August 10, 2023: Three area police chiefs give an update on public safety issues
Plus: Albemarle Supervisors get a briefing on transportation projects
There are two questionable holidays worth noting before the actual information content begins in this edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. The first invites you to take a look at where you are right now as it is Update Your Bio Day. I would update mine, but it’s also National Lazy Day so maybe I’ll wait until next year. I’m Sean Tubbs and… who are you? Update away and away with the update.
On today’s program:
Charlottesville City Council has officially asked the Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on the draft zoning code
The top three police officers in the area give an update on public safety to the Senior Statesmen of Virginia
Albemarle County Supervisors get a briefing on transportation projects
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First shout-out: Plant Northern Piedmont Natives
Since the beginning of this newsletter, one Patreon supporter has dedicated their shout-out to an organization that seeks to draw awareness of the importance of native species to the ecosystem. As summer continues, Plant Northern Piedmont Natives wants you to know they’ve printed over 9,280 copies of their guide Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens.
In this guide, Piedmont native plants are defined as those that evolved before the influence of European settlements shaped and changed the landscape. Plants included in the guide were selected from the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora and occur naturally within the region.
You can download your copy today for free!
Council officially refers zoning updates to Planning Commission
For over three and a half years, the city of Charlottesville has been conducting an overhaul of its land use policies in order to increase density. On Monday, City Council took another step towards completing the process by officially directing the Planning Commission to make up with a formal recommendation on how to proceed.
“This is the third part of our overall Cville Plans Together effort,” said James Freas, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.
The resolution officially starts the clock for the Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on what’s being called the Development Code. That includes both the new zoning ordinance and the new subdivision ordinance.
“This action tonight is a requirement of state law and our existing zoning code which require that Council refers these items to the Planning Commission and the Planning Commission has 100 days to get back to you with a recommendation.”
The referral came before a consolidated draft has been released to the public. That had been intended to be available the week of July 24 but has been delayed for additional legal review.
“We are really at the point of any day now,” Freas said. “We are expecting it this week. I will say that we are working through those last couple of issues trying to make sure that we have this thing buttoned up so that everything is ready to come to the Planning Commission and Council.”
Freas said the objective is to get the Development Code approved by the end of the year.
There will be at least one new member of the Planning Commission. Council has extended the deadline to apply for the seat vacated by Liz Russell earlier this year. At least seven had applied before the previous deadline but Council did not make a selection.
A joint work session is scheduled for August 29 to review the final draft. That’s the fifth Tuesday rather than the fourth Wednesday. Freas told the Planning Commission that that meeting will go over the adoption process in detail.
Area police chiefs address Senior Statesmen of Virginia
The past two years have seen an uptick in the amount of violent crime in the Charlottesville Albemarle area, mirroring a national trend. During that time, there have also been leadership changes in the city and county’s police departments.
Yesterday the Senior Statesmen of Virginia invited both Albemarle Police Chief Sean Reeves and Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis to join University of Virginia Police Chief Tim Longo to give an update and to answer questions.
Moderator Bob Beard cited a June 12, 2023 story in the Charlottesville Daily Progress that reported a violent crime rate that is up 30 percent over a two year period. (read the story) (read the Crime in Virginia 2022 report)
“In Charlottesville, police were investigating five homicide cases in the first three months of the year, the highest number reported since 2017,” Beard said.
Longo served as Charlottesville’s police chief from 2001 to 2016. He’s been UVA’s associate vice president for safety and security and chief of police in November 2019. Longo said he doesn’t put a lot of stock in the numbers.
“I appreciate numbers, I’m not a numbers guy,” Longo said. “People say ‘what’s the stats on such and such?’ Who cares? Do you feel safe or not because it doesn’t matter if it’s 30 percent or one percent. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel safe in your home, or your school, or your church, or your shopping center, and neighborhoods? That’s all that matters.”
Sean Reeves has been Albemarle’s Police Chief since March 2022. He rose up through the ranks of the department. He said collaboration with both Charlottesville and the University of Virginia often takes the form of sharing information. But Reeves pointed out another data point relevant to public safety.
“Last year, much like my counterparts, when I was sworn in as Chief of Police last March, we were operating with 30 officers down and that’s a significant number,” Reeves said. “Over the past year with our talented training and recruitment unit, with the support of our Board of Supervisors… we were able to make our starting salary a competitive salary.”
Reeves said that’s allowed the force to retain some officers and attract others.
“I’m proud to announce that as of this August we’re hoping to be only two officers down from thirty,” Reeves said.
Reeves said that of the six homicides in Albemarle in 2022, the victims and murderers knew each other.
Chief Michael Kochis said something similar. He began work in Charlottesville this past January.
“We’ve had five homicides in the city of Charlottesville since January,” Kochis said. “But what’s important to note is that everyone of those homicides involved people who either knew each other or were acquainted with each other. They weren’t random. So the data will show you we had five homicides. What the data’s not going to tell you is the conversations we’re having around the community with folks when they’re showing us bullet holes in their homes plugged with tissue so the breeze don’t come in. I mean, these are real stories.”
Want to learn more? The audio of the entire one-hour program is available for you to listen to on the Charlottesville Podcasting Network. Thanks to the Senior Statesmen of Virginia putting on the program. (visit the CPN site)
Second shout-out: Camp Albemarle
Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate.
Albemarle Supervisors briefed on transportation projects including cost escalation for Eastern Avenue South in Crozet
Every three months staff from Albemarle’s Community Development Department checks in with elected officials on the status of transportation projects. This mostly recently happened at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on August 2.
Transportation planner Jessica Hersh-Ballering noted that the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s final vote on Smart Scale projects this past June included a project to build a roundabout at District Avenue and Hydraulic Road. (read the story)
“We’re happy to see the roundabout added as it will improve the efficiency of the upcoming improvements at Hydraulic and U.S. 29,” Hersh-Ballering said.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will administer that latter project. A design public hearing was held last May.
Albemarle staff are finalizing applications for revenue-sharing funds from VDOT which require an equivalent payment from localities. In recent years, Supervisors have approved the allocation of funding to provide this match.
This time around, Albemarle has five pre-applications in the hopper totaling over $15 million but that will be reduced as the application deadline nears. Hersh-Ballering sought some feedback from the Supervisors about how to proceed.
Commonwealth Drive and Dominion Drive Pedestrian Improvements (Total Cost: $4,612,121): The current revenue sharing request is for half of $637,949 to close a funding gap for a project that has previously been awarded revenue sharing funds.
Berkmar Drive Extension (Total Cost: $27,257,979): This would continue Berkmar Drive to Airport Road where it would meet with a roundabout to connect to Lewis and Clark Drive. The current request is for half of $6.316 million with previously received revenue-sharing funds in the account.
Berkmar Drive Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements (Total Cost: $12,143,005): This would add about a mile of bike and pedestrian facilities on Berkmar Drive between Hilton Heights Road and Woodbrook Drive. The current request is for $4.7 million in VDOT revenue-sharing funds.
Lamb’s Lane Campus Loop Road (Total Cost: $8,338,601): The current request is for $4.169 million and would extend Lambs Lane to connect to Hydraulic Rd via Georgetown Green among other things. This is a recent project that has not yet received revenue-sharing application but a feasibility study has been completed. This may require relocation of some buildings. Staff is recommending not making this application this year while further study is conducted.
Eastern Ave South (Total Cost: $39,474,586): This project has received $8. 121 million in previous revenue-sharing funds and would serve as a new north-south connector road in Crozet including a new bridge over Lickinghole Creek. This request is for $1.9 million, the maximum the county can request. Staff is recommending not making this application this year due to a lack of unidentified funding for the balance but continuing to move forward.
Supervisor Ann Mallek has been advocating for the Eastern Avenue South project for many years and just learned of its large cost escalation. She said she was crushed.
“When I first started working on this, it was $1.5 million in 2008,” Mallek said. “This is just a lesson for all of us to remember that when you act on things in the appropriate time, they get out of the question. This has been on the list since 1992. More than 2,000 dwelling units have been built in the space between Cory Farm on U.S. 250 and on Route 240 where there is a whole series of neighborhoods there.”
Mallek said Crozet residents will suffer without the roadway as more homes are built in the area. She encouraged county staff to investigate other funding avenues, such as public-private partnerships.
“All of those rezoning that were passed were based upon this bridge being built,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway pointed out the Lambs Lane Loop Road has an overall larger scope. This project would convert the intersection of Georgetown Green and Hydraulic Road into a “continuous green-T” and would also convert the Albemarle High School entrance to right-in/right-out only.
“We have to figure out a way to call that something that doesn’t forget that it’s actually attacking Hydraulic Road,” Gallaway said. “That’s a major congestion and safety item there. And if everybody thinks of that as just the internal road when we’re thinking of it decision wise, that could be a problem. You can’t fix it without the internal road, really!”
Supervisors agreed with staff’s recommendation on what projects to pursue in this round of revenue-sharing.
The elected officials also learned at this briefing that there would be a focus group that would work with the Virginia Department of Transportation on the pipeline study for the Old Ivy Road / Ivy Road area.
Smooth landing: City to purchase farmland leased by International Rescue Committee, Nicole Milanovic, July 19, 2023
Litigation over Charlottesville's Lee statue appears to be over, Hawes Spencer, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), July 24, 2023
Crozet Trails Crew Launches Bridge Fundraising Campaign, Clover Carroll, Crozet Gazette, August 5, 2023
Charlottesville organization accuses Albemarle of violating Americans with Disabilities Act, Maggie Glass, WVIR NBC29, August 7, 2023
Parents frustrated as Albemarle unable to provide school bus transportation to hundreds of students, Destini Harris, WVIR NBC29, August 9, 2023
USDA’s climate grants for farms and forests run into Republican buzzsaw, Allison Winter, August 10, 2023
Notes for the end of 564:
Will you still appreciate this newsletter and podcast when it gets to 664? That’s a hundred editions from this one, and I would guess we’ll be there in February and maybe soon. It all depends on how I often I can sit down and get to work.
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I’m not going away.
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