March 1, 2021: Louisa County announces $15 million investment in broadband partnership; Cherry Avenue plan before Charlottesville City Council tonight
Two months down, ten more to go. The days are getting longer and soon we’ll pass through the Ides of March and then the equinox on our way to a complete year. The calendar reads March 1, 2021, and this is the first installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement of this 31-day period.
This first installment of the month is supported by the two hundred people who have now made a financial contribution to allow me to keep doing this work each and every day. I’m almost a year into this experiment in independent journalism, and I’m grateful. If you’re interested in helping me make this endeavor sustainable, contact me and I can suggest some options.
On today’s show:
Louisa County announces $15 million investment to bring about universal broadband (watch the announcement)
Charlottesville City Council will be asked to endorse Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan, six week after the Planning Commission took a look
The city’s proposed capital budget allocates a smaller amount for proposed 7th Street Parking Garage
Tonight, Charlottesville City Council will take action on whether to add the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Council’s public hearing was held on January 12, 2021 during the Planning Commission and they wanted some revisions. City planner Matt Alfele said at that meeting that this plan has been a long time in the making. (read the draft plan)
“I know one of the driving principles of our community is engagement and letting the neighborhood drive the planning process,” Alfele said. “This is very true with the plan in front of you tonight.”
In 2015, the Fifeville Neighborhood Association created a visioning document to position their location to be the next area chosen to receive the master planning treatment. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District was hired to develop the plan, which Alfele said will fit into the overall city planning process in Charlottesville including the Comprehensive Plan.
“The Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan if adopted is a high-level policy document that will help with the completion of these other documents, most notable the zoning rewrite,” Alfele said.
TJPDC planner Nick Morrison explained why Fifeville residents wanted this plan.
“Residents of Fifeville had noted the specter of displacement specifically of long-time residents and the need for additional affordable housing,” Morrison said. “Stresses on the neighborhood from traffic, particularly along the commercial corridor of Cherry Avenue.”
The neighborhood came up with a series of goals they wanted from the plan. Morrison stated one of them.
“To lift up and preserve Fifeville’s legacy of African-American leadership and highlight its unique sense of place as a culturally diverse neighborhood,” Morrison said.
A chart in the plan states that residents do not want to see large apartment buildings such as the ones on West Main Street, but do want to see preservation of existing housing and creation of new subsidized housing.
There are several undeveloped parcels on Cherry Avenue and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard within a mixed-use district. A medium-density residential district runs along 5th Street Extended which would allow some multifamily apartment buildings by-right. A special use permit would be needed for projects between 22 and 43 dwelling units per acre.
Councilor Lloyd Snook noted a tension between the desire of the neighborhood to remain at a low residential density on the one hand, and a push for the city to build more units to increase supply on the other.
“I’m just conscious of the fact that in the next year when we’re going to be having an affordable housing plan, a Comprehensive Plan, and a zoning code, we’re going to have to confront sort of the second order issue here and focusing only on information and opinion on only the first order issue may not help us in the long run in our analysis,” Snook said.
Before recommending approval, commissioners asked for more information on renovations and teardowns that have taken place between 2010 and 2020.
One of the transportation recommendations is already funded. T-3 calls for the widening of a turn lane from Cherry Avenue onto Ridge Street. Charlottesville was awarded a $6.1 million Smart Scale grant for a project called 5th Street SW Corridor Improvements.
Council will also be presented with a $190.7 million operating and capital budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. During a press briefing today, City Manager Chip Boyles said preparing a budget during a time of economic uncertainty has been a challenge for staff.
“Known decreased revenues in the current year and unknown revenue and expense projections for fiscal year 2022 make this a difficult task at best,” Boyles said. “Staff has taken a very conservative approach to go into FY22 and is hoping for the best.”
Meals tax and lodging tax revenues have been down sharply since the pandemic with restrictions in place on gathering spaces. Staff expect the trend to continue into the fiscal year. Ryan Davidson is a senior budget management analyst with Charlottesville.
“For lodging and meals, neither of those do we see getting back to 100 percent of pre-COVID collection rates before the end of the next fiscal year,” Davidson said. “Hopefully we’ll be wrong and things will rebound.”
One change made during the development of the capital budget is that there is only one million in funding in the next fiscal year for the proposed 7th Street Parking garage, with $7 million expected to be spent in fiscal year 23.
Krissy Hammill is the other senior budget management analyst. She said the city can still meet its obligations to provide parking for Albemarle County per a 2018 agreement to build a joint General District Court downtown.
“The dollar amount that’s put in here now gives us enough time and gives staff the flexibility to continue doing that research with some funding available,” Hammill said.
The recommended budget also includes no additional city taxpayer funds for the West Main Streetscape and Council is expected to further discuss its future in the coming budget work sessions.
“As part of the staff recommendation, just from an affordability standpoint, we’ve taken out any additional funding for West Main and added the [$50 million] school reconfiguration project,” Hammill said. “Absent some real solid direction from Council, we have not made any changes in the CIP and have not changed our position there in the hope that once we get to these work sessions as part of the budget there will be some decisions made.”
The first budget work session is Thursday at 4 p.m. (meeting info)
This afternoon, Louisa officials pledged to make broadband Internet available to every home and business in the county within the next four years. Christian Goodwin is the county administrator who spoke on a live YouTube feed that he acknowledged could not currently be accessed by all who live in Louisa.
“Today I am pleased to announce that we are unveiling plans to change that here in Louisa County and that we are developing a blueprint that other localities and providers can follow,” Goodwin said.
Louisa will invest $15 million in a partnership with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Firefly Fiber Broadband, and Dominion Energy Virginia. Firefly is a subsidiary of the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. The funding will help cover constructions costs, and end consumers would pay between $50 and $80 a month for service depending on speed.
The first step in the partnership will be an engineering study that will result in a request to the State Corporation Commission for regulatory approval for the service. The goal is to connect half the county by 2023 and full coverage by 2025.
Duane Adams is the vice chair of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
“Today more than ever the digital divide between rural and suburban America has been brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Adams said. “The inability to access reliable high-speed Internet has impacted our citizens in nearly every area of their life, from education to tele-medicine to the ability to conduct business affairs in a secure environment.”
Adams said this would bring about a “generational change” for the county and will also be an economic development tool. Read more in the press release.
Finally today, this week Virginia is set to receive 69,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for COVID. According to a release sent out Saturday night, the Virginia Department of Health will prioritize this third vaccine to mass vaccination clinics across the Commonwealth. Only one dose is required for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Today the VDH reports another 1,124 new cases based on abou 13,000 tests processed.