There are only two days remaining in the astronomical summer of 2022 in the northern hemisphere, at least as measured from the 38th parallel. There are so many ways to describe any particular moment, and Charlottesville Community Engagement intends to track many things that seem random, but through 432 previous episodes, there seems to be a kaleidoscopic pattern of some sorts going on. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, and I hope you’ll stick around to see how it all ebbs and flows between now and episode 864.
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On today’s program:
A quick burst of announcements from City Council, including a men’s health event, WNRN’s birthday, and an update on the city’s fiscal future
The Youngkin administration seeks to overturn Virginia’s model policies for transgendered students
Charlottesville’s Human Rights Commission seeks input on their legislative recommendations to City Council
The city will soon ramp up efforts to get people to use the recently reopened Smith Aquatic and Fitness Center
A committee of the UVA Board of Visitors approves a vision plan for Darden that would see some residential units, and also recommends demolition of University Gardens
First shout-out: Rivanna Trail Foundation marks 30 years
In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out: The Rivanna Trail turns 30 this year and to mark the occasion the Rivanna Trail Foundation is throwing a party the weekend of September 24. It’s also the annual Loop De Ville which is being expanded this year.
This Saturday is also National Public Lands Day, and if you want to walk the 20 mile loop of the Rivanna Trail or take place in a run of the circuit, go ahead and register now. What about a mountain bike ride? Or attend that night’s Rivanna Roots Concert at the Rivanna River Company.
Visit rivannatrails.org to learn more about what’s happening on Sunday, including a 15-mile mountain bike ride with the Charlottesville Mountain Bike Club, a family-friendly walk at Riverview Park, and a five mile run. That’s followed with a celebration from noon to five at the Wool Factory. For all of the details, visit rivannatrails.org.
Councilors announce Mens’s Health Event, WNRN’s 25th birthday
We begin this week’s stories from Charlottesville Community Engagement with a round-up of information from last night’s meeting of the Charlottesville City Council. There were only four Councilors present as Councilor Sena Magill was not able to attend the meeting even virtually due to illness.
Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade kicked off announcements with information about the Men’s Health Event this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church.
“It’s just going to be an opportunity for men, all men, just to come out and get more information about health and healthy options,” Wade said. “There’s going to be transportation provided.”
Wade said he will be there and he’s encouraging people he knows to attend.
On Monday, Mayor Lloyd Snook said he issued a mayoral proclamation to WNRN Radio for a milestone.
“They’re celebrating 25 years of nonprofit radio and very successful,” Snook said.
City’s financial report delayed
In his comments, interim city manager Michael C. Rogers said that Council is usually presented with financial reports at the end of each quarter. However, this time’s report is delayed.
“It represents the financial results for all of last year and those results will not be final until after the audit is completed,” Rogers said.
The audit will determine how much of a surplus will be left over from FY22, the second half of which included both a property tax rate increase and an increase in property assessments.
“We are still anticipating a sizable surplus as we previously discussed and at this reporting we do not anticipate any material differences in what was previously reported,” Rogers said.
In June, Rogers reported a projected $14 million in surpluses, as reported by Charlottesville Community Engagement. Expect the audit to be completed and presented to Council in their second meeting in October.
More from this City Council meeting in future episodes.
Youngkin administration seeks to revoke transgender policy for Virginia public schools
On Friday afternoon, the administration of Governor Glenn Youngkin announced it would seek to overturn a Virginia Department of Education policy put in place last year to protect the rights of transgendered students. Bills passed the 2020 General Assembly directing the department to create such model policies for all localities to follow.
“The key guiding principle of the model policies is that all children have a right to learn, free from discrimination and harassment,” reads page eight of the 2021 policy that resulted. (download the 2021 policy)
Now, Youngkin is proposed replacing that document with one called “Model Policies for Privacy, Dignity, and Respect for All Students and Parents in Virginia’s Public Schools”
“The 2021 Model Policies promoted a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools,” reads the purpose section of the new policy .”The 2021 Model Policies also disregarded the rights of parents and ignored other legal and constitutional principles that significantly impact how schools educate students, including transgender students.”
The 2021 document has a long list of terminology with eleven definitions ranging from “cisgender” to “transgender”, but the 2022 policy reduces that to one definition for “transgender” student that requires the parent to request that identification rather than the student.
The new policy also states the First Amendment prevents “government actors” from making others do anything against their religious beliefs.
“Practices such as compelling others to use preferred pronouns is premised on the ideological belief that gender is a matter of personal choice or subjective experience, not sex,” reads section V paragraph C. “Many Virginians reject this belief.”
Advocates for transgendered students say the new policy will cause harm to individuals in families where they are forced to hide their identity.
For more on the response to the proposed new policy, check out the Richmond Times-Dispatch interview with two law professors who argue Youngkin’s approach may be on shaky legal ground. (Two professors question legality of Youngkin’s transgender policies, September 20, 2022)
While the new document states the new policy goes into effect immediately, there is a 30-day public comment period that will open on September 26 on Virginia Regulatory Town Hall. Then the Board of Education will take up the policy in a vote.
Youngkin has claimed a mandate to change several policies, including withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. He has been traveling to other states across the United States to support Republican candidates, and is widely believed to be a candidate in the 2024 presidential race. (See also: Youngkin administration outlines plan to leave cap-and-trade system, September 1, 2022)
Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe with 50.58 percent of the vote to McAuliffe’s 48.64 percent. Democrats retain a 21 to 19 advantage in the Virginia Senate and the Republicans have 52 seats to the Democrats’ 47 seats in the House of Delegates. There is one vacancy pending a special election for the 35th House District scheduled for January 10, one day before the General Assembly reconvenes.
City’s human rights group seeks input on potential bills for 2023
There are 113 days until the 2023 session of the Virginia General Assembly convenes, but work is already underway on the next set of bills that will vie for passage of both Houses and signature into law. Earlier this month, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had another discussion of what they’d like to see, including a further relaxation on Virginia’s open meeting rules to allow for meetings of advisory bodies to be held virtually.
Charlottesville City Council will also come up with a list of legislative priorities, and the city’s Human Rights Commission is seeking input on what they should recommend through an online survey. (take the survey)
“The HRC envisions this community survey as an opportunity for members of our community to publicly raise topics of shared concern related to human rights,” reads a press release for the survey. “As an advisory body to City Council, the Human Rights Commission can bring Council’s attention to systemic and policy-level human rights concerns and advocate for positive change.”
The survey is open through October 3. You can also check out previous recommendations of the Human Rights Commission on the city’s website.
City seeks ways to boost usage of Smith Aquatic Center
Even if we still have two days left of astronomical summer, the season is over for outdoor pools across the area. It was a rough one for local governments to keep enough people to do the jobs and how do things look going into the fall for indoor pools?
“The ones we struggle to get during the summer have now returned to their colleges that may not be close,” said Dana Kasler, the city’s parks and recreation director. “So this is not atypical for this time of year. We do struggle in that area.”
Kasler spoke at last Thursday’s meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
Kasler said the trend is toward filling more vacancies on the programming side which allows more facilities to operate closer to capacity. However, usage of some facilities has not returned to pre-pandemic levels such at Smith Aquatic Center in Fifeville. Smith was closed for over two years due to a major overhaul of the heating and ventilation system.
“We’re at operation but we’re certainly not at capacity and participation,” Kasler said. “We’ll be putting out a marketing strategy for the fall now that we’ve been open for several months.”
I’ll have more from the city’s parks meeting in future editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement.
Second shout-out: Black Business Expo coming up on September 24
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, WTJU 91.1 FM wants you to know about the Charlottesville-Albemarle Black Business Expo, coming up on September 24 at the Ix Park from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Vendor registration is currently underway for the all-day event which will feature DJ sets, panel discussions, a business pitch contest, and live music from both Richelle Claiborne and Ebony Groove. Learn more about the event at blackbusinessexpo.org.
New Darden “vision plan” includes student housing
A presentation on potential changes to the master plan for the Darden School of Business prompted a conversation among members of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors about whether enough space has been reserved for future housing units there.
University of Virginia Architect Alice Raucher showed a slide which depicted how the Darden School fits in with the Emmet Ivy Corridor as well as the athletic precinct. Central Grounds is a halfway point between North Grounds and the Downtown Mall.
“And it’s so important that all the work we’re doing at the Emmet Ivy Corridor and Athletics Grounds as well as the [Darden] master plan that we’ll be presenting, it really starts to break down this perceived distance with these pulses of activity.”
Darden’s Master Plan was last updated in 2017 by the firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects and since then construction has begun on the Darden Inn and Arboretum that was part of that revision. Now the firm has been hired to update a vision plan for the future that’s a little different.
“It’s an expansion of the faculty office buildings both north and south, and it proposes student residential facilities both north and south,” Raucher said. “North ringing the existing garage with a proposed green roof on top of the parking garage to form a residential courtyard.”
The southern residences would be part of a proposed mixed-use building to be built on Leonard Sandridge Road with a potential pedestrian bridge to cross to Ivy Gardens. Ivy Gardens is a 440-unit apartment complex owned by the University of Virginia Foundation for which a master plan has been adopted. (read my June 2021 story on Information Charlottesville)
Raucher stressed that the committee was just being asked to approve the vision plan and that any specific buildings would come back to them for review.
“Any plan here would not impede the master plan for Ivy Gardens that you approved last year,” Raucher said. “In fact, if Ivy Gardens should move forward sometime in the future, there would be an ability to really connect the pedestrian and bicycle linkage between Central Grounds, North Grounds, and Darden.”
Scott Beardsley, Dean of the Darden School of Business, said the updates are necessary to prepare for the future in a place the school has been for less than three decades.
“Our student body has evolved from 550 students and we will be by 2025 at around 1,200 students, of which 700 are residential,” Beardsley said. “We have also doubled the number of faculty individuals, and also the staff. So basically, Darden is out of office space.”
Part of that is because of the loss of 15,000 square feet at Sponsors Hall after that building was demolished. Beardsley said peer institutions have also been updating their vision plans to compete for applicants.
“Stanford, Tuck, Harvard are very well known for their residential components and their housing,” Beardsley said. “Darden relies completely on the community for housing and a third of our students live all over Charlottesville so we suffer from the same housing crunch.”
Beardsley said the hope is to eventually be able to house 80 percent of first-year graduate students in the new housing, but he is hoping that Ivy Gardens will be renovated in the near future as well to provide new options.
“The structural housing shortage in Charlottesville means that it is also a contribution to solving the University’s housing problem,” Beardsley said.
There are currently no plans to move forward with the master plan for Ivy Gardens, which would not be reserved for UVA students. The plans would increase the number of units from 440 would increase that to as many as 718 units while also adding commercial and non-residential space.
At least one member of the Board of Visitors suggested building more housing at Darden. Beardsley said they’re not anticipating doing more.
“We view Ivy Garden as part of the solution,” Beardsley said.
Other nearby projects
Nearby there is also the Old Ivy Residences development before Albemarle County which would see as many as 525 units. The private developer in that project asked for a deferral in June when it was before the Albemarle Planning Commission. A revised set of documents was submitted to the county in August and are now under review.
The Buildings and Grounds Committee did vote to approve the demolition of University Gardens, an apartment complex on Emmet Street built in 1948 that was acquired by UVA in the 1960’s.
“The condition of these buildings is very poor and so in 2019 we stopped assigning them to graduate students,” said Raucher. “We were ready to tear them down back then and then COVID happened and we said, oh gee, maybe we could use them for isolation and quarantine housing which we did to a limited extent.”
Raucher said it would be prohibitively expensive to make them habitable again as there is no central air conditioning and the plumbing system is not in good shape. There is no specific plan for what will happen in the long-term.
“The site itself is probably more valuable to the University without the buildings on it because of where it’s located,” Raucher said. “The University owns all of the land on that side of Emmet Street from the railroad bridge north to Carruthers Hall.”
Potential uses could include residential halls for second-year students, but there are no immediate plans. In the short term, it may likely be used for surface parking. There was no comment from members of the Buildings and Grounds.
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Notes for the end of episode #433
Another episode and hopefully there will be three more this week. There’s a lot to go through and I’m working to try to get them out quicker. That’s my number one mission at the moment and I’m grateful for those who are supporting the work. I’ve been training to put out this newsletter and podcast for thirty years and one day perhaps I’ll figure it out.
Until then, please know that you can help me in pens and paper and court inspection fees as well as all of the other things a Town Crier needs to do the job. I’m eschewing the fancy robes, though, and you have my assurance that any pivot to video is far in the future.
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The Week Ahead this week originally contained an incorrect characterization of why Charlottesville began its own independent review of funding for nonprofit agencies. Read the comment to learn more.
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