August 31, 2021: Public housing board approves sustainability study, surveillance camera contract; Regional tourism body may amend its make-up
The last day of the eighth month has arrived, and soon it will have passed and it’s on to the third third of 2021.
Today’s first Patreon fueled shout-out is a new one.
A concerned Charlottesville parent wants to make sure the community participates in the Middle School Reconfiguration process that is currently underway. After years of discussion, concrete plans are being put forward. You can learn more and contribute at the City of Charlottesville Schools/VMDOs information page.
On today’s show:
A quick rundown on a couple of transit planning exercises and new routes in the area
Information on how area hotels have been doing this summer, and how the make-up of an area tourist board may change
The same firm that’s studying’s UVA’s housing initiative has been hired by the city’s public housing agency for a redevelopment study
Former Warren County EDA director indicted on federal fraud charges
Before we begin today, another COVID update. The Virginia Department of Health reports another 3,487 new cases today. In the Blue Ridge Health District there are another 75 new cases. The agency put out an alert late Monday evening that all localities under its jurisdiction are experiencing a high level of community transmission.
“As we experience this surge in cases, we urge all individuals, businesses, and other organizations to take prevention measures that include masks indoors and physical distancing,” reads the email. “The Delta variant is the dominant strain of the virus and the primary driver of recent high transmission rates of COVID-19 because it spreads more easily than earlier strains of the virus.”
This afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health announced the receipt of $4.3 million from the Centers for Disease Control to hire more community health workers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Virginia initiative will focus on geographic areas of Virginia with high rates of COVID-19 identified by project partners,” reads the release. “Those areas include parts of the Richmond metro region, Norfolk, Portsmouth, the Danville area, and the Southwest Virginia communities served by the Mount Rogers Health District.”
Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency related to the approach of Tropical Depression Ida. Heavy flooding is predicted across much of the state, particularly in southwest Virginia. The move allows the Commonwealth to mobilize forces to assist in a variety of different emergency situations.
“Given the storm’s current forecast, the Commonwealth will assist localities, especially those with vulnerable populations, to provide support in response to a large-scale weather event during the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads Executive Order 81..
A collision in Charlottesville Monday afternoon between a pickup truck and a cement truck killed the driver of the pickup truck. The crash occurred at a construction site on Druid Avenue. The 53-year-old driver was initially taken to the University of Virginia hospital but soon died from the injuries. According to a release from the city, the driver of the cement truck was not injured and is cooperating with an investigation.
The former director of the Economic Development Authority for both the Town of Front Royal and Warren County has been indicted on several federal fraud charges. Jennifer Rae McDonald, 44, is accused of wire fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.
“McDonald, through her position as executive director at the EDA, had access to funds belonging to the EDA and, as the indictment alleges, used EDA funds to pay on debt owed by her, other individuals, and LLCs she controlled, to purchase real property for which she often earned commissions as a real estate agent, and to purchase real property in the name of an LLC she controlled,” reads the release.
In all McDonald faces 34 counts for activities from June 2014 to December 2018. Several other people have been charged with crimes, including the entire Warren County Board of Supervisors. For more on the story take a look at coverage from Alex Bridges in the Northern Virginia Daily.
Now it’s time to pick back up from last week’s meeting of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. The CACVB is an entity funded in part by transient lodging taxes that seeks to market the area for tourism. One key metric is the hotel occupancy rate. That figure was higher this summer than last year but still below pre-pandemic levels. Courtney Cacatian is the director of CACVB.
“My understanding is that’s largely due to employment challenges but some of our properties are doing better than others on that front,” Cacatian said.
After that update, Cacatian gave the Board updates on efforts to update marketing plans. That starts with data on what people who don’t live here know about the area.
“We received some research from SIR, a firm based in Richmond, and they had let us know that when our past visitors come to Charlottesville and Albemarle County, they are 83 percent more likely to make a return trip to this region,” Cacatian said. “With our prospective visitors, there was a major need here to let people know who we are and what we’re all about to attract them here in the future.”
What are your observations about how other people perceive the area? Leave a comment. I’m curious to know these things.
In any case, there are currently two City Councilors and two Albemarle Supervisors on the CACVB Board. Earlier this year, several members of the tourism sector asked the Board to consider changing its make-up to include industry members. That may happen according to this bit of information from Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson.
“I did go back and speak to the Board of Supervisors and the Board has indicated to me that they would be willing to move forward with the City of Charlottesville to look at the recommendations for modifying the existing [CACVB] Board.”
City Manager Chip Boyles said City Council will discuss amending the CACVB Board as well, but it’s not the elected officials’ positions that localities would give up.
“I was able to go back and converse with each of our City Council members and the consensus there is that likewise with Albemarle County we would be open to considering a change,” Boyles. “I think the discussion was that the City Manager and Chief Administrative Officer positions would possibly be replaced with industry representatives.”
Still remaining to work out are the specifics over those industry representatives.
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: Help support Black-owned business in the Charlottesville area. Check out the Charlottesville Black Business Directory at cvilleblackbiz.com and choose between a variety of goods and services, ranging from beauty supplies, professional services, and e-commerce. Visit cvilleblackbiz.com as soon as you can to get started!
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District is in the midst of conducting two studies related to transit, one of which is focused on increasing the amount of service in urban portions of Albemarle County. Lucinda Shannon is the planner working on the projects.
“We have two different grants that we are working on,” Shannon said. “The transit expansion study is a short-term project and it’s just within Albemarle County and it’s to expand transit services in the near term.”
Two public input sessions were held in late July and the goal is to have a feasibility study in place early next year. (See also Studying the Expansion of Transit in Albemarle, August 11, 2021)
“The transit vision plan is a little bit longer and it’s for the long-term project and it’s for the entire region so it’s going to go over about 18 months and should be completed on June 30, 2022,” Shannon said.
The plan is intended to present steps towards implementing a regional system.
“Right now we’re in the gathering information phase,” Shannon said. “We’ve kicked off the project and we’re made data requests from providers and gathered land use. We’re developing a website and a logo.”
You can also look forward to an interactive survey and map on the topic. To learn more about transit in this area, do go back and read or listen to the August 27, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.
Outside of this newsletter’s immediate coverage is Bedford County, which launches its first public transportation service on Wednesday with a 21-passenger vehicle known as the Otter Bus. This service is a partnership between the Town of Bedford and the Bedford Community Health Foundation.
Also beginning Wednesday is the Afton Express, which will provide service between Staunton and Charlottesville. That service will be operated by BRITE.
Now let’s load up the time machine and go back eight days to the August 23, 2021 meeting of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. One item on the agenda was the hiring of a real estate firm to conduct a sustainability review of the CRHA’s properties and holdings. John Sales is the CRHA executive director.
“We are looking to undertake a sustainability plan to determine the future redevelopment and positioning of the housing authority’s assets to expand for and prepare for redevelopment,” Sales said.
The firm to be hired is Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures. That’s the same firm that’s been working with the University of Virginia on an initiative to plan and build up to 1,500 affordable housing units on land owned by UVA or its real estate foundation.
“We have already started redeveloping multiple sites and planning for the Sixth Street redevelopment and working to create a couple of resident planners for Westhaven,” Sales said. “So we’ve already started but we really do need to have a game plan about how we’d like to redevelop all of these sites.”
Sales said the study will try to determine what needs to be built and would include suggestions for new units that could be built to serve people with federal housing vouchers. New construction being built today is renting at too high levels for many to use that system.
“Developers aren’t building the housing units that are needed for the individuals that are getting the vouchers,” Sales said.
Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures will be paid up to $229,960 for the work. They were one of two finalists. (resolution)
A previous CRHA Board adopted a master plan in the summer of 2010, but the current renovation of Crescent Halls and the building of new units at South First Street did not directly follow that blueprint. For reference, you can read that old plan on cvillepedia.
The CRHA Board also narrowly approved a resolution to hire a firm to run video surveillance cameras on CRHA properties for security purposes.
“Residents have continued to ask for this ever since I’ve been with CRHA as a director, and that’s been been about a year ago in August,” Sales said. “There was a lot of violence and a lot of shootings going on at several of the sites and residents continued to ask about cameras and why CRHA didn’t have cameras.”
The CRHA Board adopted a policy on cameras at their meeting in July. Provisions are in the policy to make sure footage is not used for other reasons, but some residents want to know if that means footage can be used to see if residents are violating the terms of their lease.
“We have not expanded the cameras for that roll yet, but those are conversations that are starting to happen in the safety committee,” Sales said.
The vote was not unanimous. Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker voted against the contract out of a concern that the cameras will eventually be used to punish and harass residents.
“I think it’s just a really slippery slope and I think until people are impacted negatively they won’t even really realize,” Walker said.
The move was supported by the Public Housing Association of Residents. Shelby Marie Edwards is the executive director.
“I think everybody on this call probably knows that the Sixth Street residents have sustained quite a bit of violence over the past month or so, really all summer,” Edwards said. “The residents I was talking to there, I was talking to them and they said it would be really have something tangible to look forward to next. I do hear everything that the Mayor said about systemic oppression and how the use of cameras could go left, and we’ve been trying our due diligence to let people know about that but the fact of the matter is there’s something very real in front of them and they are hopeful the cameras will be able to help mitigate that violence.”
Walker was joined by CRHA Chair A’Lelia Henry in voting against it, but it passed on a 3-2 motion. Two Commissioners were absent from the meeting.
The contract with Turnkey will be for $186,040.
There may be more from this meeting of the CRHA in a future installment of the show.
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