Jun 29, 2021 • 13M

June 29, 2021: Belmont Bridge construction receives notice to proceed; Regional Housing Partnership 'Planning for Affordability'

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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.

On today’s show:

  • Information from the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership

  • Charlottesville schedules an information session on construction of the Belmont Bridge replacement

  • Rockingham County gets a grant to study better ways to dispose of animal waste

Want to know what’s going on with the construction of the Belmont Bridge replacement? The city of Charlottesville has scheduled an information session for August 11 for the project, which is officially underway now that the city has issued a Notice to Proceed to Caton Construction Group to begin the work. The city’s contract with Caton Construction Group is for $23.7 million. 

According to a release sent out this morning by the city, one of the first steps will be construction of a temporary public parking lot on East South Street. The medians on Avon Street and 9th Street will be removed beginning in early August along with utility relocation. The terms of the contract require traffic on the bridge to be open during construction, though there will be temporary closures that will be publicized in advance. 

Belmont Bridge rendering 

Speaking of road projects in Charlottesville, one lane on Emmet Street near Ivy Road will remain closed from 7 a.m. through 5 p.m. each weekday through July 31, 2021. The closure will allow a contractor to relocate a natural gas pipeline from the west side of the street to the east. This work is part of the University of Virginia’s plans for the Emmet/Ivy corridor, which includes construction of a new hotel and conference center and new buildings for the School of Data Science and the Karsh Institute of Democracy. 

An organization that seeks to ensure an Independence Day Celebration in Charlottesville each year has raised enough funding to proceed this July 4. Celebrate US Charlottesville has raised enough feeds to proceed with an event that will begin atop Carter’s Mountain shortly after 9 p.m. on Sunday. The event will also be shown on MeTV and slightly later on Fox27. Sponsors who helped bring the amount over the top include Wendell Wood and Alan Powell/S&N Communications. Any additional proceeds will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House. 

Governor Ralph Northam has announced the latest recipients of planning grants from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. One of these Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) grants has gone to Rockingham County for their research into equipment that can convert organic waste into soil and a methane bio-gas that could be sold as a commodity. 

“The $20,000 AFID Planning Grant will be matched with local funds and will explore the financial feasibility of such a facility, available waste streams, potential locations, and ownership structures,” reads the press release. 

If you’ve been to Potter’s Craft Cider in Albemarle County, their operations at Neve Hall on U.S. 29 were funded in part by a $50,000 AFID grant as part of a $1.56 million investment. The terms of the performance agreement between Albemarle County, the Albemarle Economic Development Authority and Potter’s Craft require the creation and maintenance of at least five new jobs and the purchase of nearly $520,000 in locally grown apples.  

The Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership is nearly finished with a plan intended to coordinate efforts to increase the number of below-market housing units across the six localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. The title of the document is Planning For Affordability: A Regional Approach. (download the draft plan)

“We felt that it was important to somehow identify what was particular to the region instead of just rehashing individual action steps that might be in the individual chapters for each locality,” said Anthony Haro, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. “And this led to some good conversations about how to track regionally these goals.” 

The plan is intended to foster collaboration that pools resources and improves communication about housing issues in order to reduce pressure on individual localities to shoulder the burden alone. But Haro said that won’t happen without coordinated implementation.

“This naturally led to the question of who is going to track these regional goals and who is responsible for overseeing the region,” Haro said. 

There’s also an additional chapter for each locality in the region. Each of these will be presented to the governing body in each before being approved by the entire Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Christine Jacobs, interim director of the TJPDC, outlined what would happen the June 23 meeting and that consideration for approval. 

“Between this meeting and when it would go before the Planning District Commission, we will be working with individual jurisdictions to get their feedback to present as they direct us to,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs noted it was no coincidence that the recommendations for Charlottesville match those in the Affordable Housing Plan adopted by Council such as a commitment to invest $10 million a year in affordable housing.

“That is completely intentional to not have a document that is conflicting with or competing with the city’s affordable housing plan as approved,” Jacobs said. 

The partnership voted to move the plan on to the next step. Then they discussed their budget, which at the moment appears to be short for the next fiscal year. There’s enough money to begin, but they’ll need to find more money. Keith Smith of Fluvanna County is the chair. 

“Anybody wants to write a $75,000 check, we’ll be more than happy to take it,” Smith said. 

The partnership did not vote on a budget, but members agreed to return to their organizations and governments to discuss additional funding. Albemarle Supervisor Ned Gallaway is on the partnership’s executive committee and he said he understood the ask might be tricky. 

“I think everybody agrees though that the partnership is worth it and we want to see it continue, but it can’t be done without the resources,” Gallaway said. 

Before adjourning, members had the opportunity to let the others know what’s happening in their jurisdiction or at their non-profit. Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, said housing nonprofits are still trying to determine how much funding will come out of the American Recovery Plan. That information may not be fully known until later this year. 

“Everyone remains optimistic that we’re going to see a really powerful surge in funding which is hopefully going to catalyze significant impact, but it’s hard to plan that far out as well,” Mathon said. 

In a future newsletter we’ll have more from the Cville Plans Together initiative and feedback on the Future Land Use Map. City Councilor Michael Payne said the real work will come when the zoning ordinance is updated. 

“I think there’s a question of whether as a city government and as a community we’re actually going to put out money where our mouth is and actually make some of those zoning changes that haven’t happened for a while for a variety of reasons,” Payne said.

The last rezoning was in 2003, which saw the creation of several mixed-use zones throughout the city, as well as residential districts intended to increase the number of University of Virginia students who could live closer to Grounds. 

The Future Land Use Map has caused concern from many in Charlottesville, as reported by City Councilor Lloyd Snook. 

“We are finding that an awful lot of our very good liberal friends are a little bit horrified to learn that we may be proposing to build an apartment building in their back yards,” Snook said. “There are some interesting tensions that are manifesting themselves at the moment.”

Snook said the Planning Commission has only looked at a draft report and it has not been approved by either the Commission or the Council. 

“And there’s lot of arguments to be had so stay tuned,” Snook said. 

Brandon Collins, an organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents, acknowledged there is tension with some of the city’s neighborhoods. 

“Part of this is the leadership in the city hasn’t really gone to those communities and sold the idea of rolling back segregation and really presenting that as a positive to the community,” Collins said. “Honestly, myself and some other advocates aren’t necessarily the people to sell that to those neighborhoods. It needs to be other voices.”

Earlier this year, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority broke ground on the renovation of Crescent Halls, a nine-story building that recently suffered a watermain break on the 7th floor.  Brandon Collins is an organizer with the Public Housing Association of Residents.

“We’ve got renovation of Crescent Halls which challenge wise may wind up costing a whole lot more than anybody had even imagined even a few days ago and some of that is related to the supply issues,” Collins said. “Not just the costs but getting supplies in when you need them on your schedule.”

Collins also said there have been obstacles in dealing with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. 

“We are still having a challenged relationship with the planning department at the city and we’re trying to work on that but it remains a work in progress,” Collins said. 

Finally from this meeting, and for this installment of the show, Anthony Haro said several agencies have received emergency vouchers to help with homelessness, but many continue to struggle to find places for them to be used. But he did relate this news. 

“We have an all-time low number of homeless veterans or veterans experiencing homelessness in our area which is really exciting and we’re on the precipice of being able to declare a functional end of homelessness which I really struggling say because it’s a technical term about the number,” Haro said. “But it’s hovering at five to six veterans experiencing homelessness where previously we’ve always hovered around 15 to 20. So that is a pretty significant shift in our system of care.”

Haro said the goal is to bring that number to three or lower by September.