Nov 18, 2021 • 17M

November 18, 2021: Public housing agency preparing annual plan; State of the James measures the health of the big river

Plus, preparation for Smart Scale and the FDA approves focused ultrasound treatment for some symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

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Sean Tubbs
Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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Let’s begin with a Patreon-fueled shout-out. 

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On today’s program: 

  • The overall health of the James River has dropped slightly 

  • The Food and Drug Administration approves focused ultrasound to treat some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

  • Area transportation officials want your input tonight on the region’s transit future

  • An update on planning for Smart Scale’s fifth round 

  • The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority prepares its annual plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

While the number of vaccinated Virginians has increased due to the extension of shots into people between the ages of 5 and 11, the number of cases has been up slightly over the past two days. However the Virginia Department of Health reports Wednesday figure of 2,592 new cases as a technical error that includes counts from previous days. The seven day average is now at 1,475 a day and the percent positivity is at 5.5 percent today. 

The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 49 new cases today and the fatality count is at 309. 

Credit: Virginia Department of Health...

Do you have something to say about how our area bus systems should work? Tonight you’ll have your chance to weigh in on a Regional Transit Vision that could guide the future. Lucinda Shannon is a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District who briefed a technical committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization on Tuesday.

“I’m really hoping you guys will all sign up for the public meeting which is Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.,” Shannon said. “There’s also surveys on both of the TJPDC transit projects.”

The TJPDC is also conducting a separate study of the expansion of transit in Albemarle County.

Changes to the Charlottesville Area Transit system have been studied and presented to the public this year, but there is no schedule for when they may go into effect as there are more procedural steps to go through. (story map) (presentation)

This week, the Norfolk City Council adopted a resolution approving a plan called Multimodal Norfolk that seeks to increase frequency of some buses. 

“The Recommended Network focuses 70 percent of resources on service that will maximize access to opportunity for most residents and are likely to get high ridership relative to cost,” reads the resolution adopted Tuesday night. “The other 30 percent of resources are focused on service that is not likely to get high ridership but will provide service in areas where there is relatively high need.”

Service in Norfolk is provided by Hampton Roads Transit, which that city pays about $20 million a year to operate service.  That includes the Tide light rail system. 

A section of the resolution adopted by Norfolk City Council approving Multimodal Norfolk

Meanwhile, work continues to prepare the next round of applications for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale funding process.  Chuck Proctor is a planner with VDOT’s Culpeper District and he’s assisting Albemarle and the MPO come up with potential submissions.

“Most of them are bike-ped related, a lot of them are multimodal projects like Avon Street, 5th Street, the 29-250 bypass,” Proctor said. 

Other projects that could be submitted include the intersection of Old Trail and Crozet Avenue, a recommendation from the ongoing North 29 corridor study, projects on Pantops, as well as various intersections of U.S. 250 east of Pantops. 

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District can submit up to four applications on behalf of localities. Proctor said he was not aware of what applications the city of Charlottesville might advance. Jeannete Janiczek, the city’s urban construction coordinator. In most cases, Charlottesville administers its own projects without involvement from VDOT. 

“I just want to remind everyone this is still early in the process,” Janiczek said. “We have a new City Council coming online. The city does plan to apply for Smart Scale but we haven’t yet decided which projects.”

In four rounds, Charlottesville has been awarded millions for various streetscape projects, none of which has yet gone to construction. In September, Council indicated they would no longer support contributing a local match for funds received for the first two phases of West Main Streetscape. VDOT has not yet been formally informed of any decision, according to spokesman Lou Hatter. 

Janiczek said potential Charlottesville projects for Round 5 a fourth phase of West Main Streetscape, or in the East High Street, Rose Hill, and the Preston Avenue corridors. There is no information about any of these potential projects available on the city website. In contrast, Albemarle and the TJPDC have been discussing potential projects since the spring. 

A timeline from a March 5, 2021 memo regarding the timeline for Smart Scale Round 5 (read the memo)

In recent years, Albemarle County has increased its capacity to design and build non-vehicular transportation projects. Kevin McDermott is a chief of planning.

“We are now finally after many years in the construction phase for a lot of sidewalk improvements including new sidewalks out on Avon Street Extended, both north and south of the Mill Creek intersection,” McDemott said. 

The others are:

  • New sidewalk along U.S. 250 near the Harris Teeter including a pedestrian crossing 

  • New sidewalk along Rio Road East from John Warner Parkway heading east and south toward Charlottesville

  • New crosswalk at Mountain View Elementary School on Avon Street Extended

  • New sidewalk and shared-use path on Lambs Road to the Lambs Land Campus

  • New sidewalk on Ivy Road between city limits and the UVA Musculoskeletal Center

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of focused ultrasound to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, according to a release from the University of Virginia Health System. Specifically, medical device regulators have authorized medical centers to use something called Exablate Neuro by the company Insightec to treat mobility problems associated with tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease. 

“Prior to the approval, available treatments for the Parkinson’s symptoms included drugs, which not all patients respond to, and invasive deep-brain surgeries,” reads the release.” Focused ultrasound, in comparison, does not require incisions or cutting into the skull.” 

During the procedure, highly focused sound waves are used to target faulty brain cells and used together with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), treatment can help ease symptoms. The releases stresses that this is not a cure. 

