September 18, 2023: One very small snippet from a very long public hearing on Charlottesville's development code
Plus: There's a new director of the Center at Belvedere
The list of holidays created for various purposes is long, but finding things to notice each day does pass the time and helps me think. September 18 is National Day of Civic Hacking, which makes me think about ways I’d like to streamline my reporting through code. It’s also International Equal Pay Day to draw attention to an important issue of fairness and equity. But some are dubious. Is there any justification for Hug a Greeting Card Writer Day? Just know that I’m Sean Tubbs, and Charlottesville Community Engagement is how I choose to celebrate National First Love Day.
Important note: There is no podcast version due to a technical error at the very end of the production cycle. The next podcast will feature the audio from the Planning Commission public hearing in a modified form.
Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
In this edition:
There’s a new director of the Center at Belvedere
There’s a design public hearing tomorrow and Thursday for five intersection projects in Albemarle County
The UVA Buildings and Grounds Committee signs off on the design of a new video scoreboard at Scott Stadium
The first of several segments from the very long public hearing from September 14 on the city’s zoning code
First shout-out: Charlottesville Jazz Society
In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out: The Charlottesville Jazz Society continues a new monthly series showcasing this area’s great local jazz talent. On September 24 at Miller’s beginning at 6 p.m., the spotlight will be on John D’earth who will play tracks from his album Coin of the Realm. Read a review over at WTJU while you wait for the big day.
D’earth and his quintet will play from approximately 6 to 8 pm before opening things up to any musicians who want to sit in and jam. These Local Jazz Spotlight shows are free and open to the public and are sponsored in part by WTJU Radio. The CJS is grateful to Miller’s for their long-time support of jazz in Charlottesville, and for offering a home for this new series.
For more information on The Charlottesville Jazz Society, now in its 16th year of preserving jazz through live performances and education, visit cvillejazz.org.
Two opportunities this week to comment on five road projects in Albemarle
Over the past several years, Albemarle County has had a good track record in bringing ideas to improve roads through the planning process and toward construction.
This week there are two opportunities for community members to give comments in person for the design of the next set of funded projects.
“Preliminary engineering is underway on five intersection projects in Albemarle County, which have been combined into a single design-build bundle,” reads the Virginia Department of Transportation’s webpage on this matter.
A roundabout at Routes 240/250/680 just to the east of Crozet
A continuous “Green-T” intersection at Rio Road East and Belvedere Boulevard
A roundabout at Rio Road East and the John Warner Parkway
A roundabout at Route 20/53
A roundabout at Old Lynchburg Road and Route 631
Under the “design-build” model, one contractor will be hired to finalize construction documents and turn the earth for the five projects.
“The major benefits of design-build construction include streamlined communication between VDOT and the contractor, faster project completion, increased collaboration and cost savings,” VDOT’s website continues.
Albemarle and VDOT have used this method twice before on both the Route 29 solutions projects and for another suite of intersection conversions including the diverging diamond at Interstate 64’s intersection with U.S. 250.
The first public input opportunity is Tuesday, September 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the National Guard Armory, 165 Peregory Lane. The second event meeting is Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Center at Belvedere at 540 Belvedere Boulevard.
New director selected for Center at Belvedere
An organization that seeks to create ways for community members to age in a healthy way and provide educational opportunities has not looked too far to select its next executive director.
The Center at Belvedere has announced Melanie Benjamin will take over the position on November 1, succeeding Peter Thompson. Benjamin is currently the Center’s philanthropy director.
“Melanie brings together outstanding qualifications and an unwavering commitment to creating healthy aging opportunities for older adults in our community,” says Christine Thalwitz, president of The Center’s Board of Directors and co-chair of the search committee.
Benjamin has over 20 years in nonprofit experience.
The Center began life in 1960 as The Senior Center and recently completed a move to a new location off of Rio Road on Belvedere Drive in Albemarle County.
UVA panel signs off on design for video scoreboard
The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Virginia have granted their approval of a new audio-visual system for Scott Stadium, where the men’s football team plays several times a year.
The existing scoreboard was built in 2009.
“The existing video board measures 21 feet tall by 28 feet wide and 21 feet is just the video board,” Raucher said. “The overall structure is 54 feet tall.”
That’s the second smallest such scoreboard in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Boston College the only school with something with smaller dimensions.
“The proposed videoboard will be 54 feet tall by 125 feet wide which will place us in the top three in the ACC with Clemson and Florida State,” Raucher said.
The project has a cost of $13.8 million. There will be an advertising opportunity on the rear side of the scoreboard.
Second shout-out: Design Develop
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, architectural firm Design Develop wants you to know about a new service aimed at the development community that may not be widely known yet — 3D point cloud scanning! That’s a technique that uses specialized equipment, such as 3D scanner systems, to gather a large amount of data points that represent the surface of the scanned object or scene.
The applications of 3D point cloud scanning are extensive and cover various fields, including architecture, construction, cultural heritage preservation, virtual reality, industrial design, manufacturing, and more. These applications require accurate 3D spatial information, and Design Develop’s workflow provides precise and comprehensive results, all while being more cost-effective than traditional methods.
Design Develop has expertise in this workflow for their own needs and now has a dedicated team offering this service in the Charlottesville and Albemarle Area. If you're involved in the real estate, design, or construction industry, feel free to contact us for more information or a free quote.
Visit their website for an introductory video that captures the 3D point cloud scanning of the Downtown Transit Center and a booklet that will explain more!
Development Code public hearing attracts dozens of speakers
The Charlottesville Planning Commission spent five hours on Thursday, September 14, 2023 holding a public hearing at which dozens of people spoke. Before it got underway, the city’s director of neighborhood development services set the stage for this act of the Cville Plans Together initiative.
“As you will recall back in 2021, the city adopted the Affordable Housing Plan and the Comprehensive Plan and now we’re moving into the rewrite of the zoning ordinance which is the implementation of that prior work,” said James Freas.
Both plans directed the city to write rules that allow for more residential density by granting more development rights. There are ways that property owners can get bonuses for various reasons including guaranteeing that some units will be kept below-market for decades. For this particular story, I’ll assume you as the reader or listener have some familiarity with the details.
Freas said the details of the Development Code could shift.
“I’m going to say right now that I don’t believe this draft that we have before us is our final draft,” Freas said, “I believe we’ll see changes over the course of this adoption process and indeed over the course of the future as we respond to changing conditions in the city.”
City Council Chambers was packed with people who wanted to speak with a spillover room set up in CitySpace. All speakers were restricted to two minutes. This particular story can’t capture all of them, but the video is waiting for completists to watch.
And here’s a selection from the first ten speakers.
“I am not opposed to increasing residential density,” said Robyn Kells of the Jefferson Park Avenue neighborhood. “In fact I applaud that. I applaud the acknowledgement that our community needs more affordable dwelling spaces, more accessible amenities, but we need to be very careful in how this is achieved.”
Kells said many in her neighborhood feel they have not been heard during the process and she urged more engagement with the community. Her property on Westerly Avenue would go from R-2U to the new Residential Mixed-Use 3. That would allow unlimited residential density and a maximum building height of 72 feet as well as many commercial uses without a special use permit.
The property is also very close to the Fontaine Research Center and is off of Fontaine Avenue, a street that is set to be updated as part of a Smart Scale project approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
The third speaker sought for property near another border with Albemarle County to remain at the lowest residential zoning possible.
“Maintain and do not change the current [Residential-A] zoning in the Greenbrier neighborhood,” said Diane Wakat. “Specifically the entrance onto Greenbrier Avenue [sic] from Rio Road and the length of Tarleton Drive until it crosses Banbury Street. We oppose the potential zoning changes because this area of Greenbrier, this street, Tarleton Drive in particular, is a family focused part of Charlottesville that is populated by those who want their children to be able to safely walk to Greenbrier Elementary School.”
A strip of Rio Road within city limits between Denice Lane and Greenbrier Terrace is zoned as Corridor Mixed Use 5. This is an area of Albemarle County known as Gasoline Alley.
The fourth speaker was Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen speaking on behalf of the owner of nine parcels at the corner of Lexington Avenue, East High Street and 9th Street NE.
Long sought consistency and pointed out that the Future Land Use Map designated all of them as Urban Mixed Use.
“As you know, the map provides that Urban Mixed Use Node is appropriate for up to ten stories,” Long said. “The property supports the higher zoning and is consistent with zoning proposed nearby but the draft zoning code continues to propose the zoning as a mixture of NX-10, NX-8, and CX-8.”
Five years ago, the developer submitted a site plan under the existing zoning for a two-phase project with a five-story office building and a 56-unit apartment apartment building. Long noted that Council and the Planning Commission agreed at a work session over the summer to designate a portion of the former Martha Jefferson Hospital site at NX-10. (read my story)
The fifth speaker said he has had a lot of experience watching Charlottesville change and grow.
