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Renewal and information

This is a non-news post. Or rather, it is about the site in general.

This is still a staging area for something that may happen in the future. We created it in order to experiment, and the experiment has largely been on pause. That will change in the near future.

If you can read this, we thank you for subscribing to the site. In the days and weeks to come, there will be more to say. For now, we are reflecting on the future and the recent past.

There is a need for information about how our society and civilization functions. We are in a time of history, when there is so much uncertainty. We hope to bring a different approach but we need to write it out first. Stay tuned.

PACC-Tech briefed on Fontaine plans

The Three Party Agreement calls upon the three entities to cooperate on planning in areas of mutual interest. According to the document, Area B land is that which “lies at the boundaries of or between the University and either the City or the County and on which the activities of any or all three of the parties might have an effect.”

Since 1986, elected and appointed officials have met quarterly as part of an entity known as the Planning and Coordination Council.

“Area B will be designated a ‘study area’,” the document states. “The City, County and  University will work with each other to try to develop a master plan for the study area perhaps by  beginning with its most critical parts. The intent is that the results of the cooperative study will be made a part of the Comprehensive Plan of each body.”

The three parties have rotated the meetings every year since then. In 2018, it has been Albemarle’s turn to host the meetings. The PACC-Tech Committee met on October 18. One of the topics was a new master plan for the Fontaine Research Park. The park dates back to the mid 1990’s and currently has 580,000 square feet of office space.

“The University [has] purchased the property in its entirety,” said Alice Raucher, the University’s Architect. “We’ve always owned a portion of it alongside the UVA Foundation, but we purchased the balance of it this past year.”

Raucher said the University sees a near-term potential to expand to 1.1 million square feet.

They have hired the Baltimore firm of Ayers Saint Gross to work on a plan that looked at capacity buildouts and provide a future layout for the park.

“What we think a near-term potential for square footage is about 1.1 million gross square feet,” Raucher said. “We think the current and future uses are clinics and research and offices and it will stay that way primarily for research at the Health System, but with more amenities.”

Raucher envisions turning some of the space into a place where you can have a cup of coffee or have lunch. Right now, people have to leave the area for these types of services.

Raucher said the study is being done to create new spaces for clinics that are currently in older facilities on Central Grounds. Moving them away would reduce vehicle trips headed in that direction.

“We certainly want to move a lot of the walk-in or drive-in visits,” Raucher said. “We know its a traffic issue and there’s older facilities down there so one of the options is to look at Fontaine.”

Raucher said there is a perception that Central Grounds and Fontaine Research Park are far away from each other, but she said that’s not the case.

“We really want to acknowledge the fact that Fontaine is so close in,” Raucher said. “There’s a bike-ped trail that connects you to West Grounds. We’d like to bolster that connection in developing this.”

The near-term plan would include construction of a new parking structure along Fontaine Avenue on currently undeveloped land. This would eventually replace surface parking elsewhere that would be reclaimed for office space.

Raucher said the Fontaine structure could also serve as satellite parking for athletic events.

“It allows us to move parking away from the center and start building the connective tissue in a way so that you can park once and use our University Transit, CAT or JAUNT to get around,” Raucher said.

A 250,000 square foot research and academic building and a 250,000 square foot clinical building would be built as replacements for the West Complex at the UVA Medical Center. A new public space would be created as well in the middle of the research park.

545 Ray C. Hunt would be demolished as part of the near-term plan. It would be replaced with a new way to get around the park.

“What we’re thinking about is imposing a rational structure,” Raucher said. “Instead of the middle green that currently is not occupied because that middle central green is actually in back of the buildings. The front of the buildings face the parking lots. We would impose a Main Street, essentially, allowing that to be a walkable, drivable Main Street.”

Raucher said construction is far from imminent and it would be phased when it does occur.

“This is a master plan,” she said. “There’s no project associated with this yet. We’re sharing our initial plans.”

Raucher said the University will complement the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape project currently being conducted by the city. That project spans from Jefferson Park Avenue to the city limits.

“We would then take the sidewalk from that point and bring it into Fontaine Research Park to aid that connectivity,” Raucher said. “The other important note is the bike-ped trail route to our science and engineering area and West Grounds goes through Piedmont Housing [complex]. The more we develop these connections, the more ability there is to walk and bike and not have to drive.”

Raucher said Piedmont Housing is currently a very low density site but there are plans to alter that in the near future.

“If anything, that would be a great place to think about other types of residential that would be able to do cross Fontaine,” Raucher said. “We’ve had our eye on that for quite a while.”

Ikefuna said the city has also submitted a capital improvement program request for a Fontaine West project that would further build out the streetscape.

The UVA Foundation owns land nearby in the northwest quadrant of the U.S. 29 / I-64 intersection. The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning in July 2011 allowing for office space, but the project has not yet been built.

Is PACC-Tech a place to talk about affordable housing?

Ikefuna gave an update on the city’s affordable housing initiatives at the meeting.  Council recently authorized the spending of $200,000 to develop an affordable housing strategy, but he said the problem could not be addressed without regional cooperation.

“The issue of housing cuts across a good [amount] of land use in the city, county and UVA and the city cannot address that particular issue alone,” Ikefuna said. “It is true that UVA is a major economic engine locally but the impact on affordable housing is huge.”

Ikefuna said the three groups should be meeting together to solve the problem of housing for those with very low incomes. He said high demand and low housing supply has priced many out of the market. Ikefuna called upon UVA to do more to address the issue.

“I think the University and the city have both been very supportive along with the county on transportation and transit because as we know affordable housing isn’t just composed of the housing itself but also what they call the affordability index which is housing plus travel,” said Andrew Gast-Bray, the director of the county’s community development department.

In other words, people who have long commutes spend more on transportation costs, making their seemingly affordable housing situation less so.

Gast-Bray said the county is seeking ways to build more transit-friendly housing types that would be attractive to faculty.

“The county has been creeping along a little trying to wait to make sure we understand what’s really missing from the housing picture so that we don’t build something that’s not necessary,” Gast-Bray said. “But we are sensitive to these issues.”

Gast-Bray then asked if the existing planning bodies set up by the Three Party Agreement are the appropriate venues to discuss housing issue.

“One of the bright spots of PACC-Tech and PACC is the ability of the three entities to talk, but it was set up for land-use,” Gast-Bray said. “Are there other opportunities to talk?”

Gast-Bray pointed out there is also the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Regional Transit Partnership, two entities that are convened to deal with transportation issues.  Ikefuna said a more holistic discussion was warranted.

“You can’t discuss land use without the other variables,” Ikefuna said. “Two of them are transportation and housing. Transportation and land use inform each other.”

Raucher said the scope of PACC-Tech is limited.

“If it’s land use that’s fine,” Raucher said. “If it’s policy, we’re not the PACC.”

Raucher said the Regional Housing Partnership would be a better forum to discuss the cost of living in the area.

“I think there are a lot of discussions going on and it’s a question of how the information gets shared,” Raucher said. “We can specify areas that are good for mixed-use and ideal for residential. I agree [with Gast-Bray] that that there’s no point in having mixed-use and transit if you don’t have the residential.”

Raucher said PACC-Tech can suggest what land uses should be in various parts of the community but actual policy must come from PACC and other bodies.

Gast-Bray said PACC-Tech could be a body where all the issues get discussed.

“Do you think that in that context we could look at [it] as opposed to siloing all of the different subject matters?” Gast-Bray asked. “At some point it would be nice to have something to show the nexus between where transportation, land use, housing, economic development and green infrastructure come together.”

Raucher said information does get shared because so many PACC-Tech members also serve on other bodies.

“We don’t design in a vacuum,” Raucher said. “We do design with the city and the county and all  of the issues that you’re doing in mind.”

Raucher pointed out UVA’s new president, Jim Ryan, has convened a task force to discuss regional issues.

“[That] would include wages, housing, education, health care and other matters that come up,” Raucher said. “All the discussion that has been happening has been taken seriously. There’s not going to be a quick fix to anything but I think with the initiation of this broad working group, they’re going to identify some of the top issues and then take that further.”

At the meeting, Raucher said construction of a 350-bed student dormitory is underway on Brandon Avenue and a request for qualifications is out for a second residence hall of similar size.

“This is starting to chip away at the upperclass housing deficit that we experienced due to state-mandated enrollment growth,” Raucher said. “Pretty soon we will have 700 beds online and then there’s in the capital plan another project for a site yet-to-be-determined for another 300 or so beds.”

 

An October update on the “Cultural Landscape Report”

For several years, many in the historic preservation  community have sought a study of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall that would review its past as a way of preparing for its future.

At the October 11, 2018 meeting of the PLACE Design Task Force, the first topic was related to an update on the “Cultural Landscape Study” from Jeff Werner, the city’s historic preservation planner.  City Council approved $50,000 in the current budget for such a study, which PLACE has been calling for for a while.

Kayli Wren reported on their August 2017 request for Charlottesville Tomorrow.

One of the themes expressed in Wren’s article is that there is a stand-off between differing bodies and entities within City Government related to the future and current maintenance of the Downtown Mall, which was created in 1976 when a portion of the street was bricked over according to the design of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

The Mall is not currently listed as its own separate entity on the National Register of Historic Places, and some in the community such as University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Beth Meyer have argued too many deviations from Halprin’s plan could affect its ability to qualify.

