Jan 20 • 17M

January 20, 2022: Scottsville Council defers on density requests while Charlottesville Council approves two Piedmont Housing rezonings on Park Street

Plus: A new brief is filed in a lawsuit that could lead to elections in the Virginia House of Delegates this year

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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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It has been one year since the last time it was January 20, and this time around many things are different. Does anything ever stay exactly the same? That is not a question directly before us on this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a constantly changing compendium of challenges, choices, and charged chatter. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

In this edition:

  • Charlottesville City Council approves two housing projects intended for those with lower incomes

  • Scottsville Town Council defers a vote on two clustered developments within town limits

  • Governor Youngkin issues two more executive orders, including a removal word “equity” from his Cabinet diversity chief

  • A new brief is filed in a lawsuit seeking a House of Delegates election in 2022 

  • And an update from the General Assembly update. 

Two shouts-outs to start the program

You’re listening to Charlottesville. Community Engagement. Let’s begin today with 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."

And this is where I wish my mother a Happy Birthday! 

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!

Pandemic update

Today the number of new COVID-19 cases increased over yesterday, but the seven-day percent positivity has declined once again. There are 14,803 new cases and the percent positivity is at 31.6 percent. The number of hospitalizations is currently at 3,868 patients with 635 of them in intensive care units and 388 are on ventilators. 

The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 512 new cases today and the percent positivity is at 26 percent. 

Just before publication, Governor Glenn Youngkin has announced a limited state of emergency in Executive Order 11 that is related to the pandemic. This is similar to one enacted earlier this month by former Governor Ralph Northam which provides flexibility to health care providers related to staffing. This will expire on February 21. Read the order for more details on the 18 provisions within.

Request for 2022 General Assembly election still alive in federal court

A new motion was filed this week in the federal lawsuit seeking the Virginia Board of Elections to hold a new election this November for all 100 seats in the House of Delegates. Attorney Paul Goldman filed the suit in the Eastern District of Virginia last year arguing that the current boundaries are invalid because they are based on 2010 Census data. Goldman also sought a temporary injunction to stop the Board in November from certifying the 2021 election results in the House of Delegates for a period of two years. That motion was denied. 

Goldman appealed and this week filed a brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that applies the same legal arguments that led the Eastern District Court in 1981 to order House of Delegates elections that year for a one year term with a new election in 1982. (learn more on Wikipedia)

“The failure of the federal government to timely provide 2020 U.S. Census Data created delays in the Virginia reapportionment process,” reads the summary of the argument. “But this federal failure doesn’t provide a constitutional ‘free pass’ for state officials to arbitrarily decide to violate Appellee’s constitutionally protected voting rights.” 

Goldman argues the districts in place last November violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because some districts had many more voters than others because the reapportionment had not happened yet. He’s asking the three judge panel to take up the case. 

In late December, The Supreme Court of Virginia approved maps drawn by two special masters. 

A section of Goldman’s January 18 brief. Read the whole thing here.
More 2022 General Assembly legislation ends in committee

Meanwhile, the work of the General Assembly continues with 1.4 percent of the 2,078 bills filed so far listed as failing. At least, as of 8 a.m. this morning. 

All but one of them are in the Senate. One such bill from Senator Bill Stanley (R-20) would have required a mandatory minimum of life imprisonment for a Class 1 felony. It was “passed by indefinitely” in the Judiciary Committee on a party line vote of 8 to 7. (SB79)

A bill from Senator Ghazala F. Hashmi (D-10) would have allowed “credentialed newspersons” to cross police lines, perimeters, and barricades. Hashmi asked for it to be stricken. (SB240)

Senator Amanda Chase (R-11) has a bill (SB548) that would have prohibited any discrimination of people based on vaccination status. That one “failed to report” from the General Laws and Technology committee on a party-line vote. A second bill (SB582) from Chase would have prevented any discrimination against people who don’t want to wear a mask. That one was “passed by indefinitely” by an 8 to 6 vote, with Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-12) not casting a vote.

