July 20, 2021: Albemarle plans for development in an urbanizing community; 721 new COVID-19 cases today in Virginia

If you should look up at the stars tonight, remember that the sky belongs to all of us...

  
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In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you! 

On today’s show:

  • A quick update on what Albemarle Community Development Department is up to

  • The number of new COVID-19 cases in Virginia hits a months-long high

  • The Commonwealth of Virginia wants your input on future train service 

  • The first half of Charlottesville City Council’s July 19 meeting


The pandemic is not over, and one set of facts to support that statement is reported daily by the Virginia Department of Health. Today, the agency reports another 721 new cases, the highest one-day total in the past few months. The seven-day average for new daily cases is 429 and the percent positivity is three percent.

Once a week, the VDH updates a dashboard that breaks down cases by vaccination status. From June 1 through July 9, 96.98 percent of the 7,486 new cases reported were in people who were not fully vaccinated. The rest are what are known as breakthrough cases. 

Last Friday, University of Virginia Health System director of hospital epidemiology Dr. Cost Sifri, said there’s an uptick nationwide of rising COVID-19 cases.

“We’re seeing a steady climb,” Dr. Sifri said. “It’s being driven in parts of the country that have two things. It’s a low vaccination rate and the Delta variant. And that’s as we had predicted a month or a month and a half ago, unfortunately.”

As of today, 53.2 percent of Virginians are fully vaccinated, with higher rates generally reported in metropolitan areas and lower ones in rural areas. For instance, Lee County at the southwestern tip of Virginia reports 29 percent fully vaccinated whereas that number is 62.3 percent in Albemarle County. However, the number drops to 53.7 percent in Charlottesville.

Reports are out today that Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise finally got vaccinated this past Sunday, citing concerns over the Delta variant of COVID-19.  

“The Delta variant is far and away the most fit virus and the most dangerous virus that we’ve seen to date but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of line,” Dr. Sifri said. “New mutations could crop up and the Delta variant or new types of variants could develop elsewhere around the world and that gives us a lot of concern.”

Don’t throw your mask away just yet. 


After years of planning and several studies, construction has begun on the Belmont Bridge. The city won’t hold an official information session on the project until August 11, but crews have begun grading land to the west of the bridge for a temporary parking lot. In June, the city issued a notice to proceed to the Caton Construction Group to implement a $23.7 million contract to replace the bridge with a completion date of January 2024. 


The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has opened an online survey to seek feedback on the forthcoming Statewide Rail Plan. The introduction to the feedback form states that the purpose is to study “the feasibility of instituting cross-state intercity passenger rail service linking Hampton Roads, Richmond, and the New River Valley, also known as the Commonwealth Corridor.” Participants are to asked to rank their priorities, what they’d consider as trade-offs, and what locations should be connected. For more information on the development of the Statewide Rail Plan, visit this link. (take the survey)

For another survey, Albemarle County is asking residents to report their broadband needs, particularly in areas that are not currently served. Firefly VA is a subsidiary of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative formed to expand Internet through public-private partnerships. They’re looking to create a map for their Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) Project and want to plot out areas that only have satellite or cell phone internet as well as areas served by internet at less than 25 megabits per second. The finding will help prioritize the use of state and federal funding. (survey)

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Former Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox has been the Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development since October 2019. Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Chicago has just created a Design Committee that will advise on approvals of major developments there. Cox served as Mayor from 2002 to 2004, and was in that position when the City Council approved  major zoning update. He served in a similar position in Detroit before moving to Chicago. The Design Committee will examine projects in excess of 10 acres, over 2,500 residential units, and high rises over 80 feet tall. 


Meanwhile, life and land use changes have moved on in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. 

The Albemarle Planning Commission got an update from their Community Development Director at their meeting on July 6. Jodie Filardo became the director of that entity in September 2019.  (review the presentation)

“Our primary focus day in and day out is on land use and the building of homes and commercial properties, which directly impact lifestyles,” Filardo said. “Where you live, work and play, and how you get there, are all areas we think about and plan for every day.”

That work is governed by a plan that is occasionally presented to the Board of Supervisors, who then give direction on what priorities should be undertaken. The last time that happened was this past May. 

Filardo said her department’s staff shrunk by nearly 11 percent due to retirements and the freezing of several positions due to the county’s cautionary approach to budgeting. Several of those have since been filled, such as an additional zoning compliance officer.

