Council’s decision last week to move forward with specific zoning changes designed to increase the supply of affordable and supported housing units. (staff report)
Finally, Commissioners will have a work session with Southern Development about a proposal to rezone 11.4 acres of property off of Stribling Avenue in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood from single-family residential to a zoning type that would accommodate 170 units on the property. The Planning Commission saw a previous proposal that would have created 68 duplexes. The new submission would see 74 two-to-three story townhomes and 96 apartment units spread across four buildings. Under this arrangement, Southern Development is proposing to contribute “significant funding for bike and pedestrian improvements on Stribling Avenue.” (staff report and presentation)
When I think of places to go see lectures, the University of Virginia Research Park does not usually come to mind. However, Meg Heubeck from the Center of Politics will present Talking Turkey: Taking the ‘Dis’ out of Civil Discourse beginning at noon at Town Center Two. The University of Virginia Foundation is seeking ways to increase the public profile of the research park. Later this year, a new connector road paid for by the foundation will extend from Airport Road into the research park. (RSVP for the event)
Thursday, February 27, 2020
The Places29-Rio Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. There’s no agenda at the moment, but possible topics include the March 4 Board of Supervisors public hearing for the rezoning of 999 Rio Road, as well as the forthcoming Planning Commission public hearing on Parkway Place. If rezoned, both projects will need viable transit multimodal service so residents can have alternatives to driving. (Places29-Rio Advisory Committee page)
The forum to improve transit in the region is the aptly-named Regional Transit Partnership (RTP), which meets at 4:00 p.m. at the Water Street Center at 407 Water Street. The body consists of Albemarle, Charlottesville and University of Virginia officials, and is attended by transit agencies throughout the area. This will be the first meeting of the year and comes at a crucial time for transit decisions in our community.
The agenda includes a presentation from a Leadership Charlottesville group that has been working on interviewing transit riders and people who don’t currently take a bus. Finding out what obstacles people have is an important step toward getting them to seek alternatives.
Another item on the agenda is a presentation from a series of listening sessions conducted last fall by the Virginia Conservation Network and the Virginia Transit Association. That work may help inform a visioning process for regional transit that the TJPDC is seeking grant and local funding to conduct. (agenda and packet)
This meeting provides the last chance for the Regional Transit Partnership to discuss the upcoming budget cycle for Albemarle and Charlottesville. Albemarle Supervisors will hold a work session on transit funding on March 11 to discuss CAT’s $1.7 million request in funding, a request that is not included in County Executive Jeffrey Richardson’s proposed budget. Instead, Richardson recommended the same $1.043 million in funding that is in the current year’s budget, as well as a $387,562 contingency.
One question I have is how well this process matches the agreement adopted by City Council and the Board of Supervisors last year. The Intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding is intended to govern Albemarle’s relationship to CAT including how budgets are to be developed. There’s a lot to think about between now and Thursday. (MOU)
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