Feb 3 • 19M

February 3, 2022: Third "new" hotel coming to Pantops; Places29-Rio group briefed on future of Rio Road corridor

Plus: Bills to allow photo-speed cameras in rural areas have failed in General Assembly

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Sean Tubbs
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.
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Quick! Grab a glass and fill it to the fifty percent point with any liquid. How would you describe it? Perhaps for today only you might say it is half full, given that February 3 is Optimist Day, and it may be time to try out that attitude just for one day. That’s not a requirement, however, to interact with this or any installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a podcast and newsletter that wants you to listen and read no matter how you’re feeling today. I’m Sean Tubbs, and I will always hope that you are well.

On today’s show:
  • The Pantops Community Advisory Committee gets a briefing on a third hotel on U.S. 250

  • The Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee gets an update on the Rio Road Corridor Plan

  • Albemarle’s hope to use photo-speed cameras for traffic enforcement in rural areas is dead in 2022

  • A quick look at the candidates seeking to be the next Congressional Representative for Virginia’s new 5th District 

The first shout-out goes to LEAP

When you think of romance, you might not immediately think of energy efficiency - but the folks at LEAP think keeping your family comfortable at home is a great way to show you care during the month of love. Your local energy nonprofit wants to make sure you are getting the most out of your home all year round, and LEAP offers FREE home weatherization to income- and age-qualifying residents. If someone in your household is age 60 or older, or you have an annual household income of less than $74,950, you may qualify for a free energy assessment and home energy improvements such as insulation and air sealing. Sign up today to lower your energy bills, increase comfort, and reduce energy waste at home!

Pandemic update: Surge continues to wane 

Let’s begin today with a quick look at COVID numbers. Most numbers continue to trend toward, with an average daily count of new cases at 7,237 and the percent positivity is down to 23.2 percent. Still high for most of the pandemic, but short of the high points of last month’s surge. The Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association reports 2,578 people in hospital with COVID. 

Today the Blue Ridge Health District reports another 297 new cases and the percent positivity is at 21.7 percent, continuing a gradual decline. There have been at least eight deaths reported since January 26, though COVID fatalities are often reported several days or weeks after the individual passed on. As of today, 16,548 Virginians have died from COVID. 

The University of Virginia Health System has received $2.14 million in federal grants for a program to help prevent burnout in medical professionals. The Wisdom and Wellbeing program works with partners at the Region 10 Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition to provide training for healthcare workers across the region. 

“The program gives care providers, community health workers and healthcare students effective tools to identify and treat ‘stress injuries’ caused by trauma, loss and the many challenges healthcare workers face,” reads a press release.

The program will be expanded through the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, an organization created after a UVA doctor took her own life in April 2020.

Congressional fundraising continues for 2022 race as legal case for Delegates’ elections continues 

We’re still waiting for a final decision on whether there will be a House of Delegates race this year. Last year, Richmond attorney Paul Goldman filed a suit against the Board of Elections arguing that the certification of Delegates for two-year terms last November was unconstitutional due to the legislative boundaries being outdated because they are still based on the 2010 U.S. Census.

Last week, attorneys affiliated with new Attorney General Jason Miyares took up the case and have asked judges with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deny a request by Goldman to submit additional information in the appeal. Among other things, they argue that data Goldman used to claim imbalance in legislative districts cannot be verified. (read that brief)

On Monday, the court deferred consideration of Goldman’s motion earlier. (read that order)

But there will definitely be a Congressional race this year under the new districts approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in late December. 

In the 5th District, Republican Incumbent Bob Good will defend his seat in seeking a second term. He currently has one member of his party challenging him and that’s Dan Moy, the chair of the Republican Party in Charlottesville. According to campaign finance data processed by the Virginia Public Access Project, Good raised $518,278 cash in 2021. Moy did not file a report in that filing period. 

Three Democrats are in the race. 

  • Josh Throneburg raised $270,154 in 2021. He’s an ordained minister and small business owner. 

  • Warren McClellan is a farmer who grew up in Southside and he raised $11,001.

  • Andy Parker is running because his daughter was killed while she was doing a television report at Smith Mountain Lake several years ago. He had not filed a report by the end of 2021.  

A fourth Democrat, Lewis Combs Jr., suspended his campaign last week due to the new shape of the 5th District. 

“As a result of our analysis, I have decided that there is not a viable path to victory for our progressive campaign in the 5th Congressional District,” Combs said in a statement “We are confident that our campaign could raise the funds and field the organization needed to run an effective campaign. However, I could not truthfully assure our potential donors that there is a pathway to victory in the general election.” 

General Assembly snapshot 

There’s so much going on at the General Assembly and a lot of bits of information may fall through the cracks. As of this morning, 184 of 2,446 bills and resolutions filed have officially failed. The House of Delegates has passed 250 bills and the Senate has passed 309 bills. 

A total of 139 bills have passed both Houses, with most of these being commendations or celebrations. Thirty-nine bills have been carried on to 2023. 

Albemarle County asked local legislators to introduce a bill that would allow localities to use photo-speed cameras to enforce speed limits on sections of rural roads. Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) carried HB747, but on January 27 a subcommittee of the House Public Safety Committee recommended “laying on the table” which is one way of saying it died. 

A similar bill (SB334) in the Senate also died when it failed to report out of the Transportation Committee on January 20. 

Crossover Day is on February 15. That’s the day when bills must have passed one House to be considered by the others. 

Click here for the latest statistics on what’s passed the General Assembly in 2022 and what’s still pending
Third hotel planned for Pantops 

A lot happens in Albemarle County, and sometimes it takes me a bit to get to all I want to write about. Stories are coming in the near future on redistricting and Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan process. If you can’t wait, do check out Allison Wrabel’s stories on those items in the Daily Progress. 

But, sticking with Albemarle County for a bit, let’s get some updates on various development projects coming up. 

At the January 24 meeting of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee, members learned about a site plan for a new project at the intersection of Town and Country Lane and Olympia Drive. Rachel Falkenstein is a planning manager with Albemarle. (watch the meeting)

“The proposal there is for a five-story 119-room hotel and parking,” Falkenstein said. 

That use is consistent with the zoning, but the final design will need to get a certificate of appropriateness of the Albemarle Architectural Review board. 

“It’s right behind Guadalajara and Marco’s Pizza,” said Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley. “You’ll see some of it from U.S. 250.” 

The developer is HMP Properties LLC. They own several properties in the Williamsburg area and other parts of eastern Virginia.  

This is not to be confused with another hotel under development right across the street. That’s got the working title of Overlook Hotel. The Planning Commission recommended approval of a technical rezoning for that project in January. The Board of Supervisors will make a final decision at some point, but the meeting has not yet been scheduled yet. 

There’s also a new Holiday Inn Express that’s opened on Pantops Corner Way.

One member of the Pantops CAC asked a question that’s on many people’s minds. 

“Is there really a need for another hotel?” asked Stephanie Lowenhaupt. “Has there been documentation or some type of data that would show why we need a third hotel in that very close area?”

Supervisor LaPisto-Kirtley said that’s not a decision that’s up to the local government, but the county does try to promote other uses where it can. 

“On properties we know that are vacant we try to elicit let’s say high-tech, light manufacturing, high-paying jobs,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “On other sites like this, whoever owns it, they can do what they want. Presumably they’ve done their homework.” 

Site plan for the proposed 119-room hotel on Towne and Country Lane 

Two more shout-outs: Good cheer and community journalism

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement and it’s time for two more Patreon-fueled shout-outs. The first comes a long-time supporter who wants you to know:

"Today is a great day to spread good cheer: reach out to an old friend, compliment a stranger, or pause for a moment of gratitude to savor a delight."

The second comes from a more recent supporter who wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!

Places29-Rio group reviews corridor plan 

One of the purposes of a Comprehensive Plan is to direct government resources into specific areas in order to maximize investment in infrastructure. For over forty years, Albemarle County has envisioned an urban area that gets the vast majority of capital dollars. Pantops is one of the designated growth areas, as is the area around the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29. (Rio Corridor Public Input page)

For the past year, Albemarle has been working on a plan to address traffic congestion and a lack of walkability on Rio Road East in and around the intersection with the John Warner Parkway. They hired the firm Line and Grade to do the work which is being done in two phases. 

The first extends from the Rio Road / U.S. 29 intersection to the John Warner Parkway and a written draft is nearing completion. The second phase travels down Rio Road East to the border with Charlottesville. 

The Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee got an update on January 27 from Dan Hyer of Line and Grade. Specifically he focused on the area of East Rio Road between the Parkway and Pen Park Road. Let’s hear some traffic counts. (watch the meeting

“And what we see is that this portion of Rio Road is at least as of the year 2019 carrying about 9,300 vehicles a day,” Hyer said. “We’re seeing that Pen Park Road carries about 4,400, Pen Park Lane which goes to Lochlyn Hills carries about a thousand. The John Warner Parkway carrying around 19,800. Dunlora Drive carries about 2,400 vehicles per day.” 

Hyer said those figures are likely out of date with more development in the area. 

“Lochlyn Hills has continued to develop and bring more vehicles and more neighbors and more residents in the area,” Hyer said. “The Lofts apartment has come online with it, again, more neighbors, more residents, high density, multifamily there.Dunlora Park has come online.” 

Hyer also the 43-unit Rio Commons project will be developed by-right on land already zoned R-4 just north of the Waldorf School. That will add another 300 vehicles a day. 

There’s also another by-right development of a farm nearby that could see many more units. Before Hyer was able to get into the details of what phase 2 might look like, members of the CAC questioned his traffic data. One wanted to know what the limits are to development.

“At what point would traffic lead to so much that further development would be prohibited?” asked Audrey Kocher, who is serving in her third term on the Places29-Rio CAC. 

Hyer said development is based on land use decisions made by the locality so if land is already zoned for houses, the developer as a property right to build. 

“It has nothing to do with how much traffic is or is not on on the road already,” Hyer said.

“Whoa!” Kocher exclaimed. “So we can just have a really crowded, dangerous situation.” 

The point of the plan is to address those public safety concerns in advance of future development. So far, crash data from the Virginia Department of Transportation does not indicate any fatalities. 

In the future, though, there will be a lot more activity on a 2,000 linear feet stretch of Rio Road East with the 328-unit Rio Point development approved by Board of Supervisors in December. The study is intended to bring it all together for the future. 

“The roadway is going from this to this and so its getting increasingly dense and increasingly complex and our recommendations need to consider this and account for this,” Hyer said. 

Hyer said the Rio Point project provides an opportunity to increase non vehicular access via the greenway that runs along the John Warner Parkway. 

“You can see that if that connection is successfully put in, it would be really helpful for someone who lives in Dunlora Forest and wants to get to the greenway, it might make it a little easier than going through the John Warner Parkway or going down to Pen Park,” Hyer said. 

There’s also a roundabout funded and planned for the intersection of the parkway and East Rio Road. The work of Line and Grade is intended to inform how the rest of the corridor might look in the future. Phase two is still in the idea phase. 

“If we want to bring unity to this stretch of road, which is happening, how do we do it?” Hyer asked. “What are the opportunities? And what is the desire?” 

CAC member Nancy Hunt liked what she saw in Hyer’s presentation because she sees further growth as inevitable. 

“We’re going to have more traffic,” Hunt said. “This is an urbanizing area and we have to treat all property owners equally. And if we give dense zoning to one, we need to look at the possibility of giving dense zoning to another.”

Hunt said she wants speed limits on East Rio Road to be reduced to make it safer for other road users.

Fellow CAC Member Judy Schlussel took issue with one image that showed a median on East Rio Road.

“I find that as a red flag,” Schlussel said. “We all know now median strips are not maintained and it worries me that if you’re going to put this lovely greenery in, one, who is going to ultimately be responsible for the maintenance.” 

You can also get a sense of where things are in a January 26 newsletter

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