November 18, 2020: Parking panel supports non-police enforcement; Design panel reviews Starbucks mural

  
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Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to plant native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you! 

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam will hold a press conference this afternoon at 2 p.m. One thing you will hear during his appearance is that there are another 2,071 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia today, and the statewide percent positivity rating dropped to 7.1 percent from 7.4 yesterday. One question that may come up at the meeting is what that metric is actually telling us. 

Today’s new numbers bring the statewide seven-day average for new daily cases to 2,071. In the Blue Ridge Health District, the statewide seven-day average for new daily cases is 26. There are no new fatalities. 

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Anthony Fauci will speak at noon as a regular installment of the University of Virginia’s Medical Center Hour. Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. His lecture will cover the latest developments related to COVID-19, including how to prevent transmission, caring for patients with the virus, medical treatments for COVID-19 and vaccine research. (register)

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A volunteer group created to help shape policy about parking and transportations issues in downtown Charlottesville has endorsed a proposal from staff to hire a private contractor to enforce parking tickets. Charlottesville Parking Director Rick Siebert reminded the Parking Advisory Panel yesterday that there are many on-street parking spots that stop being free to the driver after the posted time limit expires. 

“I believe if we had more consistent parking enforcement that people would only stay for two hours or less in the two hour spaces,” Siebert said. 

Siebert was originally hired to implement a parking action plan that included installing parking meters that would raise revenue for the city to pay for downtown improvements, but a six month pilot in 2017 and 2018 was not completed. Siebert said the city can still collect some of those revenues through more consistent enforcement. 

“I think it’s difficult with the police being solely responsible for this function for them to focus on that as a matter of importance given the number of issues that they realistically face every single day,” Siebert said. 

Siebert said a private contractor would be solely focused on this function and could also expand enforcement elsewhere in the city, including permit parking in residential areas. The idea has the support of Kirby Hutto, the panel’s chair.

“Without consistent enforcement, people learn to take advantage and to just ignore the signs and that’s bad for downtown because then those spaces are not in rotation,” Hutto said.

However, Charlottesville Economic Development Director Chris Engel said not everyone in local government supports the idea.

“There is some reluctance on the part of the police department,” Engel said. “The concern is that what  happens when an enforcement officer gives a ticket erroneously and that needs to be appealed. The citizen is naturally going to knock on the police department’s door because they expect that’s where it came from and it creates a situation where people are going to the wrong place, complaining to the wrong person. There could be some confusion there.” 

However, the panel unanimously recommended a resolution in support of the idea. Joan Fenton is another member. 

“Personally, I think politically its a good time to present this again as people are asking to rethink how the police are, what jobs the police are needed to do and not to do,” Fenton said. 

Siebert said that if Council supports the idea, it would likely take six months from issuing a request for proposals for the switch to be made. 

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The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has indicated at a preliminary review that it would support a mural on the side of 1001 West Main where Starbucks wants to open a new pick-up only franchise.   

“It’s one of our latest new formats of a store that we’ve been rolling out,” said Ena Yang, a designer with Starbucks. “We have three stores that are open. Two in New York City and one in Toronto, Canada. This particular store we do not have any seating. Our lobby space is only 300 square foot where the customers are encouraged to pick up their order and be on the go.” 

At issue before the BAR was whether the east-facing wall that slopes down 10th Street should be adorned with a colorful mural. The building in question is a former auto repair shop that is a contributing structure in the West Main Architectural Design Control District. Historic preservation planner Jeff Werner said there were some restrictions 

“Anything within a mural that is interpreted as a Starbucks related or coffee related could be interpreted as a sign so be very careful with the artwork so that it doesn’t come across as ‘come in here and buy coffee,” Werner said. 

Yang said there would be no images to promote coffee. Chair Carl Schwarz said he supported the preliminary design of the mural. 

“This is an interesting part of town where you can have a lot of color and excitement and it’s not going to distract from anything historic,” Schwarz said. 

Werner encouraged representatives from Starbucks to reach out to the community and to be ready for comment. Yang said they would do so. 

“I understand it is a very prominent location and it’s a very busy intersection,” Yang said. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We are Starbucks. We are a global company. We want to make sure that what we put on a building of this size and at such a prominent location could be messaging that represents Starbucks. As to getting some of the community involvement, I would love your advice and guidance on what are some of the steps we can take to ensure this mural really speaks true to the community.”

Yang said the next step is to continue working with the artist in a way that will not cover up any of the existing windows. 

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The Albemarle Economic Development Authority got an update yesterday on how the pandemic has affected local from the director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau. Courtney Cacatian said the area had a brief upsurge in October when local hotels had a 70 percent occupancy rate. 

“That is 20 occupancy points higher than the state average for October,” Cacatian said. She added that number includes rooms booked by the University of Virginia for quarantine and isolation purposes, as well as those currently being used to help serve homeless individuals. 

However, forecasts of consumer desire to travel indicate levels have dropped to that of earlier this spring. 

“The way I read this is that we can still talk about Charlottesville and Albemarle about being a destination because people are receptive to that message, but they are not willing to travel here right now,” Cacatian said. 

The CACVB will be pivoting to put out a message for people to buy local in order to help promote small business at this time so venues and establishments can still be open when the pandemic is over. In 2019, about 3,500 people were employed in the tourism sector in Albemarle County. 

“The elements about our destination that our visitors enjoy are very similar to the elements that our residents enjoy as well,” Cacatian said. 

Cacatian said sharp declines are still projected for November and beyond into the spring. 

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Today in meetings, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors meets at 1 p.m. for a meeting that begins with a proclamation in support of front-line workers that reaffirms the county’s commitment to partnerships to help increase the well-being of those who continue to provide services during the pandemic. (resolution)

There is also a work session on the strategic plan and the capital improvement plan. Then the county’s zoning code enforcement officer will make a presentation on how that process works. In the evening there is an update from Dr. Denise Bonds of the Blue Ridge Health District.  One of the things she is expected to talk about is how the seven-day average for positive COVID tests is not necessarily a metric to gauge community spread. (agenda)

The Nelson County Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. in the General District Courtroom in the county courthouse in Lovingston. On the agenda is a review of a major site plan amendment to allow Camp Blue Ridge to build a multi-purpose facility to replace their recently condemned cafeteria and a long-demolished gymnasium.  (agenda)

The Ridge Street Priority Neighborhood Task Force will meet at 4 p.m. It will be interesting to hear their thoughts on Council’s discussion regarding the 5th Street roundabout (meeting info)

Later on in the evening, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society will hold a town hall and virtual conversation on the State of the Society. This year the ACHS hired a new executive director, Tom Chapman, and he wants to lead a community discussion on the organization’s vision, mission and values. Some of the questions: (zoom link) (facebook live link

  • What does the future hold for the ACHS?

  • What role does history play in shaping our community, and vice versa?

  • What are the silver linings to the dark clouds of a world-wide pandemic and a national reckoning with racial inequality?

Tomorrow in meetings, the Albemarle County Service Authority meets at 9 a.m. The ACSA is the organization that provides water and sewer to residents of Albemarle County and is governed by a six-person citizen advisory board. There is no equivalent in the City of Charlottesville. (meeting info)