Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
April 17, 2023: Details on CRHA's Dogwood purchase before tonight's Council vote; A list of pending lawsuits against Council

April 17, 2023: Details on CRHA's Dogwood purchase before tonight's Council vote; A list of pending lawsuits against Council

Plus: The city gets $7.1 million to replace iron pipes for natural gas

                                                       Welcome to the day 
                                                      It is April Seventeen
                                                    That’s the whole intro

Except, it’s not, because I can’t limit myself to 17 syllables to properly provide context. Such context is the whole goal of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that attempts to establish a little harmonic knowledge about the chaotic world. I’m Sean Tubbs, thinking you’ve not heard the last attempt to celebrate International Haiku Poetry Day

On today’s program:

  • Council will take a final vote tonight on a “true-up” appropriation to Charlottesville Area Transit

  • The four elected officials and one appointed official will also take action on an award of $5 million to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to purchase 74 affordable units

  • A quick summary of cases pending against Charlottesville City Council 

  • The city wins a $7.1 million federal grant to replace natural gas pipes around West Main Street

  • Plus two more Haiku!

First shout-out: Missing Middle Housing: Racial Equity and Opportunity 

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: Livable Cville has another event coming up that they want you to know about and consider attending. On April 19 at 6:30 p.m. Bryan Coleman, 2nd Vice President of the NAACP Arlington Branch, will provide examples from Arlington on Missing Middle Housing: Racial Equity and Opportunity. As Charlottesville continues a zoning rewrite intended to increase residential density, Coleman will discuss the relationship between Arlington’s current housing debates and racial equity and opportunity. Stay for the question and answer period to hear a local perspective from Sunshine Mathon, Executive Director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance. That’s another Livable Cville webinar coming up on April 19. 

Register on Eventbrite.

Editor’s note: Today’s edition is a companion of sorts to tonight’s meeting of the Charlottesville City Council. I had hoped to get to these segments earlier, but here we are. 

Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Council hears first reading of appropriation for Charlottesville Area Transit

When Charlottesville Area Transit provided information for the current fiscal year in the early 2022, officials sent over an estimate. On April 3, 2023, CAT Director Garland Williams appeared before Council for an appropriation to bring the budget closer to the actual numbers.  

“What you see before you is the operating side of the house for an additional $7,886,856,” Williams said. 

The additional money comes from three sources:

  • The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation awarded $656,581 more than had been expected.

  • There’s an additional $4,939,780 from the federal government with $938,323 coming from the Federal Transit Administration and $4,001,457 coming from the American Rescue Plan Act.  

  • There’s $2,290,495 in FTA funding for Jaunt that passes through the city’s budget.

Williams told Council that they’ve already agreed how this money will be spent in previous discussions. This action is what is known as a “true-up.” (read the staff report)

“We’ve already looked at the programming and we’ve kind of pushed it out and looking at trying to bring out more service,” Williams said. 

The second reading will be held tonight but it’s on their consent agenda. 

There are a lot of moving pieces in transit in the area. For the most comprehensive coverage of this very complex issue, check out the Transit tag on Information Charlottesville.

Council holds first reading of Dogwood Properties purchase

Tonight Council will take up the second reading of a plan to give $5 million to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to acquire a large amount of housing that is currently rented to people with incomes much lower than the area median income. 

The purchase price for the units currently owned by Woodard Properties is $10 million and a “philanthropic donor” previously identified in CRHA documents as Riverbend Development will provide the rest of the funding for the 74 units spread across 26 locations. 

“The city would retain a half interest in this particular portfolio and the request would be for the portfolio to be preserved at 60 percent of the [Area Median Income] based on attrition of units so any individual that currently lives in one of the units would be able to remain in the unit but upon vacancy that unit would be converted to a 60 percent AMI unit going forward,” said Sam Sanders, Charlottesville’s deputy city manager. 

Sanders said staff have reviewed the budgets of the existing project and have concluded the properties are profitable. Current rents range from $700 for an efficiency to $1,310 for a three bedroom unit. CRHA would be allowed to retain any earnings from the rentals for use. 

“Therefore the funding should be available to support CRHA’s interest in adding two additional maintenance staff to support the ongoing maintenance for the property and they would then retain the ability to lease those properties using current staff within the CRHA organization,” Sanders said. 

Sanders said Woodard Properties hoping to close the transaction as soon as possible to concentrate on their other rental properties, many of which are student-related. 

“There is a concern if this was not acquired then this would no longer be naturally occurring affordable housing, therefore becoming more market rate and potentially causing current tenants to be evicted for inability to pay,” Sanders said. 

These units would not be maintained with any funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for public housing. 

“Meaning within their accounting they would need to keep track of everything related to this portfolio because of the city’s half-interest,” Sanders said. “As having that interest, we are able to take a look at any part of the financials and the performance on this portfolio as a co-owner.” 

Sanders had questions for Council at the first reading, the first of which was whether this should follow the same terms as the city’s assistance to help CRHA purchase properties on Montrose Avenue and Coleman Avenue last year. The city has a half-interest in those units as well, but CRHA gets the earnings. 

Should this be a grant, a forgivable loan, or a deferred loan? If a loan, would there be interest or none? Another is whether this purchase should be part of the Sustainability Plan the CRHA is working on? (learn more about that plan)

“I think the question is, what does the city want out of its money and out of its ownership and I think that’s something we collectively need to have a discussion about,” said Andrew McRoberts of the firm Sands Anderson. They’re the entity providing City Attorney services. 

Councilors all indicated they saw the funding as a capital investment rather than a loan or a grant. 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he has fielded many questions from people concerned about CRHA’s finances. Until recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considered the entity to be on “troubled” status. 

“How do we, number one, make sure that whatever our interest is that we retain a veto power against it being squandered?” Snook asked. 

Snook said this concern came from the possibility of the property being used as collateral for another loan, perhaps. He also said if the properties are sold, the city’s interest would need to be considered. 

City Councilor Michael Payne supported the project no matter the form the financial payment takes. He is a member of the CRHA Board of Commissioners. 

“However its structured, in my mind what we’re going to get out of it is the city investing in CRHA as a partner to preserve this as affordable long-term, bring the AMI levels as they pair them with vouchers to get them down to 30 percent of AMI, and that’s also going to help CRHA’s operations as they are going to start to bring in more income so they can be more self-sufficient,” Payne said. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade agreed with Payne.

“I think this is an asset that is only going to increase in the future so that’s what I see it as,” Wade said. 

This item will not be on the consent agenda. Another item not resolved as of the April 3 reading was the status of the outstanding loan that Woodard Properties has for their purchase of Dogwood Housing from Eugene Williams

Mayor Snook spoke to Mr. Williams on April 3. 

“One of the reasons he had formed Dogwood Housing because he was concerned that in public housing, the kids were not faring well, that the families were not faring well, and that he wants to make sure that when CRHA gets into an ownership over these same properties that the concerns he had about the effect on public housing on individual families and individual children was not going to be extended to these kids who were living in these properties right now,” Snook said. 

Tune in tonight to see what happens. 

Second shout-out: ACHS presents Inside the Walls of Worship tour

In today’s second subscriber supported shout-out, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society is planning a historical tour on April 29 as a fundraiser that will give participants a look into the soul of a community. The Inside the Walls of Worship tour will visit the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue, Christ Episcopal Church, and the Albemarle County Courthouse and experts will provide history on the details of each. Tickets are $40 per person and the tour will start at First Presbyterian Church with free parking. Register on Eventbrite!

A summary of active lawsuits against Charlottesville City Council 

Charlottesville City Council will go into a closed session today after their 4 p.m. work session. The topic is “legal consultation” and so I thought I would do some research into active cases in Charlottesville Circuit Court. This does not include federal lawsuits. Perhaps in the comments, you can leave some of the ones that are still open?

I lacked the ability on a Sunday morning to research how active ‘active’ is but it’s important to track what I can find on the Circuit Court portal. Only members of the Court can access legal documents remotely (except land use records and deeds).

  • Samuel Hellman filed suit against City Council on July 21, 2016 challenging the approval process for the six-story building now constructed at 550 East Water Street. While listed as active, the last order was filed on April 3, 2017 for a “proposed order nonsuit.” For more background, read Tim Dodson’s July 6, 2016 story in Charlottesville Tomorrow. (CL16000319-00)

  • Members of the Little High Street neighborhood filed suit against Council on July 5, 2018 challenging approval of a special use permit for a 126-unit apartment building at the corner of 10th Street and East Jefferson Street. Council voted 3-2 on July 5, 2017 to approve the rezoning, as I reported at the time for Charlottesville Tomorrow. The last action according to records is a plea in bar on August 2, 2018.  (CL18000368-00)

  • An anonymous group of city residents filed suit in December 2021 against Council for adoption of the Comprehensive Plan a month prior. Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell dismissed three of the four counts late last August as I reported. (CL21000610-00)

  • Hawes Spencer reported in the Daily Progress on March 4, 2023 that a new complaint in the above case was filed on February 13, 2023 been filed but had not yet been served. (CL23000080-00)

  • Trevillian Station Battlefield and the Ratcliffe Foundation filed an injunction against Council on December 22, 2021 for their award of a now-removed Confederate statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The most recent report I can find is a February 13 Daily Progress article signaling a delay in the trial due to an illness. There appear to be many new documents in the case, but you have to go to the courthouse to actually look at them. (CL21000617-00)

  • Cabell Marshall of Stribling Avenue filed suit against Council on May 18, 2022 for the rezoning of 240 Stribling Avenue to make way for up to 170 apartment units, as I reported at the time. One of the arguments is that the public hearing was invalid because meetings were still remote. Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Fairfax County did not have the ability to adopt a new zoning code during an electronic meeting as I wrote about in late March.  A trial is scheduled for May 12, 2023 according to the Circuit Court records. (CL22000234-00)

  • Residents of Jefferson Park Avenue filed suit against Council on October 19, 2022 for the award of a special use permit for additional height and density at 2005 Jefferson Park Avenue a month earlier. Here’s my report. A hearing is scheduled for May 12, 2023 at 2 p.m. according to the Circuit Court records. (CL22000494-00)

Charlottesville awarded $7.1 million to upgrade natural gas system

The Charlottesville City Council has been awarded $7.1 million funding from the federal  government to replace some of the remaining iron pipes that convey natural gas to customers in the city. 

The funding comes from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation and ultimately from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

“The project will enhance the resiliency of the gas system along West Main Street, a central artery that connects downtown Charlottesville to the University of Virginia,” reads a press release sent out this afternoon

This will complete a system-wide upgrade in the early 2000’s that replaced leak-prone iron pipes with “corrosion-resistant high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic pipe.” 

The move comes at a time when the city’s utilities division has begun a study about decarbonization of the gas utility. For more on that, take a look at a story now posted on Information Charlottesville. 

Two Haiku 

As mentioned at the beginning of the show, it is International Haiku Poetry day. I put the call out for examples and I have two. Here is my friend Liz Mead:

                             Small town skate center 
                  And old man named tony dancing
                             One day we shall meet

And here is Doug Eddy, an occasional provider of voices in the podcast version:

                                               now comes spring and new
                                        roots and news like sap the glue
                                                     for community

I hope to do more interactive things like this. 

Reading material:

The last hundreds of characters for #523

That’s the end of another newsletter with a combination of different stories from different sources. I acknowledge it takes me time to get to everything I want to write, but I’m grateful to be planning for hundreds and hundreds and perhaps hundreds more editions. That’s all possible due to the growing number of paid subscribers. 

And it’s also due to a sponsorship from Ting where they match the initial substack subscription. They want to support this brand of journalism, which seeks to cover as much as possible, and to plan to cover even more! 

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

  • Free installation

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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!