Jun 30, 2022 • 19M

June 30, 2022: City Council briefed on property owned by Charlottesville government, deny request to convey sliver of land in North Downtown

Plus: Albemarle hires a former Staunton City Manager as its new county attorney

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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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Halfway through the year? Today’s the 181st out of a scheduled 365, so we’re technically 49.5 percent of the way through 2022 though the fiscal calendar resets at the clock strikes midnight! This is Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that has sought to keep track of these things for nearly two years. Thanks to readers and listeners for helping keep the beads of the abacus in motion. 

This work is free, but it does cost me to put the time in. Sign up for a paid subscription, and Ting will match your initial payment!

On today’s program:

  • Albemarle Supervisors hire Staunton’s former city manager as the new county attorney

  • An update on a federal lawsuit to force a House of Delegates race this fall 

  • Charlottesville City Council is briefed on the properties it owns inside and outside city limits and learns there has not been one central location

  • Council ponders giving up a “paper street” and denies a request to give up a small sliver of land in North Downtown 

First shout–out: JMRL to kick off the Summer Reading Challenge

In today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement, the Summer Reading Challenge put forth by Jefferson Madison Regional Library continues! You and members of your family can earn points for prizes in a variety of ways, such as reading for 30 minutes a day, reading with a friend, creating something yourself, or visiting the library! You can also get two points just by telling someone about the Summer Reading Challenge, so I guess I just added two more! Visit JMRL.org to learn more about this all ages opportunity to dive into oceans of possibilities! 

Legal drama continues in second suit to force 2022 House of Delegates election 

There are 131 days until the general election and a new lawsuit to force a Virginia House of Delegates race is still alive. Richmond resident Jeffrey Thomas Jr. filed a suit against the Board of Elections in the Eastern District of Virginia earlier this month that picked up a dismissed complaint that the legislative boundaries in place for the 2021 race were unconstitutional. 

As I reported earlier this month, Judge David Novak had set up a schedule for how information related to the case was to be filed. That schedule has not been followed.

Thomas filed an amended complaint on June 16 that added two additional plaintiffs from two other legislative districts, one of whom is the former president of the Loudoun County NAACP.  Both are appearing pro se, or without a lawyer. The motion also added the Department of Elections as a defendant. 

“Plaintiffs and all other voters and residents in [House District 71], [House District 32], and [House District 10] have had their voting strength and political representation unconstitutionally diluted or weakened by the failure of Defendants to conduct, enact, or oversee decennial constitutional reapportionment, redistricting, or elections,” reads paragraph 54 of the amended complaint. 

Some of the material in the amended complaint (read the document)

The state responded in a motion objecting to the addition of the new plaintiffs and sought a new schedule. Judge Novak responded by granting an extension to July 1 for the defendants to file a motion to dismiss the case. 

A joint stipulation of facts was filed on June 24, but the next day, Thomas filed a motion requesting sanctions against the state for not agreeing to 47 facts that were in previous stipulations. Many of these relate to the population imbalances across the old districts with the most populated being at 130,192 residents and the least having 67,404 people. The plaintiffs allege this is a violation of the Equal Prot

Novak denied this motion on Tuesday, and we wait to see if a motion to dismiss is filed by Friday. 

Former Staunton City Manager to serve as Albemarle County Attorney

After a months-long search, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has hired the former City Manager of Staunton as its next county attorney. Steven Rosenberg will start work on July 27. 

“The Board has taken a lot of time to find somebody that not only possesses the skills and the abilities that we seek in a county attorney but also is the person that joins our organization at the right point in the progression that we are attempting to achieve as an organization,” said Supervisor Ned Gallaway who headed up the search. 

Rosenberg became Staunton’s Deputy City Manager in May 2013 and was promoted to the top job in July 2019. He left the position in January 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, he was associate general counsel of the University of Virginia for five and a half years. He was also Augusta County attorney from May 2003 to December 2007. 

Rosenberg did not make comments at the end of a closed meeting yesterday but is quoted in a press release. 

"During my nearly two decades as a neighbor of Albemarle County, I’ve become familiar with the county, most notably its quality of life and the strength of its organization—one committed to excellence and a culture of service. I am excited to join the Board and staff in such a positive environment and to work with them to serve the Albemarle County community,” shared Rosenberg.

Steven Rosenberg (Credit: Albemarle County) 

Albemarle closing Mint Springs beach until further ntice

Today could be the last day to swim at Mint Springs near Crozet this summer. Albemarle County has announced the outdoor swimming area will be closed until further notice, but the beaches at Chris Greene Lake and Walnut Creek will remain open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Those two places will also be open on July 4. The reason is a lack of staff, according to an Albemarle County’s director of communications and public engagement. 

Charlottesville continues to operate only one outdoor pool a day to combat their shortage of lifeguards. Washington Park is open Sunday through Wednesday with Onesty Pool only open on Sundays. 

Second shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle

Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”

Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate

Charlottesville Council briefed on city-owned property

The city of Charlottesville owns 170 pieces of property and another 18 in conjunction with Albemarle County. Does it need all that land and space? That was one of the undercurrents of a discussion and briefing Council had at a work session on June 21. 

“The approximate acreage of city-owned properties within the city is 798 acres and over 2,800 acres of city-owned properties located within [Albemarle] County,” said Brenda Kelley, the city’s redevelopment manager based in the Office of Community Solutions. 

Kelly said at the outset what would not be in her presentation. (view the presentation)

“This discussion will not include a discussion on streets, alleys, paper streets and paper alleys which are basically unimproved streets and alleys,” Kelly said. 

More on one of those later in this installment. City-owned properties include the fire stations, City Hall, the schools, parks, and other properties. Lesser known properties include an L-shaped half-acre parking lot on West Main Street that leads to the half-acre Starr Hill Park and a quarter-acre parking lot on Estes Street in the Fifeville neighborhood. In 2019, the city purchased just over an acre of land adjacent to Jordan Park for $270,000. 

“And the previous property owners had already platted these six lots so this is another city-owned property that at some point we probably need to look at the possible development of affordable housing,” Kelly said. “That’s one of the discussions we had early on when the city first approved the approval of the purchase of this property.” 

What should the city do with the property it owns near Jordan Park?

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In the county, the city of Charlottesville owns 67.56 acres on Avon Street Extended with some of that property being used by Charlottesville Area Transit. The city also owns 1,023 acres at the Sugar Hollow Reservoir and ten acres at the Albemarle Lake subdivision, both purchased originally for water supply. All of this land takes management.

“We do have some challenges when we talk about city-owned properties,” Kelly said. “We need to develop a better consistent process when we have requests to dispose of the properties or acquire the properties. Maintaining these properties. Are there departments currently maintaining these properties? We think a lot of them are being maintained. And are any of these properties developable?” 

As with city leases, no one has been coordinating all of the information over the years. Now Council has a chance to act on policies for what to do next. 

“And there [are] a lot of properties that are adjacent to right of ways and is that something the City Council wants to look at,” Kelly said. “Do we want to approach adjacent property owners and see if there is an interest in putting those on the tax rolls.” 

Kelly said staff will come back to Council with another summary of city agreements not tied with leases that may not be coordinated in one central office. 

“We have now the information we need to start addressing the concept even of consistent policies and a consistent point person to work all of this out so we will be coming back to you,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers.

Rogers said there is an opportunity for Council to determine what it would like to do going forward. 

City Councilor Michael Payne said he wanted to know if this might help resume discussions of creating a city-owned land bank to acquire property for public purposes. 

“We’re land-locked, ten and a half square miles,” Payne said. “Our single most valuable asset is the land we own and I think land acquisition in particular is the single most important action we can take, both for economic development and affordable housing.” 

Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders said there could be a future conversation about a land bank ordinance, but the research is meant to get Council to a point where they would have enough useful information. 

“This all is a centralizing effort at this time so we can get our arms around what we have but really it is this conversation that is going to feed us on what next steps we want to take,” Sanders said. 

Councilor Magill seeks policy on conveying of “paper” streets to landowners

Later on in the meeting, Council had several items related to land use. One of them was a request from the owners of a lot on 6th Street SW in Fifeville for the city to convey to them a strip of property. (staff report)

“And this property is a platted 20 foot right of way that is labeled Oak Street,” said Lisa Robertson, the city attorney.

That section of Oak Street has never been built and it what’s known as a “paper” street. Council closed a 77-foot section of that same paper street in 2010 between 6 and 6 ½ Streets. In that case, one half of that former city property went to straddling property owners. 

Location of the paper street in question

No one initially spoke at the public hearing, but City Councilor thought she and her colleagues should put a pause on the conveyance. 

“Until we figure out holistically what we’re going to do with the paper streets, the piecemealing of people who know to be able to come to City Council or to come to get the street closed, I don’t feel it’s a fair overall process,” Magill said. 

Magill said until the process is more clear, she would like Council to stop granting them until the policy is more clear. 

Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade said he’s handled many paper streets when he was a planner. He said he was okay with deciding them on a case by case basis because every property may have unique conditions. 

“I think it would maybe be hard to come up with an overall city policy because each one might be different,” Wade said. 

The two property owners did want to speak at the public hearing, but had not been recognized but later did have the chance to have their say. 

“Currently the actual alley isn’t in great condition,” said Vignesh Kuppusamy. “There’s a tree that fell over in a recent storm that’s dead and kind of rotting there so we were also thinking that if we were to do this and be granted the land together with the owners of 313 we could clean the area up and make it look nicer.” 

Wade supported the idea of developing a policy, but said he would feel comfortable granting this conveyance. So did Councilors Brian Pinkston and Michael Payne.

“To be honest I haven’t thought about it too much but my initial reaction is that shouldn’t hold us up on doing some on a case by case basis,”  Payne said. 

The matter will come back up for a second reading at Council’s next meeting on July 18. 

Council denies request to give up 0.02 acres of land on 9th Street NE

In a similar matter, Council denied a request from a landowner to be given a 0.02 acre vacant lot at the corner of East Jefferson Street and 9th Street for free. Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said there are two chestnut trees on the property. (staff report)

“The trees are huge and they’re beautiful and they’re worth more to the city I suspect then they would be to the neighbor,” Snook said. “My own feeling about is that we should not be in the habit of giving away real estate especially if it’s on a road where we may decide we want to have a bike lane or a wider sidewalk.”

The property is within the jurisdiction of the East High Streetscape project.

The property

The owner of the adjacent property, Thomas Gierin, said those trees are infested with ivy and he said the city is not equipped to take care of the maintenance. He said he could take better care of the property. 

“I have worked with the city arborist office to have them come out and perform maintenance,” Giren said. “They did come in I believe in February to do some maintenance and I spoke with them about doing the things it would to make those trees healthy and thriving and they said ‘we’re just here to keep the branches away from the street.”

Gieren said he would be paying property taxes if he owned the land, and that he would grant an easement for any future transportation project. 

Councilor Magill said she would prefer the city to retain ownership.

“One of the most expensive things about doing sidewalks and doing everything else is the getting the right of way and by giving up land that we have the right of way to, we limit ourselves and potentially cost us significantly more in the future.” 

Snook said he felt there could be a negotiation with Gierin to work out a deal.

“I’m certainly not prepared to say yes but I’m also not prepared to say, no, never,” Snook said. 

Council voted 4-1 on a motion to deny the request with Wade dissenting. 

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