Jul 7 • 22M

July 7, 2022: Housing partnership endorses Piedmont Housing Alliance application to lead UVA affordable housing effort

Plus: Catching up on the Charlottesville Board of Equalization and Charlottesville's $1.6M land purchase for parking spaces

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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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Numerological hijinks ensue today on 7/7/22. This is the 188th day of this particular orbital period, and there are 177 left until the next one. What does it all mean? What you make of it! If you’re one who misses celebrating an independent nation, July 7 also marks when the Solomon Islands observes Independence Day. No fireworks, please! I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, puzzling over what all of it might mean. 

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On today’s program:

  • The Virginia State Police releases crime data for 2021, and violent crimes increased statewide 

  • The Regional Housing Partnership endorses a coalition led by the Piedmont Housing Alliance to build affordable housing at two sites to be donated by the University of Virginia Foundation through a ground lease

  • The Albemarle County Electoral Board names a new registrar t

  • It’s been two months since the Board of Equalization affirmed nine out of eleven requests to lower real estate property tax assessments 

  • Charlottesville will purchase land on East Jefferson Street for additional municipal parking space

First shout-out: WTJU staging the Cville Puzzle Hunt on August 27

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: By now, readers and listeners know WTJU’s position on algorithms. But do you know that the radio station celebrates puzzles? In fact, on Saturday, August 27, WTJU is organizing the Cville Puzzle Hunt, a huge, cerebral puzzle that will spool out across downtown Charlottesville. The Cville Puzzle Hunt will take you and a team of friends on a wild afternoon running around trying to untangle five diabolical, large-scale puzzles inserted into the urban landscape. The opening clue will be read at 1 p.m. at the Ix Art Park. Find out more about this WTJU-organized event at cvillepuzzlehunt.com

Regional Housing Partnership endorses Piedmont Housing Alliance’s application to build affordable housing at two UVA sites

The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership is a function of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and consists of elected officials, representatives from nonprofits, and developers. Last year they developed the Planning for Affordability report intended to suggest strategies for each of the six localities to create more below-market housing opportunities. (read that plan)

On Wednesday, the group convened for one purpose. For background, the University of Virginia and its real estate foundation are offering land through a ground lease at three sites in the community for a partner to construct affordable housing. They issued a request for qualifications in June to develop sites on Fontaine Avenue and Wertland Street. (agenda packet)

There was a pre-proposal presentation on June 22 led by Fred Missel, the director of development for the UVA Foundation. In a separate capacity, Missel is also a member of the Albemarle Planning Commission. 

Wednesday’s partnership meeting was to vote on an endorsement of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s desire to lead a large group of partners to develop the two sites.

“We have pulled together a largely local team of nonprofits and one for profit organization to come together to ideally provide a holistic housing ladder with a holistic set of viewpoints to make sure we are being responsive to the needs not just within those two sites,” said Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance.

That for profit developer would be Riverbend Development, which has assisted the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority with its recent redevelopment efforts. Another partner would be the Virginia Community Development Corporation and another would be 7 and M Development

An overview of the less than two acres on Wertland Street that would be included in the development (Credit: UVA Foundation)

A letter in the RHP agenda packet includes more details. 

“The development team is partnering to design, build, and operate affordable housing on both sites, with a focus on a broad array of housing opportunities, focused on rental housing for people earning 30 to 60 percent of area median income, but also including more deeply affordable rental housing, affordable homeownership opportunities, market rate housing, community amenities, and commercial space,” reads the letter.

However, many of the partnership members had to recuse themselves from the vote out of conflicts of interest. That included:

  • Dan Rosensweig of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville

  • Sunshine Mathon of the Piedmont Housing Alliance

  • Keith Smith of the Piedmont Community Land Trust (now part of Piedmont Housing Alliance)

  • Shelby Edwards of the Public Housing Association of Residents 

  • Anthony Haro of the Thomas Jefferson Coalition for the Homeless

Colette Sheehy is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the University of Virginia. She also abstained from the vote but is not part of the development.

“That was an impressive list of local organizations involved in this space and I was just curious if you anticipate anybody else out there locally that might propose anything?” Sheehy asked. 

Mathon said he thought there may be another group.

“I think there are probably still one or two organizations which may find their way into a different team but I’m not 100 percent sure,” Mathon said. 

Those who were able to vote to support the letter were Antwon Brinson of the Piedmont Workforce Network, Greg Powe of Powe Studio Architects, Ned Gallaway of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Peter Holman of the University of Virginia Credit Union, Rachel Jones of the Louisa Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook, and Kim Hyland of the Fluvanna-Louisa Housing Foundation.

“Seven yes, zero noes, and six abstentions,” said Ian Baxter, a planner with the TJPDC. 

One of those abstentions was Keith Smith, a realtor and chair of the Piedmont Community Land Trust.

“This is what this body was designed to do and this is great stuff,” Smith said. 

The application is due on August 2. Will there be any other applications? 

Albemarle hires new registrar from within 

The Albemarle County Electoral Board has promoted the deputy registrar to serve as the new Director of Elections. Lauren Eddy has worked for the Voter Registration and Elections Office for 17 years, and will succeed Richard “Jake” Washburne, who will be retiring at the end of the month.

“I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Lauren to take on this role,” Washburne is quoted in a release.

Eddy has been deputy registrar for the past 15 years. She’s a native of Albemarle and is a Virginia Registered Election Official as well as a National Certified Elections/Registration Administrator.

Lauren E. Eddy (Credit: Albemarle County) 

Charlottesville Board of Equalization declined all but one assessment appeals

It has now been seven weeks and two day since the Charlottesville Board of Equalization met on May 17 to hear appeals from property owners of their 2022 real estate tax assessments. Eleven were scheduled but one withdrew. The Board affirmed the property assessments in all ten of the cases that were heard. (read the minutes)

  • The owner of an apartment in the Belmont Lofts wanted the BOE to lower the assessment to $265,000 down from the $400,900 for 2022. The Board agreed to lower the amount to $365,000. GIS for this property currently says $364,000. 

  • The owner of 409 Park Street in North Downtown sought reduction to $750,000, but the BOE affirmed the $914,800 assessment. 

  • The owner of 1010 Peartree Lane in the Locust Grove wanted to have the assessment dropped to $265,650 but the Board affirmed the $323,700 as the fair market value. The owner bought the 0.21 acre property in 1976 for $34,000. 

  • HPTMI Corporation owns the Residence Inn on Millmont Street. They argued the fair market value should be $11,547,400 rather than the $14,762,600 for 2022. The BOE disagreed and affirmed the assessment. When the motel was built in 1997, it was assessed at $3,845,500 and steadily increased each year until this year, when the assessment dropped around $1.5 million. 

  • The owners of the Omni Hotel withdrew their appeal of the property’s $35.8 million 2022 assessment. Like the Residence Inn, the assessment has been dropped since 2020 due to the pandemic. There’s still an active lawsuit regarding the 2021 assessment. Last year, the Omni sued Charlottesville over what they perceived as an overpayment of taxes. Read an April 2021 story by Tyler Hammel in the Charlottesville Daily Progress

  • Ludwig Kuttner sought an unspecified reduction for an industrial building at 1155 5th Street NW next to the Willoughby Shopping Center and claimed “appraiser failed to take into consideration the tremendous impact that ‘Covid’ had on all businesses and property owners.” The Board affirmed the assessment of $2,888,500 and said Kuttner presented no new evidence.

  • Kuttner also sought an assessment reduction for the 10,75 acres of the Ix property, a request he has made in the past. This time, he cited the same reason. The property was assessed at nearly $14.4 million and it will stay that way. Read about the 2017 appeal on Charlottesville Tomorrow

  • The section of the Ix property that is operated as the Ix Park and is rented to Three Notch’d Brewery was assessed at $5.62 million. The BOE affirmed. 

  • Kuttner also sought relief for the Terraces at 100-106 West Main Street. The city assessors valued it at $12,690,400 and the Board of Equalization affirmed that amount.

  • The same story can be said about 201 E. Main Street, otherwise known as Central Place. Kuttner made the same argument but the BOE affirmed the $2.83 million assessment for 2022. 

  • Kuttner also represented the owners of 301 E. High Street and made the same basic argument about COVID. The Board also affirmed this property. 

The Residence Inn on Millmont Drive is assessed at nearly $14.8 million 

Virginia State Police release 2021 crime report for the Commonwealth 

The rate of violent crime in Virginia increased in 2021 according to new data from the Virginia State Police. Last week, the agency’s Criminal Justice Information Service’s Data Analysis and Reporting Team (DART) published a report for last year showed an overall increase in murders, forcible sex offenses including rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. 

“There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1 percent increase,” reads a press release on the report

Some of what’s in the report

  • There were 562 homicides in Virginia in 2021, a 6.4 percent increase. Of that amount, 38.6 percent were men between the ages of 18 and 34. 

  • Over $131 million worth of vehicles were stolen in 2021, a 3.8 percent increase. 

  • Firearms were used in 82.1 percent of homicides and 48.6 percent of robberies. 

  • There were 123 hate crime offenses involving 106 victims in 2021. That’s down 35.3 percent from 2020. These involve either aggravated assault, vandalism, or destruction of property. 

  • Fraud offenses were up 8.4 percent in 2021.

Not all of the numbers are increasing. 

The number of burglaries continued to decline with an 8.3 percent drop in 2020. That’s part of a long-time trend. 

“In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population,” reads the summary. 

Drug arrests were down 46.7 percent, with one major driver being the decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

The DART report also breaks down offenses by locality. The Albemarle County Police Department reported 4,191 total offenses and 1,527 arrests. There were no murders or negligent manslaughter, but there were 12 kidnapping incidents, 76 aggravated assaults, 99 burglaries, and 107 stolen vehicles.(page 92 of the .PDF)

Charlottesville also reported no murders, but there there were 3,052 offenses tracked. There were 11 kidnappings, 162 aggravated assaults, 127 burglaries, and 155 stolen vehicles.  (page 130)

There were no murders reported in any of the other localities in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. 

The Fluvanna Sheriff’s Office reported four kidnappings, 29 aggravated assaults, 13 burglaries, and 12 stolen vehicles. (page 170)

In Greene, there were five kidnappings, 21 aggravated assaults, 12 burglaries and 15 stolen vehicles. (page 186)

There were nine kidnappings reported by the Louisa County Sheriff's Office in 2021. There were 21 aggravated assaults, 11 burglaries, and 32 stolen vehicles. (page 223)

The Nelson County Sheriff’s Office reported five abductions, 26 aggravated assaults, 49 burglaries, and 18 stolen vehicles (page 241). 

One set of crime statistics for Albemarle County. For more detail, read the report. 

Today’s second-shout: LEAP’s Thermalize Virginia program 

In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: Have you been thinking of converting your fossil-fuel appliances and furnaces into something that will help the community reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Your local energy nonprofit, LEAP,  has launched a new program to guide you through the steps toward electrifying your home. Thermalize Virginia will help you understand electrification and connect you with vetted contractors to get the work done and help you find any rebates or discounts. Visit thermalizeva.org to learn more and to sign up!  

City to purchase downtown land for surface parking 

Sometimes it takes a while to get everything I’d like to write about in the show. For instance, so far, I’ve written several segments from the June 21, 2022 meeting of the Charlottesville City Council. 

Is there room for one more to memorialize, and is it worth it, two and a half weeks later? Yes. 

Charlottesville City Council has authorized the city’s economic development director to purchase 921 E. Jefferson Street for $1.6 million. Here’s Chris Engel. (read the staff report)

“This parcel is four tenths of an acre and is currently used as a 39-space surface parking lot,” Engel said. “Staff recommends purchase as it puts the city in control of an asset that will help with current and future parking capacity issues.” 

