Jan 10, 2022 • 22M

January 10, 2022: Council appears in favor of two rezonings on Park Street; Northam declares limited state of emergency

Plus: A rundown of more legislation filed for the General Assembly

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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.
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If a year was something that buffered, we’d now be approaching 2.8 percent. It will take some time to see how this particular calendar will resolve, but the past week certainly provides some evidence of turbulence. Still, there’s a long way to go and Charlottesville Community Engagement seeks to provide one channel of information to steady your way. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

In this installment:
  • Deputy City Manager Sanders briefs City Council on efforts to make 5th Street Extended safer and Council holds first reading on two affordable housing projects on Park Street 

  • Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin fills out his cabinet with picks for Labor, Health and Human Resources, and Transportation 

  • More legislation is filed in the Virginia General Assembly that shows the signs of a Republican majority in one of the houses

  • A third round of RGGI-funded grant money for flood mitigation has opened

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement

For sixty years Camp Albemarle, which has 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. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting http://campalbemarleva.org/donate. 

The pandemic continues

Virginia continues to be in a plateau of a high number of COVID cases and hospitalizations. Today the Virginia Department of Health reports a seven-day percent positivity of 35.6 percent with another 15,643 cases. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reports a new record of COVID hospitalizations today with 3,681. Of those, 567 are in intensive care units and 314 are on ventilators. 

To address the issue, outgoing Governor Ralph Northam has issued a 30-day order to increase the number of hospital beds.

“This increase in people hospitalized due to COVID-19—the overwhelming
majority of whom are unvaccinated—is placing stress on Virginia’s general hospitals and nursing facilities and creating a sudden yet temporary need to increase bed capacity in these facilities,” reads the order’s introduction.

Among other things, Executive Order 84 authorizes some state officials to move more quickly with procurement efforts, and allows the State Health Commissioner to temporarily increase the number of hospital bed authorized to operate in the Commonwealth.

The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 202 new cases today and the percent positivity has increased to 28.3 percent. District officials will hold a town hall meeting tonight beginning at 7 p.m. The item was rescheduled from last week due to the winter storm. (meeting info)

Visit the Blue Ridge Health District’s data portal to learn more
Albemarle and Charlottesville to sponsor vegetation drop-off at Ivy MUC

If you’ve got a lot of damaged tree limbs and other vegetation and have a way to get it to the Ivy Materials Utilization Center, there will be no fees to drop it off through January 17. Albemarle and Charlottesville  have both agreed to pay the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority to waive the fees. The Ivy center is located at 4576 Dick Woods Road and the material can be dropped off during regular hours.

“Vegetative debris collected will be ground into mulch and available for purchase at Ivy MUC,” reads a release on the RSWA website. “Residents must show proof of residency and state that the debris is storm-related.”  

Last week, Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders told Council the city cannot yet offer curbside pick-up due to staffing shortages that have been worsened due to the pandemic. On Facebook today, the Department of Public Works stated they are “in the process of preparing for a special City-wide debris pickup service, to assist with clean-up efforts from the recent weather event. Timing and scheduling information are still being finalized, and those details will follow soon.”

Youngkin fills Transportation, Labor, Health and Human Services posts

In five days, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will be sworn in, and he’s now filled a good portion of his cabinet.

This morning, Youngkin announced that his Secretary of Health and Human Resources will be John Littel, who has recently been the president of Magellan Health. Magellan was just purchased by another company last week for $2.2 billion. Littel has previously served as the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources in Virginia and as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. 

Youngkin said Littel would “be an asset as we fix our broken mental and behavioral health system, ensure Virginians have access to affordable, free-market healthcare options, and reform our healthcare safety net to save taxpayer dollars and improve healthcare outcomes.” 

No word yet on a replacement for Norm Oliver as Virginia’s Commissioner of Health. 

Kay Cole James has been selected as the Secretary of the Commonwealth. James has most recently served as the President of the Heritage Foundation and has a long history of working in Republican administration in both Richmond and Washington, D.C. According to the release, James served as Virginia’s Secretary of Health under Governor George Allen and “developed Virginia’s landmark welfare reform.” James has served as co-chair of Youngkin’s transition team. 

A long-term member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board will serve as Youngkin’s Transportation Secretary. W. Sheppard Miller served on the board from 2011 to 2014 and joined it again in 2018 when appointed by Governor Ralph Northam. 

Speaking of the CTB, it next meets tomorrow and Wednesday. 

Youngkin has selected George “Bryan” Slater as Secretary of Labor. Slater has previously served in Republican administrations in Richmond and D.C. including Secretary of Administration under Governor Jim Gilmore. He served as Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management at the U.S. Department of Labor in the Trump administration.  