A bill from Senator Jeremy McPike (D-29) (SB606) would have required smoke detectors in all new residential units, equipped with a battery that can last ten years. The request was stricken at the request of the patron. 

A bill from Senator Jill Vogel (R-27) would have added a sixth member to the Board of Elections and extend their terms to six years. SB610 would also have required photo identification to vote and require registrars to audit the voter rolls more frequently. The bill was stricken at Vogel’s request in the Privileges and Elections committee.

One piece of legislation has already been continued to 2023. SB59 from Senator Travis Hackworth (R-38) would require the police chief in a dissolved city to relinquish records over to the sheriff of the county that would take over authority of the jurisdiction.  

But it’s not all failure. Forty House Joint Resolutions have passed the House of Delegates, as well as four House Resolutions. Most of these are organizational or commendations for various individuals and organizations across Virginia. View the full list of passed bills here on the Legislative Information System

Youngkin drops “equity” from title of new diversity chief

Governor Youngkin has selected a top official of the Heritage Foundation to serve as his director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Angela Sailor is the vice president of the Feulner Institute, a wing of Heritage. Youngkin also signed Executive Order #10 which elevates Sailor to his cabinet as the Chief Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion officer.  

“We acknowledge that too many of our citizens have not received the equal opportunity they deserve, and we recognize that diversity when genuinely embraced strengthens our Commonwealth,” reads the order, which also establishes that Sailor will be “responsive to the rights of parents in educational and curricular decision-making.” 

Angela Sailor served as deputy to Kay Coles James when the latter was the head of the Gloucester Initiative. James is now the Secretary of the Commonwealth. (Credit: Heritage Foundation)
Third shout-out

This past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society heard from their newest board member at a meeting beginning at 7 p.m. Now you can catch up with the event on YouTube. (watch here)

Gayle Jessup White is the first Public Relations and Community Engagement Officer for Monticello and the first descendant of Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved community to work for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Gayle Jessup White will talk about her book Reclamation: Sally Hemmings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for her Family’s Lasting Legacy. The recording is available on YouTube and you can learn more about the historical society as albemarlehistory.org

Council approves MACAA rezoning for Piedmont Housing Alliance and Habitat for Humanity

Charlottesville City Council has given final approval to two separate rezoning requests for new housing projects on Park Street in Charlottesville, just north of the U.S. 250 bypass. At Council’s first meeting of the year, they reached consensus to place rezoning of land at the Park Street Christian Church was approved on the consent agenda for the January 18 meeting, but the rezoning at the Monticello Area Community Action Alliance property was further discussed. Dannon O’Connell is a city planner. 

“The proposed [Planned Unit Development] development calls for preservation of 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,” O’Connell said. 

The land use designations for both properties were changed in the 2021 Future Land use Map to allow more density. (review the Future Land Use Map on the Cville Plans Together

Nearby resident John Hossack argued that data supplied by the developer was faulty and a new sample should be taken. 

“The traffic analysis was based on data collected in June 2021, in the middle of COVID, middle of summer, and outside of school and University term time,” Hossack said. “This is really significant because this potentially could sink the project or at least justify a reduction in scale which is really what the community is looking for.” 

Traffic engineer Brennan Duncan acknowledged the traffic study may have been affected by COVID but defended its use. 

“The applicant was on a pretty strict timeline to get their stuff submitted so I did say that if they were going to do it and wanted to move forward, they would have to do the correcting factor,” Duncan said.

Duncan said the applicant was asked to compare their traffic study with a previous one conducted for a previous rezoning for the MACAA property and to traffic counts from the Virginia Department of Transportation. 

“Both of the traffic studies that have been done do fall in line with the VDOT estimate for Park Street so I am confident in both the VDOT estimate and the numbers that came through,” Duncan said. 

