Mar 7 • 15M

March 7, 2022: An update on construction projects at the University of Virginia, including a $350M Institute for Biotechnology; Recommended city budget does not raise real estate tax rate

Plus: Another round-up of legislation that did not make it out of a divided General Assembly

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Sean Tubbs
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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Seven days into March and we finally encounter a Monday. Will this day be any different from the six that have come before it? Certainly there is more light and green shoots from yesterday are a little bit longer. There are more bird songs in the air than this time last month. The perfect soundtrack for to begin another week of Charlottesville Community Engagement! I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.

 On today’s show: 
  • The University of Virginia’s Buildings and Grounds Committee gets an update on the next round of construction projects

  • UVa students vote to change the one punishment for an honor code violation

  • More examples of divided government as the Virginia General Assembly meets in its final regularly-scheduled week. 

Today’s first shout-out goes to LEAP

You don’t need the “luck of the Irish” to be safe and comfortable in your own home. To see what you can do to get the most out of your home, contact LEAP, your local energy nonprofit, to schedule a home energy assessment this month - just $45 for City and County residents. LEAP also offers FREE home weatherization to income- and age-qualifying residents. If someone in your household is age 60 or older, or you have an annual household income of less than $74,950, you may qualify for a free energy assessment and home energy improvements such as insulation and air sealing. Sign up today to lower your energy bills, increase comfort, and reduce energy waste at home!

Charlottesville’s FY23 Budget posted - Rogers does not recommend a property tax rate increase

Just as I was about to hit send today, interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers’s $216.17 million budget was posted on the city’s website. Rogers does not recommend an increase in the real estate tax rate at this time. However, Council can still decide to move forward with a ten cent tax increase, which would generate $9.2 million.

“While the funding from that additional 10-cents assessment is in the presented budget for City Council to consider, the City Manager’s budget does not utilize those
funds as part of the presented balanced budget,” reads Rogers’s letter to the Council.

This budget is presented almost two years after the pandemic altered the economic situation. Rogers said there has been a rebound.

“Sales tax is up 8.33 percent, meals and lodging tax are up 19.3 percent and 30 percent respectively,” Rogers said. “While the City’s unemployment rate was at a
calendar year high in June 2021 at 4.1 percent, by year end it had plummeted to 2.35 percent.”

The Commissioner of Revenue is recommending a decrease in the personal property tax rate due to the increased valuation, but the budget currently recommends that being kept at $4.20 for now. Senior Budget Analyst Krisy Hammill said the recommended rate would be unveiled during the budget process.

Bond proceeds to cover the cost of the $75 million reconfiguration would not be authorized until FY24.

The budget will be presented to the City Council tonight and the first work session will be held virtually Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. More details in a future installment of the newsletter.

UVA students vote to end expulsion for honor violations

Students at the University of Virginia have voted to end a long-standing tradition where people can be kicked out permanently for violating the honor code. Instead, the new single-sanction punishment will be a year’s suspension rather than the traditional expulsion.

According to UVA Today, over 6,000 students voted on the proposal with around 80 percent in favor of the change. 

The referendum was one of several items on the ballot in University-wide voting (results)

The University Board of Visitors met last week and President Jim Ryan told the group that he would not have voted to make the change. He also spoke of the enhanced community involvement UVA has made during his tenure. Ryan established the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnership and a report was completed in February 2019. (read the report)

“It has been in the spirit of what we can do together and the approach on affordable housing is a great example of that,” Ryan said. 

UVA has pledged to work with a private developer to build up to 1,500 below-market units and has selected three sites on land owned by the UVA or its real estate foundation. One of them is at the North Fork Discovery Park, and a rezoning for that project is making its way through Albemale County’s land use application process. 

“All of it going a long way to changing the narrative about UVA and about UVA’s relationship to Charlottesville and Albemarle County and I think that that’s a very good thing for the University,” Ryan said. “There’s still plenty of work to do but the conversation is different than it was four years ago.” 

Ryan also sought feedback on the University’s strategic plan and some of the initiatives within. One of them is to “Be a strong partner and good neighbor to the Charlottesville region.” 

(See all of the articles tagged Land Use - University of Virginia on Information Charlottesville)

There is a dashboard for the UVA Strategic Plan intended to provide status updates. E stands for Explore, I stands for Implement, and C stands for Complete. Cont. is short for Continuous. (access the dashboard)
UVA committee gets update on construction 

On Thursday, the BOV’s Buildings and Grounds Committee met and discussed several matters of interest. There are several major construction projects underway with the most impact likely coming from the Emmet - Ivy Corridor where the School of Data Science is well underway heading toward a December 2023 completion date. 

The committee was briefed on some changes coming to UVA’s Capital Plan which has a budget of just over $3 billion, according to Colette Sheehy, Senior Vice President for Operations and State Government Relations. 

“We’ve actually completed quite a bit of work in the last year, $700 million worth of projects,” Sheehy said. “Some of the more notable ones include the University of Hospital expansion, the orthopedic center, and the Student Health and Wellness Center.”

Sheehy said staff are proposing adding $411 million in new project, with $20 million of that just to plan projects. The proposed 2022 Capital Plan would be $2.67 billion. 

They’re also proposing removing a standalone project to construct a $60 million new building for the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. 

“We now are pursuing a partnership between the Karsh Institute for Democracy and the Batten School to provide some space for Batten within the Karsh Institute,” Sheehy said. 

That building will also be within the Emmet - Ivy precinct along with a new hotel and convention center. Construction of that building is expected to begin in late spring or early summer. 

Projects under construction are the renovations of Alderman Library, a new residence hall on Brandon Avenue, and the Contemplative Commons near the Dell stormwater pond. 

Projects in the planning stages include a football operations building, an Olympic sports complex, the Karsh Institute, and a new building for the McIntire School of Commerce. 

Some of the projects in the proposed UVA 2022 Capital Plan 

There are three new projects that will be added to the planning pool. 

“One is the Center for the Arts,” Sheehy said. “The planning authorization was included in Governor Northam’s introduced budget allowing us to actually use our money to do the planning. But that is a good signal the state is interested in funding that project in the future.”

This authorization remains within the budget bill currently being negotiated in the General Assembly. UVA has an $11 million gift to cover the cost of the design work. 

There’s also a $4 million gift to begin planning work for a Center for Design for the School of Architecture and a $5 million gift for an academic building for the Engineering School.

“We’ve done some planning already for both of those schools and there is a need for additional space,” Sheehy said. 

Four projects would be added for construction, with one of them being a $350 million Institute for Biotechnology. 

“It is a research facility with a manufacturing facility included in it that would allow us to produce research through to clinical trials for new drug therapies,” Sheehy said. “The intention is that it would attract many biotechnology companies that would want to work with our faculty and to locate in and around Charlottesville.” 

This project is also within both the House and Senate versions of the budget. Other new projects are additional landscaping on Ivy Road, HVAC work at Monroe Hall, and infrastructure at Memorial Gym to make it more accessible as well as ADA compliant. There is also funding for a study of childcare needs as well as a space study for nursing to accommodate more instructional space. 

The changes to the Capital Plan will be voted upon in June. 

Sheehy also said there will also be an update of the 2019 Parking and Transportation Study post-COVID. (read the 2019 study)

“The president has asked us to go back and do a more comprehensive kind of broad-based look at the need for parking overall across the institution,” Sheehy said. 

One member of the Buildings and Grounds Committee suggested building additional parking on the other side of the railroad tracks south of the University of Virginia Health System. Sheehy pushed back. 

“We have to be careful that that’s a residential neighborhood and there are lot of issues to consider,” Sheehy said. “Traffic, neighbors, the needs of the health system. We will look at all of that.” 

The next meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors is in June.

Shout-out to the Piedmont Master Gardeners

The second shout-out today goes to the Piedmont Master Gardeners to announce their 2022 Spring Lecture Series featuring leading experts on sustainable landscaping, indigenous gardening wisdom and small fruit production at home. For all four Thursdays in March, you can buy a virtual ticket for these informative events. On March 10, Renée Gokey and Christine Price-Abelow of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian will discuss  “The Three Sisters: Indigenous Origins and Best Growing Practices.” On March 24, Jayesh Samtani will discuss “Home Garden Berries—Selection, Cultivation, and Growing Alongside Ornamental Plants”. To purchase a ticket and for the rest of the sessions, visit piedmontmastergardeners.org/events.

General Assembly update

There are only a handful of days left in the 2022 General Assembly, and there are several bills that are now in conference. I’ll try to track the progress as many of those as possible, but for now, here are some more bills that originated in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates that did not make it out of the Democrat-controlled Senate.

  • A bill to delay the requirement of the State Air Pollution Control Board to implement federal Clean Car regulations failed to make it out of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee on a party-line 7 to 8 vote. The House of Delegates had passed the Bill 52 to 48. (HB1267)

  • A bill to allow hunters to go onto other people’s property to retrieve the animals they’ve killed also did not make it out of that Senate committee on a 10 to 5 motion to pass by indefinitely. (HB1334)

  • A bill that would have required people seeking an abortion to provide written consent and undergo counseling was passed by indefinitely in the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 10 to 5 vote. (HB212)

  • A bill related to abortion that would have made it a Class 4 felony to not treat an “infant born alive” passed the House on a 52 to 48 vote but was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Rules Committee on an 11 to 4 vote. (HB304)

  • The Senate Education and Health Committee also defeated a bill to allow the Commissioner of Health to allow people to be exempt from vaccine mandates for religious reasons. That was defeated on a 9 to 6 vote. (HB306

  • Also passed by indefinitely is a bill that would have directed the Board of Education to provide alternate pathways for people who want to attain an advanced high school diploma. (HB340)

  • Another would have created Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts. HB1024 passed the House of Delegates on a party-line 52 to 48 vote but was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 9 to 6 vote. 

  • A bill to prohibit the teaching of moral dynamics of race and sex had passed the House of Delegates on a 50 to 49 vote, but the Senate Education and Health committee passed this by indefinitely on a 9 to 6 vote. (HB787)

  • A bill to require the Department of Planning and Budget to establish a program to reduce regulations and to limit spending by state government agencies made it out of the House of Delegates on a 51 to 47 vote, but the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted this down on a 11 to 4 vote. (HB244)

  • That committee also killed a bill to lower the state’s gas tax rate for a one-year period. This was on a 12 to 4 vote. (HB1144)

  • A bill to eliminate permanent lists for absentee voters passed the House of Delegates on a 52 to 46 vote but the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted to pass it by indefinitely on a 9 to 6 vote. (HB175)

  • A bill that would allow some school security officers to carry a firearm passed the House on a 52 to 46 vote but was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Rules Committee on a 13 to 3 vote. (HB8)

  • A bill that would have allowed high school students to be arrested for disorderly conduct on school property also was killed by the Rules Committee on a 13 to 3 vote. The House of Delegates had passed that 52 to 48. (HB89)

  • The Senate Rules Committee also passed by indefinitely a bill that would have created a Commission on Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Commonwealth. The vote was 14 to 2 on a bill that had passed the House of Delegates unanimously. (HB1057)

Oral arguments scheduled for tomorrow in House 2022 race appeal

Tomorrow afternoon, a three judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hold oral arguments for a lawsuit in which one party seeks an election in the House of Delegates this year. Richmond attorney Paul Goldman sued the Virginia Board of Elections last summer that argued the boundaries for the House of Delegates in the 2021 election were unconstitutional because they are out of date. 

For more on the case and how we got to where we are, I recommended reading Brad Kutner’s March 5 story on Courthouse News

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