December 22, 2021: Council seeks floodplain info before Nassau Street rezoning vote; Today is highest one-day COVID count since late January
Plus: Gov-Elect Youngkin appoints Finance Secretary, Virginia awarded "Best Business Climate"
There are days in the past and days in the future, but there’s only one day at a time. This edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement is specifically tied to December 22, 2021, a particular 24-hour period filled with equal parts anticipation, dread, potential, and other pensive emotions as the holiday of Christmas approaches. Stay safe!
Charlottesville Community Engagement is free to read or listen to and it’s my hope that you’ll sign-up.
In today’s edition:
Governor-elect Youngkin appoints a veteran banker to serve as his finance secretary
A trade publication names Virginia as having the best business climate in the nation
A bridge in western Albemarle is shut down before repairs begin
A study is underway on where to locate a train station in the New River Valley
Charlottesville City Council holds first reading on the use of a $5.5 million surplus, defers action on Lewis, Clark and Sacagewea statue and a rezoning on Nassau Street
Today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out:
Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects with the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department, and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. Visit codeforcville.org to learn about those projects.
The Virginia Department of Health reports another 5,972 new cases of COVID-19 today, and the percent positivity for PCR has risen to ten percent. Today’s case number is the highest it’s been since the last week of January. The highest one day total of the pandemic to date is 9,914 recorded on January 17. On this day a year ago, there were 3,591 cases reported.
A hundred and nine of today’s cases are in the Blue Ridge Health District. Virginia reports another 50 COVID deaths today, with one of those in the Blue Ridge Health District.
The University of Virginia will require students, faculty, and staff to receive booster shots in order to be on Grounds next semester. According to a page on the Human Resources website, faculty and staff must get the shot by February 1 if they are eligible. If not, they must demonstrate proof of a shot 30 days after eligibility. Students must upload their proof by February 1. Visit that website for more information.
A small bridge in western Albemarle County that carries about 560 vehicles a day has been closed due to significant deterioration. Engineers with the Virginia Department of Transportation have been inspecting the bridge on Burch’s Creek Road across Stockton Creek due to known concerns and have decided to close the road until repairs are made.
“VDOT bridge inspectors determined today that its condition was not safe for continued use,” reads the statement. “During the closure, traffic should detour around the bridge from U.S. 250 to Route 824 (Patterson Mill Lane) to Route 688 (Midway Road) and back to Route 689.”
Repairs will take place between now and January 7 when the bridge is expected to reopen.
Virginia business award
A trade publication that writes about economic development and site selection has named Virginia one of its states of the year. Business Facilities named Virginia, Tennessee, and Massachusetts in their annual contest. Specifically, Virginia was named the Overall Business Climate. Massachusetts was honored with Best Workforce / Educational System. Tennessee was given the Best Dealmaking award.
A press release in advance of their next publication states that Virginia was selected “because of the steps many economic development councils in the commonwealth, both local and statewide, are taking to make the area more attractive.”
The release cites the state’s low unemployment rate, successful workforce development programs such as the Virginia Talent Acquisition Program and Fast Forward Virginia. According to an article on Virginia Business, Virginia last won this award in 2018.
New Finance Secretary
For the third day in a row, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has named a member of his cabinet. Stephen Emery Cummings will be the next Secretary of Finance. Cummings is a veteran of several financial institutions, including a tenure as global head of corporate and investment banking at Wachovia. According to a release, he has recently served as the President and CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.
“Steve shares my vision of respecting Virginians’ hard-earned tax dollars and ensuring the Commonwealth’s budget is managed effectively and efficiently, and he has the skill set and leadership qualities that our team needs to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” said Youngkin said in a statement.
Yesterday Youngkin announced Caren Merrick will serve as Secretary of Commerce and Trade. Several outlets report that Youngkin founded the nonprofit Virginia Ready Initiative that Merrick has run since it was formed last summer during the pandemic.
On Monday, data consultant Aimee Rogstad Guidera was named Education Secretary. Inauguration Day is January 15.
NRV Train Station
The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority has launched a website for a feasibility study for where to locate a train station to serve the New River Valley. Earlier this year, outgoing Governor Ralph Northam announced an agreement with Norfolk Southern to extend passenger service from Roanoke to the valley for the first time since 1979. The state of Virginia will purchase 28.5 miles of track from Norfolk Southern.
