It’s one of those rare days where if you use numbers to state the date, it sounds good no matter which system you use. Which do you prefer? 22-9-22? Or 9-22-22? Either way, the equinox is happening around this time, so the day is doubly rare. This is Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that is not rare, despite going out in a somewhat irregular fashion. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
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On today’s show:
Albemarle Supervisors indicate support for a second rezoning at Southwood
The Virginia Film Festival will screen a film at the Paramount this Sunday in advance of its AppleTV+ debut
The state’s transportation body is briefed on the cancellation of the West Main Streetscape and another project
First shout-out: Save the date for Rivanna Conservation Alliance’s Community Watershed clean-up
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out: Mark your calendar for the Rivanna Conservation Alliance’s third annual Rivanna River Round-Up community watershed cleanup coming up on Saturday, September 24. The RCA organized the first round-up in September 2020 as a safe way for the community to give back to the river during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last two years, a total of 245 volunteers have cleaned up 67 miles of streams, nearby trails and the Rivanna River, removing 192 tires and 213 large bags of trash from the waterways. Registration is now open and you can sign up for the Rivanna Conservation Alliance newsletter at rivannariver.org.
Albemarle delays final action on rezoning of Southwood’s second phase
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors made clear an hour before midnight night that the rezoning of a second phase of the redevelopment of the Southwood Mobile Home Park will eventually be granted, but there were some remaining questions when the item came closer to a vote
“I don’t think any of us want to delay things but also none of us want to rush through and not have it done,” said Supervisor Donna Price.
After a five-hour long public hearing and discussion last night, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors deferred final action on the second phase for a rezoning of the land where the Southwood Mobile Home Park currently stands.
A first phase covered land just outside of the park and both below-market and market-rate units are currently under construction.
A major sticking point between Supervisors and Habitat in this second rezoning was the amount that Albemarle should pay for land for a future school as part of a proffer. In previous rezonings, private developers have given away land for such purposes, but Habitat CEO Dan Rosensweig has maintained that the Southwood project cannot afford to do so without reducing the number of below-market units. (See also: Redevelopment work at Southwood continues, August 19, 2022)
After four and a half hours of discussion, Supervisor Chair Donna Price called a recess to allow Habitat to amend their proffer statement regarding the school site that put a cap on the cost of the land at $680,000.
Just before the vote, Supervisors were asked if they had a comment. Supervisor Ann Mallek of the White Hall District went third after two of her colleagues had no comment.
“In 2019, I said I was ready for a leap of faith on phase one,” said Supervisor Ann Mallek. “I am ready for another leap of faith and my vote is not just words but an action in support of equity of opportunity. I am strongly in support of this application tonight. I understand that not every detail is completely figured out.”
One of the details to be worked before November 2 is how Habitat might fill a funding gap for the project possibly including Albemarle’s involvement. But, Mallek was ready to proceed.
“Without Habitat purchasing this land in 2007, I predict that all of the residents would likely already have lost their places,” Mallek said. “I support this rezoning to get more roofs over more heads at Southwood.”
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he still had concerns about the impacts the additional residents would have on transportation infrastructure. But he said he would eventually support it when they are ironed out.
“When the phase one was in front of us I made the comment voting for that this was the first rezoning that came before us where we already had failing transportation issues and yet there was no opposition to the development moving forward when every other development that comes before us where there’s transportation issues that’s a reason to deny it,” Gallaway said.
However, Gallaway noted no one spoke out against the project for that reason. He said the main sticking point was the school proffer and whether Albemarle County Public School even wanted to use the site.
“This will bring more affordable units if the site doesn’t come pass,” Gallaway said. “If Habitat is the applicant and the site is not used, they would use it to be able to build more affordable housing whether its on this site or so others. So I trust that. If it for some reason left Habitat’s hands then that may not be the case.”
For reference, Gallaway said the recent addition at Crozet Elementary was $18 million.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she believed all of her colleagues want to support the project, but needed more details that she said would not be worked out before midnight.
“It’s late tonight and I’m just uncomfortable with just passing this right now,” McKeel said.
Supervisor Donna Price was very clear in her support.
“If you know anything about Southwood, and do not support this redevelopment, you have no heart and no soul because it does need to go through,” Price said.
Supervisors voted to defer a vote until at least November 2 and a special meeting might be called just for this item. If the proffers change between now and then, a new public hearing will need to be held.
Virginia Film Festival screening preview this Sunday
The Virginia Film Festival doesn’t start for another 42 days, but there’s an event coming up this weekend if you can’t wait until November 2. There will be a screening of the upcoming film Raymond and Ray at the Paramount Theater on September 25 at 2 p.m.
“Raymond & Ray stars Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as estranged half-brothers Raymond and Ray, who reunite at their father’s funeral,” reads the press release. “Despite their differences and complex family relationships, they maintain their senses of humor, and the funeral becomes an opportunity to reinvent themselves.”
