May 24, 2022: Belmont Condominiums project reviewed at meeting; Charlottesville changing mechanism for real estate tax relief program
Plus: Candidates are in place for the Fifth Congressional District race
After today, 80 percent of May’s Tuesdays will have happened, leaving one more to go. While this one is with us, there are plenty of fake holidays to ponder including National Escargot Day, National Caterers Appreciation Day, Aviation Maintenance Technician Day, and National Scavenger Hunt Day. Can you find the clues in the May 24, 2022 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement? If so, please let me know so I can also try to figure it all out. I’ll reveal who I am at the end of the program.
On today’s program:
Charlottesville City Council holds first of two readings on new mechanism to provide tax relief for city property owners
A public hearing is held for a segment of an east-west commuter trail
The candidates are in place for the 5th District Congressional race this November
The General Assembly will head back to Richmond on June 1
Details on a planned condominium complex in downtown Belmont
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.
Republicans nominate Good for re-election to Fifth District
We are now three days into the general election stage for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District now that both major parties have selected their nominees for the November 8 ballot. On Saturday, Republicans who attended a convention at Hampden-Sydney College in Prince Edward Category overwhelmingly selected incumbent Bob Good of Campbell County to seek a second term.
According to a raw vote count, incumbent Bob Good received 1,115 of the 1,303 votes cast. Of the 24 localities with Republican committees, challenger Dan Moy of Charlottesville performed best in Albemarle County where he got votes from 43 of 128 convention delegates and in Charlottesville where he received 15 out of 28 votes. However, the convention used a weighted system which gave Good 1,488 votes to Moy’s 271. (view the vote tally)
Democrat Josh Throneburg got straight to work with a press release pointing out that the number of votes cast in the convention were less than 0.02 percent of the population of the Fifth District. Throneburg became the nominee by default when all other candidates failed to qualify for the primary ballot.
5th District Republicans nominate Good to represent party in November, Lynchburg News & Advance
Good defeats challenger at convention, will be on November ballot, Chatham Star-Tribune News
Virginia legislators to return to General Assembly on June 1
A date has been set for the Virginia Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates to return to Richmond to complete the special session that convened on April 4. The two Chambers will convene at 10 a.m. according to the Legislative Information System.
One of the major pieces of business left to complete is the state budget and a slate of legislators from both Houses have been seeking to work out a compromise to reconcile both versions. There are also several bills that passed both Houses but also have to be reconciled before it can be sent to Governor Glenn Youngkin for action. These include a sales tax exemption for food and personal hygiene products, changes to the make-up of the State Board of Elections, and the establishment of a Virginia Football Stadium Authority.
City Council holds public hearing on trail connection
A new partnership has formed between the City of Charlottesville and an entity that secures open space easements in Virginia, and that will slightly increase the cost of land transactions.
“We have a property owner that we’ve been negotiating with and we have a granting agency in the Virginia Outdoors Foundation that’s providing the funding which has already been appropriated,” said Chris Gensic, a planner in the Parks and Recreation Department.
When complete, the transaction will trigger a $3 fee for recordation of most deeds to go toward a pool of money to allow the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to purchase more land. Gensic said most localities of Virginia already have this arrangement but the city has yet to record an open space easement within its borders.
The property in question would allow for the 250 Bypass Trail to continue on an already paved trail in the woods to the south of Charlottesville High School toward the Piedmont Family YMCA to the east
“The parks department has been working diligently over the past few decades to acquire pieces of property to stitch together a trail network per the Comprehensive Plan,” “We’ve been discussing this particular acquisition that’s on the western end of McIntire Park.”
The public hearing was held to move the transaction forward, but Council took no action. That will come when the deal is nearing completion.
Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council said the parcel in question was significant.
“It is a crucial link in the multiyear effort to create a shared-use path that will connect McIntire Park, the YMCA, and Charlottesville High School to Hydraulic Road,” Linville said. “This parcel is also a vital part of a larger four-mile loop that will connect these public resources to Michie Drive, the Greenbrier neighborhood, and the John Warner Parkway.”
No city funds will be directly used in the transaction, according to Linville.
Council approves action plan for federal HOME and CDBG funds
City Council has approved an action plan for federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the next fiscal year. Staff had suggested making some changes to the process in order to meet HUD’s guidelines, but some groups pushed back on some of those proposals. (read the staff report)
“Staff will no longer request that the task force be changed to staff advisory,” said Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders. “Instead we’re going to focus on identifying income eligible participants to ensure that the diverse voice is always available.”
Sanders said the city cannot use federal funds to pay participants to sit on that task force, but local funding can be found for that purpose should Council want to ensure participation by low income individuals.
Charlottesville will also stop the process of designating a neighborhood to receive funds for three-year periods at a time. In recent years, projects in Belmont received those funds despite an influx of wealth.
“Instead we will continue to work to identify projects that prioritize investment in those areas for the targeted low-income population to benefit from,” Sanders said.
A project that had been recommended by the task force was $186,376.16 in funds for sidewalk improvements in the Ridge Street neighborhood, the current priority neighborhood. That will no longer be part of the action plan due to a concern that the project would not be completed in time to meet HUD’s deadline. Instead funds for project will be returned to the pool to allow for other proposals from the community to be funded for the Ridge Street neighborhood.