At the PLACE meeting, the group got an update on the study from Jeff Werner, the city’s historic preservation planner. He has been in the position for over half a year now, and said he has the bandwidth to try to get the study moving. He has been working with many stakeholders in city government to get a request for proposals together for the study, but he is uncertain that $50,000 will be enough for everything everyone wants to accomplish.

Rachel Lloyd, a landscape architect and PLACE member since the group was formed in 2012, said the study needs to have a correct foundation for maintenance guidelines, and that requires including being informed by ideas of what the original idea for the mall would be.

Werner said he has been through a lot of that, but that there are other stakeholders who want to ensure that the Mall’s future includes a recognition of social segregation in the past. He said there is also interest in weaving in how the events of August 12, 2017 become part of the cultural and historic fabric going forward.

But he can say, in the meantime, there are practical elements that the city needs to address as soon as possible. For instance, what is the process for removing a dead tree? There needs to be a process to remove dead trees.

(as an aside, Wren wrote about the health of the trees earlier in the summer of 2017. This article also contains downloads of several studies about the health of the trees)

Lloyd asked if Werner had seen her scope document for the cultural landscape report. He said he has seen it and knows what a cultural landscape report is, but there’s a bigger issue. There needs to be a process for how decisions are made about the maintenance and infrastructure. He’s not sure that’s his role to take on, but that something needs to be done to answer that question.

Lloyd said they don’t want to call it a cultural landscape report anymore. When she was drafting her scope, she wanted to accomplish the same goal Werner wants to accomplish.

Mike Stoneking, chair of the PLACE Design Task Force and member of the Charlottesville Tomorrow Board of Directors, suggested matching up the scope with what the Parks and Recreation Department wants the scope to be. But he added PLACE doesn’t want the study to be just a maintenance document. It needs to recognize the important of public space is important. Seating is important, and different stakeholders want different outcomes. For instance, the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville has championed removal of benches in the past, such as the ones taken away in 2013 at Central Place.

For two years, the Board of Architectural Review and the Parks and Recreation Department have been at odds about replacing the original chairs. Parks and Recreation have purchased backless benches designed to discourage long periods of sitting. That is anathema to some on the BAR and some in the preservation community.

Lloyd suggested that students at the University of Virginia could help produce the request for proposals. She also wants a PLACE member on a steering committee to further discuss the matter.

Alex Ikefuna, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, said he will get together with parks director Brian Daly to see where they are, and he would report back to PLACE. 

Stoneking asked who the client who will be served by the RFP and the resulting report? Who gets to direct the answers to the questions?

Galvin said anything having to do with policy should go to Council. Ikefuna said Parks and Rec are working on the project, they’re the client. Galvin said this is a process and a project that is beyond purview of one department. City manager should appoint a steering committee to get the topic off of the ground.

Werner said at the very least there has to be a decision about who decides what. That might be a City Council led discussion. Galvin said she was confused and said the study would be looking to include government (she was late to the meeting and missed the discussion at the top)

[This paragraph to serves as an observation that the 2009 renovation of the mall had not yet come up in conversation. Wasn’t some of this covered then? Would that be part of the literature review? I recall that was supposed to include a maintenance effort, but I guess it did not resolve the underlying process review?]

Werner said a goal of this is to determine who makes the decisions. He said that may not be able to be done by $50K. Galvin said multiple departments have purview over the mall – public works, police, P&R, fire, NDS, economic development. That’s why this is a city-manager discussion level. Maybe next step is for Werner, Daly, Oberdorfer to meet with Murphy.

Galvin said there have been two previous attempts to create a business improvement decision to raise additional tax money to pay for upkeep of the mall. She said these were done in part because there was no point person for who is responsible for the mall. Stoneking said there needs to be a curator.

Werner said he has heard that he should not narrow the scope of the document as he continues work on it

 

Ivy Talks: John Cannon on the Endangered Species Act

There are 89 species in Virginia that are protected by the landmark Endangered Species Act, a law passed by the United States Congress in 1973. In 2018, the law is under attack from many who say its scope is overreaching. Efforts to roll it back are being made at the judicial, executive and legislative level.

John Cannon, the director of the Environmental Land Use and Law Program at the University of Virginia Law School, explained the various threats to the act in a 75 minute talk at the Ivy Creek Natural Area

20180930-cannon-crowd

as part of their Ivy Talks series.

Albemarle to consider investing $325,000 for Piedmont Housing to redevelop Park’s Edge

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will support the Piedmont Housing Alliance in its efforts to to purchase the 96-unit Park’s Edge apartment complex on Whitewood Road.

“One important aspect of affordable housing is preserving what we already have,” said Ron White, the county’s chief of housing.

Park’s Edge is on Whitewood Boulevard, part of a transportation corridor that links Albemarle High School with U.S. 29 via Greenbrier Drive.

The community center at Park’s Edge was partially constructed through a federal Community Development Block Grant.

Park’s Edge is currently owned by a for-profit LLC associated with the nonprofit AHIP.  AHIP currently manages the property but its board of directors is seeking to concentrate on its efforts to rehabilitate existing homes.

The project was built in the 1970’s as Whitewood Village with [federal subsidies]. When it came to the end of its last compliance period in the late 1990’s, AHIP rehabilitated the four apartment buildings using tax credits from HUD. White said that came after an attempt to convert the 96-units to a tenant-owned and managed facility.

“We realized that the capacity for tenant-owned and managed property was not the best way to go and converted [a] planning grant to determine the feasibility of the acquisition and rehab,” White said. With some financial assistance from the county, AHIP was able to purchase the property in 2002.

“They opted for a 30-year compliance period of affordability on the units, but at the end of the 15-year term of the tax credit deal, the [original] investors are out of the picture and the property often rolls back to the ownership. They can restructure the financing and they can keep it as it is or in this case they can sell to another entity who may be able to reinvest and make other improvements to the property.”

The executive directors of AHIP and PHA went to Supervisor Diantha McKeel and county staff this spring.

“They are seeking county support for the project, for the acquisition and proposed rehab,” White said. “That not only includes written support from the county but financial support. That’s an area we believe that on the financial side, further due diligence is needed about whether we can offer the financial support.”

Mathon and Jacobs had the opportunity to present their case to the Board of Supervisors on October 3, 2018.

“AHIP is a home-repair nonprofit and we’ve been working with the county since 1976,” Jacobs said. “We actually got out start after Hurricane Camille in 1969 cleaning up after that so that was our origin story.”

AHIP is currently working to rehabilitate homes in the Alberene community in southern Albemarle. Jacobs said the organization has decided to focus exclusively on home repair.  At the same time, Piedmont Housing Alliance is seeking to expand the number of units it manages.

“Piedmont Housing Alliance has been a part of the region for the last 35 years and though the specific roles the organization has taken on has evolved over time, it has stayed true to its mission of creating housing opportunities and fostering community through financial education, lending and equitable development,” Mathon said. “The opportunity to partner with AHIP on the acquisition of Park’s Edge aligns perfectly with our strategic, business and mission-related goals to grow our organization over the coming years.”

Mathon said the entire nation needs to address the aging nature of properties that are subsidized for low-income communities. Mathon said a needs assessment established it would take about $4 million of work to renovate the four buildings with new roofs, siding, appliance, temperature control systems and more.

“Given that the rents are reduced far-below market-rate in order for it to serve the low-income families who live there, those rents are sufficient to operate the property and provide a basic level of maintenance, but they do not and never will build the reserves needed for such a deep rehab,” Mathon said.

Mathon said PHA will pursue low-income housing tax credits as well as new low-interest debt. To help with the application for the Virginia Housing Development Authority, the organization wants a letter of support from Albemarle County. Specifically, Mathon said the county’s support could help demonstrate the project is worthy of the VHDA’s REACH program.

“But [VHDA] staff also said they would not consider investing REACH money in Park’s Edge unless there’s a substantial local investment additionally,” Mahon said. “We are asking for the allocation of $325,000 toward Park’s Edge rehabilitation. This will precipitate a cascade of other funding sources, leveraging other funds at a 20 to 1 ratio.”

Mathon said work on the cooling systems would help address county goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If the effort is successful, PHA would enter into a partnership with a for-profit company that would receive tax credits in exchange for investment in the property. This is a similar arrangement to how many communities with lower-than-market rates are able to function.

Supervisors agreed to send a letter of support but want county staff to do due diligence on the financials of the proposal.

Supervisor Ann Mallek asked if PHA was capable of taking on the additional units at a time when they are already seeking to expand the total number of units at Friendship Court in downtown Charlottesville.

“We have been working over the last six months to bolster the back end staffing to make sure the on-site staffing have what they need,” Mathon said. “Over the last six months we have hired a lead maintenance staff, which we have not previously had.”

Other new positions include a compliance specialist and a new managerial position for support services that may be needed.

“All of that is in preparation for growth,” Mathon said.

Climate change ranked as top strategic goal for Albemarle Supervisors

At their meeting on October 3, 2018, the six members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors learned that their top strategic initiative for the upcoming fiscal year is to “develop and implement Phase 1 of the Climate Action Plan.”

In September, supervisors were asked at a work session to score their budgetary priorities related to the strategic plan, a document used by county staff to help develop future budgets. Each elected official was given nine dots with descending levels of weight and told to rank 12 possibilities.

Climate action scored 85 points in the exercise, which sends a signal to the county’s budget staff that elected officials want programs related to climatechange.

“As these things come forward in the budget, the board will have final say-so on everything related to resource alignment with strategic initiatives,” said county executive Jeffrey Richardson.

The second highest strategic initiative is to “expand and promote the county’s outdoor recreational parks and amenities.” That option scored 80 points. An option to pursue a regional convention center scored zero points.

The high ranking for climate change action follows on the heels of increased funding in the current fiscal year. When they adopted the budget for fiscal year 2019, Supervisors agreed with a staff recommendation to allocate money to help the county resume participation in the Local Climate Action Planning Process. LCAPP is a joint initiative between Albemarle, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, but Albemarle stopped participating in 2011 when Republicans controlled the Board of Supervisors.

However, Supervisors reaffirmed their support for planning for climate change in September 2017.

Andy Lowe, the county’s environmental compliance manager, said the first phase of the Local Climate Action Plan will seek to establish a new goal for greenhouse gas reductions.

“Then it will also [recommend] some strategies that we will use to go out into residential areas, commercial area and our fleet and operations at our facilities,” Lowe said. “This has risen up within this last fiscal year. We allotted $100,000 to implement some quick programs that we knew we could implement and make a difference. So we have $50,000 going to the Local Energy Alliance Program to help residential energy audits.”

The money helps cover the cost of the audits, which can inform homeowner decisions about installing more efficient lighting and temperature control systems.

“This is a full gamut of all the county operations but it’s a big residential, a big transportation, a big commercial component that we don’t have control over so we need to engage the community in a lot of dialogue,” Lowe said. “Now we have staff on board to really push this forward.”

Lowe referred to the fact that funding has also gone to hire the county’s first climate program coordinator.

“Under the general supervision of the Environmental Compliance Manager, [this employee] performs responsible professional and technical work in implementing initiatives related to energy reduction and climate protection,” reads the first sentence of general definition of the job description.

But how will that description transform into reality? Several supervisors appear to have different ideas for how the person in the new position might spend their time.

“Part of the intention in that climate action plan is to look at some solid waste issues like composting,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer, a champion of local government’s role in regulating and facilitating garbage collection and recycling.

Supervisor Norman Dill said he hopes the person can work on implementing programs to help individuals, households and institutions reduce carbon emissions.

“We have somebody that’s going to be trying to do things like the PACE program so that solar and other kinds of renewable energy projects can be financed through your mortgage and tax payments,” Dill said.

Supervisor Ann Mallek said she wanted staff to think long-term because some initiatives may need financial support.

“Please be thinking about ways that we could create some kind of investment bucket that would implement this high rank, but obviously not all at once,” Mallek said. “Everything’s going to have to be done in phases.”

Supervisor Rick Randolph sounded a more cautious tone and appeared to question how much of a role the local government could play.

“When we look at climate change, the capability and capacity of Albemarle County government to address climate action is very low so I hope when you do bring this back we have clarified what local government can do and what it cannot do,” Randolph said. “We can establish goals until the cows come… about the minimization of nitrogen and phosphorous in water and minimization of methane and carbon dioxide, and that’s all well and good but our ability to implement it when on the national level that curve is moving in the opposite direction and there’s not a lot we’re able to do.”

Palmer pushed back.

“I can’t imagine that we’re trying to solve climate change in Albemarle County,” Palmer said. “My understanding is that what we’re trying to do is figure out how we can work better to enter a more circular economy, what we can do as a government to lessen our carbon footprint or however you want to do to define it.”

Richardson said there are a number or national “best practices” that localities are using across the nation.

“We can come back with measurements and suggestions from other organizations who may just a little further down the road from us,” Richardson said.

Adaptation?

There are many in the community who want local government to do more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the likelihood of increasing volatility related to a changing climate, at least two supervisors have indicated they want local government to be planning now for changes that are already here.

But what role will adaptation to climate change play under this new strategic initiative? While that subject did not come up during the conversation about priorities, the topic  had come up in the supervisor’s previous item on October 3. That item was a discussion of the regional hazard mitigation plan.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires plans to be developed [for localities] to be eligible to receive certain grants,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning. “The Virginia Department of Emergency Management encourages regional planning for preparing for natural hazards.”

“Natural hazards is kind of a broad term but it’s generally things like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and climatic or geotectonic activity,” said Wood Hudson, a planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “Virginia experiences about 18 tornadoes a year. Albemarle alone has experienced six tornadoes in the past five years.”

