Jun 24, 2021 • 14M

June 24, 2021: Local architect named to the Charlottesville Planning Commission; Updates on Stonefield, transit, statues

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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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On today’s show:

  • Land use updates from the Charlottesville Planning Commission

  • Council appoints an architect to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission

  • Updates on transit and Stonefield

We begin today’s show with a piece of news from this afternoon before we begin into a time machine for some sonic travel throughout the month. 

Charlottesville City Council has made an appointment to fill a vacancy on the Charlottesville Planning Commission. The seven-member body is the lead advisory panel on items of land use and planning in the city. Here’s City Councilor Heather Hill making the motion.

“I move that City Council appoint Karim Habbab to the Planning Commission,” Hill said. 

Habbab is an associate architect with BRW Architects, according to a bio on the firm’s website. He is a native of Jordan and the son of two architects. He moved to Charlottesville in 2011 to attend the University of Virginia. 

Now, let’s go back to the most recent meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission from June 9. At the beginning of each meeting, Commissioners give updates from the various committees they are on. 

William Palmer is a planner with the Office of the Architect at the University of Virginia. He sits on the Planning Commission in a non-voting capacity under the terms of a 1986 agreement. He noted that earlier this month, the Board of Visitors were told of a $50 million gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh to create the Karsh Institute of Democracy. (read the UVA Today story)

“That’ll lead probably to another building at the Emmet Ivy corridor to kind of complement what’s already under planning there, the Data Science institute and the hotel and conference center,” Palmer said. 

According to UVA Today, the building for the Karsh Institute of Democracy will be ready in 2026. The University will match the $50 million gift. 

Next, Commissioner Jody Lahendro reported from the Tree Commission, which earlier this month signed off on the United States Department of Agriculture’s plan to introduce wasps at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area to fight off infestations of the Emerald Ash Borer. 

“It’s going to be a five-year study and will be completely funded by the USDA,” Lahendro said. “This is a study that’s actually been ongoing since 2007 and has now been started in over 29 states.”

The Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet again on June 29 for a work session on the next steps for the Cville Plans Together initiative. Habbab joins the Planning Commission as one phase of the Comprehensive Plan ends and another moves forward. The comment period on the Future Land Use Map ended June 13.

The consultants report that there were at least 1,137 emails, 37 voicemails from 26 individuals, and several signatures to various petition campaigns. Over 220 people left over 700 comments on an interactive version of the Future Land Use Map. Those are now all visible.

The June 29 work session will see a timeline for how the rest of the process will play out. Here’s Alexander Ikefuna, the director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS)

“We have enabled staff and the consultant to prepare an informed timeline on how the final draft document makes its way to the Planning Commission and the City Council for joint public hearing and subsequently for the Council for final consideration,” Ikefuna said. 

A rewrite of the zoning code would begin in full earnest after the Comprehensive Plan is adopted. Planning Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell was clear that the process will take time. 

“This is a vision document, the Future Land Use Map is a vision document,” Mitchell said. “We are a ways away from rezoning. We are ways away from things like R-1 going away. Based on this vision document, R-1 is not going away.”

This review of the Comprehensive Plan began in January 2017 and since then, there has been much turnover and only Commissioners Lahendro and Taneia Dowell are still on the body. 

Missy Creasy, the deputy director of NDS, offered some perspective on how the process has been intended to be proactive.

“The commission really came at this from, ‘something is going to happen to our community, we know that we’re seeing growth and we want to consciously make decisions about how that happens and now allow something to happen to us,’” Creasy said. 

Stay tuned for June 29. (June 29 meeting info

There’s another meeting happening on June 29 about a topic that is perhaps just as important as a discussion of the Future Land Use Map. It’s definitely related. Charlottesville Area Transit has been working with the Connetics Transportation Group and Kimley-Horn on an update of the system. I’ve reported on the potential changes, as has Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress in a story from March 1.  This event is being held as a general overview of the changes, and two public engagement sessions will be held before Council makes a decision to approve the changes. (meeting info)

One of the changes would see Route 8 transferred into a line that would run between the Willoughby Shopping Center on 5th Street extended in Charlottesville to Stonefield. 

More on transit later on in in this installment. For now, we have to keep moving.

In the June 23 installment of this program, we heard a little from the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee. I did not include an update from Stonefield mostly because I ran out of time. But before we move on with today’s show, and with the idea of a more direct transit route connecting Stonefield with Charlottesville, let’s hear from Stonefield’s manager Samantha Strong on some recent updates. 

“We were very excited just in the past few weeks,” Strong said. “We had Sunglass Hut open up their location with us. Splendora from the Downtown Mall has now opened up her location. So get excited. Come get some gelato.”

The building that had been occupied by Pier 1 imports will be split into spaces for more than one business.

“The first one that will be coming in is Torchy’s Tacos, so get excited for some tacos and margaritas out of Austin, Texas,” Strong said.  “And just upcoming we have Ronnie Megginson with Kulture Vibez. We have Team Hair Studios that’s going to be opening up within the next month. And we also have Akira Ramen and Sushi. Those are all going to be opening on the north side.”

Strong said the Regal movie theater is open again. She said merchants and business owners are seeing new vibrancy.

“May of 2021 for some of them was actually the best month of sales they have had ever since they opened,” Strong said. 

The Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library are having a Warehouse Sale at Albemarle Square Shopping Center (300 Albemarle Square) Friday, July 9 through Sunday, July 11 from 10 to 6 each day. There will be Fiction, Mysteries, SciFi and Fantasy, Cookbooks, Military, Biographies and YA and Children’s Books There will be a capacity limit of 80 shoppers. Proceeds benefit our regional public library system, JMRL, serving Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.

Now on to more from the Charlottesville City Council meeting from Monday, June 21, 2021. City Manager Chip Boyles said notices has been given to nearby battlefields and museums notifying them of the city’s interest in getting rid of two Confederate statues that are currently in city parks. Three responses of interest had been received by Monday. 

“Two are in state, and one from out of state,” Boyles said. 

Boyles said City Hall is expecting to return to normal operations in September. 

“At which time, all public meetings, boards and commissions will begin to meet in person,” Boyles said. 

In the past fifteen months, government meetings have moved online. Vice Mayor Sena Magill wondered if staff could be allowed to appear at meetings remotely rather than be present in Council Chambers.

“I want to take whatever positives we can from this pandemic and provide as much flexibility as technology allows,” Magill said. 

Boyles said that he thought that would be possible.

“Our understanding right now is that in the case of City Council the elected officials will have to be physically present but staff could do either,” Boyles said.

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wanted to limit the number of people in Chambers out of continued health concerns.

“We’re talking about that time of year,” Walker said. “It’s going to be flu season picking up, regular colds in that fall and winter season so hopefully by then there will be some changes to how they are looking at this from a federal and state level.”

Interviews for the Director of Neighborhood Development Services position began today. 

Later in the meeting, there was a public hearing on appropriations of $5.3 million in supplemental funds for Charlottesville Area Transit. Garland Williams is the director of CAT. 

“What we have is a combination of capital and operating dollars,” Williams said. “The capital is $4.32 million which will allow us to buy rolling stock which means buses, support vehicles.” 

About $630,000 transfers through to Jaunt for their services. 

Councilor Michael Payne asked if the eleven buses planned for purchase were to build capacity or replace an aging fleet. Four of them are new vehicles and the rest are replacements. They will all be diesel engines, but Williams said future purchases could use alternative fuels.

“We are actually undertaking a study that will allow us to see whether we should be looking at doing whether it is [Compressed Natural Gas] or electric vehicles of a combination of the two,” Williams said. “The electric vehicle component for transit is coming and its coming quickly but its relatively new.”

Williams estimated there would be enough testing and experience with electric transit fleets for the technology to become more widespread.  One issue in this community is the topography and the need for a drivetrain that power up hills. No one spoke at the public hearing.