Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
February 21, 2024: Richardson unveils $629M Albemarle budget for FY25 with no tax rate increases anticipated
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February 21, 2024: Richardson unveils $629M Albemarle budget for FY25 with no tax rate increases anticipated

Plus: A pedestrian is killed on U.S. 29 between Stonefield and Seminole Square Shopping Center
Transcript

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There are now eight days until Leap Day, a 24-hour-period that only happens every four years and for which there do not appear to be any large celebrations. Will there be an edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement on that day? For now, it may be better to simply proceed with the February 21, 2024 edition of the program. I’m Sean Tubbs.

On today’s show:

  • A man is dead after being struck last evening by a moving vehicle on U.S. 29 between Stonefield and Seminole Square Shopping Center

  • Charlottesville’s Planning Commission gets an update on UVA’s three affordable housing projects as well as student housing at the Darden Business School

  • The Albemarle County Public Safety Operations Center at Fashion Square Mall is now operational 

  • Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson recommends a budget for FY2025 with no anticipated tax rate increases, but one that’s about $75 million larger than in FY24 due to increased borrowing for capital projects 

New here? Sign up to receive three to five newsletters a week for free. Most of them are also podcasts. Paid subscriptions help pay for the work, so consider one!

First shout-out: Live music at WTJU

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: WTJU provides great music for the community every hour of the week, including live performance broadcasts by area artists. Get your calendar ready to mark down some of those times!

Every Friday night, WTJU hosts a live music series called "Offbeat Roadhouse," featuring mostly acoustic artists -- folk, blues, jazz, americana, and beyond. This Friday features two-time national flatpicking guitar champion Scott Fore. That’s a live concert that is free and open to the public. Check out the schedule at WTJU for more information

And every third Saturday, WTJU hosts "Third Rail," a live music series that pushes genre boundaries. This past Saturday saw Tre. Charles with his soulful expressions of indie-folk, neo-soul, and alternative rock. The performance is on YouTube if you want to check it out

Visit wtju.net for more information and find something new to listen to. 

Pedestrian killed last night crossing U.S. 29 near India Road

A 59-year-old man was killed last night after being struck by a moving vehicle on U.S. 29 near India Road. The Albemarle County Police Department reports that Charles Russell Gray of Charlottesville was transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center but later died of his injuries. 

“The Albemarle County Police Department is asking for witnesses to this crash to please contact ACPD's Traffic Unit at 434-296-5807 or, for those who wish to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 434-977-4000 or crimestoppers@albemarle.org,” the release reads.

The Albemarle County Police Department Fatal Crash Reconstruction Team is reviewing the incident. The incident was not a hit-and-run as the driver stayed after the incident, according to county officials.  

This is the first pedestrian death in Albemarle County of 2024. The general area where Gray was struck and killed is the location of a planned pedestrian bridge in the planning stages. India Road leads into the Seminole Square Shopping Center in the city of Charlottesville. Across U.S. 29 is Stonefield. 

“The pedestrian bridge that is across U.S. 29 is still in design,” said Will Stowe, the construction manager for several projects being built in the Hydraulic Road area. More from that interview in a future edition of the program. 

The Virginia Department of Public Transportation has plans and funding to build a pedestrian bridge to span U.S. 29 in the general area where Charles Russell Gray was struck and killed on February 20, 2024. Visit the VDOT website for more information.

On January 13, 2023, a pedestrian was struck and killed crossing U.S. 29 at Fashion Square Mall, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s crash database. Another person was killed the same way on November 3, 2020. 

  • Another pedestrian was killed on Rio Road at Fashion Square Mall on June 19, 2022. 

  • Another pedestrian was killed on October 25, 2019 crossing U.S. 29 across from Rivanna Plaza near Gander Drive.

  • There were no pedestrian fatalities in Albemarle in 2017 or 2018. 

More housing units are slated to be built right along U.S. 29 for the area which could lead to additional pedestrians being in the area. Virginia Supportive Housing continues to raise funding for an 80-unit facility on the site of the former Red Carpet Inn with both Albemarle and Charlottesville having committed new funds to close a gap. There are also plans to redevelop both the Cville Oriental site in Albemarle County as well as the Hibachi Grill Buffet Supreme with hundreds of apartment units. 

Albemarle’s upfit of former mall store complete for public safety use 

Selected sections of Albemarle County’s police, fire and EMS services are now operating out of the former J.C. Penney at Fashion Square Mall. 

“The renovated facility achieved substantial completion on November 30, 2023, at which time the Albemarle County Police Department (ACPD) and Albemarle County Fire Rescue (ACFR) began moving furniture and equipment,” reads the second story in the Winter 2024 report from Albemarle’s Department of Facilities and Environmental Services

In July 2022, the Board of Supervisors approved a long-term lease to rent the property from Seminole Trail Management and committed $3.1 million to capital costs to upgrade it into a public safety operations center. On March 21, 2023, the county awarded a contract to Marion Enterprises Inc to do the work and their efforts concluded in November. 

As a result, Albemarle Fire and Rescue now has a new centralized storage area and vehicle bays for repair and maintenance. 

“Vehicles and uniforms can efficiently be cleaned and repaired to better ensure the health and safety of both the Fire and Rescue team as well as the community at large,” the report continues. “The ACPD also gained additional storage, vehicle maintenance space, and office areas for Special Operations/Community Support, K-9 Units, Animal Protection, and Mental Health needs.” 

According to the report, an area that had been anticipated to be shared with other businesses has been obtained for use by the county. There are no public facilities at the public safety operations center. 

“The current annual rent is $429,117.21 based on $12.90 per square feet with a 3.5 percent annual increase,” said Abbey Stumpf, the county’s director of communications and public engagement. “ The operational budget for this year is $533,325, which includes rent, utilities, facility maintenance, and other facility-related services. “ 

Meanwhile, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has a public hearing tonight on a special use permit for the proposed Home Depot to be allowed to have outdoor display and sales. Home Depot purchased a large portion of Fashion Square Mall for $1.762 million in September 2022. 

An image from the Facilities and Environmental Services report for Winter 2024 (Credit: Albemarle County Facilities and Environmental Services)

Charlottesville PC gets update on UVA affordable housing, Darden housing

In what is expected to become commonplace under a new Development Code, the Charlottesville Planning Commission had no public hearings at its meeting on February 13, 2024. There were several updates from Commissioners, including a preview of one item that the University of Virginia’s governing body will hear next week.

“The Darden Graduate apartment building is being brought to the Board of Visitors for final approval later this month and that will begin construction shortly thereafter with a a tentative projected opening in 2026 and that’s an additional 350 beds,” said Michael Joy, the recently appointed non-voting representative from the University of Virginia. 

The Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee had a preliminary look at their meeting in December, as I wrote about at the time

Joy also mentioned that UVA and the UVA Foundation are partnering with non-profit groups on two affordable housing projects. The Piedmont Housing Alliance is working on the Piedmont site off of Fontaine Avenue and a group called Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) is working on a site at the corner of 10th and Wertland. I covered that back on February 15, 2023.

Commissioner Carl Schwarz, a 10th and Page resident, had a question about the latter. 

“Our neighborhood association tried to reach out to POAH at one point and they said the contracts had not been signed yet,” Schwarz said. “Has that been finalized?” 

“My understanding is that today I was told that everything is fully active and they are working within the community,” Joy said.

According to the website of the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships, work on community engagement is expected to begin in early 2024. 

“The timeline for construction will depend on the rezoning process and the financing,” reads an update. “Based on conversations with the developers, construction likely will not commence before 2026 at the earliest.”

The third site selected by UVA for an affordable housing project is at the UVA Foundation’s North Fork Discovery Park. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning to allow residential uses at their meeting on February 7. 

The UVA President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships has an updated timeline on their website for the three affordable housing partnerships. 

Michael Joy did not attend the January 19 meeting of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee (LUEPC), a closed-door body that succeeded the public Planning and Coordination Council after the latter was dissolved in late 2019. Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg did attend that one according to the minutes

“We discussed essentially the Three Party Agreement that is the basis of why LUEPC exists and is the basis of cooperation between the three entities,” Stolzenberg said. 

The three parties are Albemarle, Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia and the agreement was signed in 1986 after UVA expressed concerns about Albemarle’s approval of a rezoning of land on Fontaine Avenue for a shopping center. Stolzenberg said there was discussion about whether the agreement should be revisited. 

“Revisiting it to an extent to perhaps further define how some of the processes are supposed to work,” Stolzenberg said. “In many ways the agreement is vague.”

The public is not allowed to attend meetings of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee, but materials are posted after the fact. Slide 9 of the 13-page presentation appears to indicate that LUEPC may be used in the future to review land use changes in what’s known as Area B. 

The Three Party Agreement also established that UVA would be able to appoint non-voting members of the Planning Commissions of both Albemarle and Charlottesville, which is how Michael Joy sits on the city’s body. 

There is currently no non-voting UVA member of the Albemarle Planning Commission, but a top official in the UVA Architect’s office was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in January 2022 as a voting member. Additionally, the UVA Foundation’s director of design and development is the Scottsville District representative. In that capacity, Fred Missel also attends meetings of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee. In 2024, the Planning Commission elected him as chair and Luis Carrazana is the vice chair.

The Three Party Agreement split the area into three types of places, each of which are to receive a certain level of review.

Second shout out: Charlottesville E-bike Lending Library 

In today’s second subscriber supported shout-out, one Patreon supporter wants you to know that Charlottesville has an eBike Lending Library!  E-bikes are a great way to get around the community but there are many brands and styles to choose from. Because many e-bikes are sold online, it can be a challenge to try an e-bike before buying one.

The Charlottesville E-bike Lending Library is a free, not-for-profit service working to expand access to e-bikes in the area. They have a small collection of e-bikes that they lend out to community members for up to a week, for free. You can experience your daily commute, go grocery shopping, or even bike your kids to school, and decide whether e-bikes are right for you. Check out this service at https://www.ebikelibrarycville.org!

Richardson presents FY25 Albemarle budget of $629M that anticipates no change to tax rates

Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson presented the Board of Supervisors today with a recommended operating and capital budget of $629,054,446, an increase of about $74.4 million over the current fiscal year. (download the recommended budget here)

“I’m proud to say that this recommended budget that’s before you today is balanced on the same tax rates as the current year,” Richardson said. 

Those tax rates are a real property tax rate of $0.854 per $100 of assessed value and a personal property tax rate of $3.42 per $100 of assessed value. 

A breakdown of revenues that lead into the budget including a large increase in the category “borrowed proceeds and non-revenue receipts.” (download the recommended budget here) (Credit: Albemarle County) 

Richardson’s direction for the budget comes from the strategic plan, a document last adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October 2022. That plan guides budget development over multiple years. 

This year’s budget title is “Building Momentum: Transforming Our Future” carrying on from the title of this year’s budget which is “Activating The Strategic Plan to Strengthen Our Foundation.”

“It is building momentum,” Richardson said. “Year two of this five-year strategic plan, if you look inside this budget, you will see a lot of things that we are doing, a lot of things that we’re going to finish this year, and a lot of things we’re going to open this year.”

The document itself reflects more spending on public safety. Part of the county’s new court facilities will come online in late 2025 and the county also has to pay more of the share for firefighters hired through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

“In FY25, we’re beginning to pick up some costs that previous policy and funding decisions require,” Richardson said. “The new courts were a capital expense but now require for revenue and staffing and operating the new building and the expanded square footage.” 

Richardson said federal COVID-19 relief funds are now receding. 

“We use these funds to do exactly what we thought we could do,” Richardson said. “One-time money that we quickly spun into programs that would make a meaningful impact.” 

Richardson said Albemarle will also be paying more for transit to make up for reduced federal and state revenue that went to transit agencies to help keep them afloat as ridership dropped in the early pandemic. 

Recommended expenditures also equal $629,054,446 with 39 percent going to local government and 58 percent going to Albemarle County Public Schools. Superintendent Matt Haas will unveil his budget request tomorrow.

Three percent of county expenditures will go to the City of Charlottesville per the revenue sharing agreement. The payment will increase from $15.7 million in FY24 to $17.76 million in FY25, a 13 percent increase. 

There is no new funding in the recommended budget for climate action funding. A total of $421,604 was allocated to that pool in FY24. 

An overview of the total county expenditures. (download the recommended budget here)(Credit: Albemarle County) 

Some highlights of what’s in the budget:
  • The budget adds additional funding to continue the MicroCAT program and adds additional funds for Charlottesville Area Transit. The FY24 budget approved $1.3 million for CAT and that will increase to $1.859 million, a 43 percent increase. The amount of local funds allocated for MicroCAT in FY24 was $175,000, but that will increase to $1.742 million in FY25. (read a story about MicroCAT’s launch in late October)

  • There’s an additional $2 million going to Albemarle’s Housing Fund 

  • The budget anticipates the first phase of Biscuit Run being complete in FY25 with over four miles of trails

  • Revenue collected through the disposable plastic bag tax will go toward litter cleanups on county roadways

  • The recommended budget anticipates the hiring of 36.87 additional “full-time equivalenst” for a total of 957.22 county employees. You can read the details on page 84 of the recommended budget. 

I’ll have more from the budget including initial reactions from the Board of Supervisors in a future edition of the newsletter. 

What’s next? There will be a public hearing on Richardson’s budget on February 28. That’s followed by a series of work sessions. 

Budget calendar for Albemarle. (Download the recommended budget here)

Reading material:

#639 has concluded and now you can go about your day 

How do the stories that appear in Charlottesville Community Engagement get selected? Good question. Every single day is different, but the idea for this program comes from a 15-minute newscast that used to appear at noon on a Virginia public radio station. I learned a lot in that four month internship at that station back in 1995 and have spent nearly the last four years trying to replicate it.

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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.