There are 34 days left until the end of the year, which gives us plenty of time to think about what kind of year it has been and what still needs to happen. We’ve had a slight break thanks to one holiday, and Charlottesville Community Engagement will get ready for the next one by trying to capture as many loose ends before the ball drops. I’m Sean Tubbs, perpetually missing Dick Clark.
In today’s edition:
A committee of Albemarle elected and appointed officials has begun review of the audit of the county’s books from FY23
If you’re a city resident who wants to be on a board or commission, you have until December 8 to apply
Virginians for High Speed Rail holds a town hall on the future of rail in the Commonwealth
Charlottesville City Council gets a briefing on the elimination of parking requirement in the new zoning code
Want to know a few things about what’s happening in the Charlottesville, sign up for the free newsletter and podcast. But, be warned I’ll often remind you that producing these newsletters and podcasts takes time and money!
First shout-out: Giving Tuesday
Charlottesville Community Engagement is not the work of a non-profit organization but there are many non-profit groups that are the beneficiaries of shout-outs thanks to paid subscribers to this newsletter. Today is Giving Tuesday, and here are a few groups you might consider submitting a donation toward:
A generous donor is matching contributions to Community Bikes up to $5,000 to help get more kids and adults on bicycles (learn more)
Donations to the Rivanna Conservation Alliance will be matched up to $2,000 to support water quality and stream monitoring programs (learn more)
Cultivate Charlottesville is seeking donations to help purchase a community engagement van (learn more)
Scottsville’s Center for the Arts and the Natural Environment are seeking funds for all manner of items such as the Children’s Performing Summer Arts Campaign 2025 (learn more)
The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society seeks support for their ongoing work to reimagine and reinvent the role of the organization in the 21st Century (learn more)
New firm conducting Albemarle County’s audit for FY23x
In recent years, Albemarle County has joined a list of Virginia localities with a total yearly budget in excess of a half billion dollars. The adopted budget for the current fiscal year is $554.8 million, for instance.
Work is underway now to develop a budget for FY25 and that includes a review of the audit for the fiscal year that ended on June 30 which took place at a meeting of the Audit Committee on Monday.
“Unfortunately we had some of our challenges from FY22 spill over to FY23,” said Shenandra Usher, the assistant chief financial for operations in Albemarle County. “Those things include staff turnover, a lack of positions being filled. We went an entire year without having a controller in place. But we also had additional leadership transitions that took place in the spring of FY2023.”
That includes the departure of former Chief Financial Officer Nelsie Birch, who pursued a private sector career.
Usher said the county was able to hire new auditors, but there were some complications related to new human resources and payroll software. She was glad to report that the controller’s office is now fully staffed.
“So we have a controller, we have a deputy controller, we have a payroll manager, we have all of the accountants and payroll specialists we need to fully support the organization,” Usher said.
The Committee got some highlights of the audit which has been conducted by the firm Brown & Edwards, a new company for Albemarle County.
“This initial year is a lot of extra work where we’re getting to know each other, we’re learning how to work closely together, particularly on the timelines,” said Jacob Sumner, the interim Chief Financial Officer for Albemarle County.
The full report including the final numbers for expenditures and revenues will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on December 13. However, auditor Megan Argenbright with Brown & Edwards told the committee it may still be in draft form.
“New auditors, transitions, new employees on the county side, it has taken a massive effort from all parties involved and we’re learning about the county and the schools as they are learning about us,” Argenbright said.
Audits involve things like making certain that federal rules are being followed and this year there are six specific programs being tested for compliance. The Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts has a deadline of December 15 to receive a transmission of the county’s bookkeeping.
If you’re interested in these processes, take a look at the YouTube recording of the meeting.
Charlottesville still seeking applications for Board and Commissions
Perhaps one resolution you might make this upcoming New Year is to get more involved with local affairs. The City of Charlottesville is seeking applicants for various Boards and Commissions and the next deadline to be considered is December 8.
“We believe it is not only the right, but the responsibility of interested and capable citizens to become engaged in local government policy by advising City Council on important community-related issues,” reads the press release announcing the vacancies.
Council will make its next round of appointees on December 18. Here’s what’s open:
There are three vacancies for representatives of low income neighborhoods on the Community Development Block Grant Task Force, as well as a City School Board representative and a public service program representative. (learn more)
There are four vacancies on the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Center Bureau’s executive board (learn more)
Virginia’s top rail officials provide updates at VHSR Town Hall
Nearly four years have passed since former Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia would spend $3.7 billion to invest in passenger rail in an initiative called Transforming Rail in Virginia.
“That brought 412 miles of railroad into public ownership, 250 miles of railroad trackage, and afterwards of phase 1 and phase 2 will result in a 53 percent increase in Amtrak service and a 39 percent increase in [Virginia Railway Express Service],” said Danny Plaugher the executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail.
