Sep 1 • 17M

September 1, 2022: Berkley Group briefs Albemarle Planning Commission on "reset" on zoning review; Youngkin administration renews push to leave greenhouse gas compact

Plus: Charlottesville's first City Manager was appointed 100 years ago today

1
 
0:00
-17:22
Open in playerListen on);

Appears in this episode

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.
Episode details
1 comment

There is at least one person on this planet who will attempt to sleep for the next thirty days in homage to a song that will never be used as bed music in the podcast version of Charlottesville Community Engagement, but only due to copyright concerns. It is now September 1, 2022 and the equinox is three weeks away so if you like your early sunrises, better get them in while you can. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, resting appropriately in between episodes. 

Sign up for free, but your purchase of a paid subscription will go a long way toward this newsletter getting to episode #950 #850 in two years!

On today’s program:

  • Today is the 100th anniversary of the City Manager form of government in Charlottesville

  • The Youngkin administration has laid out a pathway for leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative 

  • The UVA School of Data Science launches a new podcast on the science of data  (this will be in the next installment)

  • The Albemarle Planning Commission learns more about how a “reset” zoning modernization will look like

First shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for 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. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate

Charlottesville marks 100 years of city-manager form of government

On this day 100 years ago, a three-person Charlottesville City Council sat for the first time in a new term and soon afterward appointed Boyd A. Bennett to serve as the first city manager. Bennett had been the public works director in Lynchburg, according to an account in the Alexandria Gazette at the time. 

Since that time, just under a dozen people have held the position, which serves as the chief executive officer of the city government under the supervision of the elected Council. Bennett only lasted two years but his successors all had longer terms including that of James Bowen, who served from 1948 to 1970, followed by Cole Hendrix who would hold the job for nearly 25 years. 

A screenshot of the minutes from the September 1, 1922 City Council meeting when the three members appointed the first City Manager.

The position is currently held on an interim basis by Michael C. Rogers, whose contract with the city is actually held by a company he works for called the Robert Bobb Group. There were a string of interim and short-term managers once the contract of Maurice Jones expired at the end of July 2018. The contract with the Robert Bobb Group extends through the end of the year. 

Rogers is a supporter of the Council-Manager form of government.

“Charlottesville, like half the cities and towns in the United States, chooses this form of government to assure that services are delivered efficiently across the city, that issues are addressed based on facts and resolved based on the best interest for all and with integrity,” Rogers said in an email to Charlottesville Community Engagement.

A decision about how to proceed with recruiting a permament City Manager will be made sometimes after a new police chief is hired.

Youngkin administration outlines plan to leave cap-and-trade system

Governor Glenn Youngkin has renewed efforts to remove Virginia from an interstate compact intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Within an hour of taking office in January, Youngkin issued several executive orders including one seeking departure from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

However, the Republican governor was unable to leave without the General Assembly’s approval as party control is split across both Houses. Now, however, Youngkin’s appointees now have the edge on the seven-member State Air Pollution Control Board and he sent acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Boyles to outline the new plan to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

“RGGI is a bad deal for Virginia,” Voyles said. “Whether you agree with the framework and principles of a cap-and-trade system, the way RGGI has been implemented in Virginia does not work as an effective means for greenhouse gas reductions,” Voyles said. 

Virginia joined RGGI after action by the General Assembly in 2020 allowed it to do so as part of the Clean Economy Act. At the time, Democrats held both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Power generators of over 25 megawatts must purchase credits if they exceed certain emission thresholds. The state of Virginia has received over $378 million in proceeds, with 45 percent of that amount mandated to go toward flood control and mitigation efforts. 

A screenshot of the proceeds Virginia has received from RGGI auctions. The seventh is scheduled for September 7 (Credit: RGGI)

Voyles said that money comes from ratepayers who should not have to pay the higher costs.  

“We need to remember that Virginians do not need a regressive energy tax through RGGi to fund important programs on resiliency and energy,” Voyles said. “While important, these are not the goal of RGGI that it was meant to achieve.” 

Voyles said RGGI does not work because those funds are not going directly to ratepayers. He said the administration will use the regulatory process to repeal Virginia’s participation in RGGI and will not renew the contract with the organization at the end of 2023. 

“The administration will put forward in the coming weeks a notice of intended regulatory action, a NORA, that will repeal the trading rules and end Virginia’s participation in RGGI,” Voyles said. “While an immediate exit from RGGI would provide cost savings to come consumers, an orderly withdrawal from RGGI at the end of our control period and contract will provide the greater regulatory certainty and help prevent market fluctuation in the pricing.”

One of former Governor Ralph Northam’s appointees to the Air Pollution Control Board said it’s premature to know much of any impact RGGI has had. 

“We have only had one year worth of information which probably hasn’t been fully vetted as of yet and yet you’re saying it’s bad,” said Dr. Lornel Tompkins. “We don’t seem to have enough information to make a decision.”

Tompkins said utility costs are increasing for reasons in addition to RGGI. She asked Voyles why the administration isn’t seeking reform through the General Assembly. Voyles responded that the administration wants to take actions.

“This is before the Air Board and the DEQ and this is something we can address immediately and that’s what we’ve set out the process to do that,” Voyles said. “Before we have any discussions about legislative action we are looking at actual things the administration can do to lessen the cost of energy for everyday Virginians.” 

One question is whether even this route will pass c onstitutional muster. For more information learn more about the discussion in this article in the Virginia Mercury

The next RGGI auction is scheduled for September 7 and the auction list has been amended to reflect that Pennsylvania will not participate. That state had joined RGGI earlier this year, but the two main political parties disagree on whether it should do so going forward. A legal challenge has stopped the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from selling any of its allowances.

Second shout-out: Charlottesville Jazz Society has a concert coming up 

In today’s second subscriber-supported shout-out, the Charlottesville Jazz Society wants you to know about the upcoming return on September 15th of Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans to Charlottesville with a concert at the Irving Theater in the new CODE building.

Eric Vloeimans will perform as part of a duo with the remarkable accordionist Will Holshouser. They’ll play evocative, folk-inspired original compositions that mix European and American influences, plus a few choice covers, such as a ballad by Prince. The pair are on an American tour promoting their new live album, Two For The Road. For ticket pricing and purchases, visit cvillejazz.org. Charlottesville Jazz Society supporters get a discount.

Albemarle County Planning Commission reviews “reset” of zoning modernization

Tis always the season for serious and seriously lengthy discussions about land use and planning issues in the community, and there’s a lot to get through. With the help of the firm EPR, Albemarle County is in the midst of reviewing its Comprehensive Plan in a process known as AC44. But, work continues on a “modernization” of the county’s zoning code. 

Charles Rapp, the county’s deputy director of community development, said a previous work session with the Planning Commission earlier this year caused staff to rethink their approach. (staff report) (watch the video)

“Taking that feedback from the Commission and staff and everything we’ve learned, we wanted to take an opportunity to reset and think about our approach to this knowing that this is going to be a multi-year endeavor and we need to pair this with the Comprehensive Plan and kind of reassess what sections we’re going to hit and how we’re going to address the different changes so that we do this in a much more comprehensive and effective format,” Rapp said.

Albemarle has hired the Berkley Group to help with the update of the zoning code, In the late winter of 2021, Supervisors asked for the two projects to be done concurrently but principal Darren Coffey said the process may work better if one informs the other. 

“You, the Planning Commission, who are the gatekeepers for all things land use are dealing with two major projects and so by us hitting the reset button and reordering how to do this the right way, we’re letting the Comprehensive Plan get a little bit ahead intentionally,” Coffey said. 

There are several tasks to be accomplished during the modernization of the zoning ordinance, according to Rebecca Cobb, a planner with the Berkley Group.

“One, make sure the ordinance is in compliance with the Code of Virginia,” Cobb said. “And then in terms of modernization, making the ordinance more user-friendly, more user-friendly for staff, for you all, and the general public. So in those terms we want to clarify language. Anything that’s difficult to understand? Let’s put it in plain English for everybody to understand.”

Cobb said there’s a lot missing from the zoning code that does not address modern development standards in part because it’s not been updated for many decades. She said the updated code also needs to implement whatever visions come out of the Comprehensive Plan. 

Albemarle County is in the first phase of the zoning modernization update (Credit: the Berkley Group)

Under this reset, the first phase begins now and will include private meetings with Planning Commissioners. 

“We’re going to be moving into investigations so we’re going to be looking at your ordinance,” Cobb said. “In October and November we will be having interviews and then we’ll have another work session with [the Planning Commission] in December to talk about the diagnostic report.” 

Keep in mind the Charlottesville is continuing to finalize its Zoning Diagnostic and Approach Report. Albemarle will hold an open house in January on its report, followed by more detailed work sessions on specific aspects of zoning. 

Commissioner Karen Firehock of the Samuel Miller District said some items are already in the Comprehensive Plan and likely won’t change. She pointed out a larger issue with how and whether big ideas are implemented. 

“I’m not here to debate our lighting standards on the dais but there’s a history to that,” Firehock said. “The Comprehensive Plan calls for us to update our lighting ordinance. We have a Dark Skies goal. We have all the fodder already in the Comprehensive Plan. That’s not the issue. It’s just that since we’ve did the last Comprehensive Plan, stakeholders have been calling for the county to update their ordinance. They volunteered to help out with roundtables. They’ve gone out and gotten experts in lighting who would cost hundreds of dollars per hour to volunteer their services. And yet the county’s response has been ‘we don’t have time for this.’ And then the Board’s response is ‘is this really a priority?’ which makes people upset because the Comprehensive Plan says that we’re going to do this.” 

One objective from the existing Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan’s Historic, Cultural, and Scenic Resources chapter. (review the whole 2015 plan)

Firehock said historic preservation is another topic with strong language in the Comprehensive plan but with little to no regulatory presence in the zoning ordinance. 

“There have been some folks who would like to see a historic preservation ordinance,” Firehock said. “Right now as I’m sure you know we have no way to protect historic buildings from being torn down.” 

Cobb said there are no specific timelines yet for what specific conversations will happen when but the shape will become better known after the interviews are conducted. 

Commissioner Lonnie Murray of the White Hall District  is troubled by the usage of the word “modernization.” 

“Partially because we just went through a situation where we found out our water protection ordinance was eviscerated through a code clean-up  and modernization process, where neither the Board of Supervisors nor the public understood the clear implication of what that code clean-up was,” Murray said. 

I’m still working out the details on that and more on that topic in the near future. In fact, a lot more on this topic as I continue to produce Charlottesville Community Engagement to keep track of these sorts of things. 

Another member of the Planning Commission wanted more clear integration of the Comprehensive Plan review and the zoning code update. 

“Maybe it’s just my project management brain but I think it would be fun to see sort of an overlapping schedule that had those touchpoints that helped us understand how that process was going to be combined and informing each other,” said Fred Missel, who represents the Scottsville District. 

Make sure you’re subscribed to this newsletter to follow along with this process. 


Housekeeping for Edition #425

My ongoing quest to get these out in the early morning has so far not been successful but I am still hopeful that eventually this will be a morning newsletter. I could tell you the reasons why the struggle is real, and I can also tell you to wait another month to see how things are the first week of October.

But for now it’s the first week of September and this has been installation #425. We’re halfway to #950 #850, which I can assure you will not be ready by the first of the weekend. In order to get that far along, Charlottesville Community Engagement does depend on paid subscriptions, and you can join the growing list of people who are keeping this work afloat! 

If you pay for a subscription through Substack, Ting will match the first payment. That could be $5 a month, or $50 a year, or $200 a year! You’ll get first-look access to some stories on the site, as well the knowledge you’re helping me to pay attention each and every day. 

And if you sign up through this link in this newsletter, you’ll get a free standard install, your 2nd month free, and a $75 Downtown Mall gift card! Enter the promo code COMMUNITY for full effect.

Music in the podcast version comes from a musical entity known as Wraki, a musical entity that just had a birthday and I neglected to indicate awareness so this brief message will have to do. Celebrate by purchasing the album Regret Everything on Bandcamp