May 13 • 15M

May 13, 2022: Several vacancies coming up on Charlottesville Planning Commission as city prepares to rewrite zoning code; One million Americans have died of COVID

Plus: A snippet of an interview on Virginia's Eugenics movement

 
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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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Welcome to the only Friday the 13th of all of 2022!

Many consider the day to be unlucky, a tradition that goes back many centuries. Rather than go through all of that, I’m more curious to know what you think of this day. Do you take precautions? Did you even notice? Do other days in a Friday the 13th’d month also have powers? In any case, those questions aren’t the purpose of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a podcast and newsletter whose host still wonders why. 

Charlottesville Community Engagement is mostly free but your financial support will help it growing!

On today’s program:

  • Governor Youngkin orders flags at half-mast to commemorate one million Americans who have died from COVID

  • There are five vacancies on the Charlottesville Planning Commission, and the city is seeking applicants

  • An update on the city’s zoning process as well as an update a lawsuit claiming the Comprehensive Plan is invalid under state law

  • And a quick preview of a conversation between the Reverend Alex Joyner and the author of a book on Virginia’s eugenics movement 

Shout-out to Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards 

In today’s subscriber-supported Public Service Announcement, the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards continues to offer classes this spring and summer to increase your awareness of our wooden neighbors and to prepare for the future. Coming up on June 7 is a tree identification course taught on Zoom by tree steward Elizabeth Ferguson followed by a separate hike on June 11 at the Department of Forestry’s headquarters near the Fontaine Research Park.

That’s followed by a tree identification walk at the University of Virginia on June 12 for the public. On June 14, Rachel Keen will give a lecture on Zoom on the Social Life of Trees. Do trees really communicate with one another? What is a 'mother tree'? Can a tree do anything to repel a pest? Learn more at charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org.


One million Americans have died of COVID since pandemic began

Governor Glenn Youngkin has followed the direction of President Joe Biden and has ordered that the United States and Virginia flags be flown at half-mast until Monday to commemorate the milestone of a million Americans who have now died of COVID in the past 26 months. I’ll have more on the pandemic tomorrow.

On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health reported another 3,144 new cases, and the seven-day average for new cases is 2,441. The seven-day percentage for PCR tests is 13.7 percent, up from 11 percent on May 6 and 9.1 percent on April 29. None of those numbers include tests taken at home. 

This morning the Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association reports 325 people in hospitals are currently COVID positive, but many of those patients may have been admitted for other reasons. Forty-five COVID patients are currently hospitalized in intensive care units and 20 of those are on ventilators. 

Nationwide, the trend is toward more cases with 84,778 new cases reported through PCR tests according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control. Hospitalizations are also trending upward across the country with a seven-day average of 2,603 new admissions a day. 

It’s important to remember that the number of COVID fatalities continues to trend downward with a current seven-day average of 272 deaths. The highest seven-day average during the pandemic was 3,420 in mid January of 2021 and 2,709 in early February of this year. 

Nationwide trends for COVID deaths during the pandemic (view the CDC dashboard)

Charlottesville hires two department heads

The City of Charlottesville has promoted two employees to take over their departments, and has also filled the position of Human Resources Director. 

Mary Ann Hardie will move to Charlottesville from Washington state to take the human resources position, which has been vacant since November 2020 when Michelle Vineyard left after just over a year of service. Hardie has served for the past three years as human resources director in Lacey, Washington. That’s a suburb of state capital Olympia that grew from 42,393 people to 53,526 from 2010 to 2020 according to the U.S. Census.

Hardie starts work on May 16.

Mary Ann Hardie (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Misty Graves has been with the city of Charlottesville’s Human Services Department for 16 years and has been the interim director since Kaki Dimock left the city to work for Albemarle County. 

“I am humbled by the opportunity to build on the existing work of the Department," is quoted in a press release. "Our Department is comprised of dedicated staff that are committed to creating a more equitable and just community so all of our residents may thrive, and it’s my honor to work alongside them.”

Misty Graves (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

David Dillehunt has been the interim deputy director of the Office of Communications and Public Engagement since soon after former director Brian Wheeler stepped down late last year. Deputy Director Joe Rice left soon afterwards. Dillehunt began working for Charlottesville in 2005 as a consultant has won two Regional Emmy Awards for work he’s produced for the city. 

In 2004, Dillehunt also produced a documentary on the children’s program You Can’t Do That On Television. (play the trailer

The city is still looking to fill the director’s position for the Office of Communications and Public Engagement. The position closes May 18 if you want to throw your hat in the ring. (see the vacancy)

David Dillehunt (Cred

Vacancies opening up on Charlottesville Planning Commission

If you have an interest in advising Charlottesville City Council on land use decisions, and have time to devote to the effort, you may get your chance. 

“There are spots on the Planning Commission that are coming open this summer,” said Missy Creasy, the Deputy Director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. “And right now we are in the window for applications.” 

There are five terms ending this summer, and at least two current members cannot reapply. They are Jody Lahendro and Taneia Dowell. Commissioner Karim Habbab is filling an unexpired term which runs out on August 31. The terms of Hosea Mitchell and Rory Stolzenberg are both running out on that day.

