Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
March 23, 2021: Albemarle seeks tighter scope for Comprehensive Plan review; ARB reviews Ivy Road; Bennett in race for city School Board

March 23, 2021: Albemarle seeks tighter scope for Comprehensive Plan review; ARB reviews Ivy Road; Bennett in race for city School Board

In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out, supporter Lonnie Murray wants you to know about a series of seminars on spring and fall landscaping with native plants. Plant Virginia Natives has held two of these already, but the next one is coming up on March 23 with Trista Imrich, owner of Wild Works of Whimsy. This is a good place to start if you’d like to plant natives but don’t know where to begin! 

On today’s show:

  • A quick look at the pandemic metrics for today

  • The Albemarle Architectural Review Board reviews the Ivy Road corridor 

  • Albemarle Supervisors get an update on planning for the next Comprehensive Plan

  • Belmont Bridge safety initiatives return while we await information on construction bids

  • A new name for Albemarle’s charter school 

  • A newcomer enters race for Charlottesville School Board

The current seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Virginia is 1,442 as reported by the Department of Health, and the seven-day average for positive PCR tests is 5.6 today, up slightly from 5.4 on Sunday. As of today, 1.14 million Virginians are fully vaccinated. 

Demographic information for who has received a vaccine dose so far (Source: Virginia Department of Health)

On Friday, the UVA Health System offered another briefing on its pandemic responses. This time around, Dr. Taison Bell spoke about how the system is working with the Blue Ridge Health District to ensure vaccination distribution is being done in an equitable manner. 

“Equitable distribution has been an issue nationwide,” Dr. Bell said. “Every state that reports data on who has received a vaccination has reported a discrepancy. Those who have received the vaccine tend to be white Americans whereas underrepresented minorities who disproportionately over-represent cases and deaths have received disproportionately low access to vaccine.”

Dr. Bell said the district is taking a strategy involving communications to fill information gaps, targeted clinics for smaller communities, and making sure people who don’t have time to hunt for an appointment get one anyway.

“We want to make sure that we are removing geographic barriers and administrative barriers to make sure that we have easy access and actually make getting vaccinated a downhill process rather than an uphill process as it exists at the present,” Dr. Bell said. 

Dr. Bell said some remain skeptical about getting vaccinated and he does not like to use the term hesitancy and is there to listen. 

“People should have questions and concerns about something that they’re going to inject into their bodies and I think that the one thing to underscore is that our messaging and information around the COVID-19 vaccines just started once they were ready for approval or authorization and so there is a lost time for when we could have closed that information gap,” Dr. Bell said. 

An advisory group that’s been considering names for Albemarle County’s charter school is recommending the name Community Lab School. Murray High School and the Community Public Charter School have merged and needed a new name. The charter school’s head teacher also served as chair of the advisory committee. 

“We believe Community Lab School combines two of the most popular choices while celebrating a distinguishing strength of our school and helping to explain the purpose and mission of the learning experience we offer to students,” said Stephanie Passman. 

Albemarle Schools are also reviewing the name of Virginia L. Murray Elementary School. A survey concluded last Thursday and results should be announced soon. 

Three people have now declared their intention to run for three seats on the Charlottesville School Board. Parent Christa Bennett announced on Facebook last week.

“I want for our community to be a just one,” Bennett said. “This includes equity in education and for children to have access to what they need to grow strong and healthy, and prepared for bright futures.”   

Bennett has been working on a project to get a playground built at Walker Upper Elementary. Her website highlights efforts to persuade the school system to stop taking away recess time for punishment. 

There are currently three incumbents. One of them is Juandiego Wade and he’s running for City Council. Lisa Larson-Torres has indicated she will seek another term, but Leah Puryear has not yet made an announcement. Realtor and former teacher Emily Dooley has also announced her candidacy. For more on Bennett’s candidacy and the race, read an article by Katherine Knott in the Daily Progress

Christa Bennett is one of two challengers who have emerged so far for the Charlottesville School Board race (Source: Campaign website)

In the previous installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, we listened in on the Albemarle Architectural Review Board’s discussion of the Fontaine Avenue entrance corridor. The ARB also discussed another roadway that connects to the University of Virginia on roads that travel through both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.   

The ARB reviewed the urban portion of 250 West from I-64 to Old Ivy Road, and touched on the continuation of the roadway into Charlottesville. 

Currently under construction on Ivy Road is the 195,000 square foot UVA Musculoskeletal Hospital on the former ground of the now-demolished Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital.

The Musculoskeletal Center is expected to open in February of next year (Image: ZGF Architects)

Sentara Martha Jefferson is building a facility to the west of ViVace and WTJU. On the latter, ARB Member Frank Hancock noted its form is more urban that what is currently along the corridor. 

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see that redevelopment, that level of redevelopment, if other parcels adjacent to that,” Hancock said. “I know that’s taller and maybe a little bit closer to the corridor which I think is appropriate as we’re moving into the city and of more of the urban area.” 

The ARB’s newest member, Chris Henningsen, also said he was interested to see how the corridor is becoming more urban. 

“I’m interested to see how the Sentara building looks and gets landscape in its final form, as with the orthapedics center, too,” Henningsen said. 

The ARB reviewed the Sentara building but not the orthopedics center because UVA is exempt from formal review by the ARB. 

Many buildings have been constructed on Old Ivy Road across the railroad tracks, which serves as a barrier to pedestrian connectivity. ARB member Fred Missel is the director of design and development for the UVA Foundation, which has purchased and consolidated many properties further to the east in Charlottesville for the future Ivy-Emmet section of University Grounds where a new hotel and academic buildings are planned. Missel said the section of Ivy Road in Albemarle County has issues. 

