Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
February 24, 2024: Details from VDOT on work expected for four projects at Hydraulic Road at U.S. 29
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February 24, 2024: Details from VDOT on work expected for four projects at Hydraulic Road at U.S. 29

Plus: More from the recommended FY25 budget for Albemarle County
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Saturday editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement are rare, but then again the existence of February 29 is also rare and we have one of those going on this week as well. This newsletter and podcast exists to bring you and thousands of others some but not even close to all information about decisions made that affect what’s known as the built environment. I’m Sean Tubbs, hopeful that this work may lead to a better community. 

On today’s show:

  • There was a shooting on the downtown mall just before 2 a.m. this morning

  • The Virginia Department of Transportation is in the early stages of building four projects in the Hydraulic / U.S. 29 area including a roundabout at Hillsdale and Hydraulic

  • Another look at Albemarle County’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2025 with some more details of what is in the revenue and spending plan 

  • A look at new applications for zoning clearances in Albemarle County including a request from the St. John Family Life and Fitness Center 

Saturday editions are indeed rare, but sign up to make sure you get all of them in your inbox.

Sponsored message: Buy Local 

From Crozet to Barracks Road, the Downtown Mall to the Shops at Stonefield, and everywhere in between, Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s Offices of Economic Development encourage you to Buy Local as the New Year unfolds. 

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Learn more about how you can support local business at ShowLocalLove.org and on social media:

Shots fired on Downtown Mall last night

A Charlottesville man was sent to the University of Virginia Medical Center after being shot in the ankle earlier this morning. That’s according to a social media notification from the city police department sent before dawn. 

“On February 24th, 2024 at 0145, Officers were on patrol in the area of the 200 block of E. Market Street when they heard several shots fired from the downtown mall area,” reads a post on Facebook. 

Police officers found several shell casings in the 200 block of West Main Street. As of this morning, the 35-year-old man was in stable condition. 

According to information retrieved from the city’s open data portal, this is the 13th shots fired incident in Charlottesville since the beginning of the year. 

There were 55 incidents in 2023 and 62 in 2022. That’s down from 88 in 2021 and 89 in 2020. There is not a full year’s worth of data in the city’s crime data portal

Information on crime from Charlottesville’s Open Data Portal (take a look)

Work has begun on Hydraulic / U.S. 29 projects 

Construction is underway for a series of projects that will alter the way motorists and other travelers navigate through the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road, adding elements of infrastructure that have to do double duty for one of the area’s busiest crossroads. Visitors to Hydraulic Road will notice orange barrels within the right of way owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

“We’ve started some early drainage work and some demolition work that needs to take place,”  said Will Stowe, construction engineer for a package of improvements that have four components including installing a roundabout at Hydraulic and Hillsdale. 

Other elements include a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 29 and removing left-hand turn movements from Hydraulic onto U.S. 29. The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the package of projects in round 4 of a selection process called Smart Scale after an intersection project with a larger scope failed to qualify for funds in round 3. 

“We looked at this in the 2018 Smart Scale round, developed a grade-separated intersection at Hydraulic and 29, and it scored way down on the list because of the cost,” said Hal Jones, a project manager with VDOT’s Culpeper District. “I think it was on the order of $100 million to do that work.”

These four projects have a budget of $24 million. Another change is that the bridge over U.S. 29 at Zan Road was originally to have carried vehicles but now it will be for non-motorized transport. 

Some elements of what’s officially known as Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 Transportation Improvements trace back to the Route 29 Solutions initiative. That refers to a series of transportation investments made after the final demise of a project to build a 6.2 mile western bypass. That project was dormant for many years before being resurrected by the administration of former Governor Bob McDonnell. 

When McDonnell left office, the project did not have the support of his successor, Terry McAuliffe, and the dozens of millions of dollars that had been allocated for the bypass went instead to an extension of Berkmar Drive, the routing of Rio Road above U.S. 29, and other projects. 

The project is classified as a “design build” project where a single contractor oversees the engineering, right of way acquisition, utility relocation, and construction.

“Unlike a normal VDOT project we have some of those things going on concurrently right now,” Stowe said. 

The four projects are at different stages of the process from a funded idea to something people will be able to use. 

“We have fully designed the elements along Hydraulic roadway,” Stowe said. “The pedestrian bridge that is across U.S. 29 is still in design. We haven’t reached the final design for that element yet but currently we are acquiring right of the way for the project.” 

For now construction is taking place primarily at night with lane closures. 

“From 9pm to 6am are the typical hours,” Stowe said. “We have some extended hours on the weekends, just a little bit longer, but a lot different.”

Stowe said there are currently no detours but one will occur at the intersection of Hillsdale and Hydraulic perhaps as early as this summer. 

One item that’s caused some concern is the removal of the left-hand turn movements from Hydraulic onto U.S. 29. 

“The primary reason for that is really to increase the throughput,” Stowe said. “We take the time that it takes for those left turn movements to get greentime at the signal, we take that time and give it to the other movements, Route 29 and the Hydraulic through movement. That really provides a lot better throughput for both of those roads.” 

Stowe said motorists who take those turns will find alternatives if they think of the additional ways that exist to get around the area. In the future that will also include another roundabout at District Avenue and Hydraulic that was funded in Smart Scale Round 5 and will be built in a few years. 

“What we’re telling people the primary different routes are if you were coming Hydraulic eastbound and you used to take a left to  go 29 Borth, you can simply go through the intersection, come down to the roundabout that we’ll be building at Whole Foods and do a U-turn and come back and take a right turn to go north,” Stowe said. 

Westbound motorists on Hydraulic who want to go south onto U.S. 29 would have to make a right hand turn and then do a U-turn. In the future, they’d be able to travel through the intersection and reverse course at the District Avenue roundabout. 

Some might ask how this got approved. There was a design public hearing for the project in May 2022, a mandatory step in the public engagement process. 

The District Avenue roundabout will also have its design public hearing and public comment period in the near future. 

“They’re just beginning the scoping process for that and currently it’s expected to be a bid build project and there are some right of way impacts with likely relocation of residents so that one is going to take quite a bit of time to development but its underway,” Jones said. 

Want to know more about that project? Mark your calendar for April 16 when a citizen information meeting is scheduled. 

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Second shout-out: Design Develop

In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out, architectural firm Design Develop is offering a new service aimed at the development community that the rest of us might want to know about , too — 3D point cloud scanning! This technique uses specialized equipment, such as 3D scanner systems, to gather a large amount of data points that represent the surface of the scanned object or scene. This really comes in handy when working with historic structures, as the firm knows from its experience in Baltimore and Charlottesville. Read their blog post for more information!

The applications of 3D point cloud scanning are extensive and cover various fields, including architecture, construction, cultural heritage preservation, virtual reality, industrial design, manufacturing, and more. These applications require accurate 3D spatial information, and Design Develop’s workflow provides precise and comprehensive results, all while being more cost-effective than traditional methods.

Design Develop has expertise in this workflow for their own needs and now has a dedicated team offering this service in the Charlottesville and Albemarle Area. If you're involved in the real estate, design, or construction industry, contact them for more information or a free quote.

Visit their website for an introductory video that captures the 3D point cloud scanning of the Downtown Transit Center and a booklet that will explain more!

A second look at Albemarle’s recommended budget for FY25

In the February 21, 2024 edition of this newsletter, I reported information from Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson’s recommended fiscal year budget for FY25. The total budget  of $629,054,446 and that’s an increase of about $74.4 million over the current fiscal year. 

“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.

We already heard that in the last installment, as well as a basic overview of the budget. 

I wanted to through and get more details from Richardson’s presentation. There’s a public hearing on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 and if someone had something they wanted to say to influence the finished product, that would be the time. 

The best place to start is to download the budget yourself. This is a 318 page document that is the second budget of a strategic plan adopted in October 2022

The cover of the FY25 recommended budget (download the document)

This time around I’m first reviewing the capital improvement program which begins on page 261 of the recommended budget.  The total amount for FY25 is $104,886,161 and the five year CIP is under $335.7 million 

“For this next year, we’re looking at a total capital for schools of $206.8 million,” Richardson said. “I’d highlight that High School Center Two and Elementary One, which is the southern feeder pattern school, both have checkmarks for fiscal year 25. I believe that the schools have indicated that they are also struggling with increased construction costs.I want to think that’s about $11 million of additional costs for both of those schools together and I’m pleased to say that in the FY25 budget we have those costs.” 

That elementary school has a cost estimate of $45,537,452 in FY25. A northern elementary school is planned for funding in FY27 and FY28. 

A breakdown of funding sources for the $104,886,161 FY25 CIP (Credit: Albemarle County)

Some highlights from the capital budget:  

  • There is funding in the out years for the renovation of the Central Library in downtown Charlottesville. That consists of $857,109 in FY27 and $9,676,141 in FY29. 

  • There is $150,000 in funding in FY25 for an urban pocket park with $1.5 million slated to be spent in FY26. 

  • There is $635,000 in funding to bring a trailhead at Woolen Mills up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act 

  • A capital request from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is slated for $165,000 in FY25.

  • Construction of a Northern Convenience Center has been delayed one year to FY27 but design will proceed in FY25 

  • There is $5.1 million slated in the capital improvement program in FY25 for transportation projects for the purpose of matching state and federal funds. Another $11.3 million is anticipated in FY26 and another $13.6 million in FY27. 

  • There is $300,000 to replace voting machines

Some other items in the operating budget are worth noting such as the funding for the Human Services Alternative Response Team which has begun as a pilot program. 

“Here we are with a group of people from Human Services, police, and fire,” Richardson said. “In the first six months that this team has been together, they’ve provided support for 149 9-1-1 calls in our community.”

There’s also funding in the fiscal year for another public safety experiment that takes advantage of enabling authority that allows a certain technology.

“This budget supports a photo speed camera pilot on Hydraulic Road,” Richardson said. “It’s going to be installed this summer before the start of the fall semester for our public schools beside the Lambs Lane Campus,” Richardson said. 

Another trend over the last several years is the hiring of professional fire and EMS personnel to combat declining participation of volunteers. In December, Chief Dan Eggleston briefed Supervisors on the systemic issue and the county’s investment to date. Richardson had this refresher. 

“Over the past three budgets, Board, we have hired 50 professional, paid firefighters in Albemarle County,” Richardson said. “We’ve done that using federal grant money and we’ve planned ahead as this grant money is retired to be able to take this obligation on locally. We’re prepared to do that.” 

To give a sense of the scale of the investment, the actual amount spent on “System-Wide Fire Rescue Services” was $19,381,839. That’s increased to a budgeted amount of $27,991,243 in FY25. (page 78)

Richardson said staff will also continue to prepare the 462 acres of land near Rivanna Station that the county purchased for $58.9 million. 

“We’ll be working in fiscal year 2025 to do master planning, rezoning, to bring durable partners to the table to support the funding of the site’s future,” Richardson said. 

The county will also take over funding for the on-demand MicroCAT pilot as state funding for the pilot expires. Richardson said the service has been successful.

“Since its launch at the end of October, more than 8,500 rides have been requested through this service,” Richardson said. 

After Richardson’s presentation, Supervisors had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments but many said they would reserve that for the work sessions. Rio District Supervisor Ned Gallaway had this question and observation about MicroCAT. 

“Does MicroCAT in the analysis of the pilot going to give us information or not on whether all of the fixed routes that are still in place are still needed?” Gallaway asked. “Or if MicroCAT could replace some of those because there are potential cost savings. If you have a fixed route alone Rio Road that MicroCAT could serve and you don’t need the fixed route any longer, that could be a way to finagle some dollars around.” 

Gallaway said he has heard great feedback about MicroCAT and is glad to see the program continue. 

The public hearing will be on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 at 6 p.m. in Lane Auditorium. Details at this link:

Albemarle land use: St. John Family Life and Fitness Center update

One way I try to stay on top of things is to review Albemarle County’s land use records for information. I’m beginning to do this more frequently with Charlottesville’s new development portal, but 

Here’s information that comes from a review at zoning clearances.

The St. John Family Life and Fitness Center has submitted a zoning clearance to operate at 1595 St. John Road. The organization was founded in 2011 to “encourage understanding about early education for African Americans in the segregated South.” The group is renovating the historic Rosenwald School on the site to open it to the public. 

“Like other communities around the United States, we desire to preserve this surviving structure because of its profound meaning for African Americans as symbols of a community’s dedication to education,” reads the narrative included with the application.

The narrative also states that the site will be a community hub during power outages. The property is zoned Rural Area but the narrative appeals to the county’s desire to reuse historic structures. Visit the St. John Family Life and Fitness Center’s website to learn more about the past, present, and future of the space. (CLE202400018)

  • A site on Westfield Road formerly occupied by Sigora Solar is set to become a beauty salon and studio called Face Value. (CLE202400015)

  • An individual has filed for a zoning clearance for a “retail wine, beer, and chocolate shop with gifts and gourmet foods.” This would be called The Gray and would be in the space at 3015 Louisa Road that had been occupied by a wine shop adjacent to the American Legion Post 74. The license from the health department clears the space for 20 indoor seats and 12 outdoor seats. (CLE202400016)

  • Eric Trump has filed an application to operate a cidery at the Trump Winery at 3550 Blenheim Road (CLE202400017)

  • Zoning clearances are also required for outdoor events such as the Jefferson Cup Road Race to be run in southern Albemarle on April 20. They expect 300 attendees. (CLE202400020)

  • There’s also an application from the White Hall Ruritans for the Sugar Hollow 5K and 10K to be held on March 16, 2024. (CLE202400023)

Reading material:

Exit 640!

I prefer to take Saturdays off, but there’s a reason this edition is going out today. In the next two weeks I’m going to be away from my studio and I’m not entirely sure how the trip will affect the production schedule. If there’s a gap between editions of this newsletter and you want to know why, go visit my Notes page on Substack to see where I am. My aim is to get as many of these out to you as possible, but sometimes I need to take a break. 

If there is a break, dive back into the archives at Information Charlottesville at infocville.com and perhaps you’d be interested in helping keep cvillepedia up to date? There’s always new information, but sometimes it’s also good to sort out everything that’s happened so far. Cvillepedia is maintained by the Jefferson Madison Regional Library but managed by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. 

This thing? It’s Charlottesville Community Engagement and it is paid for by subscribers who want to make sure this kind of information is available. Ting will match the initial subscription for every new paid subscriber through Substack, though if you want to pay via a check that’s fine too. 

This is an incredibly generous sponsorship, and you if you sign up for service and enter the promo code COMMUNITY you’re going to get:

  • Free installation

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  • A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall

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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.