Week Ahead for January 11, 2021

The mob attack on the U.S. Capitol last week has shaken the United States of America to its core. The city of Charlottesville is in a deep crisis as the City Council struggles with hiring a new city manager. However, one sign of good news at the state level is that the Virginia Department of Health will open up the next phase of COVID vaccinations earlier than expected. 

More than ever, it is crucial for as many people as possible to know how our government systems function. Successful reform requires an understanding of exactly what is broken. The hope of my journalism is tell the stories of how we get through this time. We are embedded within multiple crises. I do my research and reporting every day because I believe providing the facts to the public can open up pathways to peace and prosperity for all as we all head into an uncertain future.

There are many questions I’d like you to consider as you read through this week’s newsletter.

  • What is the purpose of government?

  • What are its limitations?

  • How can I get involved?

This week’s installment of this newsletter comes with support from the Piedmont Environment Council

Monday, January 11, 2021

Over the years, the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee (VORCAC) has lobbied successfully to keep development in Albemarle County’s eastern growth area on the lower end of what is called for in a master plan for the area adopted in May 2010. Since a community meeting was held on in the summer of 2019, Southern Development’s proposed Breezy Hill neighborhood has been reduced in size. Many in the Village of Rivanna want the Board of Supervisors to deny the pending rezoning request. (See comments for notification of a slight edit here)

However, that item is not on the agenda of the virtual VORCAC meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. There will be an update on the Rivanna Village project now under development by Norfolk-based Robinson Development Group. After that, they’ll get an update on the new housing policy currently under revision in Albemarle. (meeting info)

“Since 2004, our Housing Policy has provided guidance on how we meet [housing needs],” reads the Housing Albemarle website. “However, new residential development in the County has not kept pace with growing housing demand leaving many County residents struggling to find housing they can afford.”

The first objective in the draft housing policy is to “increase the supply of housing to meet the diverse housing needs of all current and future Albemarle County residents” and calls for construction of thousands of new homes. (draft plan)

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Charlottesville City Council is scheduled to begin its third emergency closed session of the week beginning at 11 a.m. Last week the news broke that the firm Ralph Andersen and Associates had withdrawn from a contract to conduct the search for a new city manager to replace Dr. Tarron Richardson, who resigned in September. (meeting info)

Now some are circulating a petition asking Council to restore Richardson to the post.

“We feel that our city has been in complete chaos since his departure,” reads the petition written by Gloria Beard, Tanesha Hudson, Katrina Turner, Abby Tanenbaum Guskind and Jojo Robertson. “It has continued to fall apart and there's little to no hope that anyone new can mold it back together.”  

The first terms of Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill are up for election this November. Walker declared last February she would seek a second term. So far, no new candidates have announced if they will mount a challenge. 

Other meetings:

  • The Fluvanna County Economic Development Authority meets virtually at 5 p.m. (agenda)

  • The Fluvanna Economic Development and Tourism Advisory Council meets virtually at 6:30 p.m. (agenda)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The seven members of the Albemarle Planning Commission meet for the first time this year beginning at 6 p.m. They’ll select a chair and vice chair before diving into two work sessions on land use issues, both of which will play a role in whether the county is able to achieve its housing goals. (meeting info)

The first would reform the land use application process by streamlining the zoning ordinance. 

“The proposed amendments are intended to reduce inefficient and unnecessary administrative procedures,” wrote planner Bill Fritz in the staff report for the work session. “This will allow for a more efficient review process for both the County and applicants.” 

The second is on the land use chapter of the Crozet Master Plan update, a document that is being revised for the first time since 2010. Staff has suggested creating a new zoning category to encourage more residential density.

“The [Middle Density Residential] category recommends housing types with smaller unit and lot sizes, including bungalow courts, accessory dwellings, and multiplexes (including single-family home conversions),” reads the staff report. “Given the smaller lot and unit sizes, these housing types are naturally more affordable and intend to support the small-town identity of Crozet.”

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee voted on November 30, 2020 on a recommendation to not include the MDR category. 

“The most significant and overarching concern was that the new land use category would increase potential for additional housing and density, which could impact infrastructure needs within Crozet, including school capacity, roadways and traffic,” the staff report continues. 

