Week Ahead for January 25, 2021: Greenwood cell tower, Pantops hotel, and school budgets

January seems to have taken over March’s job and roared in like a lion, and has not let up yet. January does not seem ready to leave like a lamb.

Each week, this newsletter seeks to help you understand what’s happening at the local level in and around greater Charlottesville. Governments at all levels in our federal system have been incredibly active at a time when many continue to ask questions about how our democracy works. 

There’s an onslaught of information out there every week which eventually leads to decisions being made. It’s my hope to track as many as possible. I write each week to help as many people as possible know what’s going on and how they can get involved. That’s always been important, but perhaps it’s more necessary now than ever.

Thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support in launching this initiative. 

Monday, January 25

There are two meetings in Albemarle County today where a special use permit for a cell phone tower in Greenwood will be discussed. The Historic Preservation Committee will get a briefing on Verizon’s application for a 94-foot-tall monopole to be built near 7418 Greenwood Station Road.

“Verizon has determined that the area surrounding this proposed site needs expanded coverage to better service the nearby residences, businesses, and traffic along the I-64 Interstate,” reads the staff report for the permit application, which carries the name Scruby Property Verizon Wireless. “Therefore, this site is intended to provide infill coverage while also adding additional network capacity by offloading traffic from the company’s nearest existing sites in all directions.”

The application requires a special use permit because of the height. The property is within an entrance corridor which requires review by the Architectural Review Board. The Historic Preservation Committee is receiving the information because the land is within the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District. For nearly twenty years, Albemarle has had a policy that discourages towers. 

“The most important principle for siting personal wireless service facilities in Albemarle County is visibility,” reads a December 2000 report from Kreines and Kreines Inc. that helped shape the county’s ordinance. “Albemarle County should require that sufficient information be submitted with the application to enable the County to measure the visibility of a facility.”

With the pandemic shutting down in-person schools, some have argued the county needs to update its rules. This application has attracted a lot of attention and community members will be able to learn more at the community meeting required as part of the application process. That begins at 6:30 p.m. (meeting info)

In October, staff wrote to the applicant and said they could not recommend approval following a test where a balloon is raised at the site to simulate the tower’s presence.

“The visibility presented at the balloon test is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, the County's Wireless Policy, or the Zoning Ordinance,” wrote Christoper Perez in an October 16 letter to the applicant’s representatives. The applicants disagree. 

“Objective 10 of the Community Facilities Chapter 12 of the Comprehensive Plan is to support the provision of private utilities, including wireless service when its provision is in keeping with other aspects of the Comprehensive Plan,” reads the current narrative

Now back to the Historic Preservation Committee meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m. (meeting info)

After selecting new officers, the committee will receive an update on historic markers and will discuss demolitions at two properties. The committee has no power to approve or disapprove of removal of historic structures, but is charged with documenting cultural resources. 

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Two of the county’s seven Community Advisory Committees will meet in the evening. First, the Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. This first meeting of 2021 is an overview of the development process, a review of how the Freedom of Information Act governs these meetings, and an update on COVID-19. (meeting info)

The Pantops Community Advisory Committee meets at 6:15 p.m. After introductions, they will get right to work with a community meeting on an amendment to a previous rezoning to allow for a four-story hotel on a narrow 2.69-acre property to the northwest of the Rivanna Ridge Shopping Center. The current zoning calls for office use as well as a tree conservation area. 

Following the meeting, the Pantops CAC will get an update on various projects under development in the area, including at least two other hotels. (meeting info

In other meetings:

  • Charlottesville’s Social Services Advisory Board meets virtually at noon. To learn more about how the city’s Department of Social Services meets people, take a look at the annual report that was presented to City Council on December 21. (meeting info)

  • The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s Board of Trustees meets virtually at 3 p.m. (website)

Tuesday, January 26

Usually, Tuesday is the biggest day of the week in local governments. On January 19, there were six meetings of note at the local level. Today is quiet for a Tuesday. 

The Greene County Board of Supervisors meets at 5:30 p.m. and will go into closed session for an hour until opening back up to the public. This is an earlier start time than usual as voted upon by the Board last week and reported by Terry Beigie in the Greene County Record

Items on the agenda include an update a committee charged with overseeing implementation of the Ruckersville Area Plan, a rezoning of a one-acre vacant property on U.S. 33 to commercial, and another rezoning to allow more for a parking lot to support a convenience store at the intersection of Dyke Road and Bacon Hollow Road. (agenda)

At one point, the Charlottesville Planning Commission had been expected to hold a joint work session with the Albemarle County Planning Commission, but that has been delayed for some time. One thought had been to hold a work session on the land use portion of the Cville Plans Together initiative, which also involves creation of an affordable housing strategy.  That work session has been postponed until February 23.

