Mar 4 • 16M

March 4, 2022: Major development proposed near junction of U.S. 29 and I-64 in Albemarle; Several projects in mix to alter 5th Street corridor

Plus: Albemarle Supervisors to consider ending local COVID emergency on March 16

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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 name of today is also a command. March Forth! The world has changed a lot in the past several years, and it will change again as our future quickly becomes history. With so many potential choices and pathways, sometimes all you can do is march forth, and today is a good day to ponder what that all may mean. This is Charlottesville Community Engagement and I’m your host Sean Tubbs, fervently hoping that you will find your way. 

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On today’s program:
  • Area transportation planners are submitting three projects to VDOT to improve the Fifth Street Corridor in both Albemarle County and Charlottesville

  • Riverbend Development has filed plans for a mixed-use community near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64

  • Another update  on the waning of the omicron surge

  • Albemarle County may soon return to in-person meetings

Today’s first shout-out goes to Mulch Madness

In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out, are you ready for Mulch Madness? The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority has a free mulch giveaway beginning tomorrow through April 16. In between all the big games, the RSWA wants you to get your yard ready for spring. If you have a way to transport mulch, head on over to the Ivy Material Utilization Center between 7:30am and 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday, where you can pick up up to two tons free. Rivanna staff are available to help load, but ask that you bring a covering. Mulch is double ground and derived from vegetative materials brought to Ivy for disposal. That’s Mulch Madness at the Ivy Material Utilization Center. Visit rivanna.org to learn more.

Pandemic update: Omicron continues slow decline

The Omicron surge of COVID-19 that began in mid-December continues to slowly recede. Today the Virginia Department of Health reports a seven-day percent positivity of 7.2 and the seven-average of new cases is 1,326. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are 81 new cases reported today and the percent positivity is 7 percent. 

Dr. Costi Sifri is the director of hospital epidemiology at the University of Virginia Health System and he said he expects the numbers to remain on a steady decline, but people should remain vigilant. 

“I think we can anticipate that in the spring and hopefully the summer, COVID is going to be much less of an issue for us on a day-to-day basis,” Dr. Sifri said. “But we should anticipate that it could come back.”

Dr. Sifri said there are no new variants of concern on the horizon, but a substrain of omicron continues to spread. He said monitoring efforts must continue and also be strengthened. 

“The genome surveillance systems around the country and around the world have continued to improve,” Dr. Sifri said. “There needs to be continued investment in those to beef those up so that we can have better early warning signals for variants of concern.” 

This week a new law went into effect allowing parents and guardians let their children opt out of mask mandates in public schools. The Centers for Disease Control lists this region as having a high level of transmission. 

“It seems very prudent to me that students continue to mask indoors until those case counts come down to a low level,” Dr. Sifri said.

Tonight, the UVA Medical Center’s South Tower will be illuminated in blue and yellow to support members of the community who are affected by the Putin administration’s invasion of Ukraine. That will continue on Saturday and Sunday night. 

Dr. Sifri called the invasion a humanitarian catastrophe that could be compounded by COVID. 

“I do think about the intersection between the pandemic and what is occurring with displaced peoples,” Dr. Sifri said. “Ukraine has a populace that is I think only 40 percent vaccinated and they are having to flee their country and their cities and their homes on buses and trains and we can anticipate will be living in challenging situations with multifamily settings and the opportunities in that setting for infectious disease like COVID are tremendous.”

Dr. Sifri said the world’s response to COVID as well as other challenges speaks to the need to be prepared for crisis before it happens. 

Albemarle Supervisors briefed on eventual end of the local COVID emergency

Albemarle County and Charlottesville remain underneath a local state of emergency, which has meant virtual meetings for the past two years. On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors were briefed on the steps to move forward. 

“The local emergency has allowed the county a number of advantages in addressing timely issues related to mitigating the spread of the COVID virus during the emergency,” said Doug Walker, the deputy county executive. “We now believe that those advantages are no longer needed and we are in the progress of returning to a more normal operation.” 

The Board will be asked to vote on a resolution to end the emergency while also allowing the “continuity of government” ordinance to remain in place. That would allow for some meetings to remain virtual for a period of time. 

However, if they adopt the ordinance, the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and the School Board would begin holding hybrid meetings beginning with the first week of April. Other groups such as the Economic Development Authority would begin hybrid meetings in June, and others would have up to the end of March 2023 to meet virtually. 

Lane Auditorium would be reconfigured to allow distanced seating on the left hand side of the room and normal seating on the right hand side. Total visitor capacity would be capped at 200. The ventilation system has been upgraded to refresh the air in the auditorium ten times an hour. 

The resolution will be voted on at the March 16 meeting. 

A slide from the Reconstitution presentation given to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on March 2, 2022 (download the presentation)
Rezoning sought for land near Virginia Eagle distribution facility

The highway-like character of U.S. 29 in Albemarle County southwest of Charlottesville will further change in the near future now that a rezoning has been filed for around 63.5 acres around the Virginia Eagle distribution center. 

Riverbend Development is seeking a rezoning to the Neighborhood Model District to build several hundred apartment units. 

“This project will include a mix of residential and commercial units, as anticipated by the Comprehensive Plan for this location,” reads the narrative for the application. “Approximately 475 residential units are proposed, primarily multifamily.”

Also proposed are a hotel, a congregate care facility, office buildings and retail. The Board of Supervisors adjusted the county’s growth area boundaries in September 2015 to add 51 acres as part of an incentive package to attract a brewery to locate on the site. That was a lower amount than had been requested, and only extended to land that already within the jurisdictional area for public water and sewer. (read the minutes from the September 23, 2015 meeting)

“At 64.36 acres, the Sieg property is strategically positioned at the crossroads of Interstate 64 and Route 29 and within the growth area of Albemarle County,” the narrative continues. “This land is ideally situated for a new mixed-use community with a variety of housing options, office sites, aging in place and retail destinations.” 

The Comprehensive Plan designates the land as Regional Mixed-Use. Riverbend Development will pay to extend water and sewer to the properties. 

The location map for the Sieg properties under consideration for a new mixed-use development

U.S. 29 is considered by the Virginia Department of Transportation to be a Corridor of Statewide Significance.

A traffic light was installed in late 2020 on the southern side of the U.S. 29 and I-64 interchange as part of a Smart Scale funded effort to make the junction safer. That signal is about 1,400 feet away from Gold Eagle Drive, which would serve as one primary access point to the property with Shepards Hill Road serving as the second. The plans propose a “Green T” intersection which would halt southbound traffic on U.S. 29 at a second traffic light in the area. 

The initial plan contains proposals for a Green T intersection (download the plan)
Second shout-out goes to a Livable Cville event

In today’s second subscriber supported shout-out, Livable Cville wants you to know about an online presentation coming up on Wednesday, March 16. "Can Zoning Create a More Affordable Charlottesville?" That’s the question to be explored by Dr. Jenny Schuetz of the Brookings Institute. She’s the author of Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems. The event is free but you’ll have to register at EventBrite. 

Review process continues for next round of Smart Scale candidate projects 

Efforts are underway to secure funding to transform the character of Fifth Street and Fifth Street Extended between Ridge Street and Ambrose Commons. There are at least three projects being considered for the next round of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process. 

“Smart Scale is the process that the state uses to prioritize and fund transportation projects,” said Sandy Shackelford, the director of planning and transportation for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 

The deadline for the fifth round is approaching later this spring. Each locality can submit up to four projects, and regional planning bodies also get four. 

“Projects are evaluated and given a benefit score based on how well the project meets needs in areas like safety, congestion relief, and economic development,” Shackleford said.

Project pre-applications need to be submitted by March 31 with a final application is August 1. The results will be presented to the Commonwealth Transportation Board next January. Funding is limited. The TJPDC held a workshop on February 28 to present candidates to the public. (watch the workshop)

Charlottesville will only submit one application this year. That will be for safety improvements on Fifth Street Extended that could be coordinated with a previous Smart Scale project. (read that application)

“We do currently have a funded project at the intersection of Cherry [Avenue] and Elliott [Avenue] so we are looking to kind of connect to that already-funded project and continue south,” said Brennen Duncan, the city’s traffic engineer. 

How far south depends on how much funding would be available. Earlier this year, the City Council dropped the speed limit on 5th Street Extended to 40 miles per hour to try to slow down traffic after a series of fatalities in 2020. 

“We’re primarily focused on safety, congestion, pedestrian access, and bicycle access,” Duncan said. 

Duncan said public meetings will be held in April to shape this project and there is no current cost estimate. There are other previously awarded Smart Scale projects along the corridor. 

Further to the south, the Metropolitan Planning Organization will submit an application to make improvements for a four-tenths of a mile long stretch where Albemarle County is on one side of the road and Charlottesville is on the other. (read details)

“The Fifth Street improvements include adding a left turn lane south into Fifth Street Station Parkway, median adjustments into the Willoughby Shopping Center across from the Willoughby residential neighborhood, construction of a left-turn midblock into Willoughby Shopping Center, [and] traveling north, restricting south turn lane into the Willoughby Shopping Center,” said Ryan Mickles, a regional planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. 

A shared-use path is also suggested in this project as are other elements. There’s no cost estimate yet for this project. 

Another project would see bicycle and pedestrian improvements between Ambrose Commons to Stagecoach Road south of I-64. These would provide a way to get to Southwood on foot or bike while passing by the Albemarle Business Campus and Albemarle County’s southern office building. (read those details)

“We’re going to basically install a shared-use path on the west side of the road offset by a six foot buffer strip,” said Chuck Proctor, a transportation planner with VDOT. 

In the fourth Smart Scale round, Albemarle County won $5.263 million in funding for a roundabout at the intersection of Old Lynchburg Road and Fifth Street. The Board of Supervisors committed a $2 million match to the project to help improve its ranking under Smart Scale. 

I will have more from this workshop in future installments of Charlottesville Community Engagement. 

The scope of the Fifth Street Intersection Multi-Modal Improvements 

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