If you are a fan of Fridays in March, rest assured that you will have one more opportunity in 2023. This is also the 83rd day of the year, so if you’re a fan of prime numbers, today’s a day to celebrate! You have one more of those in March and I’ll say which one at the very end of this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. For now, it’s on to the information.
On today’s program:
A second candidate has emerged in the race for Rivanna District Supervisor in Albemarle County
There are some more details in Charlottesville’s acquisition of CATEC
The Virginia Supreme Court has thrown out a zoning update in Fairfax County that was approved by Supervisors at an electronic meeting during the pandemic
Charlottesville is studying the feasibility of disconnecting its municipal natural gas utility
First shout-out: Rivanna Conservation Alliance photo contest
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance wants wildlife and nature photographers to enter their second annual photography contest! They want high-resolution photos related to the Rivanna watershed and the winning entries will be displayed at the 2023 Rivanna Riverfest on May 20. The two categories are 16 and under, and those over the age of 17. You can send in two entries, and the work may be used to supplement Rivanna Conservation Alliance publications. For more information, visit rivannariver.org.
New candidate has emerged for Rivanna Supervisor in Albemarle
A second independent has emerged in the race to represent the Rivanna District in the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. Thomas Fadeley has filed a statement of organization with the Virginia Department of Elections to run as an independent in the November election.
Fadeley joins fellow independent David Rhodes in the race to challenge incumbent Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley in the general election. LaPisto-Kirtley has also filed to run for a second time and so far has no challengers in the Democratic Primary.
So far in the Scottsville District race only Democrat Michael Pruitt has filed to run.
There are seven members of the Albemarle School Board unlike the six members of the Board of Supervisors There are two candidates in the race for the at-large School Board seat and they are Meg Bryce and Allison Spillman.
In the Rivanna District, Judy Le has filed for re-election to a second term. Le won in 2019 in a contested race with 59.8 percent of the 6,297 votes cast that year.
Ellen Osborne is seeking a second term representing the Scottsville District and so far has no challengers according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Joann McDermid has filed to run for the White Hall seat on the Albemarle School Board currently held by Rebecca Berlin. Berlin was appointed to the position last year to fill a vacancy left when David Oberg resigned.
A request for comment from Fadeley was not received at the time of this publication. If I get a response, it will be posted on the future Information Charlottesville article.
Details provided on city’s acquisition of CATEC
The word Albemarle will be dropped from the name of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center as of July 1, 2024. The future use of the word “area” is one of the many changes announced this morning by Charlottesville City Schools.
“Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools are proactively working together to ensure that the Charlottesville-Albemarle Career and Technical Education Center (CATEC) continues to thrive once it transitions to the sole ownership of the city school division in July 2024,” reads a press release sent out this morning.
Six working groups have been formed to review financial, human resources, programming, infrastructure, and technological tasks. City Council will get an update on April 17.
CATEC was formed as a partnership between the two school divisions in 1969 and according to the release, the dissolution dates back to December 2022 when Albemarle County Public Schools made an offer to purchase the city’s interest. In response, the Charlottesville School Board put in an offer of their own. They’ll pay $5.3 million, the price requested by Albemarle County.
Virginia Supreme Court rules Fairfax Supervisors erred in amending zoning code at electronic meeting
The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors did not have the ability to update their zoning code at an electronic meeting in March 2021. That was during a time when a state of emergency was in effect and many localities in Virginia had put “continuity of government” rules in place.
A group of landowners had sought an injunction to stop the Board from taking that action, but a circuit court judge did not grant one. Fairfax County began updating its zoning ordinance in 2016 and planned for a full replacement. According to the ruling, the public engagement effort lasted into late 2020.
Former Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in March 2020 and the General Assembly included rules in a budget bill about how local government bodies could meet during the emergency.
The Fairfax Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the new zoning on March 3, 2021. Six days later, an emergency Circuit Court hearing ruled Supervisors could take a vote electronically which they did on March 22. The legal battle continues with opponents contending the continuity of government statute only allowed necessary government actions and that a vote on the zoning ordinance could wait.
The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to take up the case of Berry v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County and have now ruled that the action was in violation.
“By failing to hold the meetings at which Z-Mod was considered and ultimately adopted in compliance with Virginia Freedom of Information Act open meeting requirements, the Board’s actions prevented the public from participating in the manner required by VFOIA, and thus, potentially limited public participation and input into the process,” reads the opinion by Justice Wesley G. Russell, Jr.
There was no dissenting opinion.
For more on the ruling, here are two articles:
What is necessary? The Virginia Supreme Court weighs in on pandemic-era electronic meetings, Megan Rhyne, Virginia Coalition for Open Government, March 23, 2023
Fairfax County zoning revamp thrown out by Virginia Supreme Court, citing virtual meeting, Bruce Potter, Inside NOVA, March 23, 2023
Sponsored message: Buy Local
Charlottesville Community Engagement’s continued existence means that many of you support local information. Want to support some local businesses as well? The Buy Local campaign is in full swing, and both the Albemarle and Charlottesville Offices of Economic Development want people to consider spending locally as they shop throughout the year.
The Buy Local campaign highlights small businesses within Charlottesville and Albemarle County through a multi-channel, multimedia promotional and educational campaign designed to reinforce how important supporting area small businesses is to the local economy.
Locally-owned, independent businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence in the City or County interested in being featured in the campaign should visit www.showlocallove.org or contact email@example.com.
Charlottesville studying whether to end provision of natural gas
Both the Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan and the Climate Action Plan set their sights on the future of one of the services provided by the municipal government.
“The City of Charlottesville owns and maintains a natural gas utility, fossil fuel utility, which we recognize,” said Lauren Hildebrand, the city’s utilities director. “We’ve been operating this utility for over 150 years.”
This service covers over 21,500 customers in both the city and Albemarle’s urban ring. Hildebrand said her department has efficiency programs and provides for carbon offsets, but a study is taking place for the long-term as the city seeks to be fossil-free by 2050.
“We want to make sure that we responsibly and accurately determine how the gas utility can be part of the solution in moving forward,” Hildebrand said. “We will ask the consultant to provide us information to look at things from a legal standpoint as well as an economic standpoint.”
Dr. Hua Feng with Black and Veatch got into the details of the plan for how the study will be conducted. She works for the global advisory division. (presentation)
“In the past few years, we have had a lot of requests supporting natural gas utilities like the city that have decarbonization goals while trying to balance the routine operation and reliable serving of customers with the objective of trying to decarbonize their service,” Dr. Feng said.
These include the Southern California Gas Company, Hawaii Gas, and Black Hills Energy. Black and Veatch is also involved with emerging alternatives such as the conversion of a coal-fired plant into a hydrogen-powered plant.
“We are also helping a couple of hydrogen developers trying to design and establish projects that use renewable energy to produce zero carbon hydrogen,” Dr. Feng said.
Electrification is another alternative that could help the city meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
“The objective is really trying to have a review of all possible solutions that the city can undertake in order to meet the carbon reduction objective and also estimate the potential cost and benefit for each of the solutions and highlight the potential impact on the city’s operation systems as well as the customers and its ratepayers,” Dr. Feng said.
The study is expected to take a year to complete. A separate law firm will issue a legal opinion on whether the city can stop offering new connections. Overall, the study will look at the financial impact of new solutions considering that rates will cover the cost service of new infrastructure that could be required.
“We’re going to put everything on the table and we will evaluate each of the solutions from the perspective of technical readiness, making sure it is technically feasible,” Dr. Feng said.
Councilor Michael Payne said he was concerned that the presentation had a high emphasis on hydrogen.
“From my understanding that blue hydrogen is not carbon neutral and hydrogen technology is pretty far away from being able to be able to be deployed, certainly in a way that’s carbon neutral on certainly the scale of a municipally owned utility,” Payne said.
Dr. Feng agreed with that assessment, but said nothing is off the table at this point as the city works toward a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. More on this topic as it develops.
Construction worker falls and dies on UVA project site, Garrett Whitton, CBS19 News, March 17, 2023
Albemarle County officials search for solutions to housing shortage, Alice Berry, Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 19, 2023
Corporate profit motive often clashes with local news needs, Bryan McKenzie, UVA Today, March 22, 2023
Notes to wrap up # 513:
To complete the opening section, March 30 is the 89th day of the year and the next prime number day. There is absolutely no significance to this unless trivia is treasure to you. Me? I find all of it interesting, and so this is the kind of work I do.
As you likely know, one in four readers and listeners pay something to keep this newsletter and podcast going. A podcast listener sent me $100 the other day, which I thought was great. I may start to use this section to thank you all, because I so want everyone who pays to get something.
I get something extra from Ting with every paid subscription through Substack. They will match your initial payment! That is not trivial at all nor is their high-speed internet.
If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:
A second month for free
A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall