Week Ahead for May 16, 2021: VDOT funding Belmont Bridge cost over-run; New future for a Rosenwald School in Albemarle

A look ahead at what's coming up in regional government in and around Charlottesville

As the pandemic appears to be entering into a dormant period, it is time to think how government meetings in our area will transition back to being in person. No dates have been set yet for Albemarle County or Charlottesville, but Greene County met in person last week. Louisa and Nelson have continued meeting that way for the whole time. Once the state of emergency is over, there is no provision for meetings to continue on virtually.

For many, virtual meetings have lowered the barrier to entry. if you’ve ever wanted to sample what local government is about, this is the time to do so. It remains to be seen how accessible meetings will be from people’s homes in the future. But, the laying of broadband across much of the area could mean that the discussions of local democracy might take place in different ways in our near future than they did in our pre-pandemic past. 

Either way, this newsletter will continue to let you know what’s coming up with as much backstory and context as possible. Our community is filled with complexities, and my goal is to cover the conversations that lead up to decision points. Thank you to all of my supporters for helping this first year of Town Crier Productions take flight!

Special thanks again as always to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of this research and reporting. 

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Monday, May 17, 2021

There’s a recent new practice by the Charlottesville City Council to receive presentations and reports in the afternoon before their second meeting of each month. After beginning virtually at 4 p.m., there will be an update on the city’s finances as the end of FY2021 approaches. (meeting info)

There are three other reports. Council will get an update from the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority on the Charlottesville Supplemental Rental Assistance Program (CSRAP). Council has allocated $4.3 million to the program since FY2017 to provide additional rental assistance beyond what the CRHA can provide through its allotment of federal housing choice vouchers. Later in the meeting, Council will approve an updated agreement. (staff report) (update)

Then there will be a presentation from the Youth Council on their year end report on a research project to “understand the disparity of students who attended the Charlottesville City Schools (CCS) from 5th-8th Grade (e.g. Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle School) and those who attended private schools in the area (e.g. St. Anne’s Belfield, Tandem Friends School, Village School, Field School, etc.).” (report)

The work session concludes with a mid-year report on the third year of the Charlottesville Food Equity Initiative. 

“Over the past six months we have worked to balance the continued need for emergency COVID-19 responses as well as pivot back to our core work of building a food equity foundation in our city, nonprofit, and community partnerships,” reads an overview letter of the presentation. 

Council meets virtually at 6:30 p.m. (meeting info)

The only item on the regular agenda is a request from city staff for $4.28 million in additional funding for the replacement of the Belmont Bridge. The deadline for companies to submit a bid to construct the long-planned project was March 16. Two months later, city staff have acknowledged the project will not move forward this spring. 

“All submitted bids were over the Engineer’s estimate,” reads the staff report. “It has been determined that the higher bid results are reflective of the increases in material costs, labor costs, and the abundance of work with limited availability of contractors.” 

According to staff, there is enough funding to cover the cost of construction, but there is not enough to cover inspections and contingencies. The new total cost is $35,380,78. The city has worked with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to find other sources of state funding to make up the difference. 

“No additional local funding will be needed,” reads the staff report. 

Council also has an option to reduce the scope of the project in order to rebid but staff is not recommending that option.

“In a preliminary assessment of the rescoping the project, various details and operational changes were considered, such as removing the ‘knuckle,’ eliminating the pedestrian plaza, removing the new pedestrian underpass, [and] allowing complete closure of the bridge during construction,” the report continues, stressing this would delay the project. If Council chooses to accept state funding, the project would be scheduled to get underway this year. 

On the consent agenda:

  • Charlottesville Area Transit is receiving an additional $265,025 in supplemental funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The staff report states some of the money will be used to pay for studies to improve service. The Regional Transit Partnership discussed this study as well as their own in late March. (staff report)

  • The city has an additional $15,766.58 in COVID funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia to put toward utility relief programs. (staff report)

  • Council will hold first reading of an ordinance to establish parameters for the Charlottesville Housing Affordability Program for the current calendar year. The program offers property tax rebates for qualifying applicants. (staff report)

In other meetings:

  • Now that there are two WaWa franchises in the community, why not look forward to a third? The Albemarle Architectural Review Board meets at 1 p.m. and the first item on the agenda is on the initial site plan for one at Greenbrier Road and U.S. 29 at the current location of Charlottesville Tire. (meeting info)

  • The University of Virginia Board of Visitors and the Health System Board will meet at 2 p.m. for a closed session to discuss a potential acquisition. (meeting info)

  • The Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee of Albemarle County meets at 5:30 p.m. On the agenda is a review of the planned water line between South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is seeking easements for a section of the 9.5 mile long pipeline at Albemarle County Public School’s Lambs Lane complex. (meeting info) (recent story on RWSA)

  • The Louisa County Board of Supervisors meets in open session beginning at 6 p.m. in person at the Louisa County Public Meeting Room. There’s a resolution on the agenda to educate Louisa residents on “the risks of traveling to China for organ transplants.” There’s also a presentation from the Blue Ridge Health District on vaccination and an update from the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce, There’s also a public hearing on adding additional properties to the Ferncliff Growth Area Overlay District. (agenda packet) For more on Louisa County, read the Engage Louisa newsletter produced by Tammy Purcell.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

It is extremely rare to see a staff report for a special use permit request that lists no unfavorable factors. That’s the case for an application from the St. John Family Life and Fitness Center to use an existing 1,500 square foot structure as a community center. That’s the main item on the agenda of the Albemarle Planning Commission beginning at 6 p.m. 

“The aforementioned building was constructed around 1923 and is a one-story frame building approximately 1,500 square feet in size,” reads the staff report. “The applicant seeks to renovate the building to preserve and share its history as a Rosenwald-funded school for rural African American students at a time when schools were still segregated.”

The St. John Family Life and Fitness Center was formed in 2011 to organize this renovation. They are working with the Building Goodness Foundation and architect Jody Lahendro. 

“After completion of restoration of the historic Rosenwald School, our future home, it will be the only Rosenwald School in Albemarle County that will be available to the public,” reads the application narrative. “Like other communities around the United States, our desire is to preserve this surviving structure because of the deep meaning it carries for African American as symbols of a community dedication to education.” 

The center would be open Monday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and would include a catering kitchen, two large multi-purpose meeting rooms, and an exercise room. The permit is required due to the structure being in the county’s rural area. 

In other meetings:

  • Charlottesville’s Board of Equalization meets virtually beginning at 8:25 a.m. The Board is tasked with hearing disputes from property owners about recent assessments. Two hotels and a West Main student housing complex are among the 15 appeals on the agenda for the all-day hearing. (meeting info)

  • One of the most obscure bodies in our community is the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board, which consists of two Charlottesville City Councilors and two Albemarle County Supervisors. So it stands to reason that the MPO Tech Committee is even more obscure. Either way, both bodies as well as the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee all deal with transportation projects that receive federal and state funds. MPO Tech meets virtually at 10 a.m. Topics include bike crash data as well as a lot of little details for how things get funded. (meeting info)

  • The Charlottesville Parking Advisory Panel meets at 3:30 p.m. with an agenda that has a lot of the usual items. One thing I would like to see on this or a future agenda is a review of the proposed Comprehensive Plan language related to parking in the draft transportation chapter. (meeting info)

  • The Albemarle County Economic Development Authority meets at 4:00 p.m. On the agenda is a discussion of debt financing for capital projects. That will be further discussed at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting tomorrow. (meeting info)

  • Charlottesville’s Sister City Commission meets at 4:30 p.m. Among the items on the agenda is the emeritus status for Pleven, Bulgaria. (meeting info)

  • The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review Board meets at 5 p.m. On the item is a review of City Council’s May 3 resolution to “remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover” Confederate statues in two city parks. (meeting info)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

There’s a lot on the agenda at the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors beginning at 1 p.m. They’ll begin with consideration of two land-use related special exceptions, followed by an update on transportation projects. Albemarle does not directly manage its own transportation projects, but has in recent years put together a list of priorities that is worth reviewing. (priority update)

Next, there is an update on the Broadway Blueprint plan that the Office of Economic Development has been leading for the 45 acres of Albemarle land landlocked within the city of Charlottesville. The project was put on hold during the pandemic, and Supervisors will get an update on where things stand. (staff report)

In the evening session beginning at 6 p.m., there’s an action item on a resolution related to debt financing. The county is proposing a restructuring of its existing debt through the Economic Development Authority. (staff report) Following that, there will be an emergency ordinance to repeal the emergency ordinance. It’s getting confusing. (staff report) Then an update from the Blue Ridge Health District followed by a public hearing on the county’s Secondary Six-Year Plan for transportation funding. This is where the priority list for paving roads is located. (staff report)

On the consent agenda:

  • There’s a request to set a future public hearing to designate Route 240 and Route 810 in western Albemarle as a Virginia By-Way (staff report)

  • There’s a request to set a future public hearing to increase Supervisor salaries by two percent (staff report)

  • There are lots of documents in the third quarter financial report for FY21 (staff report)

  • VDOT’s monthly report for May 2021

Greene Planning Commission reviews economic development 

The Greene County Planning Commission meets virtually at 6 p.m. The meeting will feature a presentation from the county’s Economic Development and Tourism Department. This comes at a time when the Comprehensive Plan is under review. In a memo dated March 1, the department indicated an increase in the number of inquiries from companies in the distribution industry.  (agenda)

“[There’s a ] serious need for affordable M-2 property with easy access to Rt 29 without the expense of being on Rt. 29,” the memo reads. 

Earlier this month, Terry Beigie reported in the Greene County Record that Frito Lay is building a 16,000 square foot distribution center in an industrial park.

There is a suggested change to the Economic Development chapter of the plan that’s also worth noting.

“To better protect the rural areas of the county, a strong asset to the Tourism Industry, the County desires to encourage growth east of Route 29,” reads a suggested new line.

Another suggested addition to the chapter is a paragraph about the designation in 2020 of the Defense Production Zone. 

“Our proximity to Rivanna Station and other unique qualities makes the defense industry one of our key opportunities to recruit businesses,” reads new language. “Defense production businesses that focus on design and development associated with Rivanna Station have very limited impact on the community and surrounding properties.”

After that discussion, there is a public hearing for a special use permit for a commercial bakery at a home in the rural area. Then there is a second hearing to amend conditions of a special use permit for the Knoll Boulevard development. After that, the Planning Commission will resume consideration of a rezoning for the Rapidan Center / Terrace Greene Village mixed-use development on U.S. 29 that includes 282 townhouses. 

In other meetings: 

  • The Cville Plans Together initiative Steering Committee meets virtually at 6 p.m. The firm Rhodeside & Harwell is conducting a public input session this month on the draft Future Land Use Map and key chapters of the Comprehensive Plan. This is a chance for the Steering Committee to weigh in. (meeting info)

  • The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors meets at 7 p.m. in the Fluvanna Courts Building. There will be updates on transportation projects, economic development initiatives, and how the county will use American Rescue Plan funds. There’s also a public hearing on a request from the Thistle Gate Winery along the Hardware River to expand operations to include brewing beer and distilling spirits. Another public hearing is for a 20-unit rural Ballinger Bluffs cluster development that would include a central sewer system.  (packet)

  • The Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee meets virtually at 7 p.m. On the agenda is a discussion of the next round of VDOT’s Smart Scale funding process. There will also be an update on transit studies underway. (meeting info)

Thursday, May 20, 2021

This spring, the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership is holding a speaker series to illustrate various topics related to affordability. This time around, the guests discuss the role that transportation costs factor into household budgets. They are: Todd Littman of the Victoria Policy Institute; Steven Johnson, Planning Manager for Jaunt; Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel, chair of the Regional Transit Partnership. The event begins at noon. (register)

In other meetings:

  • The 5th and Avon Community Advisory Committee meets virtually at 7:00 p.m. The agenda is not yet available. (meeting info)

Friday, May 21, 2021

There are no meetings today that I’m aware of, but if you know of anything let me know. As I said at the top, I hope to write about as many of these as I can. For those I do not write about, there are many other reporters in the community working on these issues, and I urge you to seek them out. 

If you have any questions about any of the above, please drop me a line or ask a question in the comments. 

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