The feasibility study is examining four locations. A community meeting will be held sometime this winter and an initial survey is available. Go back and listen to the May 6, 2021 installment of this newsletter and podcast to hear a segment from when Northam signed legislation authorizing an authority to raise funds for the future station. (May 6, 2021: Green Business Alliance forms to advance emissions reductions; Northam signs legislation for New River Valley train station)
There’s also another study underway to determine if Amtrak service should stop in Bedford. That town is between Roanoke and Lynchburg and on the route of the Northeast Regional service that will eventually be expanded to the New River Valley.
You can go back and listen to that, too. (October 30, 2021: DRPT report states Bedford train stop won’t delay freight; a briefing on the hotel industry in Albemarle/Charlottesville)
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out:
The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Winter is here, but spring isn’t too far away. This is a great time to begin planning for the spring. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water. Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you!
Public hearing held for FY21 surplus, transfers
Council has held the first of two readings and a public hearing on a mandated review of the city’s budget for fiscal year for 2021, which ended on June 30 of this year. There’s a $5.5 million surplus as well as a $6.7 million reserve fund of cash set aside for COVID. The latter was not tapped. Christopher Cullinan is the city’s Finance Director.
“The audit has been completed and to close out the city’s financial records for fiscal year 2021, several year-end adjustments require City Council action,” Cullinan said. “These adjustments are to carry over unspent funds from the last fiscal year to the current fiscal year.”
Cullinan said one the two main recommendations are to put the COVID reserve into the city’s Capital Improvement Program contingency fund. The other is to put the $5.5 million toward employee compensation. That includes both a bonus and an across-the-board salary increase of six percent for all employees with benefits.
“This is a market adjustment that recognizes the need for the city to retain and recruit qualified employees,” Cullinan said.
This would happen before the results of a study on compensation is completed. Ashley Marshall is one of two deputy city managers currently running the city.
“But what we do know is that the six percent is inadequate to raise us up to where we should be for equitable and appropriate pay,” Marshall said. “So we know that we’re not going to find out later on nine months from now that six percent was too much. That’s not going to be the answer.”
Five people spoke at the public hearing.
“I just want to say that I would like to see a lot of this money, a good portion of it, be used toward the affordable housing fund to shore that up and get that going toward the goal you indicated previously that you’d like to have ten million dollars [a year],” said Mark Kavit.
Both Kimber Hawkey, Martha Smytha and Tanesha Hudson agreed with that position, and said the city should spend money for housing on more than just Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
“I think that there’s things the city could also do with purchasing land space and building things themselves as well,” Hudson said. “That’s something that they need to work towards.”
Hudson said the cost of living adjustment should also extend to hourly employees as well.
Rosia Parker, a newly appointed member of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said more of the funding should go to affordable housing, especially for programs to address homeless.
“There are a lot of homeless people that are out here,” Parker said. “You see them when you sit in front of City Hall. You see them as you walk up and down the mall. You see them as you drive up and down the different corridors of Charlottesville. Homelessness is a very threatening danger to people’s lives. Mentally, physically and emotionally.”
After the hearing was closed, outgoing Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wanted the $6.7 million to be used for a different purpose than putting it in the CIP contingency fund. The next Council will decide how that funding would be used, but Walker will not get a vote.
“If we just simply transfer it to the CIP and then we have those asks that are just presented to Council randomly based on whatever’s on the funded or what makes it from the unfunded to the funded list, I don’t think that serves us,” Walker said.
Vice Mayor Sena Magill supported the transfer to the CIP due to a long list of capital needs.
“Because if we don’t work on some of the basic infrastructure needs of our city as well,” Magill said “That’s where we pay for a lot of the affordable grants is through the CIP and we’re looking at $75 million for just one school.”
Cullinan said the idea of a contingency fund is to be ready for unforeseen events or cost over-runs.
“I think the the critical thing is that it gives you choices and its cash which is easily accessible and you can make fairly quick decisions as opposed to a bond issue which takes time and effort,” Cullinan said.
Council would have to approve any use funds from the CIP contingency.
The second reading will be held at the next City Council meeting on January 3.