Duncan acknowledged traffic would increase in the area above the average of 10,000 vehicles that use it today. That’s down from the more than 20,000 vehicles a day that used to use the roadway before the John Warner Parkway opened. (read the 2020 estimated traffic counts for Charlottesville)

“The theoretical maximum is around 18,000 vehicles per day and that’s at the point where you start seeing pretty severe traffic backups during peak hours,” Duncan said. “The 1,200 vehicles per day between both this project, the MACAA site and the Park Street Church is not insignificant. I also do not believe it will severely hurt or have severe detrimental effects on the network.”

Duncan also acknowledges that there are site distance issues with the existing entrance, but that the development will meet the minimum requirement with a new intersection that will align Maaca Drive with Davis Avenue. 

“I have worked with the applicant to achieve what I believe to be the safest intersection that we can hope for given the topography of the area,” Duncan said. 

Duncan said he would be requesting a left hand turn lane onto Macca Drive from northbound Park when the project goes to site plan approval. 

Mayor Lloyd Snook said he has had a concern about the existing MACAA site for years and that the existing conditions with site distance are not good. 

“And it just seems to me that the changes that will be coming to eliminate a lot of those obstacles are going to make life a lot easier,” Snook said. “Whether that has anything to do with the accident rate, I don’t know.”

Snook said a Charlottesville with more residential density will mean development on what he called more problematic parcels. 

“One of the things we’ve got to do as Councilors, Planning Commissioners, and city planners, and so on is to attempt to recognize when the problem is something that is manageable versus when it is not manageable,” Snook said.

Snook said in this case, the problems are manageable. He added Council will be called on to manage those problems. 

Councilor Michael Payne said he walked through the sight and acknowledges the problems. He gave some insight into how he made his decision.

“A heuristic I use is just if a development is appropriate and safe, is would I feel comfortable explaining to everyone who could have lived there the reasons I voted no, and likewise, would I feel comfortable explaining to every individual who lives in the neighborhood why I voted yes,” Payne said. “In this case the tradeoffs to me seem clear for the benefit of at least 76 families who will have access to affordable rentals and homeownerships is worth it.” 

The vote was unanimous. 

VDOT Crash Data for the vicinity. Click through to explore the map yourself. 
Scottsville Town Council defers on density requests

Meanwhile in Scottsville, the Town Council on Tuesday night took up two special use permits to allow for additional residential density for projects on Bird Street and Blenheim Road. The Blenheim Heights projects would see 24 houses on 9 acres and the Bird Street project would be 48 houses on 12 acres. Both take advantage of provisions in an updated zoning code that allows for clustered development. 

Before the meeting, the town put on three informational meetings at which the details were given. The public hearing opened without a presentation from the applicant. Several speakers asked for Council to deny the request. One of them was Kim Schmitt, who moved to Scottsville in 1995. 

“We moved from Florida and one of the reasons was to get away from development,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt said she wanted to see what the by-right development would look like.  

Another speaker mentioned a petition calling for “responsible” development and she asked this be entered into the record.

“There are a total of 299 signatures from the paper and online petition,” the woman said. “This petition shows that there are many people who want development and that’s what the petition says. We want development but we want responsible growth commensurate with the size of our town.” 

Others were supportive. Thomas Unsworth who lives on Bird Street. He supported a project that would give him new neighbors.  

“And I cannot stress how excited I am to see it happen,” Unsworth said. “The historic downtown area is already a dense settlement that encourages people to get out and walk to enjoy local amenities like the library, parks, and the farmers’ market and the many businesses that we have. Building new housing in this part of town is the perfect way to allow Scottsville to grow without putting an undue stress on the parking and traffic situations downtown.”

However, he said he did not support the Blenheim Heights project because it is a cul-de-sac, more common in suburban development. The majority of speakers asked for a denial or more time to come up with conditions. 

When the matter came before the Town Council, Scottsville Mayor Ron Smith suggested taking time for a vote later. 

“Technically we could vote on this right now but with all that information that came out of this weekend’s meeting I feel like Town Council needs to have a special session to discuss all that information before they take a vote,” Smith said. 

The items will return to the Town Council for a vote on February 22, with a special session to be scheduled between now and then.