Ash trees are in a “state of emergency”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RWSA briefed on reservoir-connecting waterline, reservoir health

(This article was initially published as part of the May 11, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

One of the largest capital expenses facing any governmental entity in the community is the nine and a half mile waterline the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has planned. Long planned, the line will connect the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Ragged Mountain is currently fed by a pipeline from Sugar Hollow Reservoir, one that is nearing a hundred years old. The new waterline won’t be built for several more years, but the RWSA has been acquiring the right of way for the project. Executive Director Bill Mawyer gave his Board an update on April 27, 2021.

“The Albemarle County School Board granted about a one mile easement for the Rivanna to Ragged Mountain project this month,” Mawyer said. 

In all, the RWSA has easements for about six of the 9.5 miles and is in negotiations with the University of Foundation and private property owners for the rest. The RWSA has a 40 year lease with the city of Charlottesville to operate the Ragged Mountain reservoir which expires in 2052. There’s talk already of extending those terms given the community investment in the water supply plan.

“So as an example based on our current schedule, we would finish the new pipeline say around 2033, and then in effect we would only have 20 years left on the lease of a major water supply facility that we’ve just spent a lot of money on to expand and build the pipeline so we can fill it,” Mawyer said. 

Easement map for the alignment of the South Fork to Rivanna Reservoir waterline

The RWSA Board also got an update on the health of the five reservoirs maintained by the authority.  Their usable storage volume is updated every ten years according to water resources manager Andrea Bowles.

“We get this information from our bathymetries that we do,” Bowles said. “We do bathymetries for the urban system reservoirs every ten years.”

One of the concerns is the presence of algae in reservoirs, which can lead to oxygen depletion that threatens aquatic life. Each of the five reservoirs has a slightly different balance and Bowles explained how algae is managed. Beaver Creek Reservoir is currently the one most prone to blooms. There were five at the Crozet waterway in 2020, but none of them were problematic enough to require treatment. 

“That is the reservoir that we’re going to do an alternative of hypolimnetic oxygenation to try to help with blooms,” Bowles said. 

An algae bloom at Ragged Mountain Reservoir is underway and treatment was expected to begin last week. 

“We are having an issue with an algae called dinobryon which is a golden algae, not a blue-green algae, it doesn’t produce the toxins,” Bowles said. “We have that right now going on in Ragged Mountain. It is a big taste and odor producer and we have a threshold and it is slightly over the threshold.” 

The RWSA next meets on May 25. 

A snapshot of the usable storage volumes for the five RWSA reservoirs

Both CAT and Regional Transit Partnership studying ways to improve serve in northern Albemarle

(This article originally appeared in the April 27, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. Subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode!)

Preparations continue for a study of how transit could work better in Albemarle County. Some fixed-route service is provided by Charlottesville Area Transit, which is owned by the City of Charlottesville. Jaunt provides fixed-route service between Crozet and Charlottesville as well as paratransit service throughout the region.

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is shepherding a Regional Transit Vision as well as a study of additional service to serve Albemarle’s urban areas. A kick-off meeting for the study will take place in early June. Jessica Hersh-Ballering is a planner with the TJPDC. She spoke at the April 22 meeting of the Regional Transit Partnership.

“This is a project to determine the best way to expand transit service to three priority locations in Albemarle, and those priority locations are Pantops, north 29, and Monticello,” Hersh-Ballering said. “The goal is to apply for funding to implement that service in fiscal year 2023.” 

To do that, the study will need to be completed, including public review, in order to apply for a demonstration grant by next February. 

Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel is the chair of the Regional Transit Partnership.

“I just have a comment, Jessica,” McKeel said. “I looked at that February date in February and thought, wow, that is a tight timeline but I’m sure you all have figured it out.” 

The University Transit System is a member of the Regional Transit Partnership and they updated community officials on the results of a recent passenger survey. The pandemic skewed ridership last year, with almost 90 percent of people taking shuttle routes to the Health Complex, a figure that was 57.25 percent in 2019. Academic routes usually make up just over forty percent ridership, but that dropped to ten percent last year. 

