Dec 7, 2021 • 26M

December 7, 2021: Charlottesville’s $5.5 million FY21 surplus slated for employee bonuses, salary increase; Southwood presents next phase of development

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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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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. 

On today’s program: 

  • Virginia receives over $85 million in the latest carbon credit auction 

  • A community group gets a look at the next phase of Habitat for Humanity’s development at Southwood 

  • Council gets a budget update and decides to donate the Lee Statue for future artistic purposes

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Lee statue vote

Charlottesville City Council had a full meeting last night that will take a few newsletters to get through. We begin at the end with a vote to remove one of three statues removed in July. Here’s City Councilor Heather Hill reading the motion. 

“Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Charlottesville that the statue of Robert E. Lee is hereby donated and ownership transferred to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, a charitable institution organization in accordance with the provisions of Virginia Code 15.2-953,” Hill said. “This disposition is final.” 

Vice Mayor Sena Magill was not present at the virtual meeting, citing a family emergency. 

To read more on the statue and the Center’s desire to melt it down to create new public works of art, check out Ginny Bixby’s article in today’s Daily Progress

The further disposition of the Stonewall Jackson and Lewis, Clark, and Sacagewea statues will wait for another day. Possibly on December 20.

The vote took place after midnight. Council had begun their day at a work session that began at 4 p.m. at which they discussed reform of the Housing Advisory Committee and the way projects are selected for to be funded through the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. I’ll get to that in a future installment of the show. 

FY21 year-end balance

Also in the work session, Council learned how the city fared as the books for fiscal year 2021 closed. Readers and listeners may recall there had been a concern the city would have a shortfall. Chris Cullinan is the city’s director of finance. 

“I’m pleased to report that we finished fiscal year 2021 in the general fund at surplus revenues of $5.5 million,” Cullinan said. 

Cullinan reminded Council that the pandemic hit just as the budget for fiscal year 2021 was being finalized. At the time, there was uncertainty about the long-term financial impact but the shutdowns immediately affected the city’s meals and lodging tax collection. Property and sales tax collection performed a bit better than expected. The city also didn’t spend as much as expected.

“Several of our larger departments had vacancy savings over the course of the year as well as reduced levels of service or closed facilities during COVID and that resulted in expenditures being less than expected,” Cullinan said. 

Cullinan said the $5.5 million does not include any federal funding through the CARES Act or the American Rescue Plan. Those funds are accounted for separately. 

“But what it did allow us to do was instead of utilizing our general fund projects or eligible activities, we were able to use the CARES money instead so that CARES money stepped in the place of the city’s own revenues,” Cullinan said. 

Staff will return to Council on December 20 with a suggested year-end appropriation. Cullinan said they will make two recommendations that will affect the next year’s budget preparation. One involves a $6.7 million economic downturn fund that was set aside for a reserve fund at the beginning of the pandemic. 

“We didn’t have to tap into that money through the course of the fiscal year, and so that $6.7 million is outside of the $5.5 million,” Cullinan said. 

Cullinan said the $6.7 million had been taken by withholding cash funds to the capital improvement program. Now staff is recommending returning that money back to the capital budget. 

“Obviously as we all know there are several large capital needs both in the upcoming year but also in the five-year plan,” Cullinan said. 

Outgoing Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wanted would prefer the money be used in some other way, especially if there is the possibility of funding coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as future federal legislation. 

“And I don’t know if CIP is where we should be considering allocating that with the fact that there may be funding coming in the future,” Walker said.

Outgoing City Council Heather Hill said Council has agreed to proceed with a $75 million investment in upgrading Buford Middle School and would support Cullinan’s recommendation. 

“I think that any contributions we can put into the CIP right now are going to be needed if we’re going to do any of our other priorities,” Hill said. “And again, this is where those funds were intended to be when this fiscal year began.”

For the second recommendation, said staff proposes that the $5.5 million be used for employee compensation adjustments including a one-time bonus related to the pandemic, as well as a six-percent mid-year salary increase to try to retain employees in a tight job market. Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders said the bonuses will cost $3 million and the salary increase will cost $2.5 million. 

“The plan is to make it effective in January so this would be immediate relief to folks seeing an increase in pay beginning January of 22 and we are already looking forward to how we sustain this going forward and feel comfortable that the projections for revenues are such that we can sustain this as a permanent increase,” Sanders said. 

Before the meeting, Walker had directed staff to see if they could find a way to vote to approve this before January 6, 2022 when a potential second reading would be held. Walker will not be on Council at that time. 

Sanders said did not know yet but staff would be looking on whether they could do so under Virginia law. 

“It’s based on the size of the appropriation that dictates how many days we’re required so we’ll be able to take a look at that in the morning as I did get that later today and we need to dig into that to figure out if we can move faster,” Sanders said. 

Under state code, localities that make a budget amendment in excess of one percent of the total budget must hold a public hearing, which must be advertised seven days in advance. Take a look at § 15.2-2507 yourself and let me know your interpretation.  The FY21 budget was $192.2 million. 


RGGI auction

The latest auction of carbon emission credits held by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will result in Virginia receiving another $85.6 million to help fund programs to mitigate the impact of climate change. Virginia joined the program in the summer of 2020 and became the first state in the southeast to join the compact. Through 54 auctions, RGGI has brought in $4.7 billion from power companies.

“RGGI is the first market-based, cap-and-invest regional initiative in the United States,” reads the website. “Within the RGGI states, fossil-fuel-fired electric power generators with a capacity of 25 megawatts or greater (‘regulated sources’) are required to hold allowances equal to their CO2 emissions over a three-year control period.”

Virginia has now brought in $227.6 million from the program across four auctions. Around half of the funding goes to pay for flood control and mitigation. In October, Governor Ralph Northam announced Charlottesville would receive $153,000 in RGGI-funded grants to create a model of the city’s portion of the Moores Creek watershed to assist with flood prevention. (October 6, 2021 story)

Results from the 54th RGGI auction (Source: rggi.org) 


 You’re listening to Charlottesville Community Engagement and it is time now for another subscriber-supported shout-out. Filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson has traced the 100 year history of the libraries in the Charlottesville area, including a time when Black patrons were restricted from full privileges. The film Free and Open to the Public explores the history of library service from the Jim Crow-era until now. If you missed the premiere in November, there’s an online screening followed by a Q&A with Dickerson this Thursday at 7 p.m. Register at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library site to participate in this free event that’s being run with coordination from the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. Visit jmrl.org now to sign up! 


Southwood update

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville has filed an application to extend an existing rezoning application to cover all of the Southwood Mobile Home Park. The 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee got a look at the details in a community meeting on November 18. (watch the meeting)

Rebecca Ragsdale is now the county planner overseeing the implementation of the initial rezoning and the preparation for the next one, taking over from Megan Nedostup who now works as a planner for the firm Williams Mullen. 

“It does include 93.32 acres and is the remainder and is the existing mobile home community along with a couple of smaller parcels,” Ragsdale said. “There’s three parcels in total. And the code of development proposes a minimum of 531 units or up to a maximum of 1,000 units.” 

Review the Code of Development for details on what would go where in the second phase, which would include the rest of the Southwood Mobile Home Park (download the Code)

There’s also a request to allow up to 60,000 square feet of non-residential uses in this second phase. Speaking nearly three weeks ago, Ragsdale said the review was just getting underway. 

Lori Schweller is an attorney with Williams Mullen and she provided additional details. Technically, this application is to amend the existing zoning approval granted by the Board of Supervisors in August 2019. 

“The current trailer park is located in the largest parcel right in the center and the first development is happening outside that area to minimize disruption from development and construction in phase 1 as much as possible,” Schweller said. 

Habitat purchased the 341-trailer Southwood Mobile Home Park in 2007 with the intent toward preserving affordable living spaces. The rezoning approved in phase 1 is to the county’s Neighborhood Model District, intended to create walkable communities. 

