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On today’s show:
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board updates on facility reopening, Emerald Ash Borer impacts, and City Market plans
The Places29-North Advisory Committee briefed on draft housing plan, future construction
Albemarle County signs agreement with Piedmont Housing Alliance to use federal vouchers to help subsidize 76 apartment units at redeveloped Southwood
Both of our segments today touch upon the pandemic in some way, so we should go ahead and get the numbers out of the way. All this week, the number of new COVID cases has been in the 3000’s range, with 3,191 reported today. The seven-day percentage for positive results is now at 10 percent, down from 16.4 percent a month ago.
In the Blue Ridge Health District, the number of cases in Charlottesville is once again beginning to increase similar to early September when students began to arrive at the University of Virginia for in-person instruction. There are 42 cases today, and the seven-day average is now 25.
The COVID tracker at the University of Virginia now lists 222 active cases with 201 of these students. That figure will be updated one more time this afternoon before the weekend begins.
The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board had not met for 11 months before their first virtual meeting of the year last night. Since then, Council took an action that changed the group’s relationship to city government.
"We appear to have been demoted," said Ned Michie, who was appointed as chair at the beginning of the meeting. “We’re now an advisory committee to staff rather than a City Council appointed advisory board.”
The group covered a lot of ground and got a lot of information from staff about what the department has been up to since the pandemic shut down government operations. Vic Garber is the deputy director of Parks and Recreation.
“All parks are still open which includes open space, our basketball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, trails and our shelters,” Garber said. “We still don’t take reservations at our shelters.”
However, restrooms at outdoor parks are all closed, except at the skate park and the golf courses due to the volumes of people. Also closed are the city’s indoor recreational centers and indoor pools. With spring not too far away, many are wondering what the schedule will be to open.
“We do still follow CDC guidelines, Virginia Department of Health Guidelines, and local ordinances in everything that we do,” Garber said. “The pools are still closed because we do not have permission to open those pools yet from City Council.”
Garber said park attendance has increased, and recreation programs pivoted to online. But other usual parks and rec offerings are still on hold.
“Athletics is still at a standstill,” Garber said. “Youth basketball was canceled. Normally we have about 500 youth participating.”
Garber said he expected representatives from Little League baseball to ask Council to allow them to prepare for them to play ball in the spring. Governor Northam has amended the state of emergency to allow this to occur and for games to be played with up to 25 spectators.
“Presently the City is still in phase two,” Garber said. “If you remember, [Albemarle] County went to phase three. We stayed in phase two in late July.”
That caps gatherings to no more than ten people.
“So, in a nutshell, we can practice, we can scrimmage, but we cannot have competition,” Garber said.
The pandemic is not the only natural disaster going on in our midst. The emerald ash borer is devastating ash trees in Virginia, and the parks department has been removing affected specimens.
The city’s Tree Commission is requesting Council spend at least $50,000 to try to treat trees and fight the spread. Parks director Todd Brown said that may just delay the inevitable.
“You can count on basically all the ash trees are going to die,” Brown said. “It’s a question of when. We are treating some of them and a small portion of money is going towards treatment. I’m working with the Tree Commission of which trees those are going to be and the arborist.”
Brown said it is now a matter of triage and that people will notice this spring when the leaves come back. He said this will become a pressing issue. Planning Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell asked an important question.
“What exactly is emerald ash borer? Is that an insect?” Mitchell asked.
“It’s a little bug that gets in the bark and cuts off the blood flow effectively to the tree,” said parks planner Chris Gensic.
But back to pools. The city is continuing to rebuild the Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning system at Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center, a facility that opened in 2010 and has been plagued with issues.
“We’re a little bit ahead of schedule so it looks like we may have a May completion and hopefully in the future, we’re projecting it might possibly be open some time in June if we’re given approval to do so,” Garber said.
Garber said the indoor pool at Crow Recreation Center has been revamped and is ready to open, but requires Council approval to open. That applies to all facilities, and Brown said the department is getting ready.
“At this point, we don’t know what opening will look like,” Garber said. “But we are preparing to open all facilities.”
Even though they are no longer specifically charged with advising Council, the board discussed how they could encourage Council to begin to open up facilities. They opted to work on a letter in advance of Council’s discussion next Tuesday about the city’s COVID ordinance.
This morning I had the opportunity to ask officials at UVA Health what they think about the potential for opening. Dr. Costi Sifri is an infection diseases expert at the UVA hospital. He urged caution.
“We have the prospect of a vaccine that is highly effective against the strain, the predominant strains in the United States,” Dr. Sifri said. “We have hope but we also have the challenge that maybe these new variants. I think those two things need to be considered and balanced.”
We’ll hear more from Dr. Sifri in the next installment of this program.
Also on the agenda at Council Tuesday is an update on the City Market
“We are requesting to keep the market in its current leased location area which everyone knows is at 100 Water Street to maintain the market continuity for vendors and the customers,” Garber said. “If Council approves the sublease next week, City Market will return starting April the 3rd though we do not know the format whether its going to be a drive-through, or a pick-up only, in-person shopping or whatever,” Garber said.
More on the City Council agenda and the rest of what’s coming up in local government will be made available in the next installment of the Week Ahead newsletter, sponsored by the Piedmont Environmental Council.
You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement. With the COVID pandemic still raging, today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out from an anonymous contributor is once again to state clearly:
"We keep each other safe. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance."
Before we begin the next segment, a quick notification to you that a public comment period for Albemarle’s draft housing plan ends on Monday. Take a look at the county’s website to read the plan and to fill out a questionnaire. (draft plan website)
The first objective is to increase the housing supply to meet the needs of an Albemarle population projected by the Weldon Cooper Center to be 138,485 by the year 2040, up from a current estimate of 109,722. (read Feb. 9 edition for an update on population)
“To accommodate this growth, the County will need to add approximately 11,750 new units to our housing stock over the next 20 years,” reads the plan. “The majority of this need—8,134 units or 69% of the required new housing – is projected to be met with units already in the residential development pipeline. This means the county must support the development of an additional 3,616 units to fully accommodate projected household growth through 2040.”
Members of the Places29-North Community Advisory Committee had the chance to ask questions last night. Bill McLaughlin sent a long list of comments and questions to staff about the plan.
“A lot of them were coming from the concern about the health of the people that are going to be living in these developments in terms of how much density are we going to trade for low-income housing and I’m wondering if we get too much density, do we have a housing areas, housing developments that aren’t really good for anyone to live in,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin questioned the county’s policy of restricting development to designated growth areas.
“And that total is 35 square miles, and I don’t know how much of that 35 square miles is left,” McLaughlin said.
The reason the county has community advisory committees is to shepherd the various master plans. The idea in general has been to encourage density. Here’s what the introduction of the county’s Comprehensive Plan says:
“A large part of planning for the future has been the County’s commitment to its Growth Management Policy,” reads the introduction to the plan. “The Growth Management Policy directs development into specific, identified areas for vibrant growth while conserving the remainder of the County for rural uses, such as agriculture, forestry, and resource protection.”
The Comprehensive Plan was last adopted in June 2015. Furthermore, objective 4 of the Development Areas chapter calls for the efficient use of land “to prevent premature expansion” of those areas and objective 5 calls for density to “create new compact urban areas.”
As reported in the February 6 edition of this newsletter, Albemarle is just beginning a review of the plan. Here’s Rivanna District Supervisor
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley weighed in.
“We have two choices in Albemarle County,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “Either we make full use of our developable area which probably means eventually going higher in density or higher in buildings. Maybe multi-story apartment buildings closer to the center of downtown. You don’t want to build them out in the middle of nowhere. You want to build them where people can go shopping, where people can go to the grocery store nearby. Or you go into the rural areas and if we crack that nut and go into the rural areas, which may happen eventually, if that happens, we lose Albemarle in my opinion.”
There are multiple apartment complexes and new development under construction or under planning consideration in the Places29-North area.
RST Residences seeks a rezoning for redevelopment of the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park along U.S. 29. The community meeting was held last July. The rezoning is for 244 apartment units and 108 townhome units.
“That’s a total of 370 units,” Accardi said. “Fifty percent of these units are proposed to be designated as affordable.”
The Planning Commission will take up the rezoning request on March 2.
The Forest Lakes Community Association is organizing opposition to the request. Over 400 people have signed a petition calling for Supervisors to deny the request. Scott Elliff is on the association’s board of directors.
“We’ve done a lot of research and analysis on it,” Elliff said. “It’s troubling to us in a lot of different ways and we’ll certainly be very active at the Planning Commission meeting.”
Currently under construction is the Brookhill development, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in November 2016 and the new community is being built in phases.
“This project is approved for a maximum of 1,550 dwelling units as well as 130,000 square feet of non-residential space,” Accardi said.
Another development under construction is North Pointe, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2006. The land remained undeveloped for many years but infrastructure for the property has been constructed in the past couple of years.
“The project is approved to develop a maximum of 893 units as well as commercial and office space,” Accardi said. “None of the blocks have been approved to be built so far.”
That refers to approval of site plans, which is a ministerial function that requires approval by staff if the developer meets all of the conditions in the rezoning.
There are still remaining units available allowed in Hollymead Town Center under a 2003 rezoning that have not yet been built.
Other pending re-zonings:
An amendment to the Hollymead Town Center original rezoning to increase maximum amount of non-residential space by 25,000 square feet in order to build a new 40,000 square foot building. Next step would be to scheduled a Board of Supervisors public hearing.
The Albemarle Planning Commission has recommended approval of a special use permit request from Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to increase the height of existing poles for power lines. The item has not yet been scheduled for a hearing before the Board of Supervisors
Request to amend previous rezoning at Willow Glenn on the east side of Dickerson Road to convert all housing units to multifamily units rather than the mix called for in the rezoning. This would increase the number of dwelling units to 324. A community meeting will be held at the Places29-North meeting in March.
Albemarle County has entered into an agreement with Piedmont Housing Alliance to use some of the county’s allotment of federal housing vouchers for the first phase of the redevelopment of Southwood Mobile Home Park. Habitat for Humanity was able to secure a rezoning for this first phase, which would see new construction along Old Lynchburg Road on land that is currently wooded. (details)
Now Piedmont Housing Alliance will develop the actual new homes and will seek Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to make the project more feasible. This agreement could help the application’s chances with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, an entity that now goes by the name Virginia Housing.
The application for Southwood Apartments A would be for 76 affordable rental units with 58 of those being two-bedrooms. According to correspondence from Virginia Housing to Albemarle County, these would be in two three-story buildings.
Applications for LIHTC credit are due in March. Other applications are expected to come from Virginia Supportive Housing for redevelopment of the Red Carpet Inn in a collaboration with Piedmont Housing. Piedmont Housing is also submitting an application for the second phase of Friendship Court.