One, two, three. As in, 123, which is the day of the year that May 3 falls upon three out of four years. Such facts may or may not be of relevance, but they seem more useful than telling you about dubious holidays such as the Great American Grump Out or National Lumpy Rug Day. Either way, this is Charlottesville Community Engagement and I’m Sean Tubbs.
On today’s program:
Home sales have dropped but sale prices continue to increase according to the latest information from the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors
Early voting begins for the Democratic Primary on Friday
The cost estimate to build a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue has increased
Charlottesville City Council adopts an ordinance to retroactively change the now-expired “continuity of government” ordinance that allowed virtual meetings during the pandemic
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First shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle
Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate.
CAAR report: Slowest first quarter in real estate in seven years
The real estate market began 2023 with lower volumes than recent years according to the latest report from the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors.
“There were 688 homes sold in total across the area in the first quarter of 2023, down 23 percent from last year, the lowest first quarter sales total since 2016,” reads the executive summary for the CAAR Home Sales Report for the period between January 1 and March 31. “This is the slowest first quarter the CAAR market has had since 2016.”
Sales volumes were down across the six-jurisdiction region covered by CAAR with 40 percent fewer sales in Charlottesville and 43 percent in Nelson. The slowdown is not as sharp in Albemarle and Louisa which both saw 12 percent fewer sales.
The median sales price for a home for the quarter is $401,200. That’s $11,300 higher than in the first quarter of 2022. The total sales volume dropped by $86.3 million.
Sales prices in the first quarter were down in Albemarle, Charlottesville, and Nelson County, but increased in Louisa County and Greene County. Fluvanna has stayed about the same. These are important numbers to keep in mind when thinking about what real property assessments will be in 2024.
At the same time, inventory has increased with 700 active listings as of March 31. That’s a 48 percent increase over 2022. That number may continue to improve.
“There have been 202 total building permits issued in the region so far in 2023 (through February), which is the second highest January and February total since 2015,” the report continues. “About 53 percent of the permits so far have been for single-family detached homes.”
Houses are also on the market longer with an average length of 45 days, 15 days longer than in the first quarter of 2022.
The report also notes that mortgage rates were up and down in the first quarter with an average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.39 percent. This afternoon the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank increased a key rate.
“The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run,” reads a press release that went out today. “In support of these goals, the Committee decided to raise the target range for the federal funds rate to 5 to 5-1/4 percent.”
Early voting begins on Saturday for Democratic Primary
The Democratic Primary is on June 20 but community members who want to go ahead and vote can do so beginning this Friday.
“Early voting will take place in the Office of Voter Registration during regular business hours, 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday,” reads a press release sent out this morning by the Charlottesville Office of Voter Registration and Elections.
Voting in Charlottesville takes place in the City Hall annex at 120 7th Street NE. The registrar’s office will be open on two Saturdays for early voting on June 10 and June 17. Anyone who wants a mail ballot has until June 9 to request one.
Early voting in Albemarle will take place at the 5th Street County Office Building.
This primary is busier than in most years with four contested races. In Charlottesville, there are five candidates seeking three Democratic nominations with two incumbents in the race.
On May 10 at 7 p.m, I will be co-hosting a candidate forum with the Free Enterprise Forum with all five candidates at the Hillsdale Conference Center Ballroom, 550 Hillsdale Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22901. That’s on the Route 7 Charlottesville Area Transit route. You can also watch at home on Zoom.
“Candidates will explore their vision for the city including their views on the zoning ordinance rewrite, affordable housing, public safety, equity issues, organizational issues, and economic development,” reads the press release that Neil Williamson wrote.
Know of any other forums? Let me know and I’ll list them!
There are also competitive primaries for the new House District 54 and the new House District 55 as well as new Senate District 11. For anything I’ve written about those races, check out the Elections Virginia tag on Information Charlottesville.
Council approves fund transfers for Buford renovation, Stribling Avenue upgrade
Paying for infrastructure is a complex process that involves a lot of financial planning and budget balancing. On Monday, Charlottesville City Council took action related to two ambitious projects.
“So you have a multi-year funding plan that’s been put together by staff in the last year or so with regards to the Stribling Avenue sidewalk and the Buford School reconfiguration projects,” said Sam Sanders, Charlottesville’s Deputy City Manager for operations. “In both instances we have been working with staff and identified a need to make sure that funds are available in this fiscal year.”
The Stribling Avenue sidewalk is associated with the rezoning of 240 Stribling Avenue, a development in Fry’s Spring Council approved last April for up to 170 units. One of the conditions of the Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval was that a sidewalk be built along a roadway which is not up to urban standards.
Here’s some background:
Stribling improvements key to Fry’s Spring, September 29, 2021
Council balks at $850K cost for Stribling sidewalks, October 19, 2021
NDS: Extent of design work for Stribling Avenue sidewalk improvements not known, September 30, 2022
Sanders said the project is now moving into the design phase and that an additional $500,000 needs to be added to the budget, bringing the total to $5.4 million. That was one resolution. The other was for the Buford project.
“The second is a $1.5 million more or less an advance of [Capital Improvement Program] allocation so that the funds are made available as the team is working,” Sanders said.
The total budget for the renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School remains the same at just over $91,813,410.
“It’s just reorganizing where the money appears so that staff can continue to do that work and keep the project on time and moving forward for a July 2023 start,” Sanders said.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook noted that there is a legal challenge against the rezoning at Stribling Avenue.
“What’s the current status of the litigation, the construction?” Snook said.
“The litigation has not actually made it to court yet so it has not gone for a hearing at this time,” Sanders said.
That hearing will be on May 12 at 2 p.m. according to the online portal of the Charlottesville Circuit Court.
“And the litigation is only in regards to the instrument that you approved that we could use with Southern Development, so whether that happens or not, you allocated the funds,” Sanders said.
Council held the first reading and agreed to place the item on the consent agenda for the May 15 meeting.
Second shout-out: Prepare to celebrate Downtown In Bloom
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Friends of Charlottesville Downtown are getting ready for the month-long Downtown in Bloom event this May with a celebration of art, flowers, and the beauty of Spring. They want you to get ready for a series of free events.
Charlottesville City Schools will host their annual art exhibit in the windows of shops on the Downtown Mall with a family night on May 5 with project displays on the CODE Building
There will be a Spring Stroll all month with speciality drinks at bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Pickup the Spring Stroll passport to qualify for a special celebration!
There will be a Flower Market at Ting Pavilion on May 4 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Participating businesses will have a Flower Competition in container gardens and planter boxes outside of their establishments
The 2023 Chalk Fest will be held on May 20 with 13 local artists creating murals from the Ting Pavilion to the Dairy Market
To learn more about Downtown in Bloom and other initiatives of Friends of Charlottesville Downtown, visit friendsofcville.org
Council retroactively amends COVID-era rules for government
Charlottesville City Council has adopted a revised version of the “continuity of government” ordinance to avoid potential legal trouble.
“This ordinance is intended to clean things up a little bit that were sort of thrown up in the air by a recent Supreme Court case,” said Andrew McRoberts, an attorney with the firm Sands Anderson.
That case is Berry v. Fairfax Board of Supervisors in which the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that locality did not have the authority to adopt a new zoning code at an electronic meeting in March 2021.
“It fundamentally could potentially change the law and say potentially because the case is not yet final,” McRoberts said. “It’s under reconsideration. It may be affected by either judicial or perhaps by legislative processes at the state level.”
McRoberts said the case has introduced a lot of uncertainty about whether other actions taken at online meetings may be legally suspect, including recommendations of the Planning Commission.
“The answer is they acted in good faith, they acted pursuant to your approvals in your continuity of government ordinances and they acted pursuant to recognized exemptions under [the Freedom of Information Act].”
McRoberts recommended adopting a new ordinance to state clearly that Council had the authority to take votes during the period. He said the underlying code that allows emergency rules is broad and gave Council a wide berth.
“The intention is to try to the best we can protect the actions of the Council and the other public bodies took during the pandemic in good faith to try to keep government moving,” McRoberts said.
In response to a question from Councilor Brian Pinkston, McRoberts said localities take actions retroactively frequently. One example is the real property tax rate which is voted upon in the spring but applies to the calendar year. But he said there are limits.
“Retroactivity for example can’t act unconstitutionally,” McRoberts said. “It can’t create an ex post facto law and put people in criminal jeopardy for things they’ve already done. It cannot unsettle vested rights.”
Council voted unanimously and Mayor Lloyd Snook expressed this caveat.
“While I am a lawyer on Council, I am not a lawyer for Council and I trust Mr. McRoberts and the others who have been working on this issue to steer us right,” Snook said.
As archaeological dig ends, gag order keeps Swan Tavern findings under wraps, Hawes Spencer, Charlottesville Daily Progress, April 30, 2023
Final notes for #530
This week I’m trying smaller editions as a way of getting out information quick but due to a need to be in Harrisonburg tomorrow afternoon, the next edition won’t come out until Friday.
I am also convinced that I can turn this into a seven-day a week outlet with time and organization the only factors holding me back. Another is finding the money to pay people to write.
To do that, I need more paid subscribers and perhaps today is the day you sign up if you have not done so already! Hundreds have and I am grateful for this.
But, maybe you’d like to write things? What would you like to work on? Drop me a line in the comments or send me an email.
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And if you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:
A second month for free
A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall
Thanks to Wraki for incidental music in the podcast, which you can’t hear unless you listen to it. Check out the work on BandCamp!