The medical technology has been pioneered at UVA and shepherded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. Other potential uses include treatment for essential  tremors, uterine fibroids and some forms of cancer.. Research is ongoing. For more information visit the UVA Health website or watch videos on the Focused Ultrasound Foundation’s YouTube page

UVA is one of only 37 medical centers in the country with the capacity to offer an incisionless form of brain surgery to treat advanced Parkinson’s disease. (Photos by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Water quality in the James River has declined slightly over the past two years, according to a report card issued this week by an advocacy group that seeks to promote practices to reduce pollution. Since 2007, the James River Association has issued the State of the James and this year’s B- is based on a score of 61 percent. Every two years that score is factored by looking at 18 indicators split into the two categories of River Health and River Restoration Progress. In 2017 the grade was 63 percent. 

“The decline that has occurred since 2017 reflects the impact of abnormally high rainfall experienced across the watershed in recent years causing increased polluted runoff throughout the James,” reads the press release. “While oysters and tidal water quality showed promising resilience over the past year by bouncing back from the surge of rainwater and pollution, the river also revealed stalled progress in phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution reductions, as well as stream health.” 

Credit: James River Association

Among the indicators are gauges of how healthy various wildlife populations are. The good news is that the bald eagle scores at 100 percent due to an increase in breeding pairs to 352, indicating the ban on DDT as well as passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 has led to the resurgence. 

The bad news is that American shad are rated at zero and efforts to stock the James River watershed with hatchery shad have not worked because of the presence of dams, water intakes for water supply, invasive catfish, and fishing nets intended for other species. 

“Given the dire situation, Virginia must develop an emergency recovery plan that clearly identifies restoration actions,” reads the report card. “But it will take a long-term and sustained effort to bring American shad back from the brink of collapse in the James.” 

To look through all of the indicators, visit the State of the James website and explore their story map. What are you most interested in? Let me know in the comments. 

Details on American Shad from the State of the James Report card (view the story map)

Leave a comment

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement and it’s now time for a second Patreon-fueled shout-out. 

The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. The leaves have started to fall as autumn set in, and as they do, this is a good time to begin planning for the spring. 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!

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners will hold a closed meeting today to discuss a personnel matter. 

Last week, the appointed body held a work session on a report the CRHA must turn in to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Kathleen Glenn-Matthews is the deputy director of the CRHA. (FY20-FY21 adopted plan) (FY21-22 draft plan) (FY22-23 draft plan)

“The public housing authority PHA plan is a pretty comprehensive guide to all of our agency’s policies and programs,” said Glenn-Matthews. “We spent a lot of time on our goals.”

There are two parts to the plan, one of which is a five-year review that won’t be due until 2023. The second part is an annual plan with details about what will happen in the next fiscal year. The fiscal year for the CRHA runs from April 1 to March 30, a different calendar than the city, state, and federal government.  

The draft plan contains income demographics for CRHA residents

HUD classifies CRHA as a “troubled agency” based on the Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) and the Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEMAP). Glenn-Matthews said that means CRHA has to give more information in its annual plan. 

One of the first items in the draft plan is a listing of the number of public housing units and the number of housing choice vouchers. The number of units has dropped from 376 to 324 due in part to the temporary closure of Crescent Halls due to renovations. The number of housing vouchers has increased due to their use to provide temporary places for temporarily displaced residents. 

Those vouchers are separate from a program funded directly by the City of Charlottesville but administered by CRHA to increase their number. The city has had a line item of $900,000 a year in the capital budget for this supplemental program. 

Highlights from the past year include the adoption of policies on security cameras as well de-concentration of poverty.

“The PHA’s admission policy is designed to provide for de-concentration of poverty and income mixing by bringing higher income tenants into lower income communities and lower income tenants into higher income communities,” reads a statement in the plan.

Glenn-Matthews said the CRHA wants to build a homeownership program as well as augment the family self-sufficiency program.

“We don’t have funding for it and we’re penalized by being troubled but we are looking at alternate sources for that and it’s definitely a big priority for us,” Glenn-Matthews said. 

The draft plan indicates that the CRHA will continue to engage in “mixed finance modernization or development” as well as “demolition and/or disposition” in the coming year. One project is development of between 39 and 50 units at Sixth Street SE. There is also a pending demolition and disposition application for the second phase of South First Street, which would replace 58 existing units with a larger project. Planning for redevelopment of Westhaven is expected to begin in the next fiscal year. 

“We want to make sure everything in this plan is there that we want to do this year because if not we’ll have to do an amendment, and nobody wants to go through the process,” Glenn-Matthews said. 

The plan also explains how nonprofit companies have been formed to serve to secure funding for redevelopment. There’s also data on who lives in the units. 

As of August 31, 76 percent of households had incomes below 30 percent of the area median income, 14 percent are between 30 and 50 percent, and three percent are between 50 and 80 percent. Six percent of households do not have their income data available. 

Only one percent of residents are classified as Hispanic or Latino, three percent are classified as Asian, 21 percent are white, and 75 percent are Black.

There are a total of 736 people living in Charlottesville public housing and the average household size is 2.6 percent. 

The public hearing on the annual plan will be held on Monday, December 20. 

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