Jun 15, 2022 • 20M

June 15, 2022: Next step coming in Charlottesville's zoning rewrite; City PC recommends approval of 11-unit addition at Belmont site

Plus: More details emerge on S&P Global's lease for office space in a city-owned building

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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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We are now half of the way through a month that some may consider half way through the year. Many of these observations are arbitrary, but it is definitively June 15, 2022 and this is the equivalent installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. What shall we learn today? Stay tuned and let me know if you did. 

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On today’s program:

  • The Charlottesville Economic Development Authority learns more about the city’s lease for space the S&P Global building downtown 

  • A key document for the third phase of the Cville Plans Together initiative will be released tomorrow

  • A major toy manufacturer is set to open a factory in Chesterfield providing over 1,700 jobs

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues a warning on “forever chemicals” in drinking water

  • And the Charlottesville Planning Commission recommends a special use permit for 11 homes in the section of the Belmont neighborhood inside a mixed-use urban zoning district 

First shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign 

It’s getting very close to the technical end of springtime, and one Patreon subscriber wants you to know the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign is a grassroots initiative of motivated citizens, volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. 

Did you know that National Pollinator Week is June 20th-26th this year? There are many ways to celebrate and learn more about our native pollinators, and here's a great one to start with:

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is hosting an in-person/virtual Pollinator Power Symposium on June 23rd, and there is an excellent line up of speakers scheduled for the day! 

There are plenty of resources on the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page, so sign up to be notified of lectures, plant sales, and more! 

City details terms of S&P Global’s lease for downtown building

Charlottesville’s Office of Community Solutions continues to review leases the city has with third parties who rent space. Council held a work session on the topic in May and learned that until now there was no central place in city government entrusted with keeping track of leases for about 145,275 square feet of floor space and about 50 acres under ground lease. (view the presentation)

One of those buildings is a five-story structure currently occupied by a branch of S&P Global, an international company that does research into economic and business issues. According to the May presentation, the city’s Economic Development Authority takes in $240,000 annually in rent but the property’s market value could be as high as $1.58 million. 

“The S&P Global building started its life as the National Ground Intelligence Center,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. “Essentially it was built in the 60’s by the federal government and occupied by the Army.” 

In the 1990’s, NGIC moved to a larger and more secure location at the Rivanna Station in northern Albemarle County. 

“At that time the city was concerned about the loss of activity that building created and went and petitioned the federal government and the General Services Administration to have them gift the building to the city,” Engel said. 

The city entered into a lease with the Economic Development Authority and the EDA offered a 30-year lease to a company that used to be called SNL Financial, which then took the space to consolidate its offices into one place rather than be scattered across multiple locations. A company that would later be renamed S&P Global purchased the company in July 2015 for $2.2 billion. 

The S&P Global building is now (Credit: Charlottesville GIS)

Engel said the EDA’s lease with S&P Global is about two thirds of the way through. 

“The way the lease is structured is that all the burden is on them to manage the facility and maintain the facility, everything,” Engel said. “We essentially do nothing from a physical standpoint.” 

Engel said S&P Global has earned upfit credits for about $9 million worth of investments put into the building at the beginning of the lease. 

“Those credits are nearly running out,” Engel said. “Those credits are nearly running out. They’re not quite all the way run out. They have actually just qualified for about $3.5 million in additional rent credits. They replaced the boilers. They replaced the roof, the chiling system, the elevator system. They added fire protection.”

When the credits do run out, Engel said S&P Global will pay closer to market rate. Council will have a further discussion on city-managed leases.

Charlottesville’s zoning rewrite is about to enter next phase

On Thursday, the city will publish a document intended to set the stage for the final portion of the Cville Plans Together initiative.

“So this is the diagnostic and approach report,” said James Freas, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. 

Freas briefed the Charlottesville Planning Commission at the beginning of their meeting on Tuesday. 

An open house to explain the event will be held on June 27 at the Charlottesville Pavilion, an event for which Freas said the city would validate parking. 

“We look forward to a lot of conversations with the community, with all of you, and whoever else chooses to show up at that meeting,” Freas said.

Have you read the new Comprehensive Plan? Read the whole thing here.

The new zoning code is expected to make it easier for more dense development in the city. That’s a major goal of the new Comprehensive Plan adopted by Council last November. The zoning rewrite may also offer more guidance for rules and regulations about housing affordability. Direction for that comes from the Affordable Housing Plan adopted by Council in March 2021. 

“This first report kicks off our three-step process for the zoning rewrite,” Freas said. “As I’ve referred to it before, this is kind of the conceptual plan of the new zoning ordinance and it lays out the ideas. It talks about what we need to do to change our zoning ordinance in order to advance implementation of the affordable housing plan.” 

A joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning Commission will be held in September to confirm the next steps in writing up the new ordinance. A first draft will be the second step, followed by a review of a final draft next spring. 

In May, Planning Commissioner Hosea Mitchell got a preview at the closed-door meeting of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee that consists of top planning staff from Albemarle, Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia. 

“The rewrite of our code is not form-based code but as Mr. Freas mentioned a couple of times, it does contain form-based elements,” Mitchell said.

In general, form-based code refers to a series of rules and regulations to govern building envelopes. We’ll hear much more about these details as the conversation continues. 

Meanwhile, there is an active lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court against the City Council for adopting the Comprehensive Plan. Among other things, that suit argues that the city failed to provide a transportation plan. There’s a hearing on July 15 on a motion to force the plaintiffs to identify themselves, followed by another hearing on August 26.

See also:

Environmental Protection Agency sounds warning about PFAS in drinking water

The United States Environmental Protection Agency today has issued four advisories on the potential for “forever chemicals” in water supplies. The term PFAS covers per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances which are used in the manufacture of many products people use every day such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, electronics, and more. These substances do not break down and can accumulate in the human body and blood over many years and have been linked to cancer and diseases that affect the immune system. 

The four advisories are for specific substances.

“The updated advisory levels [for PFOA and PFOS], which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time,” reads a press release announcing the steps. “The lower the level of PFOA and PFOS, the lower the risk to public health.”

This fall, the EPA will issue new regulations on drinking water related to PFAS. There’s also $1 billion in funding for states and localities to install equipment in drinking water supplies to filter out the substances. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has applied for a $21 million grant to remove the contaminants by upgrading filtration systems, according to the May agenda.

The EPA has adopted a “Strategic Roadmap” to address the prevalence of PFAS in the ecosystem 

Youngkin announces LEGO factory in Chesterfield

Will everything be awesome in Chesterfield County’s near future? 

Governor Glenn Youngkin has announced that the LEGO Group will open a 1.7 million square foot manufacturing plant in Chesterfield County’s Meadowville Technology Park.

“This transformational project will create more than 1,760 jobs and bolster Virginia's manufacturing industry, which continues its renaissance with major investments by high-caliber corporate partners like the LEGO Group,” Youngkin is quoted in a news release. 

The $1 billion investment is spurred by $56 million from the state’s Major Employment and Investment Project grant program. Such a fund has been established by the General Assembly  and that figure depends on LEGO providing every one of those jobs. There’s also another potential for $19 million in state funding for site development costs that will require approval by the legislature. 

The LEGO Company was founded in 1932 and remains a family run company headquartered in Denmark. Their primary product is plastic construction blocks. 

“These cherished play experiences are being made in factories across the world, keeping up with the continuously high demand and soon they’ll be manufactured right here in Virginia,” says the narrator of an announcement on a new website for people who’d like to work there

Applications for positions will be taken later this year and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership will use the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program to recruit potential applicants. 

Second shout-out is for LEAP’s new 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!  

Planning Commission recommends approval of 11 units at 1000 Monticello Road 

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has recommended approval of a special use permit for additional density at 1000 Monticello Road in the Belmont neighborhood that would allow for 11 units and a small commercial space on the ground floor.

A split City Council denied a similar permit in February 2021 with the majority expressing concern about adverse impacts on the neighborhood. At the time, five of the units were being proffered as affordable to households and individuals whose incomes at around 65 percent of the area’s median. 

This time around, two additional units would be restricted to tenants at 80 percent of the area median income. 

Neither is required by existing city code.

“This project does not trip the standard in Section 34-12 of our zoning ordinance, the requirement for affordable housing, so this condition is offered by the applicant above and beyond what is required under our code,” said city planner Brian Haluska. 

The property in question already has an apartment building with 23 units that was purchased by Core Real Estate and Development in January 2018 and then sold to Piedmont Realty Holdings a year later. The special use permit is required for additional residential units on the 0.81 acre property. An existing curb cut into a parking lot would be removed. 

“The proposed new building footprint, which will house 11 units and a small commercial tenant space, is proposed directly adjacent to the existing building fronting along Monticello Road,” said Kelsey Schlein with Shimp Engineering.  (view the presentation)

Credit: Shimp Engineering / Design Development

Schlein said the project has been brought back because Council adopted both an Affordable Housing Plan and a Comprehensive Plan that calls for more housing. 

“The purpose of the land use section of the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Plan states that ‘land use policies shape where housing is located, what housing looks like, and how much housing is built,’” Schlein said. 

Schlein said in this case, the developer would not be seeking any city funds to help subsidize the development. She added the site is within walking distance to eight bus stops, is an example of infill development. 

The length of the affordability period is at issue. The developer is offering the below market rates for ten years, but the city wants more.

“I think a 30 year period would be more in  line with city policy and then also the lack of mention of a willingness to accept vouchers,” said Alex Ikefuna, the interim director of the Office of Community Solutions. 

The last time this project was before Charlottesville officials, there were several speakers who argued the special use permit should be denied because the rents at 1000 Monticello Road were increased. Schein said the current owner should not be punished. 

“There was a longtime owner, and then there was a short-term owner, and now we have this third owner in place who has been in place since 2018,” Schlein said. “During the short-term owner… I believe 11 of the units had already gone to a rental rate that somewhat more of a market rate.” 

Schlein said there are six tenants left at 1000 Monticello Road who are renting below market rate. She said the project would take federal housing vouchers. She said she knows the city would like to see longer terms, but her interpretation of the Affordable Housing Plan is that those would be triggered by the acceptance of public funds. 

“When an applicant utilizes city funds, there should be a standard by which they adhere to,” Schlein said. “In this case, ten years is what we can commit to on this project.” 

Councilor Michael Payne voted against the proposal the first time and said he wanted it to be known that Piedmont Holding has displaced some of the former owners. 

Only one person spoke at the public hearing. Brandon Collins worked for the Public Housing Association of Residents when this permit was last before the city. He now works for a government entity but last night he said he was speaking for himself. 

“As it stands I’m going to ask you to deny this special use permit for this property,” Collins said. “A special use permit is going outside of your existing rules. The property is already outside of your existing rules and in order to do so you have to show that there’s a benefit to the community and that there’s not a negative impact on the community and I think it’s really crass to hear the development team talk about their commitment to affordable housing and affordable housing crisis when this exact property has contributed to the crisis in Charlottesville when it comes to affordability.” 

However, the Commission recommended approval. 

“I do think it is a good infill proposal,” said Commissioner Karim Habbab. “I do like the commercial. I think something creative can happen there to extend that Downtown Belmont feeling.” 

“I’m of the opinion that this is a good project,” said Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg. “Certainly if you look at it in a vacuum ignoring the site its possibly the best possible project you can imagine. It’s replacing a redundant driveway and curb cut with 11 units of housing, seven of which are affordable.” 

Stolzenberg pointed out that Council is not permitted by law to consider previous actions by previous owners, or the current one, as it considers the permit. 

“If we’re denying those homes as punishment to the property owner, when does that punishment end?” Stolzenberg asked. 

The Council recommended the special use permit on a 5-1 vote with Commissioner Jody Lahendro voting no and Commissioner Taneia Dowell not present. 

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