Some of those grants could go to pay for infrastructure improvements, or at the very least, cleaning out of storm drains and culverts can exacerbate flooding when they are clogged.

“Since the recent storms that we’ve had, we did update and made some changes to better recognize culverts along roadways, smaller culverts particularly on private streets,” Benish said.

Keep in mind, this discussion took place before the one on climate change and dealt with the fundamental question of whether the area is prepared to withstand extreme weather events.

“We are seeing storm behavior that really is consistent with what people have previously experienced down south of us,” Randolph said. “The climaticconditions are changing and tornados are much more of a threat.”

Randolph and other supervisors said they wanted reports on the amount of information about extreme weather events. One reason could be to ensure that the county is funding its stormwater management program effectively.

“I think it’s important that we get that on an annual basis, that we get some kind of report to the board as to what is happening climatically,” Randolph said. “

Supervisors also wanted to know if events with excessive rainfall are tracked.

“Given climate change and what we are seeing, it would be great if the region that works through TJPDC could somehow or another start tracking specific weather data for us,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “I just don’t think we have the data in one place, whether its rain, wind or storms, or temperatures. For our region to be able to deal with and plan for [climate change] we have to have the data.”

There are existing sources of data, according to Allison Farole, emergency management coordinator for the emergency communications center.

“We work very closely with the National Weather Service,” Farole said. “They keep a lot of data when it comes to any natural weather events. So if you’re looking for a specific place to go and gather that data, that would be the best bet. I think the discussion of having a localized ability to track it ourselves, we have a lot of subject matter experts in this region that we can definitely pull together.”

Farole said the NWS also trains citizens to become storm reporters to collect weather-related data and information.

Greg Harper, the county’s water resource manager, said he is hoping to get that information from Jerry Stenger, the state climatologist.

Mallek said the county needs to apply for grants to help clear out debris left over from this year’s previous flooding events.

“It cannot be ignored and then the next big rain that comes is going to be made so much worse by all the mess that’s still there from May 29 and that bridge on Garth Road may say bye-bye if a few more trees hit it. That would be bad.”

What’s next?

The Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission will be briefed on a variety of related topics in the coming months. The most notable is the consideration of the Biodiversity Action Plan, which will recommend ways to preserve existing habitat. The draft plan goes before the Planning Commission on November 20.

 

Listen to the Rivanna River Renaissance Conference

On September 29, The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission held the latest in a series of conferences about the Rivanna River, a 42.1 point mile tributary of the James River that flows from the mountains of Albemarle and Greene Counties through to the confluence in Fluvanna County.

The river also serves as the border between Albemarle and Charlottesville, and officials on both sides have been seeking ways to take advantage of what an urban waterway can offer to an urban community as well as planning for ways to ensure the natural resource isn’t abused.

 

Albemarle prioritizes strategies, strategizes priorities

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors spent five hours on Friday,  September 7, looking back at accomplishments made under the county’s Comprehensive Plan as well as giving direction on what staff should focus on in the coming years.

“Today we are about promoting our community’s future,” said County Executive Jeffrey Richardson. “The economic vitality and quality of life in this community is just astounding.”

This is the first chance that Richardson has had to lead the board on these issues. He’s been in the position for less than a year.

Richardson said each supervisor has different interests and that the strategic planning session was intended to give staff a sense of what the collective will is in terms of priorities.

This is also the first chance that Kristy Shifflet, the director of the county’s newly-created office of project management, has the chance to lead the discussion on strategic planning. Current projects underway include the development of the Rio Road small area plan, implementation of the Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative and the creation of the Regional Transit Partnership.

This process takes place at the beginning of the budget cycle for fiscal year 2020. Supervisors will adopt that document next April, but not before several strategic planning meetings.

At the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) brought up the board’s decision in July to not move forward with a bond referendum to support parks projects. She said there is a need to catch up and that those requests should move forward.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel’s main interest is education but she also wants to focus on revitalizing the urban ring. Her district, Jack Jouett, is the most urban of all six of the magisterial constituencies.

“Our focus in this county for many years was the rural area and that’s great and certainly deservingly so, but if we really want to protect our rural area, we have to figure out how to make the development area, and especially right now the old aging neighborhoods in the urban ring, places that people actually want to live,” McKeel said. “I’m thrilled about the work we’re doing with the environment now and coming back to looking at resiliency and climate change and how the work around that is especially pleasing to me.”

Supervisor Rick Randolph (Scottsville) said he was glad that the Parks and Recreation Department have concluded their needs assessment. He stated that the county has “added two new parks” at Biscuit Run and Hedgerow. (It is true to state that the county now has a ground lease to manage Biscuit Run and it owns the Hedgerow land, but it is unclear when either of these will open to the public.)

“There are others also in the wings I understand though they have not been officially announced yet,” Randolph said. “As we grow we have to think clearly about school capacity but we also need to think about recreational capacity because the fact is that with land costs having gone up in Albemarle County, it becomes more expensive per acre to own property, hence the units get smaller. They’re more affordable and thereby requires the county to provide more open space for people to be open to recreate and enjoy.”

Rio Road Small Area Plan

The Rio Road small-area plan is intended to guide private development of the area around the Rio Road and U.S. 29 intersection. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands on two consultants to come up with a vision and to ascertain the economic feasibility of public investment to entice redevelopment of a dense, mixed-use community.

Supervisors want a draft vision for the idea and possible service districts to pay for it by the end of the year. The goal is to add this information to the Comprehensive Plan first. After that they will develop a draft ordinance for a form-based code, based on examples in Arlington and Henrico counties.

“We have a framework that’s built out as to what we think we’ll recommend but we haven’t had the opportunity to have a conversation with you all about that because we want to get this vision and the comp plan amendment first,” said senior planner Rachel Falkenstein.

Falkenstein said it will take a year to develop the zoning. After that, the goal is to leverage public investment to attract private capital. Economic development will take up that effort.

Public works

Albemarle is in the early days of establishing a future public works department to maintain and build its own infrastructure. This is called for the strategic plan goal to “revitalize aging urban neighborhoods.” As part of that effort, they have mapped private stormwater infrastructure as a way of better managing the effort collectively. The Board of Supervisors are expected to see a report on this initiative in November and give direction on how to proceed. The Capital Improvement Program for this year contains $620,000 toward this purpose.

McKeel expressed concern that her input wasn’t consulted before the pilot project began. Mallek suggested consulting experts in each district to help with this work.

The most recent Comprehensive Plan update contains many objectives related to transportation. Part of that work is reflected in the regional transit partnership, which became fairly contentious at its last meeting. County transportation planner Kevin McDermott is seeking input from supervisors on what projects should be applied for through VDOT’s revenue-sharing program. The next cycle of applications is for next year. This current year is the SmartScale application, and that will happen again in 2020.

Randolph wants information about how much staff time has gone toward Southwood.

Courts relocation and other things

Supervisors have not yet decided whether to co-locate the general district court downtown or to move to a new location. There are conceptual drawings, but there are no construction documents. Supervisors put the development of such plans on hold as they studied a possible move to elsewhere in the county.

“We’re not starting from scratch, we’re starting from a pretty good conceptual starting place, but there’s a lot of work to do to get us to that point,” said Trevor Henry, the assistant deputy county executive.

It was unclear from the discussion when a decision point will be reached.

Mike Culp reported on progress to extend broadband internet to rural parts of the county. He said the Albemarle Broadband Authority have worked with VDOT and other stakeholders to the Greenwood area.

Roger Johnson reported on public-private partnerships and how they might move forward. There will be a discussion about them in September and potential grant applications being brought forward in the near future.  

Water infrastructure

Greg Harper, Albemarle’s water resources manager, said capital investments in stormwater infrastructure fall into two categories. The network of pipes and other drainage techniques is known as greywater infrastructure. The other is green infrastructure, which Harper refers to as watershed infrastructure. In the current fiscal year, there is one-time funding for new staff positions for which funding will have to be found to turn them into permanent ones.

Harper said there is a pilot infrastructure project underway where drainage in a particular area is being assessed by video surveillance. There are over 160 property owners the county has asked requested for permission to inspect those pipes.

“In the future, if we decide we want to adopt some of this infrastructure as public infrastructure, if we’re going to start maintaining and repairing the infrastructure, we would need to get permanent easements from these property owners as well,” Harper said.

The findings from the video assessment will come back to the Board of Supervisors in December.

“Part of the program that Greg’s division is doing is to get ahead of the failures so that we can prevent those from happening,” Kamptner said.

Harper said his division is also working with the Parks and Recreation Department, the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to understand why there was an algae bloom at Chris Greene Lake this past spring.

“We believe of course its too much nutrients coming off the watershed but the question is, where specifically?” Harper said. “If there are some hot spots, what can we do about them? We’re in the process right now of collecting all the data we can starting to analyze it so we use the data to focus our efforts.”

Another project in Harper’s division is to help the Dunlora neighborhood retrofit stormwater management practices.

Parks and recreation

In the afternoon session, supervisors were taken through what is referred to as “emerging initiatives.” The first deal with parks and recreation and a perceived need to expand outdoor recreation.

