January 12, 2021: Louisa schools to go virtual for two weeks; Scottsville discusses response to racist fliers

  
0:00
-16:40

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."

On today’s show:

  • Scottsville Town Council responds to racist propaganda distributed over the weekend

  • The Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee gets an update on Albemarle’s new housing policy

  • Developer of Rivanna Village project in eastern Albemarle gives a status report

  • University of Virginia Health System to halt hospital visitation

  • Louisa County schools to switch to virtual learning for two weeks


Louisa County public schools will transition Thursday to virtual instruction for a limited period of time due to staffing. A Virginia Department of Education map listing the status of school systems in the Commonwealth shows Louisa as being “all hybrid.” 

Let’s hear from their superintendent. (watch the video)

“Hello team LCPS, this is your superintendent, Doug Straley, and I hope you’re having a fantastic day,” said Superintendent Doug Straley. “Today I am announcing that LCPS will transition to a fully-remote learning model beginning on Thursday, January 14 and we will remain in this model through Friday, January 29.” 

Today, Louisa reported another 18 cases and the two core indicators used by the Centers for Disease Control indicate the county is at highest risk of community transition. The 14-day average for positive tests is 15.1% and the total number of cases per 100,000 over the past four days is 785.8. But the closure is not due to the rising number of cases. 

“We have a large number of staff members right now who are quarantined due to being close contacts to COVID-19 positive individuals who are not connected to LCPS,” Straley said. “Because of the high amount of staff who are quarantined we do not have enough substitutes or staff to adequately fill vacancies, provide instruction, and maintain our health and safety strategies.”

Louisa’s 18 cases are part of the 4,561 reported by the Virginia Department of Health this morning. The percent positive rate dropped to 16.4 percent, but today’s numbers are based on 19,287 tests. That amount is lower than most days and reflects a trend of a lower amount of data points experienced after weekends.

The total amount reported in the Blue Ridge Health District is 59, the lowest number in the district since last Tuesday. Since then, the average daily count is 149. 

The University of Virginia Health System announced today will stop admitting visitors except in limited circumstances beginning January 13. 

“This applies to UVA inpatient units, Emergency Department, outpatient clinics and outpatient procedural areas,” reads a release sent out this morning. “These changes are being made to help protect the health of our patients and team members as COVID-19 cases have increased in the Charlottesville area and throughout Virginia.

For more information, visit the UVA Health System website.

*

The Scottsville Town Council met last night for their first meeting of the year with a work session and the topic of public safety came up in a several ways. First, town Police Chief Jeff Vohlwinkel updated the Council on compliance with a presidential executive order issued last summer in the wake of the protests that rocked the nation after George Floyd was killed on May 25 after being held to the ground for nine and a half minutes by a police officer’s knee. 

“So it’s a presidential executive order related to community policing and safety that requires us to show that we have a use of force policy that complies with the federal and state laws as it relates to use of excessive force and that we have a duty to intervene within the policy as well as barring choke holds,” Vohlwinel said.  

Vohlwinkel said the police department’s accreditation would be in jeopardy and it could not receive federal funds without having made the policy change. He also told Council he has been in touch with federal and local authorities regarding the distribution of racist fliers in and around Scottsville. 

“I’ve been in touch with the FBI and the Commonwealth’s Attorney and our adjoining agencies to converse with them as to what they have seen or heard related to this matter and I’ve reached out the Virginia Fusion Center as it related to receiving intelligence from them,” Vohlwinkel said. 

The Virginia Fusion Center is a counterterrorism agency.  

Later in the meeting, the Council discussed a draft of a proposed Mayoral Declaration of the Ideals of the Scottsville Community. Councilor Laura Mellusi read it in the absence of Mayor Ron Smith. (read the statement on the town’s Facebook page)

“We are Scottsville’s community and local government,” Mellusi read. “ We are a small town like thousands of others in our United States but we all have responsibilities to action when our country is threatened.” 

The statement went on to say the community does not condone “political violence and intimidation, bigotry and political corruption.”

Councilor Ed Payne said he supported the statement but took issue with the phrase. 

“The one word that troubles me is the term political violence,” Payne said. “Now that’s timely because there has been recent political violence but as we all lived through 2020, we saw there were other forms of violence that may in some opinion have been political or may not have. Social, maybe. If this is to go out to the public I would like to see the word political struck from this because violence is violence.” 

Councilor Dan Gritsko agreed with Payne and said he appreciated what Mayor Smith was trying to do especially in light of the racist propaganda distributed over the weekend. 

“I applaud his effort to be proactive to remind our citizens and to remind those around us who might want to stir up trouble that we don’t want there and we are trying to create a community that is inclusive, that honors people of enormously different backgrounds,” Gritsko said. 

Jim Bowling serves as the attorney for the Town of Scottsville. After the discussion on the Mayoral declaration, he updated Council on the weekend’s incident. 

