There are now 60 days until the end of 2023, and today is marked by the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day. Perhaps but not at all related, November 2 is also National Deviled Egg Day. This is Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter that celebrates Traffic Directors Day for all the work that goes into putting out information to the public. I’m Sean Tubbs, and I can mark off the creation of this introductory paragraph as it is also Project Management Day.
On today’s show:
Charlottesville will spend $5.9 million to purchase floodplain land that had been slated for 245 apartment units
Construction begins this week to build a block of sidewalk on East High Street in Charlottesville
Albemarle County has once again been awarded a AAA bond rating by the three major agencies
Albemarle and Charlottesville officials on a regional transportation body get an update on the Regional Transit Governance Study
And Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville recently dedicated two homes on Coleman Street to families who went through their program
This is the 595th edition of this newsletter, and that doesn’t count the Sunday Week Ahead. But a lot of information comes through this newsletter, so sign up to make sure you get each edition in your inbox!
First shout-out: eBike Lending Library
In today’s first subscriber supported shout-out, one Patreon supporter wants you to know that Charlottesville now has an eBike Lending Library! E-bikes are a great way to get around the community but there are many brands and styles to choose from. Because many e-bikes are sold online, it can be a challenge to try an e-bike before buying one.
The Charlottesville E-bike Lending Library is a free, not-for-profit service working to expand access to e-bikes in the area. They have a small collection of e-bikes that they lend out to community members for up to a week, for free. You can experience your daily commute, go grocery shopping, or even bike your kids to school, and decide whether e-bikes are right for you. Check out this service at ebikelibrary.org!
Charlottesville to spend $5.9 million to purchase floodplain land slated for dense development
The City of Charlottesville is set to spend $5.9 million to buy land from developer Wendell Wood along the Rivanna River, ending a plan to build 245 apartment units on land within the floodplain.
“In light of the location of the property in an environmentally sensitive area, and the City's need for additional passive recreation areas, City staff entered into discussions with the developer to acquire the property for passive recreation,” reads the staff report for a resolution on Council’s November 6 agenda.
Though they did not own the nearly two-dozen acres of land, Seven Development submitted a plan to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services in the fall of 2022 that would have seen three multistory buildings constructed on fill dirt imported to the site in order to raise the elevation. The company had entered into a contract with Wood’s Southern Ventures to buy the land upon receipt of site plan approval.
In September, Council upheld a decision by Charlottesville Planning Commission that found that roadways constructed to support the project would not be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
The work for the city to acquire the property dates back to this February when Council agreed to commission an appraisal of the land. While that work was conducted, civil engineers working for Seven Development continued to submit new site plans to address previous denials.
According to the resolution, a firm called Riverside Multifamily will be assigned the right to purchase the land from Seven Development. Riverside will be assigned a fee for its work in conveying the land to the city.
In addition to the assignment contract, there’s a document called “a mutual release of claims” which ends any potential legal action that may have arisen. Seven Development could have appealed Council’s decision in court, but that that avenue will now be closed.
The funding will come from the city’s Capital Improvement Program contingency program.
Construction to begin this week on East High Street sidewalk
For many years, there have been calls for Charlottesville to improve infrastructure on the northeastern portion of East High Street, a major connection between the city and eastern Albemarle County. Last October, a cyclist was struck by an aggressive motorist as reported by CBS19 and the Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall).
A year later and the city is moving forward with a plan to add a sidewalk where one currently does not exist.
“The City is working with Linco Inc. to build a new portion of public sidewalk in front of the AT&T building at 1430 E High Street,” reads an email sent to nearby property owners. “We are planning for this work to begin on October 30, 2023 and it should take about 3 weeks to complete.”
The cost of construction is about $50,000 according to city communications director Afton Schneider. The funding comes from the Safe Routes to School account.
The actual start time has been a couple of days later. This morning a notice went out stating that the existing sidewalks near this location will be closed through November 17.
Work will take place during the day and one lane will be open at all times. Workers with flags will control traffic flow.
Albemarle’s AAA bond-rating affirmed by three ratings agencies
In these days of higher interest rates for capital financing, every advantage helps as growing localities seek to build new schools and other items desired by an increasing population. This week, Albemarle officials announced that they’ve once again attained a AAA-bond rating, which will keep the county’s borrowing costs lower.
Moody’s Investors, S&P Global, and Fitch Ratings have all affirmed the top score.
“There are about 3,400 counties in the United States, and fewer than 50 have a triple AAA bond rating,” said Supervisor Chair Donna Price. “That’s like having the highest credit score for all three of the ratings for your personal credit.”
Last week, Albemarle issued $109.3 million in public facility and revenue bonds as well as $58.9 million in taxable bonds to cover the cost of the purchase of 462 acres of land near Rivanna Station.
“The public facility revenue bonds will finance approved capital projects, including reimbursements for the recent Mountain View and Crozet Elementary Schools additions, School division-wide maintenance and improvement projects, fire rescue apparatus replacements, and the ongoing Courts facility construction,” reads a press release sent out this week.
According to a release, Albemarle County is the only one of 11 counties in Virginia to receive the distinction.
Second shout-out: Camp Albemarle
Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for over sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Are you looking to escape and reconnect with nature? Consider holding an event where the natural beauty of the grounds will provide a venue to suit your needs. Visit their website to view the gallery and learn more!
MPO Policy Board gets update on regional transit governance study
On Wednesday, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors got an update from the Regional Transit Governance Study as well as a review of what the county gets from its transit investment from the Texas Transportation Institute. I’ll have more from that in the future.
A week earlier, the Policy Board of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization had its own update on a five-phase plan for the study, which is intended to create a pathway to implement the expansion of public transportation called for in the Regional Transit Vision.
Lucinda Shannon is a transportation planner with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
“We are heading into phase four and then phase five will be recommendations so we’re looking at governance options at the moment,” Shannon said.
Phase three covered potential revenue sources that could be drawn down from a potential regional transportation authority. All of the localities in the TJPDC would be invited to join. Shannon offered two budget figures to work toward for planning purposes.
“For the vision plan we worked on the assumption of a constrained budget which would cost about $35 million and an unconstrained budget which would total up to about $85 million,” Shannon said.
Shannon said both Charlottesville Area Transit and Jaunt bring in about $9 million in federal and state revenues. That would leave about $18 million to raise through other sources. That could involve greater funding from each locality’s general fund, a share of the lodging tax for each locality, or a share from the personal property tax.
In one theoretical example, a 0.7 percent increase in the sales tax across the entire region could yield as much as $36.6 million in FY2025.
The General Assembly would need to approve a referendum to allow voters if they wanted to increase the sales tax. Former Delegate David Toscano introduced a bill for this purpose in 2009, but it failed to make it out of committee. (HB2161)
Shannon said the plan’s steering committee is continuing to go through this work.
The technical memo produced for Phase 3 does not include any information about funding from the University of Virginia. City Councilor Brian Pinkston said he thought UVA President Jim Ryan’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships should be involved with an eye toward revenue.
“I just think that this is one of those kind of more Blue Sky higher-level vision things where we could have a real alignment between what that committee is wanting to do and what we all need the University to do,” Pinkston said.
The University of Virginia is budgeted to contribute $84,900 to Charlottesville Area Transit in the current fiscal year, according to a chart developed by the Texas Transportation Institute.
The governance study will be completed by the end of the year.
Habitat for Humanity dedicates two homes on Coleman Street
Most of the words written about affordable housing in this newsletter are heavy on policy and light on the people whose lives might be transformed by not being cost-burdened. On October 21, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville dedicated two homes on Coleman Street in the city’s Locust Grove neighborhood.
“Me and my husband, we grew up in a refugee camp,” said Rahmo Mohammed. “We never thought in our life that we would have a place to call at home.”
Mohammed and her husband paid $349,900 for one half of a single family detached structure built by Habitat within the last year. That’s about 19 percent below the assessed value of $431,900.
“Habitat made a true dream come true for us as a family and in the future we are looking forward to having this beautiful house that was built and we thank everyone who is involved and made it happen for us, truly,”
The Mohammeds as well as Najeeba Popal have gone through Habitat’s homeownership program, which has three criteria for eligibility. The family has to be in a less than desirable housing situation, willing to put in hours volunteering for Habitat doing construction or some other task, and have to be able to pay an affordable mortgage.
“Rahmo and Salah and Najeeba have been pedaling hard to get here,” said Dan Rosensweig, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville. “And they’re not planning to stop any time soon. They’re planning to move forward with grace. Collectively they’ve put in more than 500 hours of sweat equity and both families made it really clear to us after the requirements were done and after they purchased their homes, and after they’ve settled in, they want to continue to move forward. They want to continue to pay it forward by volunteering with Habitat and helping other families achieve the blessings that they’ve had today.”
Popal said she’s been working for six years to make her way through the process while also raising three children. She said there’s a lot of responsibility with becoming a Habitat homeowner.
“Because of my income, it is not some sort of stable,” Popal said. “It is up and down. I had to focus on that as well.”
Popal said she enjoyed the time working on the house and contributing to other builds.
“No hard times will exist all the time or for always,” Popal said. “We are grateful for today. How hard it was, or whatever it was, we did that but it wasn’t me. It was all a group of people, all a community, they worked together to make this moment and I won’t forget that.”
Rosensweig noted that these homes are part of Habitat’s intentional strategy to work with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and families who receive housing vouchers to open up places to live.
For instance, Popal had been on a housing voucher to help cover her rent at Kindlewood which is operated by the Piedmont Housing Alliance. She is also a member of that entity’s Board of Directors.
“And as the unfortunate situation in Market Street Park this month has shown us, we need more of that,” Rosensweig said. “We need more spots where people can move into so that nobody in this community should ever have to spend a night outside.”
“Everyone deserves to have, each little kid,” Popal said. “Either if they are a refugee, they are immigrants, or they are citizens, they deserve to have a place to call home and sleep with no worry where our next move will be.”
Thanks to Angela Guzman at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville for providing me the audio so I could produce the story.
Other stories from other journalists so you can know more of the story:
Netflix documentary on murder case with local ties premieres Nov. 1, Gretchen Stenger, CBS19, October 31, 2023
Voter Guide: Q&A with the 2 candidates vying to represent the White Hall District on Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville Tomorrow, October 31, 2023
Surmounting the Fiscal Cliff: Identifying Stable Funding Solutions for Public Transportation Systems, Yonah Freemark and Lindiwe Rennert, Urban Institute, November 1, 2023
'Shock and awe': T.J. Fadeley defends controversial flyers, Jason Armesto, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), November 1, 2023
Navigating northern Albemarle: A new microtransit project aims to provide a transportation alternative, Sean Tubbs, C-Ville Weekly, November 1, 2023
Concluding paragraphs for #595
I have gone on and on about how I want to get other people involved in the production of this newsletter and podcast. I now have copy editors take a look at each one before they go out, and the audio version today features a sound bite from Jenn Finazzo, who earns a shout-out for Fiori Floral Studio.
If you’ve not heard the podcast, most soundbites are in the voice of the person who said it, but I like to get other people to read the quotes I use from press releases and other documents. I’d like this newsletter to include more voices as I get so tired of hearing mine all of the time.
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