An image from the recent UTS ridership survey (download)

The University Transit System is completely separate from Charlottesville Area Transit, but does offer some service on some streets in the City of Charlottesville.

“We are the public provider on 14th Street, Grady, Rugby, Arlington, Massey,” said Becca White, the director of Parking and Transportation at UVA. “People who have been around long enough know that CAT used to serve some of those corridors and were able to concentrate elsewhere while UTS agreed to be the public provider on those corridors.”

However, Charlottesville Area Transit said they are in talks with UTS about whether that will continue.

CAT Senior Project Steve MacNally told the Regional Transit Partnership about upcoming capital projects, including the potential for a transit hub and park and ride lot on U.S. 29.  They’re looking for a suitable two acre lot. 

“I’ve been busy looking at some vacant or unoccupied properties, looking at right of way issues, the access to those, and a number of other criteria,” MacNally said. 

CAT is about to begin work on two studies of its own. One will look at the need for future facilities and a more dedicated look at the park and ride possibility with the firm Kimley Horn. 

In response to a question from White, CAT director Garland Williams said he has not been in touch with anyone from the University of Virginia Foundation, which owns many properties in the 29 North corridor, including the North Fork Research Park.

“This is our kickoff to bring all those elements together, so the study is really going to look at whether the corridor itself is ripe for transit,” Williams said. “We do believe that it is.”   

Williams added this could help CAT increase ridership which would in turn bring in more funding. 

“Initially we have looked at potentially the airport to [the University of Virginia] as the initial corridor of looking at, kind of the route, but that’s up for discussion as we’re working with our consultant,” Williams said. 

The work by Kimley Horn is separate from the work being done by the TJPDC on behalf of Albemarle County. Williams said the work is complementary and will function together. A third transit-related land use study in the same geographical area is a potential relocation of Albemarle school bus fleet to land somewhere in the U.S. 29 corridor.

Christine Jacobs, the interim director of the TJPDC, said the conversation was a sign of the role the Regional Transit Partnership can play. 

“I think this is really exciting because there’s a lot of synergy and coordination that is occurring between some of these corridors and I just want to make sure I remind you that the PDC we will also be doing through the MPO in their North 29 study corridor from Airport Road all the way up into Greene,” Jacobs said. 

An update on Franklin Street sidewalk

(This story initially appeared in the April 19, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Earlier this year, City Council agreed to transfer federal funding that had been allocated to add a sidewalk on Franklin Street, which serves as part of its eastern border with Albemarle County. The project was within the jurisdiction of a task force that was put together to recommend projects eligible for Community Development Block Grant funding distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. Erin Atak is a grants coordinator with the city of Charlottesville.

“This is funding that’s issued by HUD,” Atak said. “These are federal funds that the city receives each year as an entitlement community.”

The city selects a neighborhood every three years to receive the money for infrastructure and a task force is put together to make recommendations to Council. One recent project funded through this process is a pocket park in the 10th and Neighborhood. The current neighborhood receiving funds is the Ridge Street neighborhood. The Belmont task force last met in February 12, 2019. 

“And in this case, the Belmont Priority Neighborhood [Task Force] recommended to City Council the Franklin Street sidewalk which was approved to create a new sidewalk on the west side between north Moores Creek Lane and Nassau Street, which was approximately 1,600 feet of new sidewalk.”

This process is separate from the city’s sidewalk priority process. The Belmont neighborhood was allocated a total of $449,214 and the sidewalk made up a portion of that amount.

Tim Motsch is a transportation project manager with the city, hired in the summer of 2017.

“Myself and Kyle Kling were hired in order to manage transportation projects including the sidewalks which I have been involved in as well as Smart Scale projects that I’ve been involved in such as the East High Streetscape and the Emmet Streetscape.”

More on those projects in a future newsletter. For now, Motsch explained that design for the Frankin Street sidewalk began in late 2018 when the engineering firm A. Morton Thomas was hired to do the work.  Complications happened. 

“It is a challenging plan from the point of the view of stormwater management depending on which map you look at and which datum you refer to, the sidewalk is either right next to the floodplain or in the floodplain,” Motsch said. 