The consultant has updated their website with a summary of feedback it received during November and December. This is worth reading to get a sense of where the community conversation is going. (engagement summary)

Wednesday, January 27

A project to bring new sidewalks and bike lanes to Ridge Street has been recommended for approval. The image is from the Smart Scale application submitted by the City of Charlottesville

A committee created to make recommendations about how to spend Community Development Block Grant funds for the Ridge Street neighborhood will meet at 4 p.m. One item on the agenda is an update on potential infrastructure projects to address safety. One new piece of information is that a $8.7 million project with the title Ridge Street Safety Improvement has been recommended for funding in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program. (meeting info)

“This project will improve multimodal transportation between Cherry Avenue and West Main Street,” reads a description of the project on the Charlottesville Area Metropolitan Area Organization’s website. “Project will reallocate some of the space currently used for on street parking to add infrastructure along the corridor. It will tie together two other smart scale projects - West Main Street Phase 1 and the Ridge/Cherry intersection improvements.”

At the same time, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board will meet for the first time of the year beginning at 4 p.m. The agenda was not available online at production time, so I uploaded it somewhere. (agenda

In my years of covering local and state government, I remain most intrigued about the details of how transportation projects move forward. So, I’m going to go through this meeting carefully. First, the MPO is a federally-mandated body that must approve projects that use federal money. That gives the public the opportunity to weigh in on public hearings. This is also an agency that incoming city manager Chip Boyles has run for nearly seven years. 

After the call to order, the first item is a public hearing on an amendment to Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). In this case, the local document has to be updated to reflect what is in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) that VDOT maintains. At this meeting, the TIP will be amended due to a cost increase for the Belmont Bridge replacement from $25.2 million to $31.1 million. That increase has been expected for some time. Notes for the project state that it is “under design, going to construction soon.” 

Next, there will be a discussion of performance targets required by the Federal Highway Administration for bridge and pavement maintenance, as well as targets for safety performance. 

Last week, the results of the Smart Scale funding process were released to the public. Albemarle County and Charlottesville fared very well in terms of having projects recommended for approval. Now the four elected officials on the policy board will get the chance to talk about what this means for the community’s future mobility. (story)

The Policy Board will next talk about what work the MPO staff will do in the coming year. Staff are recommended continued work on a study of Route 29 north of Airport Road, as well as preparation for the next update of the required Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). But staff is seeking guidance on what projects it might also pursue. Potential policy areas to review include:

  • Case studies on successful Public Private Partnerships to fund transportation infrastructure

  • Best Practices for supporting Climate Action Plans

  • Changes in travel behavior due to rise in remote work

The Policy Board has to approve what’s known as the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) by May.

Next, there will be a briefing on a potential bridge to span the Rivanna River for bikes and pedestrians. This is part of the second phase of a corridor plan the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) has been working on for some time. Two options are under consideration and there is a summary of feedback to date.

“Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville will need to determine if they would like to pursue this project further and, if so, how they would like to proceed,” reads the staff report from transportation planner Jessica Hersh-Ballering. 

Following the bridge discussion, Hersh-Ballering will give an update on a $350,000 project to create a “Charlottesville and Albemarle Regional Transit Vision Plan.” That work will be overseen by the Regional Transit Partnership (RTP), which had been scheduled to meet on Thursday but both Albemarle Supervisors and Charlottesville Councilors have conflicts.  

Boyles also helped secure a grant for a $106,215 project called “Albemarle County Transit Expansion Feasibility Study and Implementation Plan.” The purpose would be to help bring more service to Pantops, Monticello, and Route 29 North. 

“Innovative transit options (to include on-demand service) that emphasize accessibility and responsiveness to customer needs should be investigated alongside traditional fixed-route options,” reads the purpose statement included in the MPO’s packet. 

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(Edit - this meeting was canceled and this paragrah has been converted to past tense

Charlottesville’s Housing Advisory Committee was scheduled to meet virtually at noon but the meeting was canceled. The agenda is spare and included one item that just read “city update.” It should be noted that one of the items called for in the draft affordable housing plan is to reform the structure of the HAC, as well as to create a separate committee to make recommendations about how to spend what’s put in the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. (meeting info)

In other meetings:

  • Charlottesville’s Retirement Commission meets virtually at 8:30 a.m. (meeting info)

  • Albemarle County’s Broadband Authority (ABBA) meets virtually at  5 p.m. (meeting info)

  • Crozet Community Advisory Committee meets virtually at 7 p.m. (meeting info)

  • Nelson County’s Planning Commission will meet in person at 7 p.m. Among the items on the agenda is for a 150’ tall communications tower. (meeting packet)

Thursday, January 28

Both the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will meet in joint session with their locality’s elected school board to discuss budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Albemarle meets at 4 p.m. and Charlottesville meets at 5 p.m.

In other meetings:

Friday, January 29

The Nelson County Board of Supervisors will meet in person at 1 p.m. for a capital initiatives planning session. The meeting will also feature a discussion of the Board’s objectives that will be facilitated by Chip Boyles and the person who will be his immediate replacement. Christina Jacobs will step in as interim director when Boyles becomes City Manager. (agenda)

Saturday, January 30

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors will hold a leadership retreat virtually beginning at 9 a.m. (meeting info