Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
November 27, 2023: Stonefield owners file for rezoning amendment for potential Tesla sales center
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November 27, 2023: Stonefield owners file for rezoning amendment for potential Tesla sales center

Plus: Albemarle Supervisors briefed on five-year financial forecast as FY25 budget development continues
Transcript

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Some might call this day Cyber Monday, and I will note that this publication is a creation of the Internet but one that resists that particular title. I’d rather point out that today is also Pins and Needles Day, marking a musical revue from the late 1930’s that I’d never heard of until writing this opening paragraph of the November 27 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement, I’m Sean Tubbs, and I’m glad to require myself to learn something new every single day. 

In this edition:

  • The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has expanded the number of counties under a drought watch advisory

  • The owners of Stonefield have filed for a rezoning application that could clear the way for a Tesla sales office 

  • Several ideas to address safety issues on Route 151 in Nelson County are ready for review 

  • Albemarle County is preparing for next year’s budget and the Board of Supervisors got a recent briefing on the five-year financial forecast 

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 https://www.ebikelibrarycville.org.

Despite rain, much of Virginia still under drought watch advisory

More localities in the Commonwealth are now under a drought watch advisory according to a new release by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in coordination with the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force. 

“While recent rain has helped alleviate dry conditions for the short term, it has not been sufficient to overcome the deficits observed in soil moisture, streamflow, and groundwater levels,” reads a press release sent out this afternoon.

The number of localities under the drought watch advisory has expanded to 55, up from 13. 

Localities in both the Middle James River region as well as the Northern Piedmont are included. Albemarle a Nelson are in the Middle James whereas Greene is in the Northern Piedmont. 

Seven localities are under the more concerning drought warning advisory, including Augusta and Rockingham counties. To learn more, visit the DEQ’s drought monitoring webpage.

Bans on outdoor burning remain in place in Albemarle, Nelson, and Greene. However, Louisa County lifted its burn ban on November 22. 

Credit: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Stonefield developer seeks rezoning for potential Tesla sales center 

The company that owns and manages the Stonefield mixed-use development in Albemarle County is seeking an amendment to the existing zoning in order to allow for an electric car company to run an operation there.

“The request was prompted by interest from Tesla Inc. to locate a vehicle sales office at 1951 Swanson Drive, in the former Pier One building,” reads the narrative available in Albemarle County’s land use repository.  (ZMA202300016)

However, staff revealed at a pre-application conference that a special use permit would be required for that to occur, as well as a second special use permit for outdoor display. 

“The Applicant understands that Tesla is seeking another location in the area for a Regional Service Center,” the application continues. “Under Tesla’s sales and service model, these regional service centers provide repair and maintenance while smaller sales offices like the one that was proposed at Stonefield concentrate on sales only.” 

To prepare for the possibility, Stonefield is seeking a change to the code of development to allow automotive sales as a by-right use in certain portions of the development. 

Elevations for the proposed sales office in Stonefield (Credit: Design Develop)

Route 151 alternatives in Nelson County available for review

The Virginia Department of Transportation has presented potential ways to make sections of Route 151 in Nelson County safer. A 32-page slide presentation from a November 1 meeting is now under review and a public outreach process should soon follow. 

Since earlier this year, VDOT and the firm RKK have been studying a 14-mile stretch of the state roadway and specifically looked at seven intersections from Avon Road to Beech Grove Road. (review the presentation)

A public survey conducted in the early portion of the study found that safety is the highest priority among respondents. There were a total of 212 crashes from August 1, 2017 to July 31, 2022 with 14 severe injuries. There were no fatalities during that time period. 

At this point none of the transportation alternatives have cost estimates associated with them. One idea is to convert the intersection of Avon Road, Afton Mountain Road (Route 6) and Route 151 to a roundabout. Others are to add turn lanes at other junctions. 

One idea in Nellysford would be to build a shared-use-path to connect the commercial area with the entrance to Wintergreen. This latter one would also build a pedestrian crosswalk near Adial Road.

Next steps will include a refining of the alternatives as well as a final study.

See also: (VDOT studying 14-mile stretch of Route 151 in Nelson County for potential improvements, February 17, 2023)

An overview of a potential roundabout at a key intersection on Route 151 in Nelson County (Credit: Virginia Department of Transportation)

Second shout-out: Magic on the Mall 

In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: The holidays are here and the Friends of Charlottesville Downtown and the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau are ready for another season of Magic on the Mall

Festivities began this Saturday, November 25 and coming up later this weekend there will once again be something for every member of the family! 

  • The Jolly Holly Trolley will be running up and down the Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through December 23

  • You can take free Selfies with Santa from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 16th

  • Go on a magical scavenger hunt to find the Elves in Cville by starting at Charlottesville Insider or downloading it online

  • Follow the Peppermint Trail where you can find all sorts of treats! Locate the map here!