“As a neighborhood model development, the plan for phase 1 incorporated included a block plan logically organizing the areas of the development in accordance with the uses, forms, and density set out in the code of development. Density will range from green space at the lowest level of density upward through neighborhood, urban residential, neighborhood mixed-use, urban density mixed-use, to neighborhood center special area in that area designated for a center by the Comprehensive Plan.” 

The second phase continues the Code of Development established in the first. (download the Code)

Phase two extends the code of development across the whole property. Dan Rosensweig, Habitat’s CEO, said the plan has crafted with input from residents of Southwood. 

“Not trying to get buy-in but to elevate them to be the engineers and architects of their future,” Rosensweig said. “As such, they created a form-based code that regulated the basic formal characteristics of particular blocks in synch with the land itself, with the contours of the land and with a general pattern of development for the neighborhood.” 

Rosenseig said Habitat hopes to exceed the county’s affordable housing requirements as it seeks to not displace existing residents.

“They all live in dramatically substandard housing on infrastructure that has failed,” Rosensweig said. “And so, to non-displace we have to at least replace the amount of housing that’s there but that’s not enough. We want to overperform that because there’s such an acute shortage in the region.” 

Rosenweig said 50 units were proffered to be affordable in phase one, but that phase will now include 207 affordable units. That’s in part because the Piedmont Housing Alliance is using low-income housing tax credits to subsidize rents in an apartment complex for households witj between 30 and 80 percent of the area median income. There are 128 market rate units in the first phase. 

“So 62 percent of the units in phase one are affordable,” Rosenweig said. 

Rosensweig said residents have led the charge to make sure the neighborhood is mixed-income. 

“They really wanted to make sure that every block had a mixture of Habitat homes and market rate homes so you can’t tell the difference between the two,” Rosensweig said. 

The number of units that will be built in the second phase is not yet know. Melissa Symmes is the residential planning and design manager with Habitat.

“Based on the concept plan, we can build a minimum of 531 units as Rebecca mentioned, but we hope to build closer to a thousand units,” Symmes said. “If we were able to build a thousand units in phase two, this would result in a gross density of 10.71 dwelling units per acre and then a net density of 13.5 dwelling units per acre.”

Symmes said the total for the entire Southwood redevelopment would be a range of between a minimum of 681 units and a maximum of 1,450 units.  

“One thing to note is that we are not building the maximum permitted units allowed in phase one,” Symmes said. “We’re building about 100 units less than what the phase one code of development would actually permit.” 

The first phase allowed up to 50,000 square feet of non-residential space, but Symmes said only up to 10,000 square feet will be built. 

“So with that in mind there will likely be about 70,000 square feet of non-residential space in Southwood phases one and two total,” Symmes said. 

Symmes said Habitat will guarantee that 231 of the housing units in the second phase will be affordable and that will be enough to replace the existing trailers. 

Rosensweig said it may take up to a decade to fully develop the park. 

Guaranteeing affordability?

After the discussion, CAC Chair James Cathro asked several questions including this one.

Cathro: 

“What happens after a family is sold an affordable rate home and they pay it off, can they immediately sell it at market value? Is it their asset to use as they like or are there conditions or restrictions?”

Rosensweig:

“Great question. The latter. There are 30 to 40 years of deed restrictions on all Habitat homes. In the affordable housing space, there are programs where all of the equity is invested in, it’s really about the unit. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s all about the family. Habitat kind of splits the difference.”

That means Habitat has the right of first refusal on purchasing units for a period of 40 years. 

“They put it on the market, they get a bona fide offer, we have a week to match that offer,” Rosensweig said. “Additionally there are significant incentives in the deed restrictions that incentivize families for staying for an extended period of time.” 

Rosensweig said Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville has sold about 300 homes and all but a handful have remained either under original ownership, were passed on to other family members, or were repurchased by Habitat. 

In the first village under construction, Rosenseigh said Habitat is building 49 units and 40 families are in line to purchase them. The rest are being reserved for Southwood families who want to rent rather than purchase. 

“Village 2 immediately adjacent to that will have another 25 Habitat homes and then Block 10 will have another 16 so there will be another 41 Habitat homes,” Rosensweig said.

Impact on traffic and schools

5th and Avon CAC members had questions about what Habitat might contribute to address potential traffic congestion. Steve Schmidt is a traffic engineer with the Timmons Group who is working with Habitat on the project. 

“You’re absolutely right, there’s a significant amount of traffic out there today, and there’s more coming,” Schmidt said. “There was a reason study done by VDOT to look at the whole corridor to kind of identify improvements that are coming. One of the improvements that we know is coming online is the roundabout at Old Lynchburg and the county complex there. That’s a funded improvement that will be in place in the coming years.” 

Schmidt was referring to a funded $7.26 million Smart Scale project in which Albemarle put up $2 million from the capital improvement program to help make this submission more attractive under the funding criteria. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the project in June. Construction is not anticipated to begin until at least October 2025, according to the application

Schmidt said VDOT and the county are both reviewing the traffic study. 

Another issue is the amount of additional children that will need spaces in the county school system. Schweller addressed those concerns and said the county is working to identify capital solutions in addition to the $6.25 million expansion of Mountain View elementary that was added to the current capital budget earlier this year. 

“What the schools are doing now is doing a new master plan analysis and we’ll have more recommendations coming up,” Schweller said. “Those capacity solutions could include a new school, redistricting, grade level reconfigurations. So we’ll wait and see what study reveals.”

Schweller also said it is difficult to come up with an estimate of how many students would be generated by a mixed-use development with many types of housing.

“It’s very difficult to estimate the number of students,” Schweller said. “If you have a thousand units, for example, in phase 2 that could yield from 40 and 470 students given the wide range of multipliers.” 

Schweller said there had been initial talk about providing land at Southwood for a new school, but that didn’t pan out. 

“Dan had discussions with the schools early on to offer a location for an elementary school and the schools at that time decided that was not what they wanted,” Schweller said. “At this point design and planning have moved on so there simply isn’t room in phase two for a school site and still accommodate all the homes that need to be built there.” 

Another attendee asked if Habitat would sell some of the land for the school, especially if the development does generate more need for elementary school seats. Rosensweig explained further why he would not proffer giving land over for a school. 

“You have to think about the purpose of a mixed-income community,” Rosensweig said. “There are really two purposes of a mixed-income community. One is to deconcentrate both wealth and poverty and create a neighborhood where people of all walks of life can live together. That’s very different from the last 150 years in our country which has become more segregated and intentionally so. So that’s one purpose. So if we take lots off line for market rate sales then we don’t concentrate wealth or poverty quite as much.”

Rosensweig said the sale of market rate units subsidized the affordable units, and a balance has been worked out. He also said the architecture used for schools currently might not be compatible with the urban form of Southwood.

“It would take a little bit of a frame shift in the way schools are planned to create the form of a school that would fit the context and character of this neighborhood,” Rosensweig said. “Something like a traditional Albemarle County ten-acre that has ballfields next to it that’s sprawling and on one level, I can’t in any shape or way or form seeing that fit this neighborhood but if the county were looking at something creative like a three-level school with minimal parking.”

As an example, Rosenweig pointed to Rosa Parks Elementary School in Portland Oregon, which was built in the mid-2000’s as part of a public housing redevelopment project. The building is shared with the Boys and Girls Club and also functions as a community center.

“So something like that if people were interested in thinking outside the box and you could pull some partners together, I think it would be a huge addition,” Rosensweig said. 

One community member who served on the Planning Commission from 2016 to 2019 noted that there appeared to be a lot of loose ends in the process about what would actually be built in the second phase.

“I’m trying to figure out what level of certainty that the community, not just the legacy residents but the overall community, what level of certainty can be provided that the descriptions in the code of development by block are going to be built out in a way that those permitted uses and locations and appearance and everything, that there is some certainty about what’s going to be built,” Riley said. 

Symmes listed in the Code of Development said the blocks will clearly lay out what can be built where, but said she would follow up with Riley to get on the same page. 

There’s nothing new to report since November 18, but this item will eventually go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing. I’ll be there when it happens. Eventually! 

More details on the Code of Development for Phase 2 (download the Code)

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