Nassau Street rezoning
A proposal to rezone land on the eastern half of Nassau Street in the Belmont neighborhood did not move forward on Monday. Developer Nicole Scro and engineer Justin Shimp are seeking a rezoning from R-2 to R-3 on about a half acre of land. Several members of the public asked Council to deny the request due to the property being located within a floodplain as governed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Magill said she wanted more information from staff about the issue.
“I am concerned about the floodplain issue and I am concerned about the design that is being submitted in a flood plain,” Magill said
Several other buildings have been constructed on that side of the street in recent years including structures built by the Piedmont Community Land Trust. That project received $240,000 in funding from the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund.
City Councilor Lloyd Snook also said he wanted more information about the floodplain.
“We’re not required to act on this tonight,” Snook said. “I would like to defer it and ask the staff to give us real feedback on what the flood danger is. The one thing I don’t want to do is end up saying we’re going to put in affordable housing but we’re going to put it in the floodplain.”
In recent years, Shimp successfully petitioned FEMA to lower the elevations shown in the floodplain map by four feet. Tony Edwards is a development services manager in the city’s public works department. The foundation must be above the where FEMA establishes the 100-year floodplain.
“This is the basis that we need to use because we follow the same methodology that FEMA provides and this is what’s been approved through FEMA,” Edwards said.
James Freas, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, also weighed in.
“We know the flood plain legally has been defined where it is now based on the amended flood maps in the process that Mr. Edwards described,” Freas said. “So that’s legally the location of the floodplain and defines the elevation at which the building has to be built. In terms of what can happen in an actual flood? We can be less clear about that. That’s less predictable.”
Freas said the question before Council was the appropriate density at the location. By-right structures could be built. One in the 900 block constructed in 2018 is built on stilts to raise it out of the floodplain.
Snook wanted more information.
“I’d like to have more expertise than I can bring to bear and take a look at it and tell me whether I’m all wet,” Snook said. “Pardon the expression.”
Shimp said any further review would prove his assertion that building in the location would be safe.
The item will be deferred until the second council meeting in January. Outgoing Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she would have voted against the request.
Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue decision deferred
Council spent nearly an hour and a half discussing the terms on how a statue removed from West Main Street will be treated in the future. Several parties agree that the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center should receive the statue for its continued display at their location in Darden Towe Park. However, details about how the story of Sacagawea’s involvement were not resolved during the conversation. Center officials and descendants of Sacagawea will continue negotiations.
“We are definitely willing to do that,” said Alexandria Searls, the center’s director. “We are invested and no matter what, even without the statue, we want relationships with them. The relationships are more important than the statue. We’re willing to walk from the statue if we have to.”
The hiring of the Robert Bobb Group to run the city
As mentioned at the top of yesterday’s newsletter, Council has hired the Robert Bobb Group to perform the functions of the city manager. Council spent their closed session negotiating with the two firms that responded. Lisa Robertson is the city attorney.
“The fact that using an outside firm on a contract basis to provide these types of services, while it’s not the normal manner in which the services are delivered, it’s not unheard of,” Robertson said. “This type of contract has been used on occasion in other places including other places in Virginia.”
The contract still has to be finalized after being written up. There was no little discussion of the merits of either proposal. In the resolution, Councilor Hill said “the firm made the best proposal and offer” with regards to price and quality.
Walker abstained based on a sense that Council should not vote to award the contract until it is written.
According to City Council Clerk Kyna Thomas, Council will not need to vote on the contract as it can be signed by the Mayor. However, Council will interview specific individuals that will be suggested by the firm. There is no public knowledge yet about how much the Robert Bobb Group will be paid.
Here are some other news articles about other work the firm has done:
Robert Bobb back in business with new venture, Washington Business Journal, December 9, 2011
Robert Bobb Group outlines goals for Petersburg, WRIC, October 26, 2016
Cash-strapped Petersburg spent about $1 million on turnaround services from Bobb Group, forensic audit, Richmond Times-Dispatch, October 4, 2017
Durham leader calls criticism of consultant a lynching, a charge with political history, Raleigh News and Observer, North Carolina, March 10, 2021
Firm being paid $16K a month to provide city with financial services, Rocky Mount Telegram, North Carolina, August 13, 2021
Charlottesville hires firm to perform interim city manager duties, Walker and Hill bid farewell, Daily Progress, December 21, 2021
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