  • Downtown businesses will have a festive face off in the Best in Snow window competition, and you can vote for the jolliest! 

  • Celebrate with the Chabad House of UVA the fourth night of Hanukkah on December 10 with a menorah lighting and traditional foods

Visit friendsofcville.org to learn more!

More funding may be needed to implement Albemarle strategic plan over next five years

There are still many months before Albemarle County Supervisors will adopt a budget for the next fiscal year, FY25. Between now and then, a lot of things have to occur, such as release of property assessments for 2024. 

Staff have been preparing the budget development process with a series of work sessions with more scheduled in December. On November 15, they took a look at a five-year forecast intended to gauge basic assumptions about the fiscal weather. (view the slide presentation)

Andy Bowman is the interim assistant chief financial officer for policy and partnerships. He said long-range planning is used to help ask questions about the financial health of the county. 

“Long-range planning is really about [what] does our long-term trajectory look like in the county for the next five years and really asking ourselves ‘are we making decisions today that we’ll be able to afford in the future,” Bowman said. “If we have challenges and we expect we cannot, what might be done differently with a a strategy or policy level to help change that trajectory?” 

During the presentation, Bowman showed a slide depicting the percent change in revenue growth going back to FY2007. That’s when Albemarle began to assess on an annual basis.

“So we have this just as a framework,” Bowman said, “As we look at the future, we need to at least look and contemplate the past and how that might impact us.”

Since that time, the average annual growth in county revenues has been at about four and a half percent, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Revenue growth in Albemarle was around eight percent in FY2008, but then the Great Recession hit in 2008 and there were several years of much smaller growth.

“And though officially the Great Recession ended much sooner than fiscal year 14, it took a while for county revenues to recover at that time,” Bowman said. 

One of the slides in the presentation (view the slide presentation)

Revenue growth began to increase year over year until the pandemic which ended up not slowing down county finances as badly as had been anticipated. 

“This was a period prior to the pandemic where there was another period of relative stability, stable revenue growth year over year and then the last four years where we’ve been in a very unique time where we saw a very deep but very abbreviated recession,” Bowman said. “It happened in fiscal year 20 and the impacts extended into fiscal year 21.” 

The past two years have seen higher levels of revenue growth than in the mid-2000’s with a strong real estate market bringing in sharp increases in revenue with a nearly 12 percent increase between FY22 and FY23. 

Bowman said it is too early to determine what property assessments will be for 2024. 

In October, Supervisors got an economic forecast from a Virginia Tech professor that indicated Albemarle’s economy remains strong. 

“Second, we know that our national economy has cooled from this time a year ago,” Bowman said. “There have been a lot of mixed indicators that the cooling has not been as fast or maybe as deep as what thought but we are certainly in a situation where we don’t have as strong revenue growth as we’ve seen in the last two years. This doesn’t mean that we’re in a recession or have declining revenues. It’s just that the rate of growth is not as fast.” 

For now, Bowman projects that annual revenue growth will likely continue to be at around four percent over the next several years, but preparing for a slowdown would be prudent. Especially when you begin to think about expenditures. 

Bowman then began to show charts comparing revenue projections with anticipated spending, beginning with one that only funds mandates and obligations. There’s no projected gap under this scenario but that would not implement the ambitions embedded in the Board of Supervisors’ strategic plan. (view the plan)  See also:  (Albemarle County Supervisors adopt new strategic plan goals, October 26, 2022)

“This leads us to know that at least a very starting point that we are fundamentally balanced,” Bowman said. “The challenge ahead is that the Board’s strategic plan does not keep a status quo to only meet mandates and obligations. We then had to go through and consider all of the conversations we’ve had with the Board over the last year with the strategic plan.”  

There are six goals in the strategic plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors in October 2022. Goal Six is for Workforce Development and reads: “Recruit & retain engaged public servants who provide quality government services to advance our mission.” 

Kristy Shifflett is Albemarle’s Chief Operating Officer and she said the county has been working on this issue but she added they’ve found hurdles in the process in a competitive employment environment that includes the University of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville as well as other Virginia localities.

“When we provided a four percent increase in July, most of our market did something different,” Shifflett said. “The average increase was about six percent for our market so that was one shift.”

Another is a continued desire by many to work at home for at least some of the time. Another is the increasing cost to live in Albemarle. All of these factors add up a looming capacity problem for Albemarle.

“We have been maintaining about 80 vacancies since July and that’s 80 vacancies across the entire organization,” Shifflett said. “That’s high for us we believe and that’s also not where we want to be.” 

That rate is about 12 percent of the total staff according to Shifflett. 

Shifflett said staff would like to increase calculations that go into the county’s pay scale in order to become more attractive to potential employees. They’re also seeking permission for a mid-year two percent cost of living increase for all county employees and will seek a five percent market increase for FY25. 

A decision point on that will be before Supervisors at their December 6 or December 13 meeting. 

Other potential investments flow through other strategic plan goals. For instance, Goal 1 is for Safety & Well-Being, so there’s funding anticipated for the new Community Response Team, renovation of the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail and expansion of the county’s court system. 

The long-range plan offers a reminder of what funding Albemarle will have to provide when federal grants run out.

“The county has currently been approved for three [Federal Emergency Management Agency] [Staffing For Adequate Fire and Emergency Response] grants that fund approximately 50 fire rescue employees for three years for each of those grants,” said Ryan Davidson, the county’s deputy chief of budget. “Those positions began to be funded locally in FY24 with increases in our local cost and our local shares in FY25, FY26 and other out years as those grants expire.”

Strategic Plan Goal #2 has the title Resilient, Equitable, and Engaged Community and this is where anything related to climate action goes. That includes funding for a Northern Convenience Center, funding more equipment for recycling, and implementing the county’s stream health initiative. 

Goal #3 is Infrastructure and Placemaking which is where justification for broadband initiatives comes in, as well as the county’s new street sweeping initiative as well as new efforts to keep the entrance corridors better maintained. There’s also local money programmed in the budget to be used as a match for other grant opportunities. 

“The transportation leveraging funding that was included in the FY24 to FY28 [capital improvement program] speaks directly to this goal and objective and we’ll have more conversations on that at a later time,” Davidson said.

There’s nearly $2 million in that fund for the current fiscal year, and the adopted capital improvement program anticipates that climbing to $10.8 million next fiscal year, $6.5 million in FY26, $5 million in FY27, and $4 million in FY28. 

Goal #4 is Quality of Life and this is where operational funding for new positions related to housing is justified.  This is also where Parks and Recreation funding stems from, such as new operational funding for more maintenance crews.

Goal #5 is Education and Learning and will be discussed in more detail at the December 6 joint meeting with the School Board. 

“But I do want to note that the five year plan provides funding to school operations based on the operating formula around the revenue allocations and the revenue splits with the schools,” Davidson said. 

In other words, the school gets a percentage of any new revenues for their purposes according to a formula. 

Davidson concluded the staff presentation by showing a graph that showed expenditures that are not mandates and obligations. Not surprisingly, there’s a revenue gap of 1.5 percent in FY25 climbing up to six percent in FY29. 

“As we look through and we continue to look at the choices and the menu of options that have been provided, those lines can close and widen depending on what choices and discussions are had with the Board,” Davidson said. 

Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley thanked staff for the information.

“There’s a lot of information here and frankly a lot of it is frankly worrying to me because we’re going to have the expenditures and revenues and that gap there and I guess we’ll find out later how we’re going to be closing that gap,” LaPisto Kirtley  said. 

LaPisto Kirtley made special mention of additional support that she said volunteer fire and rescue companies will be seeking. 

Outgoing Supervisor Donna Price said she also supported more efforts to increase compensation but had one item she would like to see to encourage more people to seek elected office. 

“And I can say this because it has no direct personal impact on me but I believe that Supervisor compensation is inadequate and I would very much like to see a comprehensive compensation review of Supervisors and not just the staff,” Price said. 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he supported efforts to increase compensation to fill some of those vacancies. He said the presentation illustrated how integral the strategic plan is to county government and what gets funded. 

“And I think it’s always important to tell folks and taxpayers what drives these decisions,” Gallaway said. “The strategic plan is informed by what we hear our taxpayers want in the community so we’d best darn well get the folks that are needed to make that strategic plan happen and the compensation strategy is needed for that.” 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the presentation fueled her conviction that the county must do more to attract or grow new businesses in order to increase the share of county revenue that comes from taxation of commercial uses. 

“I remember a ways back before the pandemic talking about and reading about how a healthy community has to have about 30 to 35 percent of their revenues from business tax base to be healthy and not put so much of an emphasis on property tax and residential,” McKeel said. “The last time I looked we were at 18 percent or 19 percent and so all I’m saying is that we have a lot of work to do in my opinion around economic development.” 

Bowman said staff would return with a precise number at a later date to answer Supervisor McKeel’s question. 

I’ll have more from the future work sessions but still want to go back to a previous one on transit. Albemarle’s investment is increasing, and there’s a key study I want to dig into.

Reading material:

Concluding thoughts for #606

Much needed rest occurred during the Thanksgiving break though there are many pangs of regret that so many stories I want to have already written still await me. These include segments on transit, Charlottesville’s Development Code, and economic development efforts in Albemarle. There’s a lot to write about and for three and a half years now I’ve been trying to capture as much as I can.

I can do this because of paid subscribers - over 550 now! I’m confident that with time that number will grow as will my capacity to continue bringing people information about what’s going on including linking to the work of my colleagues in journalism. 

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