Jan 4 • 18M

January 4, 2022: Winter storm knocks power out for thousands, strands motorists on I-95; Pfizer booster approved for those aged 12 to 15

Plus: The Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center will remain closed until spring

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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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Welcome to January 4, which goes by many names. It’s National Trivia Day, according to nationaldaycalendar.com. It’s also National Spaghetti Day and National Missouri Day, two more pieces of information you might not necessarily need to know, but there you are. Another piece of information is that this is Charlottesville Community Engagement. Who is the host? Send me your best guess.

Charlottesville Community Engagement is a service of Town Crier Productions that depends on contributions from readers and listeners. Sign up for free today and decide later if you’d like to support the show with a subscription.

 On today’s show:
  • A winter storm has caused various delays and power outages through the region with the effects still being felt this morning

  • The ARB seeks changes to a three-story self-storage building proposed at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Crozet Avenue 

  • The Blue Ridge Health District will hold a town hall on the pandemic tonight, and people between the age of 12 and 15 are now eligible for the Pfizer booster

  • Governor Youngkin appoints more staff as well as key positions in veteran services 

  • Virginia sets up a mortgage relief fund 

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years 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 their website to make a donation

Storm aftermath

Thousands of homes throughout the region continue to be without power a day after a winter storm charged through the area one day after temperatures in the sixties. Downed tree branches due to heavy snow have knocked out power lines. As of 9 a.m. this morning, Dominion Energy reported 21,152 customers without power in Albemarle and 4,619 customers in Charlottesville. Nearly all customers in Louisa remained without power as the sun rose. Around two-thirds of Fluvanna customers were without power. Consult their outage map for updated information

Tree branches across the region snapped under the weight of several inches of heavy snow, such as this one at Charlottesville’s Forest Hills Park. (Credit: Sean Tubbs)

The storm canceled the meetings of both the Louisa County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council. Louisa will meet tonight beginning at 5 p.m. to select a chair and vice chair before going into closed session. The new City Council will meet tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. to go into closed session before an open session scheduled for 6:30 p.m. 

Trash service in the city of Charlottesville was delayed yesterday and has been canceled for today. That will mean a two-day delay for city residents beginning tomorrow when Monday’s service will resume. The service week will conclude on Sunday. Learn more in this release.

Elsewhere in Virginia, I-95 south of D.C. remains close at publication with reports of thousands of stranded drivers. That includes Senator Tim Kaine. 

Pandemic update: FDA approved Pfizer booster for 12+

The omicron surge continues in Virginia with the Virginia Department of Health reporting another 15,449 new cases and the percent positivity statewide has now increased to 29.9 percent. The percent positivity in the Blue Ridge Health District is at 22.8 percent and there are 326 new cases. District officials will hold a virtual town hall meeting tonight beginning at 7 p.m. and the main topic is local guidance on new CDC rules related to quarantine and isolation following a diagnosis. (meeting info)

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in three ways. Individuals between the age of 12 and 15 will soon be able to get a single booster dose. They’ve also allowed a shortening of the time between completing the first two doses and the booster to a minimum of five months. Thirdly, children between five and 11 with certain immunocompromised conditions will also be able for a third shot of the primary series. 

According to a press release, the FDA analyzed data from Israel where the booster has been authorized for those between 12 and 15. They argue the data shows the benefits of protection from new variants outweighs the potential risks. 

Flow chart with current authorizations for vaccines and their boosters
Virginia Mortgage Relief 

If you or someone you know is having trouble paying your mortgage, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a new relief program. Applications are now open for the program, which follows on the heels of the Virginia Rent Relief Program. 

“The Commonwealth has implemented rent and mortgage relief programs through designated state and federal resources,” reads a press release from outgoing Governor Ralph Northam. “Combined, these programs have provided more than $519.5 million in 106,621 rent relief payments for more than 76,500 households across Virginia.”

The funding source for the new program comes from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Homeowner’s Assistance Fund. To be eligible, households need to demonstrate a reduction of income after January of 2020. For more information, visit virginiamortgagerelief.com.

Youngkin names top staff, two key Veterans’ positions

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will take office in less than two weeks, and he continues to flesh out his cabinet. Yesterday he names a chief of staff and other top positions. Richard Cullen will serve as Counselor, Jeff Goettman will serve as Chief of Staff, and Rebecca Glover will be Assistant Chief of Staff and Communications Director. Eric Moeller will be the Chief Transformation Officer. 

Cullen is a senior partner at the law firm McGuireWoods who served as Attorney General in 1997. Previous clients have included former Vice President Mike Pence and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Learn more about the appointments in a release on the transition website.

This morning, Youngkin appointed Craig Crenshaw to serve as his Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs. Crenshaw is a former marine who is currently the president of Claxton Logistics Services.

Dan Gade will be the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services. Gade is a veteran of the second Iraq War who lost his right leg in 2005. He is the co-founder of The Independence Project and was also the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in the 2020 race won by Senator Mark Warner. 

More 2022 General Assembly bills  

Eight days to go until the 2022 General Assembly begins, and volume of pre–filed bills is still low enough to report. Once the session begins, action moves fast.

  • Senator John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) filed a bill requiring the state Registrar to amend death certificates within 30 days if there is new evidence and information. (SB55)

  • Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) filed legislation to establish a Foster Care Prevention program intended to encourage children to be placed with relatives. (SB56)

  • Senator Favola has another bill that would establish the School Health Services Committee to provide guidance on any proposals that might require local school boards to provide health services. (SB62)

  • Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) filed a bill to amend the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act to exempt gift tickets or admission fees if the responsible person is using them to perform official duties. (SB57)

  • Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-24) wants to add zoos to the list of entities from which animals can be seized if they are being treated cruelly. (HB53)

  • Incoming Delegate Karen Greenhalgh (R-85) would require absentee ballots to sorted by precinct. (HB54)

  • Greenhalgh also submitted a bill to require the State Registrar of Vital Records to transmit a list of recent deaths to the Department of Elections on a weekly basis for the purpose of taking the deceased off the voter rolls. Currently they must do so monthly. (HB55)

  • Delegate Bill Wiley (R-29) filed a bill to provide enhanced retirement benefits for juvenile detention specialists. (HB56)

  • Incoming Delegate Tim Anderson (R-83) would limit the power of a governor’s declaration of emergency to 45 days without General Assembly approval. (HB57)

  • Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84) has a bill that would prevent localities from placing minimum wage and benefit requirements when procuring services from contractors. (HB58)

  • Delegate John McGuire (R-56) would require school principals to notify law enforcement of any acts that could be construed as a misdemeanor. (HB59)

  • McGuire has another bill seeking permission for the Town of Louisa to appoint five to seven members to an economic development authority. Currently the code specifies seven. (HB60)

  • McGuire has another bill that would allow individuals who work as both an employee and a volunteer for a public entity to be able to earn overtime for the employment portion of their service. (HB61)

  • Senator Travis Hackworth (R-38) filed a bill to require the chief of police of a dissolved department to relinquish records to the sheriff of that locality. Seems specific. (SB59)

  • Hackworth has another bill that would move the deadline for political subdivisions to provide information on emergency sheltering capacity to the State Coordinator of Emergency Management from May to August. (SB60)

  • Hackworth also filed legislation to allow judges, law-enforcement officers, attorneys, and judges to carry concealed weapons in areas where they may otherwise be prohibited. (SB61)

  • Distilleries would be allowed to sell products directly to consumers via the Internet if a bill from Senator Frank Ruff (R-15) becomes law. (SB65)

The statistics for the current session will change rapidly in the next two weeks. Bookmark it to keep track of how things move forward
Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement:

The Charlottesville Jazz Society at cvillejazz.org is dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and perpetuation of all that  jazz, and there’s no time like now to find a time to get out and watch people love to play. The Charlottesville Jazz Society keeps a running list of what’s coming up at cvillejazz.org. This Thursday, the Charles Owens Trio will play Potter’s Craft Cider and On Saturday the Eric Franzen Trio plays at Early Mountain Vineyards. Sign up today to see the rest!