The program will appear on AppleTV+ on October 21 and premiered earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was shot in Virginia with support from the Virginia Film Office. The screening will be followed with a Q&A session with writer-director Rodrigo Garcia and producer Julie Lynn.
For ticket information and pricing, visit theparamount.net.
Second shout-out is for LEAP’s new Thermalize Virginia program
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: Have you been thinking of converting your fossil-fuel appliances and furnaces into something that will help the community reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Your local energy nonprofit, LEAP, has launched a new program to guide you through the steps toward electrifying your home. Thermalize Virginia will help you understand electrification and connect you with vetted contractors to get the work done and help you find any rebates or discounts. Visit thermalizeva.org to learn more and to sign up!
CTB briefed on cancellation of Charlottesville Smart Scale projects
The Virginia Department of Transportation has followed through on a plan to help the city of Charlottesville get better about actually building projects for which it has been funded. On Tuesday, officials briefed the Commonwealth Transportation Board on the cancellation of three projects for which the city received funding from the Smart Scale process in the past few years.
“I’m presenting to you a proposal to cancel three Smart Scale projects,” said Kim Pryor, VDOT’s Director of Infrastructure Investment. “Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue, West Main Street Phase 2 and West Main Street Phase 3.”
Smart Scale is a competitive process where localities submit projects which are then ranked according to how they will address certain criteria, including addressing public safety, congestion, and increasing the potential for economic development. Charlottesville was awarded three such projects in the first round in 2016, one project in 2017, two projects in 2019, and four projects in 2021.
None of them have gone to construction.
Sean Nelson is the district engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation's Culpeper District. He said one factor in the state’s overall metric on on-time performance relates to how well localities can complete projects.
“So at the beginning of the year in the Culpeper District, we decided to look at our locally administered program in the city of Charlottesville,” Nelson said. “So since FY2019, on-time delivery has not been above 50 percent and on-budget has averaged around 60 percent for the same time period for the delivery of their program.”
Nelson said he met with interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers and Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders to explain VDOT’s expectations for the funding the city received to do work.
“The department showed them that they had a total of 34 projects on their books with a total estimate of $185 million from all funding sources,” Nelson said. “The part that really got their attention was that out of that $185 million they had only spent $11.6 million and some of the projects had been on the books since probably around 2006.”
Nelson said city leadership recognized the issue and entered into facilitated sessions to figure out how to “right-size” the program.
The city agreed to hire new staff to handle the projects and agreed to consider canceling seven projects. Another was turned over to VDOT to administer, and three of them went before the Commonwealth Transportation Board yesterday worth $20.6 million.
“Through this process the real big thing was the acknowledgement, the acknowledgment of the issue, which we were able to get from the city,” Nelson said. “I think we’ve turned the corner here.”
In addition, the city of Charlottesville did not apply for a project through the Smart Scale process in the current cycle. According to Pryor, the city had not even started scoping out the Preston Avenue project so no dollars were spent.
As for West Main Street, the streetscape was a project that came out of a study ordered by a previous City Council in 2012 that eventually resulted in a nearly $50 million cost estimate. Successive Councils authorized nearly $19 million in bonds as match for Smart Scale and other grant sources, but the current Council moved the local funds to the reconfiguration of City Schools.
The CTB will vote on the matter at its meeting in October.
The $20.6 million in funds will go back to the Culpeper District for other projects that might have cost-overruns or toward the fifth round of Smart Scale. The rankings for that list of candidates will be made available in late January.
In her next presentation, Pryor briefed the CTB on budget increase requests for the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape project awarded to Charlottesville in Round 1 and the Hydraulic Road and Route 29 Improvements awarded to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization in Round 4.
The estimate for the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape climbed from $11.7 million to $17.9 million. Charlottesville is committing an additional $750,000 to the project.
The estimate for the Hydraulic and 29 project increased by $4.2 million due in part to changes in state law that increases the cost to purchase right of way if businesses lose direct access to the roadway.
Wayne Coleman, an at-large member of the CTB, questioned the fairness of using this money to cover Charlottesville’s inability to deliver the Fontaine project.
“I’m sure that Charlottesville and Culper with good faith applied for the Smart Scale funds but back in 2017,” Coleman said. “Are we talking about funds that are set aside and held and now reallocated to a reprioritization later? I’m concerned about others that may have applied for Smart Scale but didn’t get any funding and we have these stagnant projects that aren’t being acted on.”
Darrell Byers, the Culpeper District representative on the CTB, said Charlottesville now realizes they were not able to manage the amount of projects received. Since the city was awarded the funding for Fontaine, there have been several city managers and all of the City Councilors are new. He said the new leadership understands what needs to happen next.
“They realize that they just were not able to manage what was given out in Smart Scale,” Byers said.
The next meeting of the CTB is on October 25 and October 26.
Housekeeping notes for #434
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