There may not be any significance to the number 320, but that is the number of days that have occurred since the beginning of the year. There are now 45 days remaining until the beginning of 2024, so take heed of this if you have any goals you’d like to make between now and then. This is not a new song for a long-dormant rock and roll band, but instead another edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. I’m Sean Tubbs, eager to take another listen.
Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
On today’s program:
Nelson County Supervisorsn vote for a burn ban until further notice and Greene County announces their outdoor ban as well
Senator-elect John McGuire announces he will challenge Representative Bob Good in the Fifth District
A member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors expresses concern about data centers
A brief update on Dairy Market Phase 3 and Charlottesville’s Development Code
The Charlottesville Planning Commission has once again recommend approval of a large student apartment building at the corner of JPA and Emmet Street
First shout-out: Plant Northern Piedmont Natives
Since the beginning of this newsletter, one Patreon supporter has dedicated their shout-out to an organization that seeks to draw awareness of the importance of native species to the ecosystem.
This is perhaps the best time to think about what to do next year, and there’s no time like now to visit Plant Northern Piedmont Natives to learn what you can about what species are specific to your region!
The partnership has ten regional campaigns for ten different ecosystems across Virginia, from the Northern Piedmont to the Eastern Shore. Take a look at the full map below for the campaign for native species where you are in the Commonwealth. You can also download a free copy of their handbook: Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens.
In this guide, Piedmont native plants are defined as those that evolved before the influence of European settlements shaped and changed the landscape. Plants included in the guide were selected from the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora and occur naturally within the region.
Note: This edition is being updated throughout the evening it was published due to changing conditions. I added the Afton Mountain fire information after I recorded the podcast, and then later added information about Louisa County’s burn ban. I no longer post updates to social media, and check back frequently to learn of new developments in the story.
Nelson County and Greene County both implement a burn ban
A growing number of counties in central and southern Virginia are instituting bans on outdoor burning due to dry conditions and a growing number of wildfires. The Nelson County Board of Supervisors adopted both a drought emergency ordinance today and a prohibition on fires.
“We’re now at 14.27 percent of the county in extreme drought up at the Augusta County border,” said Administrator Candice McGarry. “[Another] 49.65 percent is in severe drought which is west of U.S. 29 and 36.08 percent is in moderate drought which is east of U.S. 29.”
McGarry said the drought is affecting agriculture in the county and that area waterways like the Rockfish River and Ty River are all below normal levels due to a lower than usual level of precipitation. The emergency declaration allows for the ban on outdoor burning on private and public property.
“This drought emergency will effective until such time as the county receives significant rainfall that decreases the fire risk,” McGarry said.
Greene County also has begun a period of restrictions as implementation began at noon today. They’ve been under a drought emergency since early September.
“No one in Greene County may burn and items outside or dispose of any burning embers outside (including, but not limited to leaves, garbage, shrubbery, fire pits, open-air grills, or campfires) because of the potential that such burning or disposal may cause uncontrolled fires,” reads the press release.
Violations are a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The Quaker Fire in Madison County is considered contained according to a website updated by the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Later in the day, Louisa County also announced a ban on outdoor burning. This press release was sent out just after 5 p.m.
“Due to worsening dry conditions along with a weather pattern that is expected to bring an increase in wind, the County of Louisa is prohibiting open-air burning until further notice, pursuant to the County of Louisa Ordinance Section 42-2.b,” reads that press release.
The release notes that the ban does not apply to charcoal, gas, or liquid-fired grills.
“Any person violating the provisions shall be guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and subject to a fine of not more than $500.00 for each separate offense, and shall in addition to such penalties be liable for all costs incurred in controlling or attempting to control any fire resulting from prohibited burning,” the release continues.
Vehicle fire sparks brush fire on Afton Mountain
Crews with Albemarle County Fire Rescue responded to calls of a vehicle fire on Interstate 64 around 12:30 p.m. today and the flames have spread. That’s now leading to a large back-up of vehicles according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Update: At 4:30 p.m., all lanes were open on I-64, but U.S. 250 was blocked. Details will be updated here as the incident progresses.
“The westbound lanes of Interstate 64 on Afton Mountain have reopened to traffic, but U.S. 250 (Rockfish Gap Turnpike) is now closed from the roundabout at Route 151 to the Waynesboro city limits in Augusta County,” reads an email from VDOT. “Exit 99 on I-64 is also closed to traffic due to the U.S. 250 closure.”
The back-up on I-64 is reported to be at least ten miles long.