There have been over 1,200 responses to a survey for the future Biscuit Run park. Crickenberger said there would be one more public engagement session. The goal is to complete the master plan by the end of the year. That will include cost estimates. The Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation would have to sign off on the plan.

“The county is currently in a deficit of 172 acres with regards to neighborhood and community parks,” Crickenberger said. “By 2032, we will require a total of 264 acres of neighborhood and community parks.”

The county may seek to acquire land for some of these parks in FY2020.

“We don’t foresee a lot of opportunities in terms of land gifts of proffers within these particular areas purely because in most cases the proffers and land gifts we’ve gotten in development areas are really not marketable,” Crickenberger said. “A lot of time they are in flood plain or the flood way and it makes it challenging to put in place some of those recreational amenities.”

Crickenberger described neighborhood parks as being less than 5 acres in size and community parks as being less than 25 acres in size. McKeel said she thought some abandoned properties in the urban ring could be used for this purpose.

Palmer said she has been told by people that there is a lack of places to walk in the southern part of the county.

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“It is all private owned and the roads are completely unsafe to walk on because there is no shoulder whatsoever,” Palmer said.

She said Biscuit Run and Hedgerow are not suitable places for those seeking a recreational walk that is less strenuous than what the area’s topography allows. She said at one point there was an idea to build trails around Simpson Park in Esmont, but that never materialized.

Mallek urged Crickenberger to phase parks so that as many can be opened as possible on a limited basis.

Gallaway said that the county should identify these locations as part of the small area planning process to find ways to reduce the deficit Crickenberger had mentioned.

“If we can conceptualize in our small area plan all of the green areas that are going in, what would that total acreage equal up to and how would that attack the deficit?” Gallaway said. “This is a conversation we can have with developers. We can still accept on-site proffers.”

Climate action plan

Andy Lowe was next. The environmental compliance manager said the development of a climate action plan for Albemarle would set goals for greenhouse gas reductions.

“The climate action plan is one of those topics that interweaves with all of these other topics so we’ve focused a lot of our internal preliminary efforts on pulling together an internal team,” Lowe said. Development of the plan will take place between now and spring, including a public meeting.

Randolph said he would like to promote anti-idling policies, both in the private sector and the public sector. Lowe said there is an internal policy within the Department of Facilities and Environmental Services to turn off idling vehicles, but the county does not have a universal policy for its entire fleet. Palmer said the Albemarle County Service Authority does have a policy. McKeel said the school board considered such a policy at one point.

Mallek said she understands the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the plan needs to cover topics.

“Adaptation, resiliency, loss of biodiversity,” she said. “All of those kinds of things are things we can do something about and start moving on.”

Affordable housing

Albemarle will spend time updating its affordable housing policy, which has not been updated in a decade and a half.

“We’ve seen some fairly recent incidents where we’re struggling with how to implement our policy and what it means with respect to certain projects,” Graham said. “It’s 15 years old and getting a little long in the tooth.”

Potential changes could include revision of the county’s inclusionary zoning policy and strategic use of the Community Development Block Grants.

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is about to create a regional housing partnership. Albemarle supervisors will see that report next spring. The TJPDC is also overseeing the Regional Transit Partnership.

“What we’re looking at is trying to make sure we mesh well with what’s happening at a regional level,” Graham said. “At 30,000 feet you have to look at the affordable housing as a regional issue. You can’t look at it as a county issue or a city issue. You have to drill down and start looking at the particulars of each locality and then come up with unique strategies.”

Mallek said she hopes more can be done to preserve existing housing stock such as the homes in downtown Crozet which were originally built to house employees of the now-defunct Barnes Lumber Yard.

“The great fear is that what will happen here is what happened in Arlington and my daughter’s former neighborhood from the 1950’s, World War II ranch houses, they were all bought up and then people came up and put 7,000 square foot houses right up to the borders and the neighborhoods are ruined or changed, and the people who were there are almost forced out,” Mallek said.

Supervisors were also briefed on the county’s Housing Choice Voucher program, which was moved from the county’s Office of Housing to the Department of Social Services in 2017. Social Services Director Phyllis Savides said Albemarle is seeking funds to assist efforts to assist non-elderly individuals with disabilities that may be at risk of becoming homeless or being institutionalized.

“And we would need to do this in close partnership with Region 10 because Region 10 would be the primary service driver for these individuals,” Savides said.

Solid waste

One key reason Palmer is interested in solid waste issues is related to climate change.

“We have predominantly a monopoly going on in our hauling industry and they want people to take their trash down to the end of the driveway,” Palmer said.  “If you’ve got a bad knee and you can’t drag your stuff all the way down to the end of the driveway, I think a lot of people will open those burn barrels again and I think they’re already doing it, quite frankly.

 

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