“That railroad, and especially the utility lines along that side, it’s just not a great entrance corridor,” Missel said. “With the development of the hotel and conference center, the School of Data Science, and everything on that corner up to Arlingon, that whole area has about 14 acres of land and it’s got capacity for about three-quarters of a million square feet of development long-term.” 

Missel said that would mean a lot of vehicular traffic coming through the area, something that will need to be addressed. 

“It’s one of the two sort of front doors to the University which is why the Visitor’s Center is located there, unfortunately in the Police Station,” Missel said. “That’s looking to be relocated to the Hotel and Conference Center.” 

The city was awarded $12.1 million in funding for a Smart Scale project in the first round to improve the streetscape along Emmet Street. A VDOT dashboard indicates that project is behind schedule

Speaking of city transportation projects, Charlottesville will once again place traffic barrels on a southbound lane of the Belmont Bridge as part of its Safe Streets initiative. The idea is to give more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

“The safety measures will be in place until the Coronavirus state of emergency is lifted, or until the construction of the replacement bridge commences,” reads a press release. 

The city has been planning for the replacement of the Belmont Bridge for over ten years and the project was advertised for construction bids in January. The project has a $31.1 million cost estimate according to VDOT’s most recent Six-Year Improvement Program. Bids for the project closed last Tuesday but the city has not responded yet to a request for information about whether any of them came in under the cost estimate. The current fiscal year contains a $5 million capital payment for the project, and the proposed capital budget for FY22 includes another $2.5 million payment. 

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement. In this subscriber-supported public service announcement, the days of live music at clubs are in our future, but if you feel safe and want to check out people playing together in a safe environment, the Charlottesville Jazz Society has a running list of events coming up on their website. The Charlottesville Jazz Society is dedicated to the promotion, preservation and perpetuation of all jazz. Check them out in the link in the newsletter.  

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors said last week they want a faster review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and that three years will be too long. 

Supervisors last updated the plan six years ago and much has changed since then, according to Planning Manager Rachel Falkenstein. 

“Since the 2015 update, we have had significant work on: climate action planning; economic development; and equity, inclusion, and infrastructure investments and we want to better align the plan with those initiatives,” Falkenstein said.

Falkenstein said the Comprehensive Plan also needs to inform a rewrite of the rules of where development can go, and how. 

“We’ve identified the need for a zoning ordinance update and doing the comp plan update now to incorporate these initiatives will help set that stage,” Falkenstein said. 

In February, Supervisors had pushed back on the three year process staff recommended to update the Comprehensive Plan and asked for a more expedited review. However, Falkenstein said staff still believed in a 36-month process. 

“We feel that given the level of engagement and the breadth of topics that are covered in the comp plan, that three years is really a realistic timeline for this work,” Falkenstein said. 

A detailed community engagement plan will come back to the Board later this year. A project advisory group would be formed to oversee the process and members would be paid a stipend. Staff has now changed that to have the funding to used to “reduce barriers to participation.” These could include access to language as well as transportation. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said the existing plan is clear to read, and she did not want that to be lost as the current plan is amended.

“The benefit of our comp plan and I think why it won awards and is very well accepted is its readability and the fact that it is not just the last 12 months of something,” Mallek said. “It is a very long term history document about how we got here.” 

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she wanted the Planning Commission to weigh in about whether the plan needed to be rewritten, or just updated.

“I am concerned about this idea of a three-year plan being a complete rewrite of this Comprehensive Plan and that’s the part I’m really struggling with,” Palmer said. 

Palmer also wanted to know if the zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan could be updated at the same time given many conflicts. County Attorney Greg Kamptner said he would prefer to do the comp plan update first. 

“The ideal situation would be to have a comp plan and then immediately follow it with a comprehensive rewrite and updating of the zoning ordinance because it is 40 years old,” Kamptner said. 

Palmer asked if that would mean the zoning rewrite would not begin for three years. Planning Director Charles Rapp said supervisors will have the chance to weigh in with more direction as the work plan for the Community Development Department comes before them. He said work on the the zoning rewrite could at least begin before the comp plan is finished. 

“I think once we get to that framework for the comp plan so we know what it’s going to contain, then we can go ahead and start making progress on the zoning ordinance,” Rapp said. 

Charlottesville hired one consultant to produce an affordable housing plan, a Comprehensive Plan, and a new zoning ordinance. The Cville Plans Together initiative just completed the housing plan, which Council endorsed earlier this month. Albemarle Supervisors had a public hearing on their new housing plan last week, but sent it back to the Planning Commission for further work. I’ll have more on that in the next installment.  

As for the Albemarle Comprehensive Plan, Supervisor Diantha McKeel also thought three years was too long to wait, and that parts of the zoning needed to be changed sooner. 

“The zoning, the code, it is critical to getting it updated,” McKeel said. “To be honest with you it’s really my priority along with specific areas in the comp plan. Economic development. Climate action. I mean, I could go through and name maybe just a couple of others.” 

Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said he heard a disconnect between staff and the Board on this issue. He provided some clarifications.

“This is not intended to be a rewrite which was actually done the last time,” Walker said. “It is an update but I acknowledge that to some extent updating and rewriting may seem a lot the same if we’re not very careful about how we distinguish one from the other.” 

Falkenstein said staff will come back with a more detailed scope, but still maintained the process will be lengthy. County Executive Jeffrey Richardson agreed.

“The staff is trying to manage this and manage the Board’s expectations,” Richardson said. “Three years sounds like a long time but everywhere I have ever been, a Comprehensive Plan update takes quite some time because of the domino effect of touching all of the various aspects of the plan document.”  

Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
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.