Jan 5, 2022 • 21M

January 5, 2022: Storm clean-up continues with power outages slowly being restored; Albemarle BOS ended 2021 by approving a major rezoning

Plus: Charlottesville suspends trash pick-up for a third day, and more bills are filed in 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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The Charlottesville region continues to dig out after an early winter storm sets the tone for 2022, a year that has a lot to do to compete with its cousins 2020 and 2021. Only five days in, and it’s possible we’re going to be in for a bumpy ride. Charlottesville Community Engagement is prepared, and asks that you keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle at all times, lest you be thrown to the wolves. I’m Sean Tubbs. 

On today’s program:
  • As the Albemarle Board of Supervisors begins a new year, the last year ended with rezoning on Rio Road East for a maximum of 328 units 

  • Governor-elect Youngkin appoints his top agricultural officials

  • The community continues to recover from a devastating winter storm 

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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.

Storm recovery

There are still many thousands of people without power across central Virginia, two days after a winter storm hit that surprised many after the New Year began with temperature in the sixties. 

As the sun rose this morning, Dominion’s outage map shows about a third of its customers in Albemarle remain without power. That number began to drop throughout this morning. The situation in Charlottesville is markedly improved with just over a tenth of the city’s 24,744 customers without power at su

“As of 11:00 p.m. Tuesday, crews have already restored power to 310,000 customers impacted by this damaging storm,” reads an email the company sent out late last night. They urge anyone affected who hasn’t reported their outage to update that info at dominionenergy.com or phone 1-866-366-4357. 

Louisa County customers on Dominion Energy are still out, and about two-thirds remain out in Fluvanna. Several areas of the community are served by Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, who report about a third of their customers without power this morning. View their map here

A snapshot of Dominion Energy’s outage map from 10:45 a.m. Visit the site for an update. 

Charlottesville has sent out a notice to property owners reminding them that public sidewalks must be shoveled 24 hours after a snowfall. 

“With widespread power outages and the severity of this particular snowstorm, the City recognizes the need for additional time,” reads the release. “As a result, the Deputy City Managers have declared 8:00 am on Thursday, January 6, 2022 to be the official end of snowfall.”

That gives property owners until Friday at 8 a.m. to clear pathways, but the notice acknowledges the potential of another storm on Thursday and points out that the time will reset if a second storm hits this week. 

Charlottesville will delay trash and recycling pick-up one more day until Thursday and residents who get service Monday through Wednesday won’t get service this week. 

“With the potential for an additional snow system arriving at the end of the week this current revised schedule is subject to change,” reads a release

Interstate 95 was opened in both direction last night shortly after 8 p.m. after being closed for most of yesterday due to traffic jams caused by hazardous and impassable conditions. A release sent out by the Virginia Department of Transportation last night warned drivers that parts of the roadway in Stafford, Spotsylvania, and Caroline counties remained hazardous with below freezing temperatures. 

Albemarle public safety responds to shooting, structure fire

In addition to contending with the aftermath of the snow storm, Albemarle public safety had two other incidents yesterday. In one, police responded at 11:15 a.m. to a shots fired incident on Dick Woods Road and arrested an Afton man on charges of brandishing and reckless discharge of a firearm. Marc McCann, 62, is currently being held at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail without bond.

Later in the day at around 3 p.m., Albemarle County Fire Rescue responded to a structure fire on Route 53 near Milton Road that injured one and displaced three. While the cause of the fire is under investigation, the news release contains this warning. 

“Albemarle County Fire Rescue would like to remind everyone to keep anything that can burn at least three feet from heating equipment and to always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning heaters,” reads the release

Youngkin makes agricultural picks

Incoming Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has named two people who will oversee policy and programs related to agriculture in Virginia. Matt Lohr will be the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and Joseph Guthrie will be the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

According to a release sent out yesterday afternoon, Lohr is a fifth-generation farmer from the Shenandoah Valley who has been chief of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. He served in the House of Delegates from 2006 to 2010 before becoming the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

That position will now be filled by Guthrie, who grew up on a family farm in Pulaski County. Guthrie is currently a senior instructor at Virginia Tech where he was named as Man of the Year in 1989 as a graduating senior. He and his family continue to own a beef farm in the New River Valley. 

There are several reports that Youngkin will nominate his Secretary of Natural Resources later today. I’ll have that information tomorrow. 

Prince Edward County seeks local sales tax for education; other bills

The General Assembly session convenes in seven days and about two new dozen bills were pre-filed yesterday including more proposed rollbacks of legislation that passed the General Assembly under Democratic control in both houses. 

  • Delegate James Edmunds (R-60) filed a bill that would add Prince Edward County to the list of localities authorized to levy a one percent sales tax to fund education projects, if approved by a referendum. (HB63)

  • Edmunds also filed a bill allowing hunting on Sundays but only in wildlife management areas operated by the Department of Wildlife Resources. (HB64)

  • In another piece of legislation, Edmunds has a bill that would allow employees of the Department of Wildlife Resources “to sell, possess, sell, offer for sale, or liberate in the Commonwealth any live fur-bearing animal commonly referred to as nutria.” (HB65)

  • Edmunds has a fourth bill that would allow people with valid driver’s licenses to operate certain utility vehicles on secondary roads in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. (HB66)

  • Incoming Delegate Tim Anderson (R-83) has a bill clarifying that active military with homes in Virginia are registered to vote if they are on active duty. (HB68)

  • Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84) filed a bill altering the section of code dealing with custody to change the word “visitation” to “parenting time” and to encourage maximization of time spent with each parent. (HB69)

  • Davis also filed a bill that would guarantee minimum rights for police officers and removing exceptions for those rights if a locality has a police civilian review board. (HB70)

  • Delegate Lee Ware (R-65) filed a bill prohibiting campaign finance donations from utility companies or their subsidiaries. (HB71)

  • Ware also filed legislation prohibiting the sale of marijuana seeds or plants if the Assembly passed other legislation to allow retail sale of the end-product. (HB72)

  • Ware also has a bill that would remove several sections of language in the state code that pertains to the Air Pollution Control Board. (HB73)

  • There’s other legislation from Ware that would tweak the Virginia Clean Economy Act by adding a definition for “energy-intensive trade-exposed industries.” (HB74)

  • Last year, Albemarle County Supervisors suggested they would like to look into increasing the transient occupancy tax to more than four percent. Ware has another bill that would require a referendum for counties that want to do that or increase the meals tax. (HB75)

  • Ware has another bill that would require the state government to reimburse localities for the cost of counting absentee ballots. (HB76)

  • Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84) also has a bill specifying that skills games are gambling devices (HB77)

  • Annoyed by free online trials that don’t seem to have a cancellation option? Davis has a bill that would make that illegal. (HB78)

  • Delegate Ronnie Campbell (R-24) has a bill that would restore police ability to stop motorists and pedestrians for a variety of infractions including detecting the presence of marijuana. (HB79)

  • Delegate Davis has another bill that would create the Virginia Healthcare Regulatory Sandbox Program for innovative and pilot health care products. (HB80)

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Pandemic update: Another 10K+ day

This morning the Virginia Department of Health reports another 10,728 new COVID cases and the percent positivity has increased to 32 percent, meaning that one in every three PCR is positive. Positivity in the Blue Ridge Health District is at 24.7, or one in four tests. There are 207 new cases in the district reported today. A town hall scheduled for last night was postponed and will be held on Thursday at 7 p.m. (meeting info)

Starting January 1, VDH has updated its case definition for COVID-19 related deaths which will mean delays in the reporting of deaths. The agency recommends monitoring that information by date of death rather than date reported. Learn more here

Supervisors approved Rio Point project in late December 

In one of their last actions of 2021, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted to approve a rezoning in the Rio District that will bring over 300 rental units to the county’s urban ring. The project had originally been developed by a Virginia Beach firm who opted to not continue with the review process after Supervisors appeared ready to deny the project on a tie-vote on June 3, 2020. 

Local company Stony Point Design Build took over and have since purchased the 27-acre property. The company also built Dairy Central in Charlottesville. Stony Point Design Build renamed the project Rio Point but more or less kept the development, though they made a few changes. Cameron Langille is a planner with Albemarle County. 

“To the northeast is the Dunlora subdivision, to the southeast is the Dunlora Forest neighborhood,” Langille said. “The property is bounded by the north by the John Warner Parkway and across John Warner Parkway is the CATEC site and to the east is actually land that’s within the city of Charlottesville’s municipal boundaries.” 

Location map for Rio Point

Many of those neighbors have expressed concern about building more homes in that area, making the argument that the roads are already overburdened. The land has been zoned R-4 for many decades.

“Under that zoning they could be developed for residential purposes up to 109 units or if they did a bonus level cluster development they could get 163 units,” Langille said.

Doing so would likely mean all would be sold at market rate. That’s how Southern Development developed Dunlora Forest. The county’s Comprehensive Plan for many years has encouraged developers to seek rezoning to increase residential density in order to satisfy the county’s growth management policy.

“The developer is proposing 328 units maximum,” Langille said. “There is some open space areas that are also proposed. Overall it is about 13 total acres and 1.1 acres of that open space is located closest to the intersection of the John Warner Parkway and Rio Road East. This applicant is proposing to dedicate that to public use to establish a county park that will be connected to the existing greenway system.” 

The new developer submitted a new traffic impact study that informed changes made to the vehicular entrances to the project and have dedicated other property along Rio Road to allow for tapered turn lanes. But Langille said the biggest change is the approval and funding of a roundabout at the intersection of John Warner Parkway and Rio Road. 

“It would get rid of the signalized intersection that’s currently at John Warner Parkway and Rio Road East and it would be a roundabout that would allow the traffic flow to move in any of the direction that it currently does,” Langille said. 

Stony Point Design Build would contribute $750,000 to the roundabout. Survey work is underway and Langille said its design will begin later this year. He added that Agnor-Hurt Elementary and Burley Middle School can both absorb students that would be generated by the development, but acknowledged that the project may contribute to existing overcrowding at Albemarle High School. 

All but two of the ten speakers at the public hearing asked the Board to deny the application. 

“In my opinion, doubling the allowable density for a development of this type which is built on a two-lane road which will always be a two-lane road and is surrounded by two lane roads in all directions is a little misguided,” said Lisa Drummond, a nearby resident. “The by-right with bonus still gets you within what’s in range of the master plan.” 

However, Supervisors appeared to be in favor of the project to help achieve the county’s goal to create more housing units as identified in the Housing Albemarle plan.  

“Without a doubt, the market is demanding rental and we need more rental which is what this provides,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. 

Chris Henry, the president of Stony Point Development Group, said that his firm conducts market analysis before proceeding with its projects. 

“Today the vacancy rate for apartments in Albemarle County is like one percent,” Henry said. “What’s considered a healthy vacancy rate in any market is something like five percent and I don’t think Charlottesville  has had north of a five percent vacancy rate for a decade at least.” 

Henry also claimed that 30,000 commuters travel into Charlottesville every day and providing more homes within the urban ring would reduce the overall vehicle miles traveled. He said a comparable project is Arden Place for rents. The affordable rents will be over $1,000 for a one bedroom unit versus about $1,400 for a market rate unit.

Supervisor Ned Gallaway noted that the proposal was submitted under Albemarle’s previous housing policies, which required 15 percent of housing units created under a rezoning to be affordable. Housing Albemarle moved that to 20 percent, though Supervisors have yet to approve an incentives package designed to help developers make that goal. 

“Going it under the old policy allows an easy, quick efficiency to happen,” Gallaway said. “To aspire to the new Housing Albemarle plan would require something different. Was that considered?”

Henry said the project might have been able to make that 20 percent goal with additional density. The previous developer had originally requested more than 400 units, but that was reduced due to community engagement. 

“There’s always the trade-off between more density and more affordability because obvious the project is supported by the revenue that’s being generated from those units,” Henry said. “If the revenue is lowered, we have to have more units to get to the same result. And so, from our perspective we considered it. If we had to meet the county’s new requirement that was enacted after this application was completed, we would have wanted to have significantly more units to offset.” 

Supervisor Donna Price had been opposed to the rezoning went it was before the Board of Supervisors in June 2020 due to transportation concerns.

“I feel like we have a better application in front of us today than we did then and I appreciate the changes you have made,” Price said. 

Gallaway, however, could not support the project because he said it was not quite ready because the second phase of a corridor study for Rio Road is not yet complete and because it does not meet the Housing Albemarle goals. 

“I’m frustrated that this application has made it before us before that corridor study is done and I’m equally frustrated that some comments have been made that we’ve learned enough from the corridor study to be able to make some of those decisions,” Gallaway said. 

The vote was 5-1 in favor of the rezoning. To learn more about the Rio Road Corridor Study, visit this website

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