May 4, 2021: Charlottesville Council begins process to remove Confederate statues; Virginia Passenger Rail Authority gets update on rail plans


In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out from an anonymous supporter: It may seem like we just had an election, but 2021 is once again a city, county, and state election year. Party primaries are coming soon on June 8, 2021. The deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration is Monday, May 17, 2021. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections to learn more at

On today’s show:

  • Charlottesville City Council begins the process to remove Confederate statues

  • The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is working on a new statewide plan that includes expanded service

  • U.S. Route 250 remains closed at Afton Mountain one day after a rockslide and there’s no time yet for when the roadway might be reopen. Actually, that last one is the whole update. That’s all I know. 

The seven-day average for new COVID-cases has now dropped below 1,000 for the first time in many months. The seven-day average for positive test results has declined to 4.5 percent. Nearly a third of Virginians are now fully vaccinated. Blue Ridge Health District Director Dr. Denise Bonds briefed City Council last night. 

“And when you look at the absolute numbers, in Charlottesville, 53 percent of the population has received at least one dose and 37 percent of our population is fully vaccinated,” Dr. Bonds said. “Charlottesville when you look is number five in the state for the percent of the population with at least one vaccine. We’re actually surrounded by Albemarle County which is number one in the state.”

Dr. Bonds said there is a push now to get vaccines to people who are homebound, as well as specialized vaccine clinics across the city.

“We’ve really tried to meet people where they are at to get them vaccinated and make sure they are safe from COVID,” Dr. Bonds said.

However, Dr. Bonds said there’s a long way to get to the figure of 75 percent vaccinated and that means targeting specific demographics. 

“To target some of our key populations, we have assisted the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP and the Latino Health Initiative who have developed public service announcements with funding by the Move 2 Health Equity Coalition,” Dr. Bonds said. 

Also at Council last night, several people spoke to a consent agenda item that authorizes a public hearing on removal of Confederate statues on June 7. That’s an official step required to remove the statues under legislation that passed the General Assembly in 2020. Albemarle County used this process to remove a Confederate statue in Court Square last September.

Don Gathers was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces

“Through the diligence and hard work and determination of the nine members of that board, we’ve done our job,” Gathers said. “And now we call on Council to say it is time for you to do yours, it’s time for those statues to go with all expedient speed. And if they cannot be gone expeditiously then they do need to be covered and they need to be put in storage.”

Council adopted a resolution last night on their consent agenda to move the process forward. Here’s City Manager Chip Boyles. (read the resolution)

“Thank you for passing the consent agenda  that includes the Lee and Jackson Statues movement,” Boyles said. “We intend to publish the notice so that you can have that public hearing at your June 7 Council meeting.”

That prompted a follow-up from Vice Mayor Sena Magill. 

“What would the timeline if the notice gets published than we had the meeting on the 7th, what would the earliest time if it passed on the 7th?” Magill asked.

“Thirty days after June 7,” Boyles said.

In the case of the At Ready statue in Court Square, Albemarle County passed their resolution of intent on July 1, 2021, the first day they were eligible to do so under the new law. They held their public hearing on August 6th and the statue was removed on September 12th. 

Boyles also said the city has received supplemental affordable housing funds from the federal American Rescue Plan which was passed by Congress earlier this year. 

“The city of Charlottesville will be receiving $270,000 that we’ll be able to spend on affordable housing programs within the city,” Boyles said. “Along the lines of the American Rescue Fund, we are still waiting to get the full total dollar amount that we will be receiving as well as the regulations.” 

Boyles also said there were 64 applicants from across the country for someone to be the executive director of the Police Civilian Review Board. He also said he has resumed a practice of meeting with leaders of neighborhood associations and the next meeting will be on July 15. 

More from City Council in a future episode of the program. 

An architect with ties to Charlottesville has been named by a trade organization as one of two winners of its 2021 Award for Excellence in Public Architecture. The American Institute of Architects has recognized Katie Swenson for her role in creating public facilities. While a graduate student at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, Swenson worked with the Piedmont Housing Alliance and helped lead their 10th and Page Street Neighborhood Revitalization Project, which built many single-family homes in that section of Charlottesville in the 2000’s. 

Swenson was the first executive director of the Charlottesville Community Design Center, a now-defunct nonprofit that sought to help area residents become more knowledgeable about planning issues. The organization folded in early 2011. Swenson left in 2006 to direct the Enterprise Community Partners Rose Fellowship Program. She also co-founded Enterprise’s Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute Program along with former Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox. Read more on the AIA website

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement. Let’s end today with a subscriber-fueled public service announcement. the group Resilient Virginia has a mission to help communities in the Commonwealth be prepared to adapt to a changing climate. They kick off their three-part Spring Resiliency Academy on May 6  with a workshop on funding for flood-prone communities. It’s $25 for the one event, but $60 for if you want to also attend the May 27 event on resilient buildings and the June 17 installment on economic recovery, jobs, and justice. Register at where you can also learn more about their upcoming virtual conference. 

The Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) will hold a Virtual Town Hall on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 to launch a new tool intended to help its members build better relationships with their donors. At noon, they will publicly launch an initiative called “7 Actionable Principles for a Strong Social Sector.” These range from Create Strategic Budgets to Evaluate Impact. 

“As CNE has worked intensively with nonprofits and our local partners towards sustaining our social impact sector and supporting positive outcomes in difficult times, the need for bold thought and creative approaches to community solutions has become paramount,” said CNE Executive Director Cristine Nardi. “7 AP is a flexible, accessible tool that gives nonprofits and funders across Virginia and beyond a proven structure for assessing their organizational health and using resources effectively.”

Register for the event at Last year, CNE worked with over 700 nonprofits across Virginia. 

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is working on a new statewide rail plan, the first such document since Governor Northam announced a $3.7 billion investment in passenger rail in December 2019. Emily Stock is manager for rail planning for the DRPT. 

“The rail plan is required by the Federal Railroad Administration every four years and the last statewide was adopted by the [Commonwealth Transportation Board] in 2018,” Stock said. 

One of the items called for in the draft plan is to implement a study called for in the 2020 General Assembly to review logistics for the Commonwealth Corridor, a proposed east-west passenger service that would travel from Hampton Roads to the New River Valley. That report is due by the next General Assembly Session, before the overall plan is complete. 

“It would be examining how the service could integrate with service on the western rail service and also the I-95 corridor so it would be an opportunity to develop the Commonwealth Corridor expansion policies,” Stock said. 

There will also be a review of extending service westward to Bristol, as well as a potential stop in Bedford. The statewide rail plan is expected to be completed in early 2022. Approval by the Commonwealth Transportation Board will happen soon afterward. 

One change in the future will be that the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority or the DRPT will be responsible for operating and maintaining stations, but the details aren’t yet known.

“DRPT is in the process of working out how things will change and we’re developing a new policy and prioritization to spell it out based on our recent agreements with CSX, Amtrak and [Virginia Railway Express],” Stock said. 

A study of the long range needs for Charlottesville’s train station is underway. An issue at many stations across Virginia is the need to become compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act.