Margaret “Lyn” McDermid will serve as the next Secretary of Administration, which includes the Departments of General Service, Human Resource Management, and Elections, as well as the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and the Compensation Board, McDermid worked as Chief Information Officer for the Federal Reserve Information Technology from 2013 to 2020. 

Congressman Donald McEachin has sent a letter to Virginia Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw urging the General Assembly to block the nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural Resources. McEachin cited several times state legislators have blocked judicial appointments and board nominations. In 2006, the Republican-led Senate rejected Governor Kaine’s choice for Secretary of the Commonwealth. (read the letter)

Two days left until the General Assembly 

The opening of the 2022 Virginia General Assembly is in two days and there aren’t too many days I’ll be able to write out interesting bills, but I will be switching over to reporting on what happens with some of them. Hundreds of bills will be filed, and many will be dismissed in committee. The pace has seriously picked up, so this is a much shorter list. 

Republicans continue to file bills to undo changes the Democratic majority made to various bills, particularly in the area of criminal justice. 

  • For instance, Delegate John Mcguire (R-56) filed a bill to lower the threshold for felony larceny back to $500, down from the increase to $1,000 made within the year. (HB107)

  • McGuire also has a bill that would prevent localities from creating a Police Civilian Review Board. (HB110)

  • Delegate Marie March (R-7) has a bill requiring school buses to have decals that say “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God.” (HB113)

  • March has another bill that would prevent governments from doing any activity that a private business could provide. (HB119)

  • Delegate Nick Frietas (R-30) has a bill that would remove powers of the State Air Pollution Control Board and the State Corporation Commission to regulate carbon emissions in order to meet previously stated greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. (HB118)

  • Delegate Scott Wyatt (R-97) would limit absentee voting to 10 days before an election, would require an absentee ballot to have the last four numbers of a voter’s social security number, and would add other restrictions. (HB121)

  • Delegate Chris Runion (R-25) has a similar bill to Wyatt’s that would require witnesses to absentee ballot certification to also provide a signature, name, address, date of birth, and the last four digits of their social security number. (HB149)

  • Wyatt has a bill similar to others that would repeal provisions that prevent law enforcement from pulling motorists over for certain infractions, ending another Democratic initiative. (HB122)

  • Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84) has a bill that would allow ranked choice voting in party primaries, including the Presidential election. (HB129)

  • Delegate Mike Cherry (R-66) has a bill to repeal the prohibition of having firearms on school property. (HB133)

Third round opens for RGGI funded flood program

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has pledged to withdraw Virginia from an interstate cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through an executive order. Whether or not he’s successful, Virginia so far has received $227.6 million from the program, and just under half of it is intended to help localities pay for projects to mitigate the threat of additional flooding. The third round for applications has opened for the Community Flood Preparedness Fund.

“During the next 90 days, communities across Virginia will be able to apply for $40 million in grants to address the effects of recurrent flooding, sea level rise and extreme weather,” reads a press release for the application. 

This will be the first round since completion of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan in December. Charlottesville has had two projects funded so far, and Scottsville has had one. Visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website to learn more

Second subscriber-supported shout-out

Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects such as an expungement project with the Legal Aid Justice Center, a map of Charlottesville streetlights, and the Charlottesville Housing Hub. Visit codeforcville.org to learn about those projects.

Fifth Street Extended safety discussion 

The first meeting of the Charlottesville City Council is in the books. At the top of the meeting, Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders explained what the city is going to address safety concerns on Fifth Street Extended. According to crash data from the Virginia Department of Transportation, there were three fatalities in 2020 on the divided highway. Police have confirmed there was another on the night of New Years Day. 

“We very much remain concerned about the serious safety concern along that corridor,” Sanders said. “Our traffic engineer has been working to effect improvements with a few updates. We are pursuing a speed limit reduction. We have been working on that and you will have that matter before you at your next meeting.” 

Sanders said flashing “signal ahead” signs are on back order and have been delayed due to supply chain issues. He said some intersection warning signs had been installed. 

“We feel as though they weren’t big enough so we are in the process of expediting their swap-out,” Sanders said. 

Sanders said the long-term strategy will be to break down the roadway’s current character. 

“An example of that would be the installation of a roundabout midway on the corridor but that too is going to be very difficult for us to figure out but we’re committed to doing that and we want you to know we’re not moving away from this as a high-priority,” Sanders said. 

Charlottesville has been awarded several projects through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s SmartScale program in the immediate area. They are:

  • $6.1 million for improvements on 5th Street SW to “reduce congestion, improve safety, and accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit at the intersection of Ridge Street, Cherry Avenue, Elliot Aveune (sic).” (details)

  • $8.78 million for improvements to Ridge Street to “design and construct multi-modal improvements along the Ridge Street Corridor. Sidewalk and Curb Ramp upgrades; signal improvements at Monticello; Curb extensions on Ridge St. at Dice St. and Oak St..including bicycle lanes.” (details)

  • There’s also West Main Street Phase 1 and Phase 2, two related projects that Council has indicated they will no longer support with local taxpayer dollars.