“My Great Uncle Knox lived on Chancellor Street for a time,” said Doug Turnbull of Robinson Woods Drive. “His home has now become student apartments. My dad would visit my Aunt Kitty on Brandon Avenue where she owned an acre of land. Brandon Avenue has had a massive influx of housing. Over the decades, that has area has changed a lot and I think mostly for the better. New students and new neighbors can be a great thing. I fear what will happen if we stop change and stop growth.”
Turnbull’s house was built in 2000 as part of a Planned Unit Development approved by City Council. One idea of the PUD process is to allow for customized zonings to allow more building space on smaller lots.
The following paragraph was corrected on September 21, 2023 thanks to a reader comment!
As an aside, there are 15 addresses on Brandon Avenue in the city’s Geographic Information System, all of them are owned by the Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia Foundation spent millions over many years to purchase the land.
There’s only one privately owned building There are only two privately owned buildings that also share frontage on Brandon Avenue. One is at apartment building on Monroe Lane and the other is the Eunoia Creative Community on Jefferson Park Avenue. More on these two in the future, perhaps.
Jonathan Rice of the Little High Street neighborhood expressed skepticism that eliminating parking requirements in residential neighborhoods will have the desired effect of discouraging people from driving.
“I’m very skeptical that reducing parking in itself is going to get us a place to where we’re actually less dependent on cars,” Rice said. “I think it’s really just going to annoy a lot of people and be actually harmful to many city residents.”
Another Greenbrier resident and the ninth speaker said he was concerned that the Cville Plans Together initiative has turned into something for which it may not have been intended.
“It seems to me that as this came under way it was under the auspices of primarily affordability and it seems like affordability has sort of transitioned more into development,” said Erik Gunderson of Yorktown Drive. “And maybe a bit of switch and that if you want affordability, there may be other ways to get to affordability.”
The first recommendation of the Affordable Housing Plan was to get Council to dedicate $10 million a year toward housing projects. The draft plan also requires one in ten housing units in non-residential districts to be guaranteed as below-market rate, a requirement known as inclusionary zoning.
The tenth speaker is a woman who lives in the Woolen Mill who expressed support for the draft code.
“I’m a renter who lives in dense housing and I’ve raised my children here and I love my neighborhood too and I would love to have more neighbors and better use the land in this neighborhood to accommodate many more people,” said Elizabeth Stark.
Stark called for more density in neighborhoods that excluded minorities through racial covenants also called for protections for people who live in neighborhoods where they are at high risk of displacement.
“Specifically historically black neighborhoods and the places where those historic neighborhoods abut commercial areas,” Stark said. “These neighborhoods have already borne the brunt of Charlottesville’s growth and many who have lived here for generations have been displaced. Please provide an anti-displacement overlay for these neighborhoods.”
Such an overlay had been considered during the draft stage of the zoning code development but were removed for a variety of factors. Despite whatever the future zoning might be, properties in these areas have continued to sell at high prices. For instance, last week I reported in my summary of July property transactions of one sale which I reproduce here:
A house originally built in 1939 on 10 ½ Street and fully renovated in 2018 sold for $510,000. That’s 14.35 percent over the 2022 assessment of $446,000 and 4.59 percent over the 2023 assessment of $487,600. The structure also has what is now a guest cottage according to Realtor.com.
The seller is an entity called 326 10.5 Street LLC, an entity formed two and a half years after an individual bought the property for $90,000 on January 17, 2017. The assessed value in 2017 was $153,700. This is the second similar transaction by this seller in the past two and a half years of doing this work. Go back to May 24, 2022 for the other one.
So, that’s selections from ten speakers with more to come. There is a lot of complexity and nuance and my hope is to continue writing as much as I can.
The Planning Commission will deliberate on Tuesday and have another session lined up for September 26. Council will then begin their process.
Louisa mobile home residents living in ‘precarious position’, Keyris Manzanares, Mark Robinson, VPM, September 14, 2023
Police called to Charlottesville High School after student 'altercation’, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), September 15, 2023
Charlottesville schools' phone ban winning support, Jason Armesto, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), September 16, 2023
'We have to pay attention': Charlottesville groups rally against threats to democracy, Hawes Spencer, Charlottesville Daily Progress (paywall), September 17, 2023
It’s been a while since I’ve put one of these out on a Monday. In a world that I can imagine, these come up with a regular frequency to help write out as much of what’s happening as possible. A vision of a more robust Charlottesville Community Engagement with a team of reporters is one that’s credible, building on over three years of this newsletter and podcast.
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Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. There are usually podcast versions but not today.