On Monday, Plaugher moderated a panel discussion that explored how the initiative is working out. He said interest in a reinvestment in passenger rail dates back to the early 90’s with the creation of the Virginia Railway Express and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
“Over the next decade from 1993 to 2003, VRE’s ridership grew to nearly three million annual passengers,” said Danny Plaugher. “And in 2009, we became the 18th state to join and launch our own passenger rail service including the Lynchburg Amtrak Regional Train extension.”
That service was extended to Roanoke and planning is currently underway to expand to Christiansburg to serve Virginia Tech and the New River Valley.
Plaugher said Virginia officials realized that additional lanes on I-95 would cost a lot of money and would likely not relieve congestion, but providing more alternatives could help move people around the Commonwealth.
“Data is showing that those studies are proving to be true and we’re seeing our ridership grow,” said Jennifer DeBruhl, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation since June 2022. “Every month we’re setting a new record and we’ve seen over 1.8 million passengers in the federal fiscal year.”
Part of the initiative is the creation of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority which technically owns much of that new track including the east-west line that runs through Charlottesville.
“We’re here to add capacity and to add to the ability to separate freight and passenger because those two don’t work well together in the same right of way,” said D.J. Stadtler, executive director of the VPRA. “[I’m] excited to say that we are staying on schedule with our major procurements and focused on adding service in 2026 and even more service in 2030.
One of the major projects VPRA is shepherding is the doubling of capacity across the Potomac River with the Long Bridge Expansion Project. Preliminary engineering is underway with final design scheduled to begin next year with completion by 2030. The idea is to bring on new service where possible such as the recent addition of a second train between D.C. and Roanoke.
To learn more about what’s happening, take a look at the 2022 Statewide Rail Plan. Or take a look at the entire video of the Virginians for High Speed Rail forum on YouTube.
Sponsored message: Buy Local
From Crozet to Barracks Road, the Downtown Mall to the Shops at Stonefield, and everywhere in between, Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s Offices of Economic Development encourage you to Buy Local this holiday season.
Buying locally supports our neighbors and community members and makes a big impact for our local economy. Local businesses are more likely to reinvest in our community and their goods and services contribute to the unique character of our community.
A majority of City Councilors support elimination of parking requirements
The Charlottesville City Council will hold the final work session tomorrow night on the Development Code, a fancy name for the new zoning code. The new rules for where buildings can go will expand the number of homes and businesses that can be built all across the city. Council has had a series of previous work sessions which I’ve attempted to summarize in previous articles.
On November 8, Council held a discussion on a change in city policy that would no longer require developers to provide parking for automobiles. Ben Chambers is the transportation planning manager for the city.
“Within the proposed development code, there are several elements that address the nexus of land use and transportation concerns,” Chambers said. “These elements include increased densities and mixed uses that can promote the efficiency of active transportation and transit, and design considerations that increase the appeal and usefulness of our public realms for non-motorized travel.”
That means new rules for parking for off-street vehicles to make way for land for streetscape elements such as sidewalk and tree planting areas. Chambers said this comes from the Comprehensive Plan adopted in November 2021. That was the second of three projects that are part of the Cville Plans Together initiative. Specifically Goal 4 of the Transportation chapter.
“Provide a balanced approach to parking that supports economic vitality, achieves urban form goals, minimizes environmental impacts, and accommodates pedestrians, bicycles, transit users, and disabled individuals,” Chambers read from the document.
One of the strategies says it bluntly: “Examine the potential of phasing out minimum parking requirements” and that’s exactly what the new Development Code does.
“Removing the mandate for additional parking supply from new development is critical to reducing the parking demand and supporting the use of alternative forms of transportation in the city,” Chambers said.
It is important to remember that the Charlottesville Downtown Mall does not have parking requirements and has not had them for many years. Another thing to note is that other elements of the Development Code will discourage on-street parking or even prohibit new on-street spaces in some locations.
Chambers said engineers have traditionally used vehicle trip generation studies to determine the number of parking spaces that will be needed for particular uses.
“In fact, these correlations have no statistical significance whatsoever,” Chambers said. “They ignore the design context and alternative access options that could be available to a given site and have resulted in overbuilt parking lots and developments that are not oriented towards pedestrian, bicycle, or transit access.”
Chambers said removing parking minimums will lead to more affordable housing because developers won’t have to provide spaces. He estimated the cost to build a 300 square-foot surface parking space is about $5,000 and over $20,000 a space for those in parking structures.
“The city’s exclusionary zoning analysis showed that reducing parking minimums would be effective in supporting the financial feasibility of constructing new mid-rise apartments with support for the deepest affordability levels,” Chambers said.
Chambers said dropping requirements doesn’t mean developers won’t build spaces at all. The idea behind the change is to provide more flexibility.
“By removing minimum requirements, this allows the developer to balance the competing cost and space needs as they design the optimal project for a given site,” Chambers said.
Transportation Demand Management plans would be required for development projects over a certain size to show how the building would accommodate all modes of travel.
