Jun 2, 2022 • 17M

June 2, 2022: Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of Albemarle developer in transit proffer case

Plus: Albemarle Planning Commission takes a look at Rio Road Corridor Study

 
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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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What’s in a day? According to one source, it’s National Bubba Day but I’m not sure what all the hubbub is about. More realistically, it’s American Indian Citizenship Day, which marks the 98th anniversary of an act of Congress where the people who had lived here for millennia before colonization finally received some rights, if not universal recognition. Somehow it’s also National Rocky Road Day. Coincidence or something else? This episode of Charlottesville Community Engagement cannot provide the answers. But this and all of the nearly 400 installments to date are intended to encourage you to think.

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On today’s program:

  • The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Albemarle County was wrong to charge a developer for transit service that stops at the Hollymead Town Center

  • An update on one way how area transit agencies may address driver shortages

  • JABA gets some funding due to one hospital’s employee survey

  • And the Albemarle Planning Commission reviews a study that seeks to help the Rio Road corridor become more of a human-scale 

First shout-out goes to a RoadDucks concert at Groovin’ in Greene

In today’s first subscriber supported shout-out, this Saturday in Stanardsville, Virginia’s house band, the RoadDucks, will take the stage at Greene Commons to headline an evening of music. The event kicks off at 4 p.m. with local music from Keith Samuels, Todd Sansom, Chad Aylor & Jon Kougher. That’s followed by singer-songwriter Jenny Marie McAdams. 

Then, the RoadDucks will draw upon their 46 years to perform all kinds of music. Various members of the Greene Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring the event, with proceeds from beverage and drink sales going to Artistic Remedies for Creative Hearts. For more information on this latest in the Groovin’ in Greene series, visit their Facebook page

Virginia Supreme Court rules against Albemarle in Jaunt proffer case

Albemarle County acted unconstitutionally when it demanded the developer of the Hollymead Town Center begin making $50,000 annual payments for a transit route operated by Jaunt. That’s according to a Virginia Supreme Court opinion issued this morning by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn. (read the opinion)

“While a state, under its police power, may regulate land use to further legitimate state interests, it may not use this power as a cudgel to coerce concessions from a land-use applicant who seeks to repurpose her property,” reads the opinion. 

The Board of Supervisors approved the Hollymead Town Center development in September 2007 and under one of the proffered conditions, a company called Octagon Partners agreed to pay $50,000 a year “within thirty days after demand by the County after public transportation service is provided to the Project.” 

At issue is whether this proffer from a 2007 rezoning was sufficient to compel the developer to make specific payments to Route 29 Express 

In November 2015, the Board voted 4-1 to work with Jaunt to develop a commuter route called Route 29 Express to serve the area with a stop at the Kohl’s. 

By that point, the property had transferred to United Land through a subsidiary known as Route 29 LLC. Developer Wendell Wood had previously sought to change the proffer but was unsuccessful. He argued that the triggering of the proffer as presented was unreasonable, but he offered to pay a smaller amount. 

At the time, Rio District Supervisor Brad Sheffield was executive director of Jaunt but he recused himself from the vote. He did not seek re-election to the Board in 2017. In late 2020, Jaunt’s Board of Directors asked him to resign for financial matters not related to this lawsuit. 

Soon after the Route 29 Express service began in May 2016, the county sent two bills to Route 29 LLC demanding payment, and issued a zoning violation in the summer of 2018. Wood refused to pay. 

Wood sued in January 2019 challenging that violation and both parties agreed to a certain set of facts. In May of that year, the county sought dismissal based on a claim that those facts admitted Wood’s acceptance that he needed to pay for the transit service. Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins denied that dismissal request and the case went to trial. 

The route map for the continuing Route 29 Express service (Credit: Jaunt)

During the trial, the county also sought to dismiss testimony and evidence introduced by the plaintiff to support their argument that the commuter route did not have any benefits of reducing traffic on U.S. 29. Higgins did not grant a motion to strike and then ruled in favor of Route 29 LLC. 

The county appealed, and now the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed Higgins was correct in not granting the county’s request to dismiss and to strike the evidence. The Court sided with Route29 LLC about the unreasonability of the proffer. 

“In essence, the County contends that when a municipality conditions the grant of a land use permit on acceptance of a conditional proffer, voluntarily entered into, the payment required by the proffer need not possess an essential nexus, nor be roughly proportional, to the impact of the development allowed by the permit in order for the proffer to be legally enforceable,” reads the analysis on page 9 of the opinion.

“We disagree,” the opinion continues. 

The ruling does not dismiss the transit proffer completely. 

“The Owner acknowledges, and we agree, that a different public transportation service may trigger Transit Proffer payments that are enforceable at law,” the opinion continues. “However, the Commuter Route, as it is presently designed, does not.”

A spokeswoman for Jaunt said the organization had no comment on the ruling, but did say that the North 29 Express is still operating and led to several other commuter buses such as one that serves Crozet. 

Albemarle County did not have a comment on the ruling.

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Albemarle Schools working on way to use public transportation for pupil transport

In April, transit officials from Vermont briefed the Regional Transit Partnership on efforts in the Green Mountain State to use public transportation to get students to their schools. (read the story)

That has led to further discussion on the matter in Albemarle County. Charmane White is the new director of the transportation division for Albemarle schools and she spoke at the partnership’s meeting on May 26. 

“I am having conversations now with our my supervisors and the Superintendent to look at how we would roll this out and of course we would have to get our community ready for this and parents and the administrators because this is just a different approach to what we have taken,” White said. 

White said the division continues to try to recruit new drivers with a series of job fairs. One possible way to alleviate the shortage is to purchase vehicles that don’t require a commercial driver’s license (CDL). 

Garland Williams, director of Charlottesville Area Transit, said city schools are also looking at this approach. 

“They are looking at the type A bus model themselves,” Williams said. “Fourteen [passengers] or less. They’re going to do to two at this point of time and see how the model works and then just scale up from there.” 

The University Transit System also has issues with a driver shortage.

“One of the approaches we’re taking a looking at is that CDL license barrier and how can we sort of attack that in creative ways,” said Kendall Howell of UTS. 

Howell said he would return to the partnership with some of those ideas later this summer. 

Sentara employee survey leads to $65,000 grant for JABA

An organization that provides services and assistance to older community members will receive $65,000 from Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. According to a press release, the funding for JABA is the result of an employee satisfaction survey which had a question that asked respondents to name an organization that embodies the company’s values. 

“JABA got one of the highest vote totals in the survey," says Johnsa Morris, Vice President of Patient Care & Chief Nurse Executive at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

JABA was created in 1975 as the Jefferson Area Board for Aging to serve as a “gateway” for resources for seniors and adults with disabilities. The $65,000 gift is unrestricted and can be used for any purpose by the organization. 

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for a grant from Sentara, the window runs from June 15 to July 15

Second Shout-out is for the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s second subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards continues to offer classes this spring and summer to increase your awareness of our wooden neighbors and to prepare for the future. Coming up on June 7 is a tree identification course taught on Zoom by tree steward Elizabeth Ferguson followed by a separate hike on June 11 at the Department of Forestry’s headquarters near the Fontaine Research Park. 

That’s followed by a tree identification walk at the University of Virginia on June 12 for the public. On June 14, Rachel Keen will give a lecture on Zoom on the Social Life of Trees. Do trees really communicate with one another? What is a 'mother tree'? Can a tree do anything to repel a pest? Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.

Albemarle Planning Commission gets look at Rio Road Corridor 

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors appointed Lonnie Murray to represent the White Hall District on the Planning Commission. Murray has been elected three times to serve as one of Albemarle’s representatives on the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s also a member of the Natural Heritage Committee. 

At their most recent meeting, the Planning Commission minus Murray reviewed a transportation study intended to turn one of Albemarle’s major roadways into something with more of a human scale. The county hired Line + Grade to conduct a review of Rio Road from city limits at Melbourne Road up to near the intersection with U.S. 29. (read the draft plan)

“The goal of this project was to develop a community vision and plan that will guide the future design and improvements to the Rio Road Corridor,” said David Benish, development process manager for Albemarle. 

Benish said the concepts in the plan are not intended to be final, but will be used in the future for candidates for funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation. A list of priorities will be reviewed during the Comprehensive Plan review that’s underway. 

Dan Hyer of Line + Grade lists some of the intentions of the plan, which is split into two geographic phases.  

“How to make it a safe corridor, how to improve environmental and public spaces along the corridor, keep traffic moving effectively and optimally,” Hyer said. “And try to make access equitable for all those who live and use the corridor.” 

Hyer said to balance all of those goals, his team took both a qualitative and quantitative approach to craft a roadway for the county’s 21st century needs. 

“At some point in the past, roadways were not just designed for their quantitative aspects but the quality of the experience was also important,” Hyer said. “And so we devised our own metrics on how to analyze both of these corridors from a qualitative standpoint. What’s it like to walk on the sidewalk? Is it hot? Are there trees? Are there crosswalks? Are their lights? Can you see the bus stops?” 

Hyer said the study took both a qualitative and quantitative approach (Credit Line + Grade)

Hyer said traffic growth is expected as the area builds out with more housing. New intersection approaches are suggested to avoid the backups that come with the four-way signals of the 20th century.  

  • Two traffic signals at the Hillsdale / Old Brook / Northfield intersections would be replaced with a peanut-shaped roundabout to eliminate left-hand turn movements. 

  • The Belvedere intersection would be converted into a continuous “Green T” intersection that would close off left-hand movements from the side road. Hyer said this would not preclude a future traffic signal. 

  • Line + Grade has offered several different alternatives for the roundabout at John Warner Parkway, but he acknowledged VDOT’s selection will be the one that goes forward.

In the second phase, the Rio Road Corridor Study offers fewer specific intersection improvements but provides guidance such as lowering speed limits and laying out a way forward for creation of a shared-use path. 

“What you have currently is you have a bunch of land widths that are inconsistent,” Hyer said. “You’ve got some that are 14 feet, some that are ten feet. You have a bus stop where you don’t need one. There’s a bunch of infrastructure that can be reallocated and that’s what you see here in our proposed plan.” 

Hyer said one difficulty identified in the study was trying to figure out how to find a way to make it safe to walk on Rio Road between Stonehenge Road and the city limits. He said that might need a plan of its own.

“Very complicated there,” Hyer said. “The creek is eroding. It’s coming closer to eroding the roadbed. It’s just an entirely different conversation and not worth trying to build a sidewalk there right now. There’s other low-hanging fruit for us to pursue.” 

Commission Chair Karen Firehock urged the inclusion of bioswales and other innovative ways to build in drainage that supports the ecology. She said the roundabouts might be a good place.

“Because there’s going to be a lot of grading going along to put in a roundabout in the first place and a lot of times in some lazy places they are just boring lawns and they’ve done nothing with that space,” Firehock said. “It’s an opportunity besides just having more turf grass which is the number one crop in the Chesapeake Bay drainage.”

The Board of Supervisors will be briefed on the plan at a later date, possibly in August. 

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