Dec 14, 2021 • 19M

December 14, 2021: UVA announces three sites for affordable housing projects; Rivanna Conservation Alliance issues latest water quality report

Plus: The Regional Transit Partnership ponders steps to become an Authority

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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.
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Welcome to the antepenultimate Tuesday of 2021, also doing business as the 348th day of the year. This is the 294th installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. There are many more to come in the future due to the certainty that where will be items to write about far into the future. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.

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On today’s show:

  • The Regional Transit Partnership ponders a potential future as a regional transit authority

  • The University of Virginia picks two sites in Albemarle and one site in Charlottesville on which to build affordable housing 

  • The Rivanna Conservation Alliance publishes its 2021 water quality report

  • Regional broadband expansion projects nets $79M in state funding

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UVA Housing initiative

The University of Virginia has announced three sites upon which it will work with a developer to build affordable housing units, two of which are in Albemarle County. They are:

  • The low-density Piedmont housing site on Fontaine Avenue

  • The corner of Wertland and 10th Street

  • Properties at the North Fork Research Park 

President Jim Ryan made the announcement this morning in a written statement.

“Economic growth over many decades has had a profound effect on housing in the Charlottesville-Albemarle community, and we are committed to working with community partners to create more housing intended for local workforce and community members who have been priced out of the local housing market,” Ryan said. “We believe these sites may be suitable for affordable housing, to potentially include mixed-use development.”

J.J. Wagner, UVA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said these sites were selected in part because they were not in any other strategic plan. There’s a website where people can submit feedback. (website)

According to a press release on UVA Today, Piedmont would likely be completely redeveloped except for an existing structure. The Piedmont property is on the north side of Fontaine Avenue and is within Albemarle County. UVA owns this site outright. 

The University of Virginia Foundation purchased 1010 Wertland Street from developer Keith Woodard in February 2017 for $4 million, which was well over the $1.85 million assessment for that year.  That 0.4 acre property is currently occupied by an apartment complex.  The foundation also owns two other properties at this corner, one of which is currently vacant.

The North Fork Research Park currently does not have any residential units. This past March, the foundation issued a request for proposals for a firm to help rezone portions of the property to Neighborhood Model District zoning. 

“Coordination with the UVA Affordable Housing Task Force will be required,” reads the RFP. 

According to the RFP, the areas marked in red are the sections of North Fork Research Park for which the rezoning to Neighborhood Model District would be requested 

Existing leases at both Piedmont and 1010 Wertland Street will be honored for their duration. UVA or its foundation will donate the land though a ground lease and will not contribute any funding to the projects. The next step is for the UVA Foundation to issue a request for qualifications for potential builders. 

Initial work for the project was conducted by the firm Northern Urban Real Estate Ventures. That company is now working with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority on a master plan for sustainability. 

These three sites are the only ones under consideration at this time. UVA spokesman Brian Coy said they will work with the selected firm to meet the goal of building between 1,000 and 1,500 units. 

Broadband expansion 

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District has been awarded a $79 million grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative for a project to expand broadband to nearly every home across a 13-county area. Governor Ralph Northam made that announcement yesterday as part of a $722 million funding package for similar Internet expansion meetings across the Commonwealth. The TJPDC was the lead applicant for the RISE project, which stands for Regional Internet Service Expansion. 

Several localities including Albemarle are contributing a total of $33.5 million as a match for the public-private partnership involving Firefly Fiber Broadband, the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy. Over the next three years, more than 5,000 miles of fiber will be installed across an area that spans from portions of Campbell County to the south to Goochland County to the east to Greene County to the north. In all, an additional 36,283 homes will be connected. They will then ne able then purchase Internet from Firefly Fiber. 

TJPDC’s award is the third largest in the state. (read the grant application) (Governor’s press release

Coverage areas of the RISE project
Avon Street Development

Tonight, the Albemarle Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a rezoning for a planned residential district in the 1800 block of Avon Street Extended. Andy Reitelbach is a senior planner with the county.