That delayed the design for the project, which included the need to purchase easements from landowners on which mitigating features and drainafe could be built. The pandemic’s effect on the city’s budget also led to a delay. 

“Add to the fact that last year, for several months all sidewalk projects were on hold due to the possibility of having to use city funds,” Motsch said.

Construction is now slated for next spring, but that’s if the right of way can be acquired from around a dozen property owners. 

However, Atak explained that HUD has time limits by which its money can be spent and this project did not make the deadline. 

“Normally funds are required to be spent within one year of receiving CDBG dollars,” Atak said. 

In February, Council transferred the funding to a rent relief initiative for public housing, but Atak said the funding will be restored on July 1, 2022. Everything has to be in place for the project to move forward. 

“It’s very important that we receive public support with the right of way moving forward so that we can secure this funding and there aren’t any delays moving forward,” Atak said. 

Atak said HUD has already issued a warning on the project. 

Motsch said a round of certified letters are being sent out to property owners this week for negotiations, and that the city wants to avoid taking properties by condemnation. One of the abutting landowners is Sunshine Court, which owns a six and a half acre mobile home park on Carlton Avenue. The property has a land value of $2.4 million. 

Low-income housing project gets $4.25 million boost from CACF

(This story first appeared in the March 29, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation has made its largest ever grant with $4.25 million going to Piedmont Housing Alliance for their redevelopment of land on U.S. 29. Piedmont Housing is working with the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless and Virginia Supportive Housing to redevelop the Red Carpet Inn site for a total of 140 units that will be guaranteed to be rented at prices for people with extremely low and very low incomes. Eboni Bugg is the director of programs for the CACF. 

“This first came on our radar last April when we received a grant application from TJACH and PACEM and the Haven regarding wanting to ensure that there was a non-congregate option for our homeless community members so that they could weather the pandemic without being in congregate shelter,” Bugg said.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors rezoned the land for the project in February. The Red Carpet Inn will continue to be used as a shelter by TJACH in the short-term as the project moves forward. Bugg said the CACF’s investment is made in the spirit of community health. There will be an update on grant at an event on April 15. 

Anthony Haro of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH) speaks with Eboni Bugg of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation at the Red Carpet inn (Credit: CACF)

Albemarle ARB reviews Ivy Road corridor

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.

The Musculoskeletal Center is expected to open in February of next year (Image: ZGF Architects)

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 city was awarded $12.1 million in funding for a Smart Scale project in the first round to improve the streetscape along Emmet Street. A VDOT dashboard indicates that project is behind schedule

Developers argue local policy affects cost of housing

How much of a role does local policy play in determining the cost of housing? That was one theme of a panel discussion held on March 18, 2021 by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership. (watch the video)

“There are a lot of factors that go into making something affordable, many of which we just don’t control locally,” said Charlie Armstrong, the vice president of land development for Southern Development, one of the area’s most active property developers. 

‌Every‌ ‌structure‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌in‌ ‌America‌ ‌is‌ ‌reviewed‌ ‌at‌ ‌multiple‌ ‌levels‌ ‌of‌ ‌government‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌the‌ ‌edifice‌ ‌conforms‌ ‌to‌ ‌rules.‌ Armstrong said ‌too‌ ‌much‌ land use regulation‌ ‌increases‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ ‌housing and that localities can play a role through their own policies.  ‌

“We‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌community‌ ‌really‌ ‌do‌ ‌this‌ ‌to‌ ‌ourselves,”‌ ‌Armstrong‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“We‌ ‌intentionally‌ ‌through‌ ‌our‌ Comprehensive‌ ‌Plans‌ ‌and‌ ‌our‌ ‌zoning‌ ‌ordinances‌ ‌limit‌ ‌the‌ ‌supply‌ ‌of‌ ‌land‌ ‌for‌ ‌new‌ ‌homes.‌ ‌We‌ ‌intentionally‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌community‌ ‌limit‌ ‌the‌ ‌density‌ ‌of‌ ‌new‌ ‌homes‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌allowed‌ ‌on‌ ‌any‌ ‌one‌ ‌piece‌ ‌of‌ ‌land.”‌ ‌ ‌

Albemarle’s‌ ‌Comprehensive‌ ‌Plan‌ ‌sets‌ ‌aside‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌5‌ ‌percent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌county’s‌ ‌726‌ ‌square‌ ‌miles‌ ‌for‌ ‌residential‌ ‌development.‌ ‌Armstrong‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌community’s‌ ‌choice‌ ‌to‌ ‌let‌ ‌the‌ ‌rest‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌county‌ ‌ be‌ ‌rural‌ ‌has‌ ‌impacts‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ ‌housing.‌ ‌Limited‌ ‌supply‌ ‌drives‌ ‌up‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌because‌ ‌those‌ ‌with‌ ‌more‌ ‌money‌ ‌can‌ ‌offer‌ ‌higher‌ ‌prices.‌ ‌ ‌

For‌ ‌the‌ ‌land‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌available,‌ ‌it‌ ‌can‌ ‌be‌ ‌time-consuming‌ ‌and‌ ‌expensive‌ ‌to‌ ‌navigate‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌zoning‌ ‌and‌ ‌special‌ ‌use‌ ‌permit‌ ‌process‌ ‌that‌ ‌can‌ ‌unlock‌ ‌higher‌ ‌residential‌ ‌densities.‌ ‌ ‌

Chris‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌of‌ ‌the Stony‌ ‌Point‌ ‌Development Group‌ said‌ ‌housing‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌affordable‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌past‌ ‌because‌ ‌developers‌ ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌comply‌ ‌with‌ ‌regulations‌ ‌to‌ ‌reduce‌ ‌stormwater‌ ‌runoff,‌ ‌as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌requirements‌ ‌to‌ ‌build‌ ‌sidewalks‌ ‌and‌ ‌other‌ ‌public‌ ‌infrastructure.‌ ‌ ‌

 “Municipalities‌ ‌used‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌business‌ ‌of‌ ‌even‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌cases‌ ‌of‌ ‌building‌ ‌roads,”‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌said. “They‌ ‌would‌ ‌put‌ ‌in‌ ‌stormwater‌ ‌and‌ ‌things‌ ‌like‌ ‌that.‌ ‌A‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌that‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌off‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌private‌ ‌sector‌ ‌for‌ ‌various‌ ‌reasons,‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌are‌ ‌reasonable.‌ ‌But‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌added‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌cost‌ ‌of‌ homes.”‌ ‌ ‌

 For more on this discussion, I’ve got an article in this week’s C-Ville Weekly that goes into more detailYou can also watch the whole presentation on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s YouTube page

Albemarle Supervisors seeks faster review of Comprehensive Plan

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors said last week they want a faster review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and that three years will be too long. 

Supervisors last updated the plan six years ago and much has changed since then, according to Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein. 

“Since the 2015 update, we have had significant work on: climate action planning; economic development; and equity, inclusion, and infrastructure investments and we want to better align the plan with those initiatives,” Falkenstein said.

Falkenstein said the Comprehensive Plan also needs to inform a rewrite of the rules of where development can go, and how. 

“We’ve identified the need for a zoning ordinance update and doing the comp plan update now to incorporate these initiatives will help set that stage,” Falkenstein said. 

In February, Supervisors had pushed back on the three year process staff recommended to update the Comprehensive Plan and asked for a more expedited review. However, Falkenstein said staff still believed in a 36-month process. 

“We feel that given the level of engagement and the breadth of topics that are covered in the comp plan, that three years is really a realistic timeline for this work,” Falkenstein said. 

A detailed community engagement plan will come back to the Board later this year. A project advisory group would be formed to oversee the process and members would be paid a stipend. Staff has now changed that to have the funding to used to “reduce barriers to participation.” These could include access to language as well as transportation. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said the existing plan is clear to read, and she did not want that to be lost as the current plan is amended.

“The benefit of our comp plan and I think why it won awards and is very well accepted is its readability and the fact that it is not just the last 12 months of something,” Mallek said. “It is a very long term history document about how we got here.” 

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she wanted the Planning Commission to weigh in about whether the plan needed to be rewritten, or just updated.

“I am concerned about this idea of a three-year plan being a complete rewrite of this Comprehensive Plan and that’s the part I’m really struggling with,” Palmer said. 

Palmer also wanted to know if the zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan could be updated at the same time given many conflicts. County Attorney Greg Kamptner said he would prefer to do the comp plan update first. 

“The ideal situation would be to have a comp plan and then immediately follow it with a comprehensive rewrite and updating of the zoning ordinance because it is 40 years old,” Kamptner said. 

Palmer asked if that would mean the zoning rewrite would not begin for three years. Planning Director Charles Rapp said supervisors will have the chance to weigh in with more direction as the work plan for the Community Development Department comes before them. He said work on the the zoning rewrite could at least begin before the comp plan is finished. 

“I think once we get to that framework for the comp plan so we know what it’s going to contain, then we can go ahead and start making progress on the zoning ordinance,” Rapp said. 

Charlottesville hired one consultant to produce an affordable housing plan, a Comprehensive Plan, and a new zoning ordinance. The Cville Plans Together initiative just completed the housing plan, which Council endorsed earlier this month. Albemarle Supervisors had a public hearing on their new housing plan last week, but sent it back to the Planning Commission for further work. I’ll have more on that in the next installment.  

As for the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan, Supervisor Diantha McKeel also thought three years was too long to wait, and that parts of the zoning needed to be changed sooner. 

“The zoning, the code, it is critical to getting it updated,” McKeel said. “To be honest with you it’s really my priority along with specific areas in the comp plan. Economic development. Climate action. I mean, I could go through and name maybe just a couple of others.” 

Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said he heard a disconnect between staff and the Board on this issue. He provided some clarifications.

“This is not intended to be a rewrite which was actually done the last time,” Walker said. “It is an update but I acknowledge that to some extent updating and rewriting may seem a lot the same if we’re not very careful about how we distinguish one from the other.” 

Falkenstein said staff will come back with a more detailed scope, but still maintained the process will be lengthy. County Executive Jeffrey Richardson agreed.

“The staff is trying to manage this and manage the Board’s expectations,” Richardson said. “Three years sounds like a long time but everywhere I have ever been, a Comprehensive Plan update takes quite some time because of the domino effect of touching all of the various aspects of the plan document.”  

(This story was originally posted in the March 23, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. )

Albemarle design panel reviews Fontaine Avenue Corridor

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. 

Physical context of the Fontaine Research Park in relation to the rest of the UVA Health System. Source: UVA Architect, Fontaine Master Plan, Page 5

The University of Virginia adopted a master plan for the Fontaine Avenue Research Park in September 2018 as a “flexible road map for future development.” This plan ultimately envisions up to 1.4 million gross square feet of building space. 

“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.”

Other undeveloped properties include a 12 acre site to the west of Buckingham Circle which the UVA Foundation purchased from the UVA Physicians Group in 2016. The latter secured a rezoning for the Morey Creek property in July 2011 but never built the proposed office building. Missel described this as a “long-term hold for the University.” 

Proffers associated with both the Fontaine Research Park and the Morey Creek involve making the area more pedestrian friendly. The Fontaine property serves as gameday parking for UVA football. 

Another property that could have future buildings scrutinized is the 69-acre “Granger tract” which is undeveloped and currently zoned R-1. The land is currently owned by Stribling Holdings LLC. 

“Access is a real bear because you do have to go under the railroad tracks, but that would not, I don’t believe any of the Fontaine viewsheds but probably would I-64 and potentially U.S. 29.

Another UVA-owned property in the area is the Piedmont Apartments complex run by University Housing for faculty. 

“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.” 

At the city line begins a Smart Scale funded streetscape project for which a public hearing is expected in “early 2021” according to the initiative’s website.  

Page 29 of a presentation on the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape given to Council in January 2020

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. 

Ridge Street CDBG projects move forward

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 recommendations from the Ridge Street CDBG Task Force

Watch videos of the Ridge Street Task Force:

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