Previous coverage today:
The right lane is being used to stage emergency vehicles to contain the fire.
“A wildfire burning on the slope of Afton Mountain is restricting traffic on Interstate 64 westbound to the left lane at mile marker 100,” reads a release sent out this afternoon. “The right lane closure is resulting in several miles of traffic backup and significant delays.”
The closure is leading to back-ups at other intersections as motorists seek other ways to get around.
LaPisto Kirtley concerned about data centers in Albemarle
This week was the annual conference for the Virginia Association of Counties and several members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors attended the event in Bath County. This is a chance for elected officials across the state to meet with each other and learn about what’s happening elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
Newly re-elected Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley said she attended a session called Virginia’s Energy Landscape.
“This one was truly worrisome because if your [Comprehensive] plan designates office, retail or office space, data centers can come in there with as little as five to ten acres,” LaPisto Kirtley said.
LaPisto Kirtley said she is concerned about the by-right use of data centers because they use a lot of water and energy. The video version for that event is not yet online but will eventually be available here.
In late August, Louisa County announced that Amazon Web Services will invest $11 billion in that locality to build two data center campuses.
At the meeting, Supervisor Ann Mallek became the President of the VACO Board of Directors.
Senator-elect John McGuire to challenge Representative Good for Republican nomination
Just eight days after being elected to represent Virginia’s Senate District 10, Delegate John McGuire has announced on social media that he will challenge incumbent Bob Good in whatever nomination process is decided for 2024.
McGuire said he’s running because he claims Good does not support former President Donald Trump in his race for another four years in the White House. Instead, Good has endorsed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
“On the day our president was wrongly indicted, Bob abandoned Trump by endorsing another candidate,” McGuire wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday. “I'm a Father, a Navy SEAL, a Day One Trump Supporter, a Christian Conservative, and a Pro-Life, Pro-Gun Business Owner running to SAVE AMERICA and HELP THE PEOPLE.”
“The electorate has been misled and betrayed, as it is now apparent that John McGuire’s intentions were primarily self-serving rather than driven by a genuine desire for public service,” reads the text of that resolution.
Jarvis also reports that at least two McGuire’s opponents for the Republican nomination for the Senate race have called McGuire a liar. One of them is Duane Adams, a member of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors who posted on the social media website formerly known as Twitter.
The Fifth District Republican Committee meets on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Farmville according to their calendar.
So far there’s been no word from candidates who might emerge in the Democratic Party.
A brief update on Dairy Market Phase 3, Development Code
While work continues on the new Development Code for the City of Charlottesville, behind-the-scenes planning continues for one project that recently prompted the creation of a new addition to the future zoning.
The Stony Point Development Group announced plans earlier this year to create a third phase of the Dairy Market development, plans that prompted an outcry from neighbors concerned about the five-to-seven story buildings being requested through an amendment of an existing special use permit.
In August, City Manager Sam Sanders said he had spoken with Chris Henry of Stony Point Development Group to encourage the creation of a community benefits package that might be created.
Planning Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell had an update on Tuesday night and said he’s met with Henry along with Sanders, Planning Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates, Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade, and Neighborhood Development Services Director James Freas.
“That conversation was about something they’re doing in Richmond,” Mitchell said. “It’s called the affordable housing grant. At the end of the day, it’s nothing more than rebates and tax credits to incentivize the development of affordable housing.”
Mitchell said Freas will be putting together some ideas for potential applications. Meanwhile, Dairy Market is in the area covered by the new Core Neighborhood Corridor Overlay District in the draft Development Code. That means the by-right heights of new buildings would be capped at three stories unless a special exception was granted.
Yesterday I published my summary of the City Council’s November 1, 2023 work session which featured discussion of the overlay district as well as another late-minute change to the draft zoning code. I hope to get to the November 8 and November 13, 2023 work sessions before the next one.
“Our next work session is November 29 and that’s going to be a discussion on the zoning map itself and the public hearing for Council is scheduled for December 5 starting at 4 p.m.,” said Missy Creasy, the deputy director of Neighborhood Development Services.
Creasy said Council has reserved December 13 as another meeting if they decide to hold off on a vote immediately after the public hearing. December 18 is also reserved.
Second shout-out: Community Bikes meets goals for 2023
In today’s second subscriber–supported shout-out: The organization Community Bikes has announced it has surpassed its goal of distributing bicycles for both kids and adults! They want to express their heartfelt thanks to those who have kept bike donations rolling through their doors. They also want to express endless gratitude to the staff and volunteers who lovingly restore donated bikes, ensuring they are safe for their new owners. To find out more and learn about the recent donation of a new van donated by Geico, visit communitybikes.org!
Planning Commission repeats approval of VERVE Charlottesville near Scott Stadium
For the second time this fall, the Charlottesville Planning Commission has approved a rezoning under the existing development rules for a project called VERVE Charlottesville. The rezoning now awaits action by Charlottesville City Council.
The Planned Unit Development rezoning would apply to parts of Emmet Street, Stadium Row, Montibello Circle, and Jefferson Park Avenue.
“We approved this application 6 to 0 only a month ago but it was decided that we probably needed to get a formal proffer statement included within the docket,” said Planning Commission Chair Hosea Mitchell.
No other changes were made to the plan since the October 10 recommendation except the inclusion of the proffer statement which captures a very important condition.
“The proffer statement indicates that the applicant will provide a cash contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund in the amount equal to double that which is required under Section 34-12(d)2,” said city planner Matt Alfele. (read that section of code)
Under the plan, 62 existing units spread across nine buildings would be replaced by one large building with between 525 and 540 residential units.
“The proposed building would have a height range of 75 feet to 135 feet and in stories a range from five stories to 12 stories,” Alfele said. “In addition, the proposed PUD includes improved pedestrian and bicycle circulation along Stadium, Emmet, and Jefferson Park Avenue and road improvements to Montebello Circle.”
Since October 10, 2023, the University of Virginia has sent a letter to the City Council asking them to weigh the project very carefully. The November 1, 2023 letter urges consideration of the impacts this development would have on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. (read the letter)
“Redevelopment projects near the Academical Village have never proposed new conditions that would diminish the integrity of the site until now,” write UVA Architect Alice Raucher and Senior Vice President Colette Sheehy. “The proposed Verve Planned Unit Development at Stadium Road and Jefferson Park Avenue… could have a major and negative visual effect.”
City Council attends Planning Commission meetings for joint public hearings, and Councilor Brian Pinkston brought up UVA’s concern.
“I am aware of a letter was sent by the University relative to the height of this project and the visibility from the Lawn,” Pinkston said. “I don’t know if that’s something that’s in the public record at this point or worth discussing.”
The matter had come up at the Commission’s pre-meeting which is not televised or recorded on video. Bill Palmer, UVA’s non-voting representative on the Planning Commission, recalled what happened off-camera.
“What came up in the pre-meeting was that the developer may have developed some renderings from perspectives from the Lawn that tried to show how it will look,” Palmer said. “I haven’t seen those. I’ll just say I will look forward to seeing those. We’ll look at those and if there are any revisions we want to make to our statement we can do that. I can get them to City Council at the appropriate time but beyond that our concerns are the same.”
During the public hearing, nearby resident Ellen Contini-Morava argued that the proffer should not be enough to satisfy the city.
“Four million sounds like a lot of money but it’s not that much if you compare it with the affordable housing fee a developer would have to pay under the new zoning code if their development doesn’t include any affordable housing,” Contini-Morava said.
Under the new code, all developments over ten units must provide ten percent of the total units as affordable. At roughly 53 units at $185,000 for each unit, Contini-Morava said the project would bring in over $9.8 million.
As he did in October, Commissioner Karim Habbab cast the lone vote against the recommendation.
Lake Monticello residents angry about proposed water rate hike, Felicity Taylor, CBS19, November 15, 2023
Three months into the school year, Albemarle County will have enough school bus drivers to meet students’ needs, Tamica Jean-Charles, Charlottesville Tomorrow, November 16, 2023
Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail financing approved for renovations, Anahita Jafary, NBC29, November 15, 2023
#603 is in the can
It’s a Thursday and it seems I’ve got the hang of this particular Thursday for a newsletter and podcast has been producted. The original idea is to have a daily edition, something that will realistically take more staff to get going, but I’m keen to keep trying to implement it. Behind the scenes I’m constantly taking steps to improve the production process to make this happen.
I’d like to thank the two people yesterday who signed up for paid subscriptions through Substack to help keep this work going. That means additional funding through Ting, a company that has pledged to support this newsletter with a match of every initial payment through Substack.
Hooray for Ting, hooray for the two subscribers, and hooray for you for reading to this point!
If you’d like to join them, today’s a good day to do so. Another way to support is to keep spreading the word.
Maybe you’re in the market for a new high speed internet provider? If so, check out Ting! 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