Further delays for Smith Aquatic Center

January 3 had been the expected reopening day for the Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center in Charlottesville, but further repair is needed for the facility which opened in 2010. However, a release that went out this morning now states that Smith will remain closed until a “spring 2022 reopening.”

Smith has been plagued with ventilation issues since soon after it opened. According to a 2015 Daily Progress article, the facility closed for several weeks in 2015 for installation of new exhaust systems. The pool closed again in April 2019 for repairs and was slated to be closed in the spring of 2020 for a $1.8 million repair that has not yet been completed. 

Crow Indoor Pool is open.

ARB seeks smaller scale for Crozet self-storage facility

The winter storm yesterday ended up canceling all three of the government meetings scheduled including the Albemarle Architectural Review Board. That group last met on December 20 when they weighed in on a self-storage facility proposed for the intersection of U.S. 250 and Crozet Avenue. Margaret Maliszewski is a planning manager who works with the ARB. (watch the meeting)

“The proposed building is three stories tall with a 30,000 square foot footprint,” Maliszewski said. “The building as shown on the plan measures 260 feet by 120 feet.”

Staff is concerned about the size of the building in relation to what’s around it. Maliszewski said the developer submitted a design with architectural treatments intended to break down the design, but continued to have concerns with the preliminary design. The property is zoned for highway commercial, so the use is allowed but must comply with entrance corridor guidelines. 

Existing conditions at the site. The buildings on the right side of the road would be demolished (Credit: Albemarle County)

Doug Bates, a member of the Downtown Crozet Initiative and the Crozet Community Advisory Committee. During public comment, he said the project is not consistent with a Crozet Master Plan that seeks to build larger structures closer to downtown and now on U.S. 250.

“I can’t think of a more important corridor to deal with Crozet and I would urge this Architectural Review Board to consider your broader responsibilities to keep the community coherent,” Bates said. 

Another member of the public urged the county to deny the whole proposal. 

“I think we’re giving too much importance to by-right and not enough to what really needs to go there,” said Brenda Plantz. “It’s a Scenic Highway.” 

However, Virginia law is clear that property owners are entitled to uses laid out in the zoning code as explained by ARB Chair Dade Van Der Werf. 

“I think I can speak on behalf of the board to say we certainly appreciate and share the appreciation that this is a significant intersection on these entrance corridors and I think our charge on the ARB aligns with the desire for coherence in the order of the county,” van der Werf said. “We are not empowered to affect zoning or use. That’s kind of the responsibility of the Planning and other commissions.”

However, ARB members did express concerns such as this one from Frank Stoner.

“I took struggle with the scale of this building,” Stoner said. “It’s very close to the intersection. If there was a way to push it back on the site and make it sort of an ancillary use to something more appropriate that was on the corner, I think I could be supportive.” 

ARB member Fred Missel also wanted to look very closely to see how the entrance corridor guidelines could be applied at this location.

“In my opinion, this project is precisely an example of what the guidelines are designed to help us guard against,” Missel said. “I think we have to not only take our guidelines seriously but also ask the applicant to spend some significant amount of time looking through our guidelines, really understanding them, reflecting on them, and addressing them both visually and also narratively  the next time we speak if its in a work session which I think is probably smart.” 

Missel said the ARB cannot comment on the use but said the scale is incompatible with the county’s guidelines. The ARB voted 4-0 on a resolution stating their lack of support with one member recusing himself. Recommendations including trying to make the building seem more like a two-story building and looking at other buildings along the corridor to find compatibility. 

A massing concept submitted by Urban and Associates

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