“It involves a request to rezone two parcels of land on Avon Street right south of Avinity,” Reitelbach said. “The two parcels together total about 3.6 acres and the applicant is requesting a maximum of 85 two-family and multifamily resident units.” 

Reitelbach made his comments at the 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee from November 18. So did Kelsey Schlein with Shimp Engineering, the firm taking the project through the review process. 

“It’s designated urban density residential in the Comprehensive Plan so at 24 dwelling unit per acre with a maximum density on the property, we’re within the recommended density range for urban density residential,” Schlein said. 

Schlein said there will be a mix of housing types with triplexes, quadplexes, townhomes, and multifamily units. None of the buildings will exceed three stories. She noted that the county has adopted a corridor study to make the area more hospitable to people on bikes or on foot. (read the study)

“Since there is an existing sidewalk in front of Avinity that kind of extends in front of the elementary school, we’re proposing to continue that network,” Schlein said. “However, we’ve provided enough right of way for a multi use path improvement so if there’s ever a comprehensive reimagining of the pedestrian network on the [east] side of Avon Street, this application will have provided the right of way for that.” 

Some members of the 5th and Avon CAC expressed concerns about traffic, the lack of a playground, and the possibility the application did not include open space. The Planning Commission meets virtually at 6 p.m. tonight. (meeting info)

Location map for 1805 Street Extended (Credit: Shimp Engineering)
New look for tourism website

The quasi-government entity charged with marketing the region to tourists has updated their website. The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau launched an refreshed version last week of visitcharlottesville.org. The designer is a firm called Tempest as we learn in a press release.

“In addition to better serving visitors and industry partners, the new website will also reduce costs for the CACVB, in anticipation of a significant budget decrease projected for Fiscal Year 2023,” reads the release. “The reduction in budget for the upcoming fiscal year is a direct result of decreased transient occupancy tax collection from local lodging properties, due to the impacts of COVID-19.” 

The Bureau is governed by a Board of Directors that currently includes two members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and two City Councilors. In October, the CACVB Board discussed reducing that to one elected official from each locality in favor of more representatives from the hospitality industry. 

For more, read Allison Wrabel’s October 25 story in the Daily Progress. For more on the hospitality industry, read a story from me from October 30 on the archive site Information Charlottesville.  The CACVB Board next meets on December 20. 

A screenshot of the updated CACVB website

*

General Assembly 2022

With Republicans in control of the House of Delegates next year, that means Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) will chair a major committee. Yesterday, incoming House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) assigned Bell to chair the Courts of Justice Committee and made five other appointments. (release)

  • Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) will chair Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources

  • Delegate Jay Leftwich (R-Chesapeake) will head General Laws

  • Delegate Bobby Orrock (R-Caroline) will chair Health, Welfare, and Institutions

  • Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) will head Labor and Commerce

  • Delegate Terry Austin (R-Botetourt) will chair Transportation. 

RCA report

The Rivanna Conservation Alliance has issued its annual stream health report based on water quality monitoring from 2018 through 2021. Based on their data, the number of impaired streams increased. (read the report)

“The percentage of our sampled streams that failed to meet water quality standards for aquatic life grew from 68 percent in last year’s report to 82 percent in this one,” reads the report. 

However, the document acknowledges difficulty in collecting data in 2018 and 2019 due to heavy rain events that scoured stream beds and banks, as well as difficulty collecting data during the pandemic. 

“Most notably, seven of the nine sites that moved from an assessment of very good or good down to fair were affected by unusually large hatches of black fly larvae that reduced biodiversity in our samples,” the report continues. 

Another item of note in 2020 is the completion of a 15-year study on the long-term effects of large-scale water quality improvements such as stream restoration, planting of buffers along streams, or upgrades to wastewater treatments plants. That’s based on looking at all 50 monitoring sites and finding that those that improved were close to some form of improvement. 

Take a look at the full report for more details on how data is collected (Credit: Rivanna Conservation Alliance)

More shout-outs

You’re listening to Charlottesville. Community Engagement. Let’s continue today with two more Patreon-fueled shout-outs. The first comes a long-time supporter who wants you to know:

"Today is a great day to spread good cheer: reach out to an old friend, compliment a stranger, or pause for a moment of gratitude to savor a delight."

The second comes from a more recent supporter who wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!


Regional transit authority?

It has been some time since I’ve had an update on transit issues and now is the time to do so. Earlier this month, the members of the Regional Transit Partnership got an informal recommendation from a consultant that it may be time to move from an advisory body into a decision-making body that can raise its own funds. 

Before we get into all of that, though, there is still time to take two surveys to get your input on the Regional Transit Vision for the Charlottesville Area. That’s a project being led by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District to “evaluate transit service” in the region in order to “establish a clear long-term vision for efficient, equitable, and effective transit service.” 

One survey is on transition visioning and the other is an interactive map that asks the question: “What are the long-term transit needs for the Charlottesville region?” 

“You’re able to kind of sort of pinpoint on a map some issues or wants or desires regarding transit,” said Tim Brulle, a project manager for the vision who works for the firm AECOM. “We are using the public survey as part of our main avenue for that public feedback right now.” 

The project is being funded by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation with additional funds from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Albemarle County is conducting its own separate study, and Charlottesville Area Transit has pending route changes that have not yet been implemented. 

On December 2, 2021, the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership got a status update on the studies, beginning with the Regional Transit Vision. As of that date, only about a hundred and thirty people had responded. (watch this meeting)

Also as part of the meeting, Scudder Wagg of the firm JWA briefed the partnership members on the fact that many other transit systems in Virginia are regional. In this community, there are three major transit systems in Jaunt, Charlottesville Area Transit and the University Transit Service. Wagg suggested a reorganization across multiple communities that could yield more funding for expansion. 

“If you are to think about a regional funding source and a regional funding agency, then you would start to need to think about this on more of a regional scale,” Wagg said. “That’s where we want to help you consider how you might address that.”

Wagg said the combined operating budgets of CAT and Jaunt are around $16 million, with about half of that funding coming from local sources. He suggested the total amount could increase if the community took steps to create an authority which can issue bonds. 

Wagg said three other regions in Virginia have managed to create authorities to expand transit and fund other transportation improvements. 

“Northern Virginia is using a combination of a sales tax, a grantor’s tax, and bond proceeds,” Wagg said. 

Legislation passed the General Assembly in 2009 to allow creation of a Regional Transit Authority, but a bill to allow a local referendum on a one-cent tax increase did not pass that year. According to the legislation, the authority could expand to include Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties. (take a look)

In the next General Assembly, Charlottesville is seeking a referendum for a one-cent sales tax for the purposes of funding the reconfiguration of the city’s schools. 

The director of Charlottesville Area Transit would encourage elected officials to pursue additional sources for funding through an authority. 

“This is an avenue we do need to explore and consider seriously to make sure that this  happens  eventually in the next three to five years,” Williams said. 

Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the point of the Regional Transit Partnership was to prepare for an eventual next step.

“When this Regional Transit Partnership, the intent was for it to be the first step in working towards an authority,” McKeel said.

Becca White, director of Parking and Transportation at UVA, said the University Transit Service serves a very small footprint as a “last mile” service to relieve congestion and to shuttle people from parking lots. However, she said there are some portions of the city covered, including Fontaine Avenue and Ivy Road. 

The members of the Partnership informally directed Wagg to base the next set of potential scenarios for expanded service based on a theoretical $30 million budget.

“We’ll have two scenarios,” Wagg said. “We’ll have maps showing where would routes go, how frequently, all of that sort of stuff. And then what would the outcomes of some of those things be in terms of how many more jobs could people in Greene County reach in an hour by transit or how many more people would have access to different kinds of transit services in different places?”

A second round of public engagement for the Regional Transit Vision will begin early next year and the study is to be completed by the summer of 2022. Want to help influence it? Fill out those surveys! 

Resources for Regional Transit Vision Plan: 

Special thanks to Jenn Finazzo for recording some of the voice work today. Very much appreciated!