Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
November 2, 2021: Council indicates support for Food Equity Initiative but funding decisions to come later; Office vacancy rate at 4.9 percent in Charlottesville

November 2, 2021: Council indicates support for Food Equity Initiative but funding decisions to come later; Office vacancy rate at 4.9 percent in Charlottesville

Bono was wrong. All is quiet on Election Day, not New Year's Day.

Let’s begin today with two Patreon-fueled shout-outs. One person wants you to know "We keep each other safe. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance."

And in another one, one Patreon supporter wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!

On today’s show:

  • COVID update from Dr. Denise Bonds of the Blue Ridge Health District 

  • Charlottesville Council indicates support for Charlottesville Food Equity Initiative, but funding decisions will come in the months to come 

  • A quick look at commercial office space in the Charlottesville area

  • Charlottesville’s public housing agency is owed $52,000 in unpaid rent

Two million for affordable housing projects

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is seeking applications from private, public, and nonprofit developers for projects to increase affordable housing stock throughout the region. The TJPDC received $2 million from the entity formerly known as the Virginia Housing Development Authority for the purpose of building actual units. The first step is for applicants to submit a proof of concept. 

“This proof of concept will be issued to collect key details about the proposed project, including number of proposed units to be constructed, partner development experience, and location of development,” reads the release. “The requested proof of concept will serve as a precursor to a more detailed formal project application.”

The funding is part of a $40 million statewide initiative. Proposals are due on November 29 at 5 p.m. Visit the TJPDC’s website to learn more about the application.

Sixth Street site plan

Tomorrow, the city of Charlottesville will hold a site plan conference for the next public housing project to be redeveloped by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Plans for 39-units at Sixth Street will be reviewed. The CRHA Board of Commissioners’ got an update on this topic at their meeting on October 25. Brandon Collins is now the redevelopment coordinator for CRHA. (read his report )

“Resident-led planning continues and to update you all in case you don’t know, the plan is in the space along Monticello Avenue where the garden currently is we’re going to knock down six apartments on the end of the garden to get a little extra room and build an apartment building,” Collins said.

Collins' redevelopment report for October states that a three-story building had been originally, but architects suggested a fourth story would make the project more competitive for Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

“Residents seem to be generally in favor of that,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of process questions that we’re all going to work through to get a decision on that.”

The site plan conference begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. (meeting info)

Former Planning Commissioner Lisa Green resigned from the CRHA Board of Commissioners on October 5. No reason was given but Green had been on the Redevelopment Committee. Council is seeking applications to fill the vacancy as well as other open positions on boards and commissions. Take a look at the list on the Charlottesville City Hall website

At the CRHA meeting, Executive Director John Sales reported that some tenants owe tens of thousands in back rent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development currently considers CRHA a “troubled” agency which requires additional scrutiny from the federal agency including increase inspections. 

“A big item that we should always discuss is the delinquency account for tenants,” Sales said. “We’re currently at $52,000. That is probably our biggest concern in terms of exiting out of troubled status. The $52,000 represents about a hundred tenants.”

Sales said that represents about a third of public housing residents. He said there is a CRHA staff member working on rental assistance to help cover the back log and to find out what barriers are in place to paying the rent. 

Office space check-in

The Charlottesville office market had a vacancy rate of 4.9 percent in the second quarter of this year according to an analysis from Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer. That’s less than the same period in 2020, but below the forecasted amount. The report states that office space remains high in demand. 

“Absorbency in the market was down for the quarter but that is more a reflection of large new deliveries than lack of demand and remains net positive for the past 12 months,” reads the report. “In fact, 87 percent of the nearly 380,000 square feet of office space under construction is already pre-leased and since Q1 2020 there has been more space delivered than in prior decades.” 

The report states that rents continue to rise. The current average is $27.52 per square foot, a 55 percent increase over the 2015 average. 

Statistics from the Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer report

Pinkston’s bounty

Election results will come tomorrow. One final piece of information before the votes are tallied. 

Brian Pinkston’s campaign for one of two seats on City Council received a last-minute contribution of $3,000 on Monday from the Democratic Party of Charlottesville.

COVID update

The number of new COVID cases reported each day continues to decline. 

“If you look at the trend over the past couple of weeks here, a month or so, it’s really been on a downward trajectory indicating that we may be past the worst with regards to the Delta virus,” Bonds said.

Today the Virginia Department of Health reports another 1,245 new cases today, and the Blue Ridge Health District reports 41 new cases. There have been 12 deaths reported in the district since October 25. 

Since Dr. Bonds last addressed Council, booster shots are now available for all of the three major vaccines. The Moderna booster is available for those over the age of 65 or those with some underlying condition or situation. 

“If you got [Johnson and Johnson] as your first one, it’s a little different,” Bonds said. “Anyone who got J&J as their first vaccine for COVID is eligible as long as you’re over the age of 18.”

Bonds said anyone who got the J&J vaccine can also opt to switch to the Moderna or Pfizer as a booster. 

“Really the best person to talk to about this would be your physician,” Bonds said. “There are some reasons to think that mixing and matching may be beneficial. You get higher antibody levels with the rMNA boosters but there’s some evidence that if you get J&J it activates more of a different part of your system called T-cells.”

Vaccines are available at the Community Vaccination Center at the former Big Lots in Seminole Square Shopping Center. Visit the Blue Ridge Health District website to learn more

Dr. Bonds said the district will have a limited quantity of Pfizer doses for children between 5 and 11 when they are available next week.

“It’s going to one third of the amount that anyone 12 and over gets,” Dr. Bond said. 

Because there is a limited amount, the District is prioritizing shots for the most vulnerable children, working with school districts and pediatricians to identify those people and schedule shots. 

“There will be a small amount of vaccine that is available at our Community Vaccination Center,” Dr. Bonds said. “It is by appointment only and those should be out and available by Friday of this week we believe.” 

In all, the District will get an initial distribution of 6,300 doses. 

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In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects with the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Charlottesville Fire Department, and the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. Visit to learn about those projects. 

Dr. Denise Bonds spoke at the City Council meeting last night. The meeting was overseen by the two deputy city managers in the wake of the resignation of former City Manager Chip Boyles on October 12. That meant it was up to Sam Sanders to provide responses from previous comments for the public. 

Who maintains the mall side streets?

“The first item was in regards to side street maintenance near the Downtown Mall and I did check in with staff in regards to who is responsible for maintaining those side streets and that is a function of Parks and Recreation,” Sanders said. “They have been short-staffed and struggling to keep up with everything that needs to be done is what I am hearing at this moment.”

The second item dealt with a request to install a four-way stop on Rose Hill Drive at Burley Middle School, which is owned and operated by Albemarle County Public Schools.

“There is a speed study underway and its in relation to the configuration that’s being proposed for Walker Upper Elementary, “ Sanders said. “Even though it is not the same impact area, they will be able to take a look at what is happening on Rose Hill Drive.”

Sanders said the last study of the area around Burley dates back to 2004 and some traffic calming efforts were installed in the second half of the decade. He referred people interested in the topic to the city’s Traffic Calming Handbook as well as the petition to begin the process. 

Food Equity discussion

The main item last night was a report on Charlottesville’s Food Equity Initiative. The nonprofit group Cultivate Charlottesville has been the recipient of city funding for the past three years and seek additional money for years to come. They also want two percent of the meals tax to go a new Food Equity Fund.

“We believe that food is a human right and we operate from that perspective that everyone, all Charlottesville residents, deserve access to fresh produce and high quality food,” said co-executive director Richard Morris.

Morris said food equity is an outcome where all residents have access to food that meets nutritional and cultural needs. 

Earlier this year, Council was presented with a Food Equity Initiative Policy Platform which seeks to serve as a strategic plan to fund a variety of initiatives, and they’ve sought support for funding through an online petition. Much of this work is also finding its way into the draft Comprehensive Plan which Council will consider on November 15. 

The Food Equity Initiative Platform is a strategic plan that has also been embedded within the draft Comprehensive Plan

One challenge is that the Urban Agricultural Collective has lost or soon will lose control of land it has used for community gardens. Land at the public housing site at Sixth Street SW is slated to be used for redevelopment. 

“The overall budget for the Food Justice Network has been about $400,000, $155,000 of what was the Food Equity Initiative contributed,” said co-director Jeanette Abi-Nader. “And you’ll note that the majority of the budget goes toward staffing.” 

The group is seeking a multiple year commitment, despite the fact that elected bodies in Virginia cannot appropriate money beyond the next fiscal year. The request comes outside of the budget cycle, as well as the Vibrant Communities process through which nonprofits apply for funding. That process used to be conducted jointly with Albemarle County. 

Mayor Nikuyah Walker praised the report submitted with the funding request, but had concerns. 

“If we are adding this as a three-year item, that the way other nonprofits have to compete for funding, I have some reservations there,” Walker said. 

Abi-Nader said Cultivate Charlottesville did not apply for Vibrant Community funds in the past two years because they had been funded by Council outside of that process. She explained how she thinks the current request is different. 

“We see the Vibrant Communities funds as really about programs that impact the community, like direct support programs and engagement, and this program is seen as a support for a function of city government,” Abi-Nader said. 

Walker noticed there have been several groups funded outside of the budget cycle and the Vibrant Community fund, such as the B.U.C.K. Squad and Peace and Streets.

“I think our whole process needs to be reviewed and if there is a list of community partnerships that are doing the work the city thinks is essential that can’t be done without that partnership, then that needs to be a separate list from the Vibrant Communities but the way things are set up now, I don’t think it’s a fair process,” Walker said. 

Councilor Lloyd Snook appeared to agree that the resolution as presented was not appropriate. 

“Franky it appears to me to be an attempt to circumvent the budget process,” Snook said. 

Misty Graves, the interim director of the city’s Human Services Department, said the resolution came up because the initiative was a creature of City Council. 

“So I think that’s why it’s coming to back to City Council for whether or not it is a renewed commitment and if this is still a priority of City Council,” Graves said. 

Next year will be the fourth year of the initiative. The $155,000 will be built into the general fund budget that will be introduced by whoever will be City Manager early next March. The vote was 3 to 2 with Walker and Snook voting against and the resolution does not guarantee funding for FY23. 

The other request was for two percent of the meals tax proceeds to go to a Food Equity Fund. In Fiscal Year 2020, the city collected $12.6 million from the meals tax, which would have generated just over $250,000 for this purpose. (Charlottesville’s 2020 annual report

Abi-Nader said this fund would cover infrastructure to support food equity goals.

“And by infrastructure, I mean that informally, not like literally always physical things, but infrastructure support for our city to move from a foodie city to a food equity city as an overall goal,” Abi-Nader said. “There are things that go beyond what an individual nonprofit can do.” 

One idea is a cooperative grocery store to be located near subsidized housing. Another is to build a new community garden in a section of Washington Park.

“There’s space there to sight a quarter-acre park,” Morris said. “We’re talking about 10,000 square feet which from a growing perspective that’s a space that can grow a lot of food.”

Councilors did not commit to the idea at this point in the budget cycle, but there was general support for the initiative. 

“For the record, I really support this group,” said Vice Mayor Sena Magill. “What they are doing is amazing work and it’s greatly needed work. I know I’ve been learning from them for the last three years now.” 

Another issue worth continuing to track into the future. 

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Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
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.