Jul 8, 2021 • 16M

July 8, 2021: Albemarle updates housing policy, but still working on incentives for developers

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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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In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out: Help support black-owned business in the Charlottesville area. Check out the Charlottesville Black Business Directory at cvilleblackbiz.com and choose between a variety of goods and services, ranging from beauty supplies, professional services, and e-commerce. Visit cvilleblackbiz.com as soon as you can to get started.

In today’s program:

  • Albemarle Supervisors adopts a new housing plan but leaves a few loose ends related to incentivizing developers to build below-market housing units 

  • Governor Northam announces loans to local nonprofit groups to help cover costs of affordable projects 

  • Blacksburg gets a grant for electric vehicles and Amtrak invests in new trains

  • Albemarle retains AAA ratings and Charlottesville opens up a new round of small business grants 

Three top bond ratings agencies have reaffirmed Albemarle County’s AAA bond rating, a financial status that gives the county lower interest rates. Albemarle is only one of ten jurisdictions in Virginia with the top rating from Moody’s Investor Services, S&P Global and Fitch Ratings. According to a press release, Albemarle issued $57.7 million in debt on June 24 to cover the upfront costs of projects such as the additions at Crozet, Red Hill, and Scottsville elementary schools. On the same day, Albemarle refinanced another $20.4 million in existing debt saving $2.5 million in interest payments on projects.

“The savings will remain in the Capital Projects Fund,” said Albemarle Finance Director Nelsie Birch in an email this afternoon. “As the County embarks on its upcoming FY 23 – 27 long range financial planning process, this savings will allow greater flexibility and capacity as we plan for the future.”

Amtrak has announced $7.3 billion in investment in 83 new trains to replace an aging fleet with an option to purchase over a hundred more. The new trains will be built by Siemens Mobility, a California-based company. Among the routes for which the new rolling stock will roll will be the Northeast Regional service, which travels between Roanoke and D.C.’s Union Station and points north. 

“The Commonwealth is committed to promoting, sustaining, and expanding state-sponsored passenger rail service across Virginia,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in a release. “Replacing a 40-year-old fleet, the new Amtrak trains will help us meet those goals with modern, dual-powered engines, improved operations, increased fuel efficiency, and lower carbon emissions – in both electric and diesel mode.”

A second daily Northeast Regional train is expected to begin sometime in 2022. 


The Town of Blacksburg and Blacksburg Transit have received a $5.15 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help attain its goal of having an all-electric fleet by 2032. The funding comes from the FTA’s Low- or No-Emission (Low-No) Grant Program and is part of a $182 million funding package split up between 49 projects across the country. 

“FTA's Low-No Program supports transit agencies in purchasing or leasing low- or no-emission buses and other transit vehicles that use technologies such as battery electric and fuel-cell power to provide cleaner, more efficient transit service in communities across the country,” reads a release from the FTA. “This year's funding opportunity prioritized applications with an environmental justice component as well as those that support workforce development to help America’s transit workers succeed even as their jobs change along with technology.”

Last month, the director of Charlottesville Area Transit said his agency needs to study the issue further before proceeding with purchase of electric buses. One difference between Blacksburg and Charlottesville is topography, and Garland Williams said he has to be able to guarantee vehicles are able to reliably climb the city’s many hills and retain a charge. (review the other 48 projects) (Read the July 4 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Hat tip to an anonymous reader for sending this item.

Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development has announced the next round of a grant program intended to help small businesses in the city. The second round of the Building Resilience Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs (BRACE) grant program will open on Monday. The first round distributed funding to 69 businesses to help survive the pandemic. The second is intended to help business get through the recovery period. Businesses can apply for up to $2,500 and must make a 30 percent contribution as part of the request. For more details, visit the city’s website.

Governor Ralph Northam has announced another $21 million in housing loans for below-market housing that includes additional funding for four area projects. The Affordable and Special Needs Housing loans come through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. 

Piedmont Housing Alliance will receive $1.9 million for the first phase of Friendship Court, which will see construction of 106 new units on land that is currently green space. 

“Friendship Court was previously awarded funds through a competitive ASNH application, and this additional application supports the implementation of Zero Energy Ready Homes and Passive House certification standards, as well as permanent supportive housing units, which will provide select tenants with additional wraparound services on site,” reads a press release from the Northam administration. 

Virginia Supportive Housing will receive $1.46 million for the Premier Circle Permanent Supportive Housing project on U.S. 29. 

“Premier Circle Permanent Supportive Housing is the construction of 80 units for formerly homeless and low-income adults from the Charlottesville region. Each studio unit will be approximately 350 square feet and contain a kitchen and full bathroom, and resident amenities include phone and computer rooms, laundry facilities, a fitness area, and free Wi-Fi,” reads the release.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville will receive $1.4 million for home ownership opportunities at Southwood. 

“Southwood Affordable Homeownership is the construction of 16 single-family condo units, five single-family attached townhome units, four single-family duplex units, and one single-family detached unit,” reads the release.” The 26 new homes will be constructed in the existing Southwood mobile home park and serve families relocating from substandard mobile homes in the park. The homes will serve residents at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).” 

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority will receive $934,000 for the first phase of the South First Street public housing project. 

“South First Street Phase One is the new construction of 62 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartment units across three garden-style apartment buildings,” reads the release. “The development includes substantial indoor community resource space programmed and designed by residents. Outdoor amenity spaces and access to trails and recreational space along Pollack’s Branch will be available for residents and the surrounding community.”

CRHA will also receive $835,000 in funding for the renovation of Crescent Halls. 

“Crescent Halls is the substantial rehabilitation of an eight-story building comprised of 105 apartment units for lower-income seniors in Charlottesville,” reads the release. “This renovation includes new unit layouts, finishes, plumbing fixtures and appliances, building-wide mechanical systems and windows, elevator modernization, and roofing that will support a photovoltaic array. The renovated units will continue to serve seniors and disabled residents, providing better access through the retrofitting of 11 units that will include roll-in showers, grab bars, roll under sinks, and front controls on ranges.”

Read more in the Governor Northam’s press release.

You’re listening to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In this subscriber supported public service announcement, over the course of the pandemic, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has provided hours and hours of interviews, presentations, and discussions about interpretations and recollections of the past. All of this is available for you to watch, for free, on the Historical Society’s YouTube Channel. There’s even an appearance by me, talking about my work on cvillepedia!

The top priorities in Housing Albemarle (download the adopted plan)

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has adopted an updated version of its housing policy after amendments were made to make clear that some sections of the plan would not be implemented until after an incentives package for developers is also approved. That had been a sticking point at the public hearing for Housing Albemarle that was held on June 16. The 99-page document contains many new requirements for “affordable” units. These include:

  • Currently developers seeking a rezoning must provide 15 percent of units as affordable. The plan would raise that to 20 percent. 

  • Mechanisms would be developed such as deed restrictions to guarantee affordable rentals would be required to be below-market for a period of 30 years and that affordable for-sale units would be required to be below-market for a period of 40 years. 

  • A maximum rent for affordable units would be set at one-fourth of 65 percent of the area median income. Maximum sales price would be 65 percent of a federal guideline known as the HOME Program’s 1-Unit Purchase price. 

  • A maximum rent for “workforce housing” would be capped at 110 percent of the fair market rent as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The plan had been amended to state that all of the above “will follow approval of a package of developer incentives for affordable housing.” 

Supervisor Donna Price said she was concerned that such incentives may not be possible.

“As I’ve continued to communicate with developers there are some concerns about whether we are realistically going to be able to meet those objectives,” Price said. “With regard to the for-sale affordable housing, whether the target metrics that have been set are going to be financially able to then be met.”

There is a three-page list of what changes were made since the June 16 public hearing (download)

Price said the plan was incomplete without the incentives package. Supervisor Liz Palmer asked when that would come back to the Supervisors for approval. Jodie Filardo is the Community Development Director for Albemarle County.  She said it will take some time. 

“In our last estimate, we created a very broad estimate that had us coming back within the year on those development incentives,” Filardo said. “Since the last meeting we have had one meeting with a gathering of developers really for a listening session to hear what the issues are from their perspective.”

Filardo said ideas from that meeting are being reviewed by staff and staff will return to the focus group with some potential ideas for incentives. 

“And we expect to have those meetings wrapped up by the end of this month,” Filardo said. “That said, some of the suggestions from staff are actually going to require zoning ordinance amendments which are never quick. And so, while we’re working very hard to not have this take a year to get back to you all, it is going to take some time because we have a lot of stakeholders we need to vet this through.”

Stacy Pethia, Albemarle’s Housing Coordinator, said work could begin to implement other parts of the plan while the incentives package is worked out.

“Out of the 12 objectives and I think 49 strategies, 43 or 42 of those strategies could move forward,” Pethia said. “If the policy were approved today, we could begin working on everything else that’s in there.” 

Pethis said details of the affordability provisions could change as discussions with developers continue. 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway said the plan would be a living document that would change as implementation gets underway.

“If things need to be adjusted, adapted, this isn’t as strong as this, I mean, there’s a ton of details that have to be worked out that this policy has set up,” Gallaway said.

For example, Objective 6 is to create a Housing Trust Fund. 

“Funds can be distributed as either grants or loans to a variety of local partners including for-profit and nonprofit developers, affordable housing services providers, public housing authorities, or local government departments, as well as individual homeowners or landlords,” reads the plan. “Priorities for the use of housing trust fund dollars can be set to meet local priorities as housing needs change.”

“There are so many details about this trust fund that remain unanswered and we don’t know where the Board is going to fall on that in terms of governance of a trust fund, where is the money going, is it going to be one fund?” Gallaway asked. “Two funds? Ton of details.”

Gallaway said even without an official package of approvals, the Board could continue to vote on proposals that are in excess of the current policy. 

“If we approve this policy today and someone wants to bring us an application before the refinements of incentives are there, and they have an incentive idea, we can consider it,” Gallaway said. “Nothing holds us back from taking action.”

Price was satisfied with the answers and the motion to approve the plan was approved unanimously.  I’ll have more from this meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors in a future newsletter. (read the plan)

Finally today, one property rights advocacy group in the area published a report today that makes the argument Albemarle’s rezoning process is preventing creation of more housing stock. The Free Enterprise Forum’s white paper is entitled Density Deferred, Density Denied and examines how three different projects were reduced in size from their original application to the final approved project due to neighborhood opposition. (download the paper)

I’ll be appearing with Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum on the July 9 installment of the Real Talk program with Keith Smith and Jerry Miller. It begins at 10:15 a.m. and I’m not entirely sure what link to send to you. Do go take a look at our last appearance from June 11, which has all of eight views as of this recording. (YouTube link)