Feb 2, 2021 • 10M

February 2, 2021: Council denies permit for 11 units in Belmont; COVID update from Blue Ridge Health District

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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.
Episode details

On today’s show:

  • A COVID update from the Blue Ridge Health District

  • Council denies special use permit for 11 units in Belmont

  • Local real estate group releases report for 4th quarter of 2021

  • The Virginia Festival of the Book goes virtual for 2021

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."

A second mass vaccination site at Seminole Square Shopping Center is now in place to be used by the University of Virginia and the Blue Ridge Health District to administer doses, though the supply is still limited. Ryan McKay is the policy director for the health district. 

“Right now we are receiving 2,850 doses each week,” McKay said. “That’s for the entire district. That’s for everyone.”  

McKay said more than half of Virginia’s population is eligible for Phase1B and health districts are still working to ensure everyone in Phase 1A is vaccinated. 

“You can imagine  the number of people it’s going to take to get through 1B and the amount of time it’s going to take given our current allotment,” McKay said. “It’s going to be a matter of months before we can provide that widespread access to all of those individuals in that particular group.”

Over 40,000 have filled out the survey that the Blue Ridge Health District has used to begin to tackle the logistics. That also means creating a third space for municipal employees.

“We’ve partnered with the city and Albemarle County to have them open and operate a site at Charlottesville High School where they are providing access to Phase 1A city employees, so this would be people in health and human services, social services, and then Phase 1B educators,” McKay said.

The Biden administration has stated they are working to increase supply, and more information will come out over the next few weeks. 

“There are other vaccines on the horizon but we don’t know how readily available they will be,” McKay said. “Some of those vaccines, such as the Johnson & Johnson, is actually a one-dose vaccine but the efficacy on that vaccine is less. I think it’s at about 65 percent. So as more vaccines become available we’ll obviously have to educate our communities about those vaccines and the benefits and comparisons to the ones that are currently out there.” 

There are now more people vaccinated in Virginia than the total number of cases since last March. McKay said there was a surge following the holidays, but that has begun to wane. 

“Over the last couple of weeks we have seen a downward trend both in the percent positive from test results, and we’ve also seen a downward trend in the total number of cases and case incidence per 100,000,” McKay said. “So we believe at this point after three weeks or so of a downward trend, that we’ve worked our way beyond the surge but also recognize that there is always that potential for increased cases and transmission in the community.” 

Charlottesville City Council has denied a special use permit for additional density at a site in Belmont that would have added 11 units at 1000 Monticello Road. 

Brian Haluska is a city planner. 

“1000 Monticello Road already has a development on it, so that project as its currently developed has more units than what the zoning would allow,” Haluska said. “The project was built in the 70’s and was rezoned in 2003.”

That rezoning was part of a comprehensive rezoning across the city. This portion of Belmont was put in the Neighborhood Commercial Corridor category, which is why there are so many restaurants clustered nearby. 

Several members of the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition asked Council to deny the permit. 

Laura Goldblatt is a member of the Board of Commissioners for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a Belmont resident. 

“It doesn’t meet the affordability that we need,” Goldblatt said. “One of the things that we need to demand of developers is affordable housing. The only way we’re going to start to see a lack of displacement and that we’re going to see Charlottesville be more inclusive and welcoming is if developers really have their feet held to the fire and have to do it.”  

Many expressed anger that the owner, Piedmont Realty Holdings III LLC, raised rents in the current building after purchasing the property in February 2019 for $2.75 million. Haluska said staff could not take that into consideration.

“Past actions of an applicant are not something we take into account and you can kind of get into trouble with that when you do that,” Haluska said.

He also said the number of units proposed in the new structure do not trigger provisions in the city code that require a portion of them to be sold or rented to people whose incomes are less than 80 percent of the area median (AMI). (link to code

“Altogether this project does not have enough square footage within all of its buildings including the new building to make it over that line,” Haluska said. 

The applicant had volunteered to make five units comply with the city’s affordable dwelling unit policy anyway, at roughly 65 percent of the AMI. However, Council did not trust the guarantee. Here’s Councilor Lloyd Snook.

“To me the issue is, are we as a city better off if we have 11 units, five of which are affordable at this roughly 65 percent of AMI,” Snook said. 

Councilor Michael Payne was among the three Councilors who voted to deny. 

“Just because an SUP is in front of us doesn’t mean we have to approve it,” Payne said. “It’s our policy decision and we can evaluate all SUPs on the merits and make a policy decision there. Given the adverse neighborhood impacts, the fact that it doesn’t conform with our Comprehensive Plan, the existing zoning there, and under our current ordinance for the criteria for standards for issuance I think there is a strong case to be made that there are adverse neighborhood impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.”

Payne made a motion to recommend denial and it carried 3-2. Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Vice Mayor Sena Magill voted to deny and Snook and Councilor Heather Hill voted to approve. 

A rewrite of the city’s affordable housing policy is underway. The public comment period for the draft has closed, but the document is available for review. The Planning Commission will discuss the draft at their meeting on February 9. (draft affordable housing plan)

The Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors has released its home sales report for the final quarter of calendar year 2020. In summary, mortgage rates are at a historic low which may be fueling recent activity in the market. (download the report)

“Sales are surging in the CAAR area housing market,” reads the executive summary of the report. “There were 1,278 sales in the 4th quarter, a 23 percent jump from last year.”

There has also been an increase in the median sales price, which was $348,050 in the region during the period, or a 13 percent rise over the previous year. There are also fewer homes on the market, which is likely contributing to the increase in sales prices. 

The report covers the same jurisdictions in the Thomas Jefferson Area Planning District. They are Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson.

For the second year in a row, the Virginia Festival of the Book will not be held in person this March. However, the festival will proceed virtually from March 13 through March 26 on both Zoom and Facebook Live. More than forty events will be held with authors and all of it is free to the viewing audience. But if you can’t wait until then, there are many recorded events available on-demand at vabook.org. There are also several events coming up this month as part of their Shelf Life program. The festival has been running since 1995 and is a service of Virginia Humanities.