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The seven members of the Charlottesville Planning Commission meet for the first time of 2021 beginning at 5:30 p.m. They’ll get an update on the Cville Plans Together initiative to complete the Comprehensive Plan, create an affordable housing strategy, and update the city’s zoning code. I wrote and produced a status report on this effort in mid-December. (full packet)

After that, they will have a joint public hearing with City Council on the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan. In 2016, the Planning Commission designated the Fifeville neighborhood to be the next area in the city to through a master planning process. There is a specific mixed-use zoning district that runs along Cherry Avenue and Commissioners at the time cited four reasons for selecting the area. (link)

  • Stresses on the neighborhood/corridor from commuter traffic

  • Large approved development under construction, anchoring the east and west ends of the corridor

  • Large numbers of vacant lots with potential for development along the corridor

  • The ability to utilize the groundwork laid by the neighborhood in developing a Visioning document dated May 12, 2016

The city hired the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to conduct the work, and community engagement got underway in 2017. The 126-page draft dated December 2020 is intended to guide redevelopment. 

“The plan should guide local decision-making, influencing decisions with local policies, land use laws, programs, capital expenses and other initiatives,” reads the introduction. “City departments should refer to and be aware of the plan, to ensure that their staff and work programs are consistent with plan recommendations. For Fifeville residents, who will play a key role in implementing the recommendations, there is detailed guidance for providing oversight and achieving neighborhood goals.”

On the project website, TJPDC planners assembled a whole list of previous reports and studies, including one from the 1960’s and a Neighborhood Plan from a city-wide planning exercise from 2006. The draft report refers to a plethora of research in the area. 

“The bookshelves of City Hall hold many planning documents, including: the comprehensive plan, small area plans, corridor plans, utility plans, a bike and pedestrian plan, housing reports and many other documents that are intended to evoke positive change for Charlottesville,” the draft continues under the heading ‘Defining Success.’ “With the  approval of the Cherry Avenue Small Area Plan, there will be another set of recommendations in this complex web of reports, studies, policy documents, proposals, ordinances and memos.”

Other areas that have had small area plans include one for the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road adopted by Council in the summer of 2018 and the 330-acre Strategic Investment Area. The latter was added to the city’s Comprehensive Plan in February 2014. In late 2018, City Council paid $500,000 to the New Hill Development Corporation to create a small area plan for the Starr Hill neighborhood, including the 10 acre City Yard. 

There has been a lot of change in Charlottesville since then and a lot of turnover. Some more questions. How much resonance do these documents have with our current elected and appointed officials? How do they factor into the Cville Plans Together initiative? How much emphasis should there be on planning in a community where very real changes have occurred in the built environment on a parcel by parcel basis? 

Following this public hearing, the Commission will take up action items. The first is for a special use permit request from Piedmont Realty Holdings of Crozet for additional density at 1000 Monticello Road. Under the Belmont Heights plan, the existing units would remain and a new structure would be built on the property with 11 units, nine of which would be designated as below-market housing. The Planning Commission held a public hearing for the application on December 8. 

“Several members of the public spoke, mostly in opposition to the request,” wrote city planner Brian Haluska in the staff report. “Commenters opposed the increase in density on the grounds that the building was out of character with the surrounding neighborhood and the zoning district classification.”

Finally, the Commission will act on a resolution of intent to amend the zoning code for the Downtown North zoning district to allow a new building to have residential units in more than three quarters of its total area, if commercial uses are provided on the ground floor. Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg has asked for this review. 

Other meetings:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The James River Water Authority consists of representatives from Fluvanna County and Louisa County. The purpose of the JRWA is to manage and expand an urban water supply plan for Zion Crossroads, an unincorporated growth area that spans both counties. The organization had been planning to build a pump station at the confluence of the James River and the Fluvanna River. The site is the location of what was once the capital of the Monacan nation, and last year the JRWA agreed to look at other alternatives following an advocacy campaign.

The project needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Last summer, JRWA hired the firm Aqualaw to oversee due diligence into what is known as the “Forsyth alternative.”

“Third parties, including the Monacan Indian Nation, have indicated the potentially preferable nature of this location and route pending further archeological study,” reads the minutes for the August 12, 2020 JRWA meeting. The board will have a further discussion of the item at their virtual meeting which begins at 9 a.m. (agenda)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Charlottesville has recently experienced a string of violent incidents, including four homicides in the last two months of 2020. At the same time, some members of the Police Civilian Review Board continue to lobby for additional powers to hold officers and the department accountable. The agenda for their January meeting has not yet been published but it begins at 630 p.m. (meeting info)

Other meetings:

  • Charlottesville’s Sister Cities Commission meets at 4:30 p.m. (meeting info)

  • The Places29 North Community Advisory Committee meets at 6 p.m.  The agenda isn’t posted at publication time but there is no shortage of development activity in the area. (meeting info)

Friday, January 15, 2021

A subgroup committee of the Emergency Communication Center’s Management Board will hold a meeting at 2 p.m. This group is called the “Regional ECC Calls For Service and Funding Model Review Committee.” (meeting info)