“I can stress enough that I’d be surprised if this was done totally by outsiders and I think you’re going to fine some regional or local people involved and it’s important that the town’s citizens take on the responsibility to help their other citizens in trying to find whoever is responsible for this,” Bowling said. 

Council discussed a potential reward for more information, but Councilor Dan Gritsko said he was concerned about overreaction. 

“I’m not overly worried about who did it, we’ll find out who did it one way or the other,” Gritsko said. “We should be thick-skinned enough as a people to be able to deal with somebody’s poor reasoning or poor thinking in the light of freedom of speech as a country.”

Gritzko said he regularly takes students to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. and the truth is that the Nazis murdered millions of people. But Bowling pointed out that the fliers were intended to intimidate. 

‘The point here though is that this is criminal behavior and its domestic terrorism and anything else is to kick it under the table,” Bowling said. 

Will it happen again? Mellusi told anyone watching to notify the authorities if they are intimidated.

“If you received information you’re not comfortable with, or if you’re feeling threatened in anyway, to please contact our chief of police and to share that information with him,” Mellusi said. “If you don’t live in the town but you’re in the county of Albemarle, county of Buckingham, county of Nelson, county of Fluvanna to reach out to those police.”

The Scottsville Town Council will meet  again next week. 

The Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee also met last night for its first meeting of the year. They got an update from the Robertson Development Group on forthcoming construction at Rivanna Village, a mixed-use development that can have up to 400 residential units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space. Here is the firm’s Tim Culpeper. 

“We have been actively developing what we call Phase 2 of Rivanna Village for probably the last five or fix months,” said the firm’s Tim Culpeper. “You have probably noticed over the past 60 to 90 days our development activity has slowed down considerably. We have all of our various plans approved on the county level. We are waiting on one approval from [the Virginia Department of Transportation] for the approval of several spans across of streams in Phase 2.”

Culpeper said the first 40 lots in phase 2 will be delivered to builders about 90 days after the VDOT approval. Phase 1 continues under development and all of the lots have been sold to builders. There are 107 units in this phase, consisting of a mix of villas, townhomes, and single family units. The exact number of units in Phase 2 is not yet known because they are still figuring out the lot sizes, but Culpeper said it will be in the range of 180 to 200 units. 

“We are not going to come close to 400 units I don’t think,” Culpeper said. “The reasons for that are we have opted to deliver more traditional single-family detached lots in the community and fewer of the townhomes. Obviously the more townhomes we do, the more density we will be able to achieve because those are much more narrow units.” 

Culpeper said an easement has been obtained for a second entrance onto U.S. 250 and the work could be completed in the middle of the year. 

“The other major improvement from the public’s perspective is we are developing a significant park and rec improvement there in Rivanna Village which is round numbers of an 18 to 19 acre park with a dog park and walking trails and there are some playing fields and other parks and rec improvements there,” Culpeper said.

There are no tenants lined up for the commercial space, which Culpeper chalks up to the pandemic as well as the plans submitted for the rezoned property relegating non-residential uses to areas that are perhaps not viable.  His company purchased the property in November 2016 after it a rezoned had been approved.

“The orientation of the commercial space on the master plan that we inherited is  not traditional commercial space,” Culpeper said. “It doesn’t have any visibility on a major thoroughfare. It doesn’t have any real retail exposure. So that has presented some challenges in the type of user that we can attract to that location.” 

Culpeper said there has been interest from childcare and healthcare companies, but no leases have been signed yet. 

After that discussion, Albemarle Housing Coordinator Stacy Pethia gave an update on the Housing Albemarle, a project to update the county’s affordable housing plan.

“The county has had an affordable housing policy that was adopted in 2004 and that’s what the county has been working on since then,” Pethia said. “It was readopted with some minor updates in 2015 with the Comprehensive Plan update. Then in April of 2019, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission released a regional housing assessment and that really highlighted what the affordable housing and market rate housing needs will be today. So where we have a gap in housing provision and it projected what that gap will be heading out until 2040.”

The report found that Albemarle needs 11,750 additional units by 2040 to meet population projections, and that includes new legislative approval for about 3,616 units. The public comment period will begin sometime in the coming weeks or by the middle of February.  (draft plan)

Albemarle limits dense growth to only around five percent of its total land mass. One member of the committee had this observation. 

“Since Albemarle County has only really five or six growth areas, five or six growth areas cannot absorb that many homes no matter what you and it certainly would influence the quality of living as well,” said Dottie Martin.

Martin asked Supervisor Donna Price if the county would consider adding more growth areas. Price said she was not. 

“It’s my understanding right now that the Board is not open to expand the development areas,” Price said. “My belief is we need to complete development within our development areas before we look to expand.”

You can watch the rest of the discussion on the Albemarle County YouTube channel

Enjoying the program? If you can spare the funds, the odds of me being able to continue to do this increase with each and every financial contribution. Here are some of the ways you can help: