June 15, 2021: Places29-North group talks traffic and congestion concerns; Open containers on the Downtown Mall

The year is now 11/24ths of the way through...

  
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Today's 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! 

In this edition:

  • Charlottesville may try out open-carry containers in public spaces to boost economic recovery

  • Albemarle’s Places29-North group talks traffic, apartments, and congestion

  • Perrone Robotics continues to move its autonomous vehicles forward 

  • The University of Virginia has a new Rector


A former member of the House of Delegates and a former Secretary of Transportation in Virginia has been named as the Rector of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. Whittington Clement from southside Virginia will take over the position on July 1, succeeding James Murrary of Albemarle. Robert Hardie will become the vice rector. Read more on UVA Today.


Perrone Robotics of Crozet has recently demonstrated the use of its autonomous vehicles in the city of Westminster, Maryland, according to a press release distributed by the company. Perrone participated in the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory Autonomous Corridor Project by using its AV Star, which purports to be the world’s first and only fully autonomous vehicle and uses the company’s TONY software. TONY stands for To Navigate You and its use was pioneered in Albemarle with a three month trial in Crozet when a six-sheet shuttle reached something called Level 5 Autonomy. In Westminster, the AV Star operated on a “complex operational design domain” route that required it to make left and right turns, a four-way stop, and to drive through a historic city neighborhood. According to the release, Perrone has now installed the autonomous software on over 30 different kinds of vehicles. 


The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is seeking comments on a proposal from the Commonwealth Transportation Board to implement something called the Transit Ridership Incentive Program. Legislation passed the General Assembly in 2020 that seeks to improve transit service in urban areas of the Commonwealth with over 100,000. When TRIP goes live, transit agencies and localities will be able to apply for funding for regional projects. Like Smart Scale, candidate projects would be scored on how well they mitigate congestion and how they can provide connectivity to job centers. Review the resolution if you’re interested and send in a comment. 


The Charlottesville Economic Development office has been working on a recovery plan for the city, and the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority got a look at their meeting on June 8. Director Chris Engel said his department will seek American Rescue Plan funding from City Council to pay for projects within the initiative. 

“Essentially we met and did a series of outreach efforts including a series of phone calls that was led by Jason Ness on our team with previous recipients of our grants from last year to find out how they’re doing,” Engel said. “We found four basic buckets in which there was desire for additional assistance.

Items in the roadmap include direct financial assistance through continued grant programs and  additional training programs including a “specific hospitality focused training program.” Other ideas include updating maps for business corridors and creating a marketing leverage program. There are also ideas to create new infrastructure.

“One of them is a unique opportunity that is now available to municipalities to seek out what are called designated outdoor refreshment areas,” Engel said. “These are areas where alcoholic beverages can be served in an outdoor environment without putting up the traditional hard barriers that people might be accustomed to for these types of things.”

That would allow people to walk on parts of the Downtown Mall while carrying their drinks with them.

“Some details to be worked out with that,” Engel said. “There’s a particular kind of cup that would have to be used and some things like that. Not quite Bourbon Street but a more toned-down version.”

City Council will be presented with the plan on June 21. 

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You're reading to Charlottesville Community Engagement. Time now for another subscriber supported public service announcement. This June, the Jefferson Madison Regional Library is hosting two virtual programs to commemorate Juneteenth.

  • On June 17th, JMRL is hosting a panel discussion on the lives of the enslaved populations on the Monticello, Montpelier, and Highland plantations. (register)

  • On June 22, JMRL will hold a program about the recently discovered unmarked graves outside the enclosures of the cemetery at Pen Park. (register)


Tonight, the Albemarle Planning Commission will once again consider a rezoning for about 19 acres near the Forest Lakes neighborhood for a multifamily complex. RST Development last went before the Planning Commission in March, and their proposal for 370 units was vehemently opposed in a coordinated effort from the Forest Lakes Community Association. 

Members of the Places29-North Community Advisory Committee were presented with a revised plan on June 10. But they also heard two other items and a common thread throughout all of them was the impact new uses and developments have had and will have on existing roads. 

The first item was a community meeting for an application from the Monticello United Soccer Club (MONU) to expand the number of fields from four to seven at their location on Polo Ground Roads, as well as the hours. The site is on the banks on the South Fork of Rivanna River and is directly south of the Brookhill community that’s currently under construction. Planner Scott Clark said that section of Polo Grounds Road has received capacity upgrades to handle the additional traffic for the development. 

“We’ve got signalization, turn lanes in both directions, the westbound straight lane across to Rio Mills Road was closed, and also Rio Mills itself can no longer send traffic directly across to Polo Grounds,” Clark said. 

Some residents to the east, however, are concerned that any increased use will bring new vehicles. Polo Grounds Road eventually gets to Proffit Road, but there’s a one-lane railroad underpass that prevents high levels of traffic. 

The amendment to the existing special use permit has already been to the Planning Commission, but Clark wanted to bring it back to the CAC. That gave one man who lives on Proffit Road the chance to ask this question.

“Are you telling me that all the traffic is going to enter and exit from U.S. 29 and nobody’s coming under the railroad tunnel to get to Proffit Road?” said the man.

Clark said he could not guarantee that none of the people would go that way. The man responded that the Brookhill development is just getting started and any additional uses would affect the overall area. 

Fred Gerke, a member of the Proffit Community Association, offered some perspective on how the community has changed over time. 

“You know, I’ve lived out here for 35 years and I’ve watched Proffit Road turn from a dirt track,” Gerke said. “Polo Grounds when I moved out here was a dirt road. I’ve watched it paved and VDOT said it couldn’t get paved. It got paved. Our concerns are just with traffic. MONU is a good organization, does good things. No complaints about that. The objections with the original permit which we commented on all those years ago, that’s why those limits were in there, about traffic concerns.” 

Gerke said the county’s plans have not kept up with increases in population and use in the area. 

“Brookhill is great, but what are you going to do?” Gerke said. “We put in these sidewalks and paths and bike lanes that go nowhere. You have no choice. You live in Brookhill, you’re going to have to get in your car to go anywhere, and it’s the same with MONU.” 

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will hold their public hearing on MONU on August 4. 

Next, the Places29-North CAC held the community meeting for a rezoning for the proposed Maplewood Community to be built on a vacant parcel of land at the intersection of Proffit Road and Worth Crossing. The 3.41 acres of land are currently zoned commercial, but the application is for Planned Residential Development to build a maximum of 102 units. Ashley Davies is with Riverbend Development. 

“We’ve got some layouts now and it’s probably going to land somewhere closer to about 74 units total,” Davies said. “We think it’s a nice, complementary use to the other commercial uses in the area and we imagine sometime in the future the rest of this area will probably see some redevelopment.” 

The layout shown to the CAC features housing units called a “two over two.”

“They’re a new unit type that is basically townhouse units but they have two units per townhouse, so it’s a four story unit,” Davies said. “You’ve got parking on the bottom and then one of the levels is one unit and then you have a two-level unit.”

One CAC member noted that there have been several applications in this area that are approaching the upper limits of allowed residential densities. County planner Mariah Gleason had some explanation. 

“In terms of proposals coming in at higher level densities, yes, we have had several lately come in that are in this area,” Gleason said. “I think it’s a combination of where there’s availability and the desire to build from the development community.”

The applicant requested an indefinite deferral yesterday to respond to comments from staff. One issue in the letter is that staff interpreted the application as requesting five-story buildings, which aren’t allowed under zoning at that location or in the Comprehensive Plan. Davies said that was not the case.

“The buildings proposed are four stories so there’s no height issue,” Davies said. 

The last item on the agenda was a discussion about the RST project. The applicant was not on the call, but members of the CAC talked about their official list of concerns for the revised project. 

“Most are driven by concern for the very high density of units on this small parcel of land,” reads the comments. “We feel the sheer number of units proposed will not sustain even a relatively high quality of life for either current residents, or the people who will move into this development.”

The one and a half page list of comments points out three good things about the new proposal. They are the slightly reduced size, the provision of below-market units, and the “ethnic diversity” the project would bring. 

But the rest of the comments are in opposition.  Citing one of them, CAC member Steve Cameron said he was against a special exception request for a fifth story in the main apartment building. 

“I don’t understand the reason for the five-story waiver or the necessity for that,” Cameron said. “Looking out the topography, this is a higher portion of ground. It’s going to be higher. Four stories. The density is still the same. And then when we look around, Brookhill certainly would have wanted to go to five stories if they could.” 

Tony Pagnucco went next.

“I have three concerns about this development,” Pagnucco said. “First of all, the traffic. Second of all the transportation site so that if there’s ever public transportation, that there would be some place where people could get on and off of public transportation. And lastly the schools.”

However, Pagnucco said he was not sure the CAC should send out the document and he did not support it. He did suggest that high density multifamily units could be built in the rural areas. 

“Where really the only people that would care about that are few and far between,” Pagnucco said. 

Back in March, there was concern that there were no provisions for transit. Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said the new proposal does include considerations for future bus routes.

“There are three projected transit stops for the RST development,” LaPisto Kirtley said. “One on 29, one on Ashwood Boulevard, and one inside the actual development.” 

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will soon begin the public comment period before expanding transit in Albemarle. Charlottesville Area Transit is conducting a similar study in the whole area. 

The CAC did not take a vote to officially endorse the comments. Planning Commissioner Corey Clayborne thanked the group for their discussion.

“Thank you guys for that conversation,” Clayborne said. “It was very helpful to be able to those concerns and document those.

Watch the whole meeting of the Places29-North Community Advisory Committee here.