“The TDM programs that we’re proposing in the zoning ordinance would be a new section and it’s triggered by projects that are over 50,000 square feet as proposed,” said James Freas, the city’s Neighborhood Development Services Director. “That’s a moveable number. At 50,000 square feet—roughly a 50 unit apartment building—at that point in time they would have to provide an analysis of their potential transportation demand and proposals for solutions.”
Chambers said that in the next year, the Department of Neighborhood Development Services will also be looking at changes to rules for on-street parking as well. That will cover the existing system through which parking permits are reserved for tenants in some city neighborhoods.
City Councilor Brian Pinkston supported the elimination of the requirements.
“I’ve listened to arguments on both sides,” Pinkston said. “I’m a person who has three adult children and a bunch of other folks who come swinging through my house from time to time. They’ll have to adjust, I guess.”
Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade hinted at his past as a transportation planner when he indicated his support for the removal of requirements.
“It’s good to see that cities are doing this,” Wade said.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook was more skeptical due to a concern that the city does not have sufficient alternatives to driving in place to support the change.
“The concern that I have is that all of the places where folks have cited an example of eliminating parking requirements are all places that have meaningful, functional transit systems which we do not and we are a number of years away from doing that,” Snook said.
Charlottesville is working with Albemarle County through the Thomas Jefferson Planning District to form a regional transportation authority to help pay for more robust transit, but formation would be at least three years away. He bristled at one European city being mentioned as an example of a community that reduced vehicles through inner-city congestion charges.
“When one talks about, let’s use London for an example, London has one of the best developed transit systems in the world,” Snook said.
Snook said Raleigh began its reduction of parking requirements gradually as opposed to doing it all at once as proposed for Charlottesville.
“Raleigh started off by saying ‘we’re going to only eliminate the parking requirements in areas where there is adequate transit access,’” Snook said.
Snook said Charlottesville’s terrain is an obstacle to older people getting on e-bikes or bicycles. He suggested the city take a pause on eliminating minimums until the transit system is improved.
“I happen to live in an area where from my house it is about a 15-minute walk to the nearest bus stop where one bus runs once an hour and it goes downtown and if I wanted to take the bus to any other place including the University of Virginia I’d have to change and basically it would take an hour and a half to two hours to get to where I want to go,” Snook said.
Pinkston said that other alternatives exist such as on-demand private transportation. He urged the city to make the paradigm shift.
“If we continue to have to wait on having a transit system and Ubers that cost $5 as opposed to $25 to $30, I just think we’ll be kicking this can down the road for years and in the mean time we’re trying to get a building and zoning ordinance where people can go start building stuff for us,” Pinkston said.
City Councilor Michael Payne said he thought eliminating parking requirements would be feasible, but the city would need to evaluate the existing permit process.
“Even on things just like allowing renters to participate in that and what enforcement might look like particularly in 10th and Page where there is that tension with UVA employees,” Payne said.
As of November 8, City Councilor Leah Puryear said she was still debating what she thought about the idea.
“It seems like something that would be feasible,” Puryear said.
Toward the end of the conversation, Pinkston said the city needs to begin to convince the University of Virginia to take a more meaningful role in the area’s regional transit governance. The firm AECOM continues work on a study on the issue, as I reported earlier this month from the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Policy Board of which City Councilor Payne is a member.
“Realistically I think the big conversation will be between UVA, Albemarle, and Charlottesville about funding and what mix of funding streams to do and it should be noted that it’s a lot of money but if you look at their analysis, across Charlottesville and Albemarle it’s a pretty small increase in either sales tax or other sources can permanently fund it,” Payne said.
General Assembly approval and signature by Governor Glenn Youngkin will be needed for additional taxing power.
There are two more work sessions to go through including the November 13 meeting which dealt with affordability provisions in the Development Code. I will get to that by the end of the week but the next edition is going to take a look back at transit.
Group takes step forward in regional transportation authority debate, Scott Shenk, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, November 23, 2023
Report: Bedford rail stop estimated at $23 million, Justin Faulconer, Lynchburg News & Advance (paywall) November 26, 2023
'Are they hiding something?': Calls grow for UVa to release review of 2022 shooting, Jason Armesto, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), November 28, 2023
Community college enrollment rises in Virginia but remains below pre-pandemic levels, Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury, November 28, 2023
Ending paragraphs to send #607 away
As this is a one-person operation with ambitious goals, there are often days that I end up not publishing. How are you to know? Make sure you’re checking my page on Substack Notes, as it’s a better place to provide production updates such rather than Instagram or Facebook.
This particular edition did go through the copy-editing process, and today I wrote up a job description for an internship. I’m also willing to train volunteers, though I don’t like the idea of people other than me working for free. I’m hopeful that before those rail improvements are in place by 2026 that I’ll have actual employees! More paid subscribers will make that likely!
If you’d like to join them, the Internet company Ting will match your initial payment. If you’ve not joined them so far, maybe today is the day? The only way I can keep this going is to keep growing, or perhaps I’ll find a pile of magic beans.
Ting does not sell magic beans, but I’m told their Internet is fast. If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:
A second month for free
A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall