Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
February 16, 2024: RWSA completes installation of temporary pump station
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February 16, 2024: RWSA completes installation of temporary pump station

Plus: The TJPDC Board of Commissioners learns of two programs intended to help people get around without a car
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The Wikipedia entry for Writer’s block currently suggests five distinct causes for the phenomenon ranging from “physiological and neurological basis” to “negative self-beliefs and feeling of incompetence.”

None seem to apply to the inability for Charlottesville Community Engagement to swiftly write up all of the desired stories in the timeliest of manners. Time is required to sift through all of the elements to see what segments result. I’m Sean Tubbs, understanding there are no more than seven days in a week. 

On today’s show:

  • The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority announces a pump station has been completed in the wake of a January 9 incident that overwhelmed the system leading to untreated sewage entering Moores Creek

  • The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s Board learns about and then endorses two efforts to get people around the area without a car

  • Charlottesville City Council adopts the manual to guide the development review process under the new zoning code, and allows for more projects to be considered older the old one

First shout-out: Camp Albemarle

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for over sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”

Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Are you looking to escape and reconnect with nature? Consider holding an event where the natural beauty of the grounds will provide a venue to suit your needs. Visit their website to view the gallery and learn more! 

RWSA completes pump station 

The regional body that processes and treats sewage in urbanized Albemarle and Charlottesville has announced that a temporary pump station is now in place that can handle up to 50 million gallons a day of wastewater. 

“On January 9, 2024, high rain and wastewater flows may have damaged equipment in the Rivanna Pump Station causing it to malfunction, become submerged, and discontinue operations,” reads a fact sheet on the RWSA website. “This resulted in several wastewater overflows from manholes in and around Riverview and Darden Towe parks.”

The pump station carries sewage from north Charlottesville and Albemarle County to the Moores Creek Advanced Water Resource Recovery Facility, part of the overall wastewater treatment plant run by the RWSA. 

“The pump station lifts wastewater received at Moores Creek vertically about 100 feet so that it can be treated and eventually, once treatment is completed, released into Moores Creek,” the fact sheet continues.

A divided RWSA Board of Directors approved the location for this pump station in December 2011, as I reported for the time for Charlottesville Tomorrow. City officials supported this alternative because it allowed a similar facility next to Riverview Park to be decommissioned and not replaced on site. 

After the flood, RWSA staff installed a temporary pump station that could handle up to 10 million gallons a day, but for one period of 26 hours, untreated wastewater was discharged into Moores Creek. Staff continue to investigate what happened to cause the malfunction. 

Learn more about what happened from the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (view the fact sheet)

Regional planning body endorses grants applications for RideShare, Mobility Management 

There are many conversations and discussions in the community about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and one way to do that is provide alternatives to driving alone. One available tool for those who may want to change their behavior is managed locally by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, a regional planning body. 

“Rideshare is a transportation or travel—those words can be used interchangeably—demand management program that is through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation,” said Sara Pennington, the Rideshare coordinator. 

The Rideshare program straddles Afton Mountain and also includes the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, which covers Waynesboro and Staunton. Every year the TJPDC has to apply for a Commuter Assistance Program grant from the DRPT to cover their costs. 

“It is a use of strategies to inform and encourage travelers to maximize the efficiency of our transportation system, leading to improved mobility, reduced congestion, and lower vehicle emissions,” Pennington said. 

Rideshare provides access to resources offered by the DRPT including matching with carpools and van pools, all managed by an app called ConnectingVA

“We also work with employers in the area to help them with programs,” Pennington said. “Many have parking struggles or want to be more green.” 

That might involve working with employers to develop a traffic reduction program. Just before the pandemic, Pennington began working on ways to encourage telecommuting. People who participate in the app can also participate in competitions of sorts.  

“As you find an alternative form of transportation that works for you, you can use this system to log those trip and earn those rewards,” Pennington said. “So it kind of gives you a little carrot or a reward for doing that. Telework trips count, too.”

Those rewards can eventually be exchanged for gift cards and other items. 

Rideshare also manages 27 privately owned park-and-ride lots throughout the area. And if someone has a ride that doesn’t work out, there’s a program to guarantee a ride home via a taxi or an Uber or a Lyft. 

“They don’t have their car, what do they do?” Pennington asked. “They call us and we make sure that we get them back to where their car is located.”  

Other Rideshare initiatives include participation in Bike to Work Week and assistance with marketing the Afton Express between Staunton and Charlottesville. 

The TJPDC Board of Commissioners approved the resolution to ask for funding in FY25. 

The proposed budget for Rideshare in FY25 (Credit: TJPDC)

RideShare is not the only TJPDC program intended to help people get around without a car. There’s a new program to assist those people with particular needs to find access to rides. Lucinda Shannon is a transportation planner with the TJPDC.  

“As people age and they can no longer drive they depend on others for transportation, especially in rural areas,” Shannon said. “The state, the Blue Ridge Health District, and health service providers like Sentara and [the University of Virginia] have all identified a need for additional transportation for services for older adults and people with disabilities. 

To help address the issue, TJPDC has obtained funding to start a program called Mobility Management. For the first year, the service will start as a partnership with the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and others. 

“We started a center that people can call in, there’s a website and a phone number, and you can call in and get a transportation counselor,” Shannon said. “So it’s not just a referral. It’s working with the person to help schedule a ride and find solutions to help them meet their transportation needs.” 

A press release announcing the service dated January 11, 2024 has the number at 888-879-7379. The TJPDC website does not list the phone and reads “content coming soon.” The project is in a soft launch according to TJPDC executive director Christine Jacobs. 

“We didn’t want to overwhelm the system without the resources we need,” Jacobs said.

A wider roll-out is expected as a marketing campaign is developed with a consultant. 

Shannon said based on input to the program so far, a lot of the needs are medically based such as people needing rides from their homes to get to physical therapy appointments.  A grant application for additional funding was submitted on February 1. If awarded, there would be a second staff person added. 

“We’ll work more with Jaunt and CAT to advertise and improve their services, we’ll foster and support volunteer driver programs, we’ll work with partners like UVa and the Blue Ridge Health District to improve transportation for students with disabilities and non-emergency medical transportation, especially for people living in rural areas,” Shannon said. 

Shannon said one program in the future could be to train people how to use the existing bus systems. 

Jacobs said the intent is to avoid duplication of services.

“Our goal is to do better coordination and better information and data-sharing,” Jacobs said. “Where are the gaps that exist and how can we try to close those gaps with our providers?” 

The TJPDC Board agreed to support that grant application as well. 

The budget for the first two years of the TJPDC’s Mobility Management program (Credit: TJPDC)

Second shout-out: Charlottesville Jazz Society

In today’s second subscriber supported public service announcement, the Charlottesville Jazz Society and WTJU want you to know about a concert coming up on Sunday, February 25 at 4 p.m. at the Front Porch in Downtown Charlottesville. Multi-reed player and composer Ken Vandermark will play Charlottesville for the first time with his newest band, Edition Redux. 

With his massive recording history and constant touring, Ken Vandermark has become a vital steward of modern jazz and improvisational music both in Chicago and around the world. In addition to Vandermark, who plays saxophones and clarinet with Edition Redux, this quartet is comprised of Erez Dessel (keyboards), Lily Finnegan (drums), and Beth McDonald (tuba/electronics), who represent the next wave of Chicago’s creative music scene.

Tickets are available here for the show. The concert will be followed immediately by the CJS Local Jazz Spotlight Series at Miller’s, around the corner from The Front Porch. This month’s featured band is Peter Richardson’s Alegria Trio, performing Latin and Brazilian style jazz for no cover, 6-9 pm.

And don’t forget to check out the event calendar at cvillejazz.com to learn what’s coming up this week! 

Council adopts manual for Development Review 

On Monday, Charlottesville’s new Development Code will go into effect and everyone involved in the world of land use will begin using a new set of rules intended to make it easier for developers to build more residential units throughout the city’s 10.4 square miles. 

On February 5, 2024, City Council took two actions required before new applications can technically be processed, one is the adoption of the affordable dwelling unit manual which I wrote about earlier in the week if you want to read that story

Council also adopted a new manual to guide how staff in the Department of Neighborhood Development Services will process new applications into permits. 

“Our objective here is to balance between what is needed to complete the review both in terms of submissions and process,” said NDS Director James Freas. “We’re also paying attention to and trying not to increase the cost of compliance. We recognize particularly for smaller projects that the cost of compliance can be a substantial cost and we want to make sure we are addressing that issue.” 

Freas said the city and the community will be learning about the Development Code as it goes into effect and changes to the manual are highly likely. 

The manual introduces the new component of the “development plan” which Freas said provides a chance for the city to check to see if the zoning for a particular property allows whatever the developer has planned. 

“And we have a particular interest in seeing those development plans submitted early and that will give us an opportunity to approve those early,” Freas said. 

The Planning Commission got a chance to review their manual in January as I reported at the time.

All of these changes come at the same time that the city has a new way for members of the public to review permits.  Access the portal here.

“Anyone can view the projects that are in front of the city through our public portal so you can pull that open, see the plans and see what’s coming and then of course you can submit questions directly to the Neighborhood Development Services office, if you have questions about the project or that kind of thing,” Freas said. 

View the portal here and let me know if you have any questions. I have no responsibility for it but can answer basic questions about how to use it

Another new process will be the provisions that require a permit if a property owner wants to remove a tree with a diameter in excess of eight inches. To find out the rules, you have to look at the standards in section 4.9.1 of the Development Code as well as section 2.6.1 of the development process manual. 

“The purpose of the tree permit at the end of the day is to ensure compliance so any replacement plan is towards the goal of maintaining and restoring compliance with the ordinance,” Freas said. “So the main thing there is our canopy requirements, right? So if I’m taking down trees and it knocks me below my canopy level on my site, then what’s the level of planting necessary to restore that canopy requirement.” 

Another new feature of the code is there will no longer be site review conferences that members of the public can attend to ask questions of developers. These have existed for by-right projects but will not exist when the Development Code takes effect. 

“The original community meetings that we’ve been doing for years was mainly in place to let the community know that something was going on,” said city planner Matt Alfele. “Our new software system will really help with that.” 

Alfele said community meetings can often lead to animosity between developers and members of the public because many requested changes can’t be made or are not required. 

“By the time you’re having a community meeting for a by-right development, you’ve come in with your plan, you’ve submitted your plan, you’re starting to go through that process,” Alfele said. 

And now, most projects will be developed by-right. Unless a project needs approval by the Entrance Corridor Review Board or the Board of Architectural Review Commission, the only community meetings will be for projects in excess of 50,000 square feet and that will be to allow public review of the transportation demand management plan. 

Council allows more projects to proceed under old zoning rules

When Charlottesville City Council adopted the new Development Code on December 18, they set an date of August 31 for when site plans would be evaluated under the new zoning as opposed to the old one.

On February 5, a representative from the Charlottesville Area Development Roundtable asked Council to reconsider for five applications that were submitted after August 31 that would require significant revisions in order to comply with the new rules. Those five projects represent a total of 1,062 new housing units, according to a letter sent on February 4. (read the letter)

“Each of these involves a significant amount of investment on the part of the property owners and the applicants and their design,” said Valerie Long, a CADRE member and attorney with the firm Williams Mullen. “It takes a lot of money and time and resource to get a site plan application to the stage at which it is deemed complete by the city staff and accepted for review.” 

Long said none of the developers were notified before December 13 that submissions made after September 1 would be reviewed under the new code. She said communication during the Cville Plans Together initiative was always effective, but this question was one the development community had wanted to know. 

“We were asking the question without and never were provided any information about when that would be,” Long said.

The information did come, but very close to the adoption date as related by another CADRE member.

“On December 13, we were given notice that staff had recommended adopting an 8/31 cut-off date,” said Kelsey Schlein, a planner with Shimp Engineering. “This was just incredibly problematic and somewhat disheartening as we had asked several times throughout the review process. ‘Can we still move forward with projects? We know the new ordinance is coming but we have these applications that have been in the works.’” 

A letter from CADRE listed five properties with one of them being submitted on the day the new Development Code was developed. (read the letter)

The matter came up at the very end of the agenda and was not listed in advance. City Attorney Jacob Stroman said there was no legal requirement for the developers to have been told of the new date, but that the earlier date should not have come as a surprise.

“The state of Virginia law on what happens in a general rezoning with respect to vested rights could not be more well established,” Stroman said. “Those who are making decisions about moving projects forward during a period when the city is considering a zoning amendment or a comprehensive rezoning are fully aware of that law.”

On December 18, City Council had been split 3-2 on setting the August 31 cut off date. Councilor Michael Payne stood by that decision. 

“The rules are very clear, the rules that people who are paid well to closely follow the rules all know,” Payne said. 

Under the old and the new zoning, developers can pay into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund if they don’t want to guarantee income-restricted units will be built in their projects. Payne’s main objection was that these five applications would pay less under the older set-up. 

City Councilor Natalie Oschrin was not yet in office when the vote was taken but she was in the audience.

“I thought it was very strange that it was retroactive and it was a 3-2 vote and if I had been up here that day it would have been a 3-2 vote in the other direction,” Oschrin said. 

Payne disagreed with the usage of the word retroactive, arguing that state law allowed Council to have picked the August 31 date. 

“If we have projects that come to us if we change the effective date, and they’re coming for a special use permit or a rezoning that is not permitted under that old existing zoning, and they say but your Future Land Use Map says this, and they’re not following the affordable housing rules, what is your position going to be?” Payne asked.

Payne said 1,062 new units would require over 100 affordable units under the new zoning, and the city will lose either way. However, when the vote was taken, Council moved 3-2 to rescind their previous date and change it to December 18. 

Reading material:

So long, #637

I officially only have one more story to tell from the February 5, 2024 City Council but it will have to wait until the next newsletter. I want to hear and write up a 30 minute discussion about the city’s budget, a discussion not on the agenda and one I don’t see written up anywhere else. So, I’ll do it! 

There’s so much to write about, and I’m dedicated to doing what I can. Hundreds of you are supporting me in that effort, and there will be progress toward expanding capacity to get even more information out to you. I’m grateful for those doing so, and I’m grateful to be part of this community. 

If you’d like to join in, consider a paid Substack subscription. Ting will match your initial subscription, because they’re also interested in building community. 

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Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
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.