Council holds first reading on Piedmont Housing projects on Park Street

In their first land use items of the year, and the first rezonings since the Comprehensive Plan was updated in November, Council appeared to approve two projects on Park Street submitted by the Piedmont Housing Alliance. 

Let’s hear City Planner Dannan O’Connell describe the one at Park Street Christian Church.

“The proposed PUD development plan calls for 50 multifamily units and about 54 parking spaces to be constructed at the rear of the existing church site,” O’Connell said. 

And here is with the project at the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, two blocks to the south. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville is also participating in that project. 

“The proposed PUD development plan calls for preservation of the two existing single-family homes, 28 new townhome or duplex units, 65 multifamily units in two buildings, and a maximum of 7,500 square feet of commercial child care space.” 

A map from the traffic impact study conducted by the Timmons Group. This is on page 91 of the 180-page staff report that went to the Planning Commission. (download)

Because the public hearings for the items were held in mid-December, anyone who wanted to speak to the matter had to do so at the beginning of the meeting. Brian Day represented the congregation at Park Street Christian Church. 

“The project for affordable senior housing has had tremendous support from IMPACT Charlottesville and the enthusiastic and unanimous support approval from the Planning Commission as well,” Day said. “To be a vibrant city we need affordable housing and we are ready to help you make this possible. 

Kimber Hawkey, a Belmont resident, asked Council to delay a vote on the MACAA project. 

“I’m just asking that the Council take a step back and wait to do any kind of approval on this until there’s more study on traffic impact as well as the affordability,” Hawkey said. “It looks like a promising project but given the traffic and public safety indication, it seems inappropriate in size for the location.”

Traffic improvements at the Park Street Christian Church project include improvements granting an easement to the city to allow for brush to be cleared to increase sight distance at the intersection of Park Street and Cutler Lane, as well as a crosswalk across Park Street at Cutler Lane. 

The affordability level at Park Street Christian Church will depend on a number of factors, including how successful Piedmont Housing Alliance will be in getting low income housing tax credits in the next cycle.

“We don’t have specificity in there around the exact depth of affordability in part because you can only finalize that when you have finalized all of the costs and all of the subsidies so you know how deeply affordable you can go,” said Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of Piedmont Housing Alliance.

Mathon said the target will be that five units will be households less than 30 percent of the area median income, and the majority will ideally be less than 50 percent of the AMI. All units will accept federal housing vouchers. 

The city has not yet contributed any funding to this project. According to a preliminary audit of the city’s affordable housing funds by the firm HR&A, Piedmont Housing Alliance has received around $10 million from Charlottesville, including about $6 million for the Friendship Court redevelopment. (read the update from HR&A)

Mathon said this project will also require city funding to close a financing gap. Piedmont Housing Alliance has submitted a request for $1.5 million in city funding. 

“I would rather rely on state or federal sources to cover that gap but inevitably city sources have to be part of that capital stack in the current day and age,” Mathon said. 

For the Park Street Christian Church, Piedmont Housing Alliance will not submit an application for low-income housing tax credits until the 2023 cycle. 

The Park Street Christian Church item will go before Council at their next meeting on a consent agenda. 

There was more discussion about the MACAA project. Transportation improvements include a realignment of MACAA Drive to be directly across from Davis Avenue to make a safer intersection, as well as a crosswalk. The intersection would remain unsignalized. An existing driveway from one of the single-family houses will be eliminated. 

Councilor Brian Pinkston said there was a lot to like about the project but he was skeptical the traffic improvements would mitigate congestion. 

“But there’s still this fact that at that intersection particularly where 250 and Park are right now is a difficult place to get through,” Pinkston said. 

Councilor Michael Payne had concerns about loss of tree cover. An engineer with the Timmons Group said the development would exceed the city’s requirement for replacement. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he felt good about the project, but asked several questions about its impact on traffic. 

“If we don’t address some of those, I think they’re being addressed, then it won’t be a pleasant living environment for the new residents as well as the current residents of the neighborhood,” Wade said. 

Mayor Snook said he did not think the additional traffic would result in conditions as hazardous as on Fifth Street Extended.  

“It’s just simply not going to happen,” Snook said. “You don’t have a four-lane highway. You don’t have it divided. You don’t have it 45 miles an hour. You may well see some incremental increase in rear-enders, minor low-impact kinds of collisions. I don’t mean to downplay them and to say that’s irrelevant but I think it’s kind of distorting to throw that argument in there.”

The MACAA issue will not come back on the consent agenda but will instead come back for a discussion and to allow the applicant to further address concerns raised at the meeting. 

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