Stolzenberg is also filling out the unexpired term vacated when Hunter Smith resigned in 2018 after a handful of months in the position.

Apply for the position here.

Charlottesville zoning info slightly delayed 

Work on the next phase of the rewriting of Charlottesville’s zoning ordinance continues, but it’s slightly delayed. Neighborhood Development Services Director James Freas told the Planning Commission Tuesday that a “diagnostic and approach” report was not ready in time for their May meeting, but he hopes it will be out by the end of this month. (previous coverage)

“As this point we are anticipating that the joint meeting between the Council and the Planning Commission to eventually make a decision on moving forward with that report, we’re projecting that happening in September at this point in time,” Freas said. 

Freas is now referring to this report as a conceptual plan for the new zoning ordinance. 

“It’s going to lay out what the approach is towards bringing our zoning into consistency with our Comprehensive Plan and its meant to include within it both modeling of potential building outcomes, so what type of buildings might be buildable under the policies articulated in the Comprehensive Plan, and how the market might respond to this new zoning,” Freas said. 

Freas said a public meeting will be held two weeks after the report with other community engagement events happening over the summer. 

The new Comprehensive Plan was adopted in November 2021. Consult Information Charlottesville for a series of property transactions in city limits since then

That joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting in September will be after a pair of judicial proceedings related to a lawsuit filed by anonymous Charlottesville property owners challenging the validity of the Comprehensive Plan. A hearing on the initial motion will be held in Charlottesville Circuit Court on July 15 with Judge Richard E. Moore presiding. A hearing on a city-filed demurrer to require the plaintiffs to identify themselves will be held on August 26. 

Alderman Library construction reaches milestone

The tallest portions of the new Alderman Library have been installed, and the University of Virginia marked the occasion with a “topping out” ceremony. UVA Today reports that over a hundred workers were on hand to witness the placement of two steel beams that had been signed by UVA officials and more. 

“The two beams are part of the steel-framed clerestory roof structure, an architectural feature that will allow natural light to reach the study and reading rooms inside the library,” writes Matt Kelly in an article posted yesterday. 

The library itself is only two thirds of the way to being completed. When it’s done, there will be a new entrance that faces University Avenue. Bill Palmer is with the UVA Office of the Architect and he gave an update to the Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday. 

“That’s a big milestone of a transformative project over there that will really open up the library towards University Avenue as you’re going up and down that thoroughfare,” Palmer said. 

The original library opened in 1937, but was closed off to University Avenue in 1967 when the “stacks” were built. 

I’ll have more from the Planning Commission in a future edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement

The audience, which included UVA Facilities staff, library staff and construction personnel, look on and film on their phones as the beam is raised above them. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

In today’s other three shout-outs

Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects with the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department, and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. Visit codeforcville.org to learn about those projects. 

In the middle, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish my brother, Steve Tubbs, a happy birthday for tomorrow. 

The final comes from another Patreon supporter who wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!

Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

The newsletter and podcast you’re experiencing stems from a website I created in 2005 to bring lectures, interviews, and audio segments to the public as an experiment. The Charlottesville Podcasting Network has been in the hands of my friend Dan Gould for several years, but he recently retired and passed the baton back to me. From time to time, I’ll end this newsletter with a small taste of what you might hear there. 

The Reverend Alex Joyner is the pastor of Charlottesville First United Methodist Church, and he wants to ask questions about what it takes to make a place more whole. One thread in his questioning is the future of Market Street Park in downtown Charlottesville. In February, he interviewed Elizabeth Catte, the author of Pure America: Eugenics and the Making of Modern Virginia

Catte said she wrote the book after learning about some of the history of Western State Hospital. After the original structure closed in 2005, the site was turned over to the Staunton Industrial Authority for redevelopment as apartments. At one point, the facility was known bluntly as the Western State Lunatic Asylum. 

“Its history became part of its branding identity and that was a really interesting transformation to me,” Catte said.

“Yeah, that’s a long stretch to pull those two things together,” Joyner said. 

“So 200 years of history had to get condensed into something that could be about two paragraphs on a website and could also be anchored to branding material for tourism, for community development, so it developed this really cozy kind of positive story about early physicians who committed themselves to the humane treatment of mental illnesses,” Catte said. “That was certainly one of the chapters of that sites’ history but the larger chapter that I knew as a historian was the history of the institution during the eugenics era.”

Eugenics was the legal practice of sterilizing those thought to be inferior so they would not reproduce. The 1927 United States Supreme Court ruling of Buck v. Bell cleared the way for the practice, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivering the line “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The practice was legal until the 1970’s.

“At least 1,700 people were sterilized against their will at Western State Hospital,” Catte said. “The longest serving superintendent was a vocal leader of the Virginia eugenics movement and it has a very harrowing history.”

To hear more from Alex Joyner’s interview with Elizabeth Catte, visit the Charlottesville Podcasting Network.

Or view the interview on YouTube.

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