A second reading and vote on this year’s spending will be on Council’s agenda on June 6.
City changing mechanism for property tax relief
City Council will hold a work session with the Planning Commission this afternoon but before the joint session on transportation matters gets underway, there will be a second reading of an appropriation of $1.5 million in city funds to be used as grants to low- and middle-income property owners.
This would replace the long-running program Charlottesville Housing Affordability Program (CHAP) that the city had been using to provide tax relief. Todd Divers is Charlottesville’s Commissioner of Revenue.
“We’ve kind of scrambled to put together a program that I think is going to get us close to what we were doing,” Divers said.
Divers said the previous tax relief program had been justified by the City Charter, but now a second avenue to justify the program will be used instead.
“The Director of Social Services as the local Social Services board will be the official administrator of this program though I will be working in a cooperative agreement with her and we’ll still be effectively managing the program the way we always have,” Divers said.
The move also allows the city to increase the threshold for eligibility for participation to a home value of $420,000, which is the average assessed value of a residential parcel in the city. The income threshold will be increased to $60,000.
“This a grant program,” Divers said. “This is a grant for needy folks and the way that we are defining that is folks who make less than $60,000 a year and who own a home in the city of Charlottesville.”
Divers said he estimates an additional 100 people will be eligible. The second reading is being held today to speed up the process to allow the process moving forward for this year.
Shout-out for an ACHS program on the Fields of Honor
This year, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has been working with a group called the Fields of Honor to identify soldiers who were killed in action in the Second World War. Since February, ACHS researchers have helped locate several photographs of the fallen, including that of Private Clarence Edward McCauley who was tracked down through high school records. There are 18 remaining photographs to be found, and on Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m. the ACHS will host Debbie Holloman and Sebastian Vonk of the Fields of Honor Foundation to talk about how you can take part in their volunteer efforts honoring the service and sacrifice of US WWII service members buried or memorialized at US war cemeteries in Europe. That’s Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m. via Zoom or Facebook Live.
Site plan meeting held for Belmont Condominiums project
Officials with Riverbend Development have offered details on a proposal to build dozens of condominiums on undeveloped land in Charlotteville’s Belmont neighborhood.
“I know on this site in particular I have been working with the neighborhood off and on for at least five years regarding this site and we’ve owned it for well over a decade now I believe,” said Ashley Davies with Riverbend Development.
A previous submission that looked more like neighboring City Walk Apartments had gone to a site plan review conference in 2018 but that version did not move forward.
“A lot of the feedback that we got from the neighborhood from that time is just that it felt like these two buildings were too big compared to what you see in the rest of the neighborhood,” Davies said.
This development would include 130 total units and it needs city approval on three applications. Both a major subdivision and a site plan can be approved by staff, but a third requires endorsement by elected officials.
“A critical slope waiver due to impacts to critical slopes requires a City Council action,” said city planner Matt Alfele said. “This means that application will go to the Planning Commission for a recommendation and then City Council for a final decision.”
No date has been set for that Planning Commission meeting and a public hearing is not required.
The six acres of property span many parcels which would be combined in the major subdivision. Since 2003, the zoning has been for Neighborhood Commercial Corridor which allows for mixed-use.
Most of the buildings would be constructed in a form known as a two-over-two.
“It looks like a townhouse style unit on the outside but once you go into the unit it actually has two units each two floors tall and there’s garages on the backside that have parking internal to those units,” Davies said.
Davies said Riverbend has built these types of units at Brookhill in Albemarle County and they have proven to be popular. Eight of the units would be designated as being sale to households and individuals at a certain income level.
The property is currently being used for automotive repair. One neighbor asked if the site needed to be remediated due to potential contaminants in the soil. Scott Collins is an engineer working on the project
“As far as contaminants, they’ll be testing the soil as well when the asphalt and concrete is removed and checking the consistency of the soils and making sure it’s not contaminated and if it is, there are remediative measures that have to be in place,” Collins said.
The site plan must be approved by staff if it meets all of the technical requirements. Staff has not yet completed the comment letter that will go to Riverbend. People still have until June 15 to make a comment about the site plan or to ask a question.
But Council will have to approve a critical slopes waiver and one Councilor who attended the May 18 site plan conference did not like what he saw in the current project, taking his cues from a speaker from the Piedmont Environmental Council. Michael Payne said he preferred the previous approach Riverbend had taken.
“I just would say that I’m pretty disappointed at where this has ended up,” said Michael Payne. “I feel like where this ended up is the worst of all worlds in terms of as Peter Krebs [of PEC] said the most impervious surfaces, the least compact and clustered development. And also the least affordable development. It seems like its the most sprawled version which will have the most expensive units and I think this project just would have been much better off to be more clustered and have more apartments similar to the Belmont Lofts project or City Walk for that matter.”
One neighbor suggested the city make a swap with the developer.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if the city could do an exchange with the owners of Belmont Holdings and give them the existing Clark School which is a gorgeous building with high ceilings and let them turn that into condominiums and turn this site into either a school or a park?” commented Deb Jackson.
This is not likely to occur.
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