Filardo reminded the Planning Commission that work on policy issues comes as staff has capacity. Current projects underway continued work to develop the Housing Albemarle Plan, a form-based code for the area around the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29, assistance with the Urban Rivanna River Corridor Plan, and the Crozet Master Plan. The Board of Supervisors will get a look at the second phase of the county’s Stream Health Initiative tomorrow. 

One project not yet underway but in the queue is an update on the county’s wireless policy. Albemarle will hire a consultant to do the work to update a policy that’s been in place since December 2000.

Filardo said one need is to continue to boost capacity by hiring more staff and increasing efficiencies. 

“As the county is now increasingly urban, [the Planning Commission] and the community are asking for faster and more efficient services from Community Development,” Filardo said. 

Last September, the Board of Supervisors directed the department to move more swiftly on a plan to update the zoning code while concurrently reviewing parts of the Comprehensive Plan.  

“The comp plan work is a high priority and will occur incrementally in phases,” said Amelia McCulley, the deputy director of the Community Development Department. “We identified zoning ordinance work that corresponds with the policy work in the comp plan so those intersecting efforts will align and be scheduled accordingly with work products in each phase.”

This may seem obscure, but an update of the bureaucracy is intended to help increase the county’s ability to help provide affordable housing. McCulley provides one example of what isn’t currently working. 

“Our density bonus requirements are outdated and inconsistent between zoning districts,” McCulley said. “They are intended to provide a bonus for measures and improvements above and beyond ordinance requirements.”

For instance, a developer of a housing project between Berkmar Drive and Woodburn called Berkmar Overlook filed a site plan in 2019 that anticipated getting additional units through two types of bonus density. However, staff later wrote to explain that no bonuses were allowed in the existing R-6 zoning.

The original application had been for 71 single family units with eight townhouse units through a bonus density and other units granted through a tree preservation bonus. What’s actually getting built is 52 units to be sold on the open market with no affordability provisions. 

Another item worth noting for people interested in Albemarle Land Use is something called Business Process Optimization that is underway to update all of the forms through which community members and businesses interact with the county government. 

“We are an urbanized county now,” Filardo said. “Yes, we have 95 percent of our county is as rural, but the demand for services from our county community really is at a level that is similar to  fully urbanized county and in order to accommodate that need for information and the data we need to make good decisions, we must have much better systems.”

You can watch the whole discussion at the July 6, 2021 meeting of the Albemarle Planning Commission. 


You’re listening to Charlottesville Community Engagement. It’s time now for the second Patreon-fueled shout-out:

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Finally today, a look at some of what happened last night at the Charlottesville City Council. The consent agenda passed without any changes, meaning the city will move forward on spending $830,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover the cost of providing $2,400 bonuses to school bus and transit drivers. Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker wants Council to consider more bonuses for other city employees.

“I just want to make sure that we are prioritizing figuring out bonus or incentives for other city employees also,” Walker said. 

This was the first meeting of Council since three statues erected around a hundred years ago were removed on July 10. City Manager Chip Boyles gave this report.

“Things went much quicker and very quieter than we had anticipated but it always better to over prepare and not need it,” Boyles said. “Staff has continued and we will update you as we progress on getting the final resting places for those three statues. We’ll be prioritizing the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea Statue first.”

That statue is currently being stored at the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Park. 

Boyles also introduced new deputy city manager Sam Sanders, who started work on July 12 after working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as the head of a neighborhood development corporation. 

“I’m trying to figure out how he started on the Monday after we had such a busy weekend but we’ll figure that out later,” Boyles said. 

However, Sanders did not comment. He and fellow Deputy City Manager Ashley Marshall will address the city’s Housing Advisory Committee at their meeting at noon tomorrow. Council’s work session on July 27 will be held on the budget development schedule for fiscal year 2023 as well as the resumption of the creation of a strategic plan. That effort was put on hold at the end of calendar year 2020.

At the next regular meeting of the Council, Boyles said the city will have a better idea of how much American Rescue Plan Act funding will be left after a shortfall in the fiscal year 2021 budget is plugged. 

“Of course we finished the fiscal year on June 30 and we’re starting to get a better understanding of what these funds can or can’t be used for and we’ll present that to you,” Boyles said.

I’ll have more from the City Council in the next installment of the program. Other events to catch up with include a recent presentation to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on the redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home park. Stay tuned!

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