Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
April 13, 2023: More details about UVA's concerns about funded improvements at Fontaine / U.S. 29; More time given for transit firms to bid on Albemarle pilot

April 13, 2023: More details about UVA's concerns about funded improvements at Fontaine / U.S. 29; More time given for transit firms to bid on Albemarle pilot

Plus: 476 words about a three word spoiler for the final set of rules for Charlottesville's new zoning code

There remains something ominous about the number 13 especially when it’s used to describe a day’s relative position in the month. Does Thursday the Thirteenth strike fear in your veins or is it just another adjective to be used as a placeholder in a sentence? Thank goodness the scope of Charlottesville Community Engagement does not cover such philosophical questioning. I’m Sean Tubbs and I shall be careful to not step on a crack this or any other day.

On today’s program:

  • The deadline is extended for firms who want to operate Albemarle County’s microtransit pilot on behalf of Charlottesville Area Transit 

  • The Charlottesville Planning Commission gets a very brief look at three words in the third zoning module

  • Charlottesville will hire a firm to provide lifeguards and other staff for one of their outdoor pools

  • More on the University of Virginia’s critique of a funded transportation improvement near their Fontaine Research Park 

First shout-out: WTJU’s Rock Marathon

It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in Charlottesville. The days are getting longer, the dogwoods are in bloom, and most importantly: it’s the WTJU Rock Marathon – coming up Monday, April 17 through Sunday, April 23!

WTJU’s musical rite of spring connects us with the elemental and brings ineffable joy. Now’s the time to plot out what you will listen to by checking out the schedule that runs from Baroque Pop Breakfast Monday at 8 a.m. to Halfway to Halloween. Along the way there are programs such the Rum Cove’s Teenage New Wave / Punk Rock Extravaganza, A Young Person’s Guide to XTC, and Wes Anderson’s Movie Soundscapes. 

But make no mistake – the only way WTJU can keep this music-loving community afloat is with support from listeners like you. Consider a donation today! 

Deadline extended for firms to apply to run microtransit for CAT on behalf of Albemarle County

Charlottesville Area Transit is seeking a firm to help them run a pilot on-demand program for Albemarle County and have extended the deadline for bids to April 26. That’s one of several items in an addendum put out today to the request for proposals for a company to provide the service. (read the addendum)

The addendum also has answers to 41 questions asked by would-be vendors. Here’s some information that can be learned from this section:

  • Vendors will need to determine how many vehicles they will need to provide the service 

  • Vendors will need to define what they consider to be a service disruption as part of their data reporting requirements

  • Vendors would not need to provide the service on Sundays 

  • Vendors will need to provide a service and operations plan 

  • The vendor will need to provide a call center to book a ride between 6:15 a.m. and 8:45 p.m. 

  • CAT will provide uniforms to drivers under this service 

  • Digital submissions will not be accepted for proposals

  • Albemarle County will decide whether to continue the service after the first year 

For more on this proposed service, here are some articles worth reviewing:

An image of the two microtransit zones for which people will be able to call to book on-demand trips, but only within each zone (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Planning Commission gets a spoiler on third module of Charlottesville’s draft zoning

It pays to listen to the pre-meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission as there is often material that is discussed that may be relevant to those interested in matters such as the rewrite of the zoning code to allow for significantly more residential density than currently allowed. 

Before I begin, I still want to go through the rest of the March 29 meeting between the Charlottesville Planning Commission and the City Council on the zoning. The first two modules for the draft code are out with a third waiting to be released. Today we learned that the third module will now not be ready until the first week of May.

The Planning Commission had another scheduled discussion of the work to date at the end of their April 11 meeting but they discussed the matter at their pre-meeting which was posted to the video archive. Here’s chair Lyle Solla-Yates. 

“Zoning… another big topic,” Solla-Yates said. “Table of authority, a term I had not heard before.”

There were no new written materials made available to the public on zoning for the April 11 meeting, according to Missy Creasy, the city’s deputy director of Neighborhood Development Services.

“We don’t have any new material on that for this evening,” Creasy said. 

But Solla-Yates had raised the curiosity of another Planning Commissioner. 

“What was that phrase that you just used?” asked Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg.

“Table of authority!” Solla-Yates said.

“Where did you read that?” asked Commissioner Liz Russell.

“Someone told me it and you’ll hear more about it later,” Solla-Yates said. “This is a spoiler. Table of Authority. Tell all your friends. Everyone’s talking about it.” 

The third module will be on the administration of the zoning code in the future. That information has not been released yet, but as chair of the Planning Commission, Solla-Yates must have been given at least a sketch of what to expect. NDS Director James Freas stepped in to explain. 

