Dec 3, 2021 • 18M

December 3, 2021: Sequencing underway for Omicron variant in Virginia; 112-unit apartment building planned for Stonefield

Plus: Charlottesville hires two departments heads, and a final campaign finance report for local elected officials

 
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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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Friday’s come and go, but this one hasn’t yet. There’s still time to write out a few things about what’s been happening in and around Charlottesville in recent days. But we’d be better quick because the world we live upon will not stop turning. 

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On today’s show:

  • Charlottesville hires two department heads and one from Albemarle gets a promotion

  • Albemarle’s Supervisors are briefed on the county’s stream health initiative

  • A campaign finance update for City Council and the Board of Supervisors

  • An update on COVID-19 in Virginia

  • Some development news, a familiar new owner for Wintergreen, and USDA grant

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, WTJU 91.1 FM invites you to tune in next week for the annual Classical Marathon. It’s a round-the-clock celebration of classical music, specially programmed for your listening pleasure. Throughout the week there will be special guests, including Oratorio Society director Michael Slon; UVA professor I-Jen Fang; Charlottesville Symphony conductor Ben Rous; early music scholar David McCormick; and more. Visit wtju.net to learn more and to make a contribution. 


COVID update

A small surge of COVID-19 is under way in Virginia, with a seven-day positive test rating of 7.2 percent. That’s up from 5.9 percent on November 24. The Virginia Department of Health reports another 2,598 cases today, with the seven-day average increasing to 1,836 new cases a day. Sixty-five point four percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated and there is a seven-day average of 28,534 shots administered. Over 1.3 million Virginians have had a booster or third dose.

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are 67 new cases reported today, and the percent positivity is 6.7 percent. 

There are now confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the United States. Dr. Amy Mathers is an associate professor of medicine and pathology in the University of Virginia Health system. She’s part of statewide efforts to sequence the various variants. 

“We’re contributing about 250 to 300 sequences a week,” Dr. Mathers said. “But we can only sequence what tests positive by PCR.” 

That means the rapid antigen tests do not collect the same biological information required for gene sequencing, which could limit efforts to identify the spread of the new variant. In the meantime, Dr. Costi Sifri urges calm while research is conducted. 

“There’s more that we don’t know about the Omicron variant than we do know about the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, the director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health. “What we do know is that its a variant that carries a lot of mutations. More than 30 in the spike protein as well as 20 or more additional mutations spread across the genome.” 

Dr. Sifri said some of these mutations relate to greater transmissibility and infection rates, but the emergence of Omicron is not unexpected. He said time will tell the impact on public health. 

“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing it around the world at this point, in more than two dozen countries,” Dr. Sifri said. “What is the efficacy of vaccines against the omicron variant? We really don’t know right now. We have heard of breakthrough infections but of course we’ve heard about breakthrough infections with Delta as well.” 

Dr. Sifri said it appears vaccinations will continue to provide benefits and more information and time will help test that assumption. He said in the meantime the best thing to do is get vaccinated and to continue to practice mitigation strategies. 

“We are seeing an increase in cases and it’s important since we were just talking about Omicron to understand that right now, 99.9 percent of cases are due to the Delta variant,” Dr. Sifri said. “What we have been seeing this fall and now heading into the holiday is Dela.”

The major difference between this holiday season and last year is the widespread availability of vaccines. Dr. Mathers urged anyone who is ill to take precautions. 

“If you’re symptomatic, get tested,” Dr. Mathers said. “The only way we’re going to see emergence of new virus is to get tested. So following up exposure or symptoms with testing is an additional way to help limit the spread of this virus.

Dr. Sifri said people who do get tested should limit contact with others until the result comes back. 

“Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go to holiday parties,” Dr. Sifri said. “If you’ve gotten tested, wait for your test result before you go out into the community.” 

New Charlottesville personnel 

Charlottesville has hired two people to serve as department heads. Arthur Dana Kasler will serve as the new director of Parks and Recreation and Stacey Smalls will be the new director of Public Works. Both positions have been open since September and were filled despite the transition at the city manager position when Chip Boyles resigned in October. 

Kasler comes to Charlottesville after serving as the director of Parks and Recreation in Louisville where he oversaw over 14,000 acres of parks, natural areas, and other services. According to a profile on Linkedin, he’s held that position since April 2019. Prior to starting work in Louisville, he was parks and recreation director in Parkland, Florida. According to the Lane Report, he’s also worked in Pittsburgh, Ponte Verde Beach in Florida, Kingsland, Georgia, and Athens, Ohio. Kasler takes over a position in Charlottesville in which he may oversee creation of a  new master plan for recreational programs in the city. 

Stacey Smalls recently worked as director of the Wastewater Collection Division in the public works department in Fairfax County. Smalls has been in that position since February 2016. Prior to that, she served in similar capacities for the U.S. Air Force, including serving as deputy public works officer for the Joint Base at Pearl Harbor. She’ll oversee a public works in Charlottesville that took on responsibility for transportation design from the Department of Neighborhood Development Services during the administration of former City Manager Tarron Richardson. 

Both Kasler and Smalls will start work on December 20. They join Deputy City Managers Ashley Marshall and Sam Sanders, as well as NDS director Jim Freas, as relative newcomers to municipal government in Charlottesville. 

Albemarle personnel, development info

In other personnel news, this week Albemarle County announced that planning director Charles Rapp will be promoted to Deputy Director of Community Development, succeeding Amelia McCulley who is retiring from the county after more than 38 years of service. Rapp began work in Albemarle in March 2020 after serving as director of planning and community development for the Town of Culpeper. A search for a new planning director is underway.

Rapp’s immediate boss is Jodie Filardo, the director of Community Development Department. She’s been in that position since September 2019. 

Charles Rapp (Credit: Albemarle County)

This week, the Community Development Department sent out a notice for two site plans of note. One is to construct a 1,300 square foot addition at the North Garden Fire Department. Earlier this year, Supervisors approved a budget that includes five full-time staff at the station to be there during the daytime to improve response times in the southern portion of Albemarle County. 

In the second, the owners of Stonefield have put forth a site plan for a seven-story 112-unit apartment building in what’s known as Block C2-1. You may also know this as the intersection of Bond Street and District Avenue, two of the public streets created as part of the initial development of Stonefield. 

Republican House Majority confirmed

The Associated Press is reporting that a recount in Virginia’s 85th House District has reaffirmed a narrow victory by Republican Karen Greenhalgh over Democrat Alex Askew. The certified election results recorded a 127-vote majority for Greenhalgh. A panel of three judges oversaw the recount and found this morning that the certified results stand. A recount is still underway in the 91st district. That gives Republicans at least 51 seats in the next General Assembly. In the 91st District, Republican A.C. Cordoza has a 94-vote lead over Democrat Martha Mugler, though there is an independent candidate in that race. 

Incoming speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-15) issued a statement welcoming Greenhalgh to the Republican caucus. 

Campaign finance 

The final campaign finance reports are in this year’s elections, covering a period from October 22 to November 25. City Councilor-elect Brian Pinkston raised an additional $3,325 during that time, and spent $8,938.04, leaving a balance of $1,227.76. He’s also repaid himself $7,231.24 in loans. In all, Pinkston raised $115,095.77 in the campaign. (report)

Fellow City Councilor-elect Juandiego Wade raised $5,265 during the final period and spent $2,702.86, resulting in a balance of unspent funds of $17,728. In all, Wade raised $101,806.45 during the campaign. (report)

In Albemarle County, Samuel Miller District Supervisor-elect Jim Andrews raised an additional $250, spent $2,015.74, and ended the campaign with a balance of $17,515.74. In all, Andrews raised $38,366.77 during the campaign. (report)

Jack Jouett District Supervisor Diantha McKeel raised $250, spent $1,783.07, and her end-of-year bank balance is $20,652.76. McKeel began the year with $14,971 on hand and raised $19,127.99 during the 2021 campaign. (report)

Rio District Supervisor Ned Gallaway has not yet filed a report for this cycle and missed the deadline. In the first three weeks of October raised an additional $3 and spent nothing. He began 2021 with a balance of $7,293.28, raised $10,150, and had a balance of $14,806.40. 

All three Supervisors ran in uncontested races.


In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: The Rivanna Conservation Alliance is looking for a few good volunteers for a couple of upcoming events. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the RCA will team up with the James River Association to plant trees along the Rivanna River and Town Branch in the Dunlora neighborhood to serve as a riparian buffer. In all, they’re hoping to put in 9 acres of trees. On Sunday, the Rivanna Greenbelt Marathon takes place, and the Rivanna Conservation Alliance is the beneficiary! They’re looking for people to help put on the race. Learn more about both events and the organization at rivannariver.org. 

Wintergreen owner

The resort company that has been running Wintergreen now owns the Nelson County property. Pacific Group Resorts of Utah had been leasing Wintergreen since 2015 but finalized acquisition from EPR Properties in October. 

“PGRI now owns the real estate, lifts, and snowmaking systems at the [resort] in addition to the operating equipment which it previously owned through its operating subsidiaries,” reads the release

Pacific Group Resorts also owns several other ski areas, including the Ragged Mountain resort in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 


Albemarle stream health

Virginia and many of its localities are responsible for taking steps to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. That includes Albemarle County, which is in the midst of an initiative to create policies to encourage, incentivize, or mandate the installation of vegetated buffers on the many tributaries of the James River. The Board of Supervisors was updated on the Stream Health Initiative on December 1. (materials)

Kim Biassioli is the Natural Resources Manager in Albemarle County. She said the initiative is intended to advance the goals of the Climate Action Plan, the Biodiversity Action Plan, and the Comprehensive Plan itself. 

“Of course the focus of our work here today is on water quality and stream-health, but in protecting stream health and water quality, we’re likely to be providing so many other benefits for climate, for scenic value, for wildlife, for public health, and so on,” Biassioli said. 

This past summer, Supervisors asked staff to come up with more information about what it would take to fully adopt the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which gives localities more options to enforce and require stream buffers. Albemarle is not within the Tidewater region as defined by the Act. 

“We found that full adoption is an extremely resource and time intensive option relative to the anticipated benefits that we feel might be received,” Biassioli said. 

The first proposal under consideration would reintroduce a requirement that property owners retain buffers by creating a stream overlay district. 

“And I say reintroduce because this language which was originally modeled after the original language in the Bay Act was in our water protection ordinance prior to 2013 but currently retention of stream buffers is required during a land disturbing activity,” Biassioli said. 

Biassiloi said this would not require property owners to expand existing buffers if they are not to the requirement established. The zoning overlay would establish a list of existing uses allowed in the buffer areas. 

Other ideas under consideration include a program to fund riparian buffers, more oversight of septic fields, and greater incentives for installing Best Management Practices for mitigating the effect of agriculture on the watershed. 

The fourteen stream health proposals under review 

USDA climate change grants

Finally today, Virginia will receive $778,000 in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Rural Energy for America program. According to the USDA website, this initiative “provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.”

Recipients are:

  • Waverly RB SPE LLC  - $500,000 (4th House District)

  • Zion Crossroads Recycling Park LLC - $139,671 (5th House District)

  • Twin Oaks North LLC - $52,225 (6th House District)

  • Railside Industries LLC - $21,424 (6th House District)

  • Mill Quarter Plantation Inc - $64,680 (7th House District)

Thanks to Resilient Virginia for pointing this out!

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