Mar 31 • 17M

March 31, 2022: Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority briefed on capacity for northern Albemarle; CRHA hopeful for timely reopening of Crescent Halls

Plus: Charlottesville issues advisory for Pollocks Branch

 
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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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The final day of the month, and the final day of 2022’s first quarter. A lot has happened so far, and there’s still a lot more to go. Mathematically we are 24.66 percent of the way through the year, and for those who want to take the long view, we are 21.25 percent of the way through the 21st Century. It all adds up in this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement and I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

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On today’s program:

  • People are warned to not come into contact with water in an urban stream in Charlottesville due to high levels of E. coli bacteria

  • The director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is hopeful Crescent Halls can be reopened this year 

  • Charlottesville City Council will meet three days in a row beginning with tonight’s budget work session

  • The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority gets an update on capacity in Albemarle’s northern growth area

First Patreon-fueled shout-out goes to the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards

In today’s first Patreon-fueled Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards are preparing to hold their first in-person tree sale since 2019. On April 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards will open up their tree nursery at the Fontaine Research Park and will sell saplings of native trees, some of which are hard to find from commercial sources for between $5 and $15. There will be large trees from Birch to Sycamore, smaller trees from Blackgum to Witch Hazel, and shrubbery! Visit charlottesvilletreestewards.org to learn more!

High bacteria levels in urban stream

Charlottesville is warning the public to stay out of Pollocks Branch between Elliott Avenue and Rockland Avenue due to elevated levels of E. coli. Pollocks Branch is a waterway that travels south from downtown Charlottesville and is one of many locations monitored by the Rivanna Conservation Alliance.

“E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria and when it is found in water, it is a strong indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination which can cause disease or illness,” reads an announcement from the city

City officials are investigating the situation and advise that no one touches the water. 

Pollocks Branch runs underground from the Downtown Mall and underneath the Ix Art Park before daylighting at Elliott Avenue where it flows into Moores Creek. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality certifies the Rivanna Conservation Alliance’s monitoring efforts as a Level III which means the data can be used for official scientific purposes. The RCA has been monitoring bacteria since July 2012. 

Charlottesville City Council to hold retreat this weekend

The Charlottesville City Council will meet in-person for the first time in over two years tomorrow when they convene at CitySpace for a retreat. A limited amount of public spaces are available, but the event can be viewed via Zoom.

The two-day retreat will be facilitated by the Virginia Institute of Government, a branch of the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia. On the agenda is a facilitated discussion of City Council goals and strategies, as well as an item called “Identify and Build Consensus for Priorities and Actions Items.” 

The retreat begins tomorrow at 4 p.m. and on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Friday meeting info) (Saturday meeting info)

Tonight Council will meet at 6 p.m. for a budget work session. Read previous coverage courtesy of this Tweet thread. 

CHRA Director wants Crescent Halls reopened by August

On Monday, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Directors voted to approve a $12 million budget for the fiscal year that begins tomorrow. They also learned that at least one revenue source for the current fiscal year is coming in much lower than had been anticipated. The CRHA had expected there would be some residents at Crescent Halls while it was renovated, but a flood last summer changed the plan.

“There was some knowledge as to what was going to happen but obviously with the flood it created a different wrinkle and deficit,” said Mary Lou Hoffman, CRHA’s finance director. 

The CRHA had budgeted $291,049 in yearly rent from Crescent Halls but only received $122,745. The building is currently unoccupied as crews work to renovate all apartments. 

CRHA Executive Director John Sales said the original plan had been to do to the renovation in stages and the budget had expected 70 units would be occupied at all times. 

“After that we emptied half the building and put them in hotels,” Sales said. 

However, Sales said insurance would not cover that expense long-term because the units that had been damaged were going to be renovated anyway. 

“Then we started having the conversation with the residents that were living in the building about the conditions of the building with half of the building being empty, the work that was going on on the other side with the walls being town down, applianced ripped out, and just the morale and how depressing it was living in a building with only four floors occupied and only half of those units occupied,” Sales said. 

Sales said some residents were moved to other public housing sites and others were given housing vouchers. The CRHA lost revenue not only from rent but from subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sales said the project needs to be completed on time. 

“So I’ve been pushing the contractor that we’re not changing that August date,” Sales said. “We have to make that date work.”

Sales said the first phase of South Street also needs to come online on time in order to meet the revenues that HUD officials are expecting. The federal agency considers CRHA to be a troubled agency. 

When Crescent Halls does come back online, not all of the units will be considered public housing units by HUD. Sales said the units will remain affordable. 

“At Crescent Halls you’re going to have your traditional public housing units, but then you’re also going to have the project-based voucher units where they will be higher rents but they’ll be subsidized with the voucher,” Sales said.

Sales said under the vouchers, tenants would only have to pay thirty percent of their income toward rent.

“So we can charge $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit while not impacting what the resident that is living in that unit can actually afford because the voucher is going to subsidize their rent above their 30 percent,” Sales said. “So if they make $1,000, their rent is going to be $300. The voucher would cover the $700.”

For the public housing units, the CRHA can only charge what the tenant is able to pay. 

CRHA Board members also asked City Councilor Michael Payne to ask Council to waive the payment in lieu of tax that CRHA pays to the city each year. Payne said he would bring up the matter at tonight’s budget work session. 

See also: 

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority turns 50 this June

The government entity responsible for providing drinking water and collecting and treating sewage will officially have to ask the state of Virginia for permission to continue existing.

“Authorities are authorized for 50 years and then they have to be reauthorized,” said Bill Mawyer, the executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority received its original authorization in June 1972, marking the 50th anniversary of the decision to create an authority to provide basic essentials for a growing urban community. 

“So a part of our celebration will be submitting resolutions to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and City Council to reauthorize the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority,” Mawyer said.

The RWSA owns and operates facilities that serve the urban ring around Charlottesville as well as Scottsville and Crozet. Mawyer said the Beaver Creek Reservoir has recently been treated to bring down levels of algae. 

“It is the earliest we’ve seen that we’ve had an algae bloom at any of our reservoirs since our current staff have been around,” Mawyer said. “In the long term, we plan to have a hypolimnetic oxygenation system which is a pipe that goes along the bottom of the reservoir that bubbles air into the water and helps to oxygenate it to minimize the conditions that are conducive to algae blooms.”

That pipe will be installed as part of the upgrade of the Beaver Creek Dam scheduled to take place next year. 

Another major capital project is a proposed waterline to connect drinking water from the Observatory Water Treatment Plant to other portions of the urban water system in Albemarle’s growth areas.

Some have expressed concern about the route preferred by staff. RWSA officials have been meeting with neighborhood groups to explain its purpose and to discuss its path through the Fry’s Spring neighborhood along Cherry Avenue, 6th Street NE, and East High Street before connecting to a waterline that serves Pantops. 

“So the plan is that we’re going to collect all the information and feedback from the neighborhoods, assess it, get any feedback that Council may provide us or the Board of Supervisors and assimilate all that data and come back to the RWSA Board at the June meeting for the final location of the waterline,” Mawyer said. 

The project has an estimated cost of $31 million and may be further informed by the completion of a master plan for water infrastructure. 

The proposed Central Water Line. For more on the project, take a look at the project website.


Second shout-out goes to the JMRL Friends of the Library 

In today's second Patreon-fueled shout-out! Lovers of used books rejoice! The Friends of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library is back again with their annual Spring Book Sale opening this Saturday through Sunday, April 10! The Friends of the Library sale will once again take place at Albemarle Square Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. There’s a special preview for members tomorrow from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and there’s still time to volunteer! 

Visit jmrlfriends.org to learn more! See you there! 

Planning for additional homes and businesses in northern Albemarle 

The RWSA Board of Directors were also briefed on whether there is enough capacity in Albemarle’s northern growth area to support additional homes such as at the University of Virginia’s North Fork Discovery park. There are also hundreds of homes coming online at Brookhill, RST Residences, North Fork, and other developments under construction. 

“What we’re looking at now is that these significant utility demands that are being proposed may force one of two options,” said Jennifer Whitaker, the RWSA’s chief engineer. “One is to accelerate the utility plan or require some phasing so that we don’t have an unmet need in the future.” 

According to a demand study from July 2020, current demand for the whole system is at 10.4 million gallons a day (MGD) and capacity can provide a safe yield of 12.8 MGD. 

“Every ten years we try to take a very strong look at what we know as a community about growth and development and use within our community and then we also take a look at what’s going on in our reservoirs,” Whitaker said. “We try to look at how the raw water supply and the finished supply match up.”

Whitaker said there is enough water through 2060 as long as several parts of the Community Water Supply Plan are built by 2035. They are construction of a pipeline to connect the South Fork Rivanna and Ragged Mountain Reservoir and the raising of the pool at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. 

Northern Albemarle is served by the North Fork Rivanna Water Treatment Plant which Whitaker said can effectively treat one million gallons a day. There’s a demand of about a half million gallons a day. The RWSA is planning to decommission the plant but has to first connect that area to water from the South Fork Rivanna Water Treatment Plant.  

“Some of the growth demand at the North Fork Research Park and another northern Albemarle areas, the need has picked up and we’re now looking at that plan and trying to figure out how to sequence it to meet that need,” Whitaker said. 

Wastewater flows via gravity to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and Whitaker said improvements to what’s known as the Powell Creek Interceptor are currently slated for some time between 2045 and 2065. 

“As we evaluate future growth in this area we’re looking at potentially having to accelerate that as well,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker said the RWSA is working with the University of Virginia Foundation and the county as a rezoning for the North Fork park makes its way through the approvals process. They’ve asked for a maximum potential of 1,400 homes there. UVA has announced that some of these units will count toward UVA President Jim Ryan’s goal to build up to 1,500 affordable housing units. 

“Ultimately we will be able to serve all of it but the question is how quickly will we allow them to bring that online,” Whitaker said. 

The other two locations for affordable housing are on Fontaine Avenue at the Piedmont housing site as well as Wertland Street. 

There was no action at the meeting, but certainly a lot to pay attention to into the future.

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