Engel said one reason is to help satisfy the terms of an agreement between Albemarle and Charlottesville related to parking for the joint General District Court that will be built downtown. 

“Most of that agreement spoke to the creation of a new parking structure that the city was to undertake as part of its agreement with the county,” Engel said. “That project was ultimately canceled as you know last year about this time.” 

Engel said the agreement allows the city options to provide spaces at either the existing 7th Street surface lot or at Market Street Parking Garage, both owned by city government. He said either would displace existing parkers and this lot would be a replacement.

The lot in question. (Credit: Charlottesville GIS)

Engel said volume in the Market Street Parking Garage is not at pre-pandemic levels but the city is currently on a waiting list for new monthly pass holders at that structure. If the county chooses 100 spaces at the Market Street garage, Engel said that would crowd out the ability of people to park there on a transient basis. 

“So you’d in some way be jeopardizing the health of the surrounding business community that relies on those spaces for activity,” Engel said. 

Engel said this purchase would also make up for the loss of 50 spaces that used to be underneath the Belmont Bridge but won’t be coming back when that project is complete. He said the city will also eventually lose a parking lot with 61 spaces for employees at a site on Levy Avenue owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

“If we were to add 39 spots we would still have a net loss of parking spaces in and around the downtown area,” Engel said. 

The current owner of the property is Gewinn Investors III, a firm that bought the land in 1985 for $175,000. The land is currently assessed at $953,000 and the sales price would be over 73 percent above the assessment. 

In January 2017, the city paid $2.85 million to purchase the corner lot at Market Street and 9th Street for a new parking garage. That transaction was 40.55 percent above assessment at the time. 

Councilor Michael Payne said the city was wrong to have entered into the agreement with the county, but he said they should be given the 100 spaces in Market Street Garage. 

“Quite frankly depending on how that’s implemented I don’t think that’s the end of the world but my understanding is that a majority of Council does not agree with that sentiment,” Payne said. 

However, he said he could support the purchase of this space if it meant keeping the two structures the city owns at the corner lot. 

“If purchasing this resolves the courts agreement in place of building a 10-million plus and tearing down Lucky 7 and Guadalajara to build a surface lot, it potentially makes sense to me,” Payne said. 

Engel said he could make no guarantees, but purchasing this lot would delay that outcome. 

Councilor Brian Pinkston said during his time in office to date, parking has proven to be controversial. 

“If you talk with folks at the Downtown Mall, they’re like ‘we absolutely need more parking’ and if you talk with other constituencies, they’re like ‘no, you’ve got plenty of parking,’” Pinkston said. 

Pinkston said he relies on staff to provide recommendations about occupancy and utilization rates. 

“Grabbing these 39 spaces for lack of a better term and taking advantage of this opportunity to acquire these 39 spaces basically is insurance against future possibilities,” Pinkston said. . 

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said the property would be ready to go for the city’s parking needs for now. That would allow more time to watch trends and collect data on actual usage of the new courts. 

“Five years from now we decide we don’t in fact need those parking places, I think we will probably have profited from the wait,” Snook said. 

The vote was 4-1 with Payne  against.

There is no overall parking plan for the City of Charlottesville, or for Albemarle County. The University of Virginia has a Parking and Transportation Master Plan from 2019 which seeks to manage parking demand. In June, the University of Virginia’s Building and Grounds Committee approved a plan to move forward with a 1,000 space parking garage with a $54 million budget but with no location determined. (UVA committee briefed on new capital projects, June 4, 2022)

The current rewrite of the zoning code also provides another opportunity related to parking. The Zoning Diagnostics and Approach Report calls for the reduction of parking requirements in addition to allowing greater residential density throughout the city. Visit the Cville Plans Together website to learn more. 

See also:

Toward a TDM plan for Charlottesville, June 9, 2021

A quick plug for Michael Clem

Finally today, local singer songwriter Michael Clem is looking for subscribers to his YouTube channel. Take a look at his trailer!