May 19, 2022: New Jaunt CEO reintroduces agency to Charlottesville City Council; Albemarle preparing for affordable dwelling unit ordinance
Plus: Area median income increases by 19 percent
The heat is on, on the street, and this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement is ready to get inside your head, on every beat. With apologies to Glenn Frey, this is not an 80’s music nostalgia newsletter and podcast, but the idea is to look back at some of what’s happened recently while anticipating the changes that will come this summer. It’s May 19, 2022, and I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
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On today’s show:
The annual median income in the Charlottesville area has increased 19 percent over last year
Albemarle Supervisors further discusses ways to incentivize developers to build housing for those with lower than that median income
The new CEO of Jaunt explains that a new page is turning toward cooperation with Charlottesville Area Transit
A Pittsylvania County group seeks a second referendum on sales tax increase for education
Shout-out: RCA seeks input on the restoration of Riverview Park
The first Patreon-fueled shout-out today is for the Rivanna Conservation Alliance and their work with the City of Charlottesville on the restoration of Riverview Park. The RCA aims to restore a 600-foot section of the Rivanna riverbank in an area that’s designated for public access to the waterway as well as a 200-foot section of a dangerously eroding stormwater channel nearby. Another community meeting will be held in the near future to get your feedback on the work should be prioritized. Visit rivannariver.org to learn more about the project, which seeks to help Riverview Park continue to be a welcoming place to exercise, cool off, paddle, fish, play, explore, observe nature, and escape from the day-to-day stresses of life.
Spring COVID-19 surge continues
To begin today, a quick look at the latest COVID numbers from the Virginia Department of Health. Today the VDH reports another 3,836 positive COVID tests done through the PCR method, and a number that does not count at-home tests. The seven-day positivity rate for tests has increased to 15.2 percent. The seven-day average for new cases is now at 3,078.
This surge of cases has so far not resulted in fatalities anywhere near what was seen in previous ones before vaccines were easily available. The seven-day average for new daily deaths is at three per day.
According to the Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association, there are 60 COVID patients in intensive care in Virginia, with 23 of them on ventilators.
Pittsylvania County group wants to try again on sales tax referendum
Last November, voters in Pittsylvania County on the south side of Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District had on their ballot a referendum on whether or not to approve a one percent sales tax increase to fund school improvement projects. The measure failed on a 23-vote margin according to election night results from the State Board of Elections.
This Tuesday, the seven-member Board of Supervisors got an update on a campaign to try hold the referendum again this year, based on enabling authority that passed the General Assembly in 2020. Martha Walker is the chair of Pittsylvanians for a Brighter Future, an advocacy group that seeks passage this time around.
“One cent, one penny, will generate $3.8 million each year for the 19 years that we will be allowed to have that one cent sales tax added,” Walker said.
Under the same enabling authority, Danville voters voted in favor of the referendum and the sales tax increase has gone into effect. Speaking directly to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Walker said her organization will be seeking to educate the public on what improvements would be funded.
“You know that ten elementary schools will be focused on safety and getting rid of those trailers by building those new classrooms,” Walker said.
Charlottesville asked the General Assembly to be allowed to hold a referendum for its school system. Legislation passed the Democrat-controlled Senate, but failed to get out of a committee in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.
There is still no state budget, an issue of increasing concern to school systems throughout the Commonwealth.
Jaunt CEO talks transit with Charlottesville City Council
The relatively new CEO of the transit agency Jaunt introduced himself to the Charlottesville City Council Monday and also had the chance to re-introduce a public service organization plagued by recent controversy.
Ted Rieck started with fundamentals.
“Our basic goal is to enable people to live their lives independently and with dignity and we’ve been doing this for about 42 years,” Rieck said. (view his presentation)
Jaunt serves the six localities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission as well as Buckingham County. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires equivalent service to fixed route transit for disabled individuals, and Rieck said Jaunt performs this role for CAT for those who live within three-fourths of a mile of a bus stop.
“We also provide in some of the outlying counties circulator or intra-county service,” Rieck said. “We also provide links from the counties to Charlottesville and then we also provide commuter services into Charlottesville and [the University of Virginia].”
Rieck was hired last October by Jaunt. The agency’s Board of Directors asked the previous CEO to resign after irregular transactions were reported. That continues to have an impact on Jaunt’s budget.
“We had our CEO make some judgment errors in terms of spending money,” Rieck said. “That triggered an audit and that discovered some issues that Jaunt wasn’t doing very well.”
Rieck said Jaunt was making progress in correcting the errors pointed out in the audit, including misapplication of funds intended for rural use for urban purposes. There were also questions about administrative costs.
“We overstated some of our statistics which allowed us to get more state funding and federal funding that we were entitled to,” Rieck said. “This was an error that the prior CEO basically hoarded the data and did not share that with anybody.”
Rieck said Jaunt had to pay Virginia back a over a million dollars and that has happened. Record-keeping has now been improved.
The previous CEO was Brad Sheffield, who also served one term on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. During that time, he was hired on as Jaunt’s director. Rieck said other anomalies have been discovered and Jaunt is cooperating with the ongoing investigation. He said Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation officials will visit Jaunt’s headquarters next week for further discussions.
Rieck said as the legacy of the Sheffield era continues to play out, he wants to build a partnership with Charlottesville Area Transit, and he’s in close contact with CAT Director Garland Williams.
“We are working together,” Rieck said. “I don’t believe Jaunt and CAT have played very well together in the past. We are turning a new page on that I believe.”
That includes more frequent meetings to discuss common issues, such as driver shortages. Another issue is how to transition to a fleet that doesn’t run on fossil fuels to meet the community’s expectations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Jaunt is also seeking members to join an Alternative Fuel Advisory Committee to oversee a study for which Kimley Horn has been hired to run. Applications are due May 27, and the process will build off of a study that Charlottesville Area Transit is also running for their fleet. (apply)
They are also building off of conversations that have been taking place at the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership. In April, that group heard from transit officials in Burlington, Vermont about how fixed-route transit can carry students to public schools. Those conversations are now occurring here, according to Rieck.
“Today we discussed opportunities where we could see CAT bus routes overlapping areas where Albemarle County students live,” Rieck said. “Many of these people could conceivably take a bus to the high school, other schools as well. If that works out, we could save five or six bus operators for the school district. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really huge.”
Other avenues of regional exploration include the creation of a Regional Transit Authority and development of an app to help people navigate public transportation.
Rieck said Jaunt could also play a role in addressing the need for service to Crescent Halls, a Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority property whose residents have demanded door-to-door service be restored when the building reopens. He said the current service by Route 6 sees a large bus trying to navigate a small access road for which it was not designed.
“And my understanding is that’s an awkward movement for a larger vehicle to do so the thought would be to have Jaunt provide that service instead of the main route,” Rieck said.
Details to come in the future as Rieck said detailed conversations had not yet occurred.
Council pressed Rieck on whether Jaunt’s troubles with the Virginia Department and Rail and Public Transportation were over.
“First of all, are there any more shoes about to drop, and second, do you have a sense of when you will be past the shoe-dropping phase?” asked Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook.
Rieck said the long-standing issue is a pattern of mixing rural and urban funds that dates further back into Jaunt’s recent history. He said he’s being transparent with city, county, and state officials, as well as his board of directors.
“So I don’t think that there’s any more shoes to drop and if there is, that’s the one,” Rieck said.
Second shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign
It’s springtime, and one Patreon subscriber wants you to know the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign is a grassroots initiative of motivated citizens, volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. This spring the group is working with retailers across the region to encourage purchase of plants that belong here and are part of an ecosystem that depends on pollination. There are plenty of resources on the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page, so sign up to be notified of lectures, plant sales, and more!
Albemarle Supervisors discuss incentives for housing plan
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors continued a conversation earlier this month about how to incentivize developers to build units to be sold below market value. The six-member Board last discussed the matter in February and pushed back on the idea of creating an overlay district in the county’s zoning ordinance. (previous coverage)
“The main question today that we would like some feedback on after listening to the information that’s provided is [whether] an affordable dwelling unit program something the Board would be interested in and staff reviewing?” asked Stacy Pethia, the county’s Housing Policy Manager. (view her presentation)
The General Assembly has already granted Albemarle enabling authority to pursue such a program, which would allow the county to require a certain percentage of units be rented or sold at affordable prices to households at 80 percent or lower than the median income. This requirement would be triggered by a rezoning or a special use permit.
Supervisors adopted the Housing Albemarle plan last July but delayed much of the implementation until these details could be worked out.
Before they got too deep into the conversation, Pethia said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has now released updated calculations for area median income for 2022.
“That is now $111,200 annually and to put that into perspective, that is a 19 percent increase over last year’s area median income increase,” Pethia said.
The median income for the Washington metropolitan area is $142,300 and the median income for the Lynchburg metro is $78,900. We’ll come back to this in future stories about housing. (find the calculations for your favorite metro area)
Pethia said after the work session in February, staff opted to come forward with the affordable dwelling unit program that is authorized under state code.
“And the enabling legislation really doesn’t place many restrictions on what the county can do and what that program looks like,” Pethia said. “It does require we provide density bonuses but beyond that we are pretty open in the percentage of the affordable unit set-asides that we may require, the depth of that unit affordability, the length of the affordability for those units, and we also have the opportunity to include additional incentives within that ordinance above and beyond the density increases.”
Pethia said there are about 500 such programs across the United States. Commonalities between them include:
An identification of how many units the locality needs to be affordable
standardized amount per unit for developers to pay into a fund rather than build units
The right for the locality or its designee to purchase or rent affordable units that are actually constructed.
Several localities in Virginia have such a program, such as Loudoun County.
“They adopted their ordinance in 1999 and do require 6.25 to 12.5 percent of the units in projects to be affordable housing,” Pethis said. “Those units need to be affordable for 15 to 20 years depending on whether they are for sale or rent.”
Pethia said around 2,500 units have been created under this policy in Loudoun. Fairfax County has a similar ordinance and has created nearly 3,000 units.
For Albemarle, Pethia said county staff are recommending density bonuses, requiring 20 percent of total new units to be affordable as per Housing Albemarle, allowing non-profits to purchase “affordable” units for which the developer can’t find a qualified buyer, and a cash-in-lieu fee is a developer doesn’t want to build the units.
Such a program is not yet ready and Pethia wanted feedback on whether they should proceed.
Supervisor Ann Mallek had this question.
“Is there a way that we can put a hold on new applications until we get this process adopted?” Mallek said. “I’m very concerned that another 5,000 units will come in in application that we will somehow be forced to accept the applications and then we will lose the opportunity to get a much better result.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley said she supported the idea of the creation of a waiting list of people and families who are eligible to rent or purchase affordable units due to their income level.
“The waiting list would be extremely important to have a waiting list otherwise I can see this whole project failing if we don’t have a waiting list of qualified income buyers,” LaPisto-Kirtley said.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said that he did not want to see a list of stiffly-written incentives that might preclude flexibility.
“I hope we don’t get caught in the trap of saying that even if we put an example of incentives our, or encouraged incentives, or whatever the wording is, that we’re saying that that’s it, and that we have a process in place that allows for consideration of other incentives,” Gallaway said. “Each project will be different. Each spreadsheet is different.”
Gallaway also supported the cash-in-lieu program in order to be able to pay more funds into the county’s affordable housing trust rather than rely on surpluses.
A more detailed plan will come before the Board of Supervisors for a work session in August followed by a public hearing in September.
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