Cville Area Land Use Update: Week of October 30, 2023

This week is not really scary or spooky, but it is an odd one with a fifth Monday and a fifth Tuesday. We have the first of the end-of-year holidays as well and the end of calendar year 2023 is within sight. Statewide and local elections loom next week. 

Suffice it to say, this is a slower week than most, but there’s always something happening in a community as dynamic as this one. This week a major focus is on transit in Albemarle County. 

  • On Monday, the long-awaited microtransit project will launch in two sections of Albemarle County, providing four on-demand vehicles serving the U.S. 29 north area and one serving Pantops. 
  • Albemarle Supervisors will also get an update on a study of how additional revenues can be generated for transit. They’ll get a briefing on Wednesday. 
  • Albemarle has also hired an out-of-state consultant to review how the county is served