“It’s a table that would sit at the beginning of module 3 of that portion of the zoning ordinance and its basically a quick reference table that tells you: If I’m trying to do this, who do I go to?” Freas said. “So if I’m trying to do a special use permit, I know that goes to the Planning Commission and the City Council. If I’m trying to get a variance, I know that goes to the zoning administrator and the BZA.” 

It pays to always watch the pre-meeting because you never know what you may learn that isn’t really on the agenda. I also learned that planning is in the works for a joint meeting of the Albemarle and Charlottesville Planning Commissions. The two bodies have not met since January 24, 2017 according to Creasy. That was 2,270 days ago.

Back to zoning the comment period for Module 1 and Module 2 is open until April 30, and there’s a second open house scheduled for Saturday morning downtown in CitySpace at the same time as the Dogwood Parade. 

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Parks and Recreation understaffed as pool season approaches but have a plan

There are 46 days until Memorial Day and the traditional opening of municipal pools, and the warm weather this weekend may have many planning ahead for how they will cool off in the near future. 

The Charlottesville Planning Commission this week got updates on preparations in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to get ready for the summer. Overall, the department has some vacancies to fill. 

“We are at least twelve full-time equivalents down,” said Planning Commissioner Hosea Mitchell. “We’re working to fill those but it’s been quite the effort.” 

In recent years, the city has had to alternate opening days at the two outdoor pools at Washington Park and Meade Park due to a lack of lifeguards. While staffing challenges remain, this year will be different.

“We’re a lot short on lifeguards but we have a mitigation plan,” Mitchell said. “It looks like we are going to outsource or contract out the support for Onesty Pool (at Meade Park) and we will then directly staff Washington Park and Smith Pool with our own people.” 

More on this topic as the spring comes close to giving way to summer.

Second shout-out: Prepare to celebrate Downtown In Bloom

In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Friends of Charlottesville Downtown are getting ready for the month-long Downtown in Bloom event this May with a celebration of art, flowers, and the beauty of Spring. They want you to get ready for a series of free events. 

  • Charlottesville City Schools will host their annual art exhibit in the windows of shops on the Downtown Mall with a family night on May 5 with project displays on the CODE Building

  • There will be a Spring Stroll all month with specialty drinks at bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Pickup the Spring Stroll passport to qualify for a special celebration!

  • There will be a Flower Market at Ting Pavilion on May 4 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

  • Participating businesses will have a Flower Competition in container gardens and planter boxes outside of their establishments 

  • The 2023 Chalk Fest will be held on May 20 with 13 local artists creating murals from the Ting Pavilion to the Dairy Market

To learn more about Downtown in Bloom and other initiatives of Friends of Charlottesville Downtown, visit

UVA-commissioned study finds flaws in funded improvements to US 29/250 interchange with Fontaine Avenue

In late 2019, the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors agreed to end a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council that met openly with University of Virginia officials to discuss the infrastructure needed for a growing community. 

This was replaced with the closed-door Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee which meets every month. In its first two meetings of this year, the group has talked privately about some of the potential transportation solutions in areas where the University of Virginia has plans to significantly increase its activities. 

These two areas include Ivy Road and Old Ivy Road as well as the Fontaine Research Park. In February, the Virginia Department of Transportation presented a concept for some suggested ways to increase safety at the interchange of Interstate 64 with the U.S. 29/250 bypass.

The Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization secured nearly $12.4 million in funding in the fourth Smart Scale round for a project with this description:

“The project will provide alternative intersection/interchange improvement to the Diamond Interchange. Includes: a signalized partial [Westbound] crossover intersection at the [Northbound] Ramp Terminal Intersection with Relocated Left turning movements; a the closure of the [Northbound] 29 to Westbound I-64 Crossover and reroute of the movement through the Fontaine/29 Interchange; and extension of the Shared Use Path through the Interchange.” 

The general location for a Smart Scale funded project to address some of the issues at the Fontaine interchange with U.S. 29 / 250. (view the application)

One of these ideas would have re-routed vehicles on northbound U.S. 29 who wanted to get to westbound I-64. The new movement would have been to go through the Fontaine Avenue interchange and do a U-turn. This would have eliminated the current situation where vehicles cut across southbound traffic on U.S. 29, which put vehicles in danger of collision. 

In March there was a second presentation from the University of Virginia who hired the firm VHB to review VDOT’s work to date. These meetings are not open to the public, but Planning Commissioner Hosea Mitchell attended the meeting and had this account.

“That area will continue to have traffic continue to grow as we continue to build out that area,” Mitchell said. “It will be intensified by the biotech building that is on the way.” 

Mitchell reported that UVA is modeling what a full traffic build-out of Fontaine Research Park will look like in 2025 when a new parking garage is expected to open at Fontaine Research Park. 

“It’s going to be pretty busy out there,” Mitchell said. “They walked us through a pretty in-depth analysis of their data and there’s a little back and forth between UVA’s data and VDOT’s data but we’re working through that. And you guys have the Powerpoint presentation on that.”

And you, the reader, also have that thanks to this report. And I will state again here that I changed the headline for yesterday’s newsletter after being contacted by someone from the media team at VDOT that “shelved” wasn’t quite the right description given that design is still ongoing.

I changed the phrase to “critiqued” because that’s more accurate. Decisions on what gets funded are ratified by local elected officials and the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and not members of the UVA Board of Visitors. The Smart Scale project is in the design phase, and UVA’s hiring of a consultant is a normal attempt to influence what happens in their backyard. That’s part of the process. 

The Fontaine Research Park is now owned directly by the Board of Visitors of UVA after being owned by the University of Virginia Foundation for many years. The Foundation owns hundreds of acres nearby, including a 12.6 acre parcel rezoned by Albemarle County in 2011 for a 100,000 square foot office building that was never built. (Supervisors approve office building for UVA health system, Charlottesville Tomorrow, July 31, 2011)

(image) A map from Albemarle GIS showing land owned by the University of Virginia Foundation, as seen in parcels bordered with yellow. The Fontaine Research Park is in the lower right hand corner (Credit: Albemarle GIS)

None of us members of the public would have been allowed into the March 17 meeting of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee, but at least we have the powerpoint. Here’s what we can learn from it:

UVA hired VHB to conduct a supplementary traffic analysis as part of the Fontaine Park Master Plan Traffic Study based on the Smart Scale project that’s in design. 

“The objective was to update the analysis with new 2022 traffic counts, evaluate the roadway performance in 2025 when the Fontaine Parking Deck is anticipated to open, and analyze Fontaine Park buildout with the now funded Fontaine Avenue interchange project,” reads a section of slide 2. 

A goal was to determine what traffic signal timing parameters would be needed at the intersection of Fontaine Avenue and Ray C. Hunt Drive. That’s the sole entrance to the Fontaine Research Park. The study modeled the year 2045 based on anticipated build-out of the park. The analysis found that many of the turning movements would be “significantly congested” by the proposed configuration during morning and afternoon peak hours. 

“Some of the congestion is due to limitations of the funded interchange project, while some is due to capacity constraints along Fontaine Avenue at the Ray C. Hunt Drive signal,” reads page 10 of the VHB presentation. 

The presentation also acknowledged that whoever is awarded the contract to design and build the interchange improvements will conduct their own traffic study. 

“The project can be tweaked in design, but the budget is largely fixed, so design alterations are limited,” the presentation concludes on page 11. 

Slide 6 of the presentation has more details on VHB’s analysis of the Smart Scale project as conceived by VDOT (Credit: VHB / UVA) 

What next? I reported that yesterday, it turns out, with not as much context as I could have. But to send the point home, the latest written update on the county’s transportation priorities dated April 5 states it pretty clearly.

“Recently, stakeholders have expressed concern that the proposed displaced left turn/R-cut interchange does not meet the long-term needs of the rapidly developing area,” reads page 6 of the report. “Albemarle County is working with fellow stakeholders and VDOT to determine next steps for this project.”

Journalism is about asking questions. Which stakeholders? What concern? What are the long-term needs? Whose needs? 

It’s the mission of Charlottesville Community Engagement not only to ask those questions, but also to piece together as much as I can, continuing work I’ve been doing for a while. I am grateful for paid subscriptions that help me keep going, as there’s a lot left to know about. 

More from the Charlottesville Planning Commission meeting in a future installment. 

Reading material:

Concluding phrases to send #522 into that good night:

It’s not often I write the same story twice in a row but there was more reporting to be done with the Fontaine interchange story. I’m grateful to have control of what I report, and that my subscribers support experimenting on the fly. This is all an experiment, and I’m grateful for the support I have from hundreds of paid subscriptions! 

This venture can always use more as I think about how I can hire people to help me report about items I know community members want reported. If you sign up through Substack, Ting will match your initial payment. They’re good eggs that way, and one day maybe I’ll sign up for their high speed Internet, too. 

If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:

  • Free installation

  • A second month for free

  • A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall

Thanks to Wraki for incidental music in the podcast, which you can’t hear unless you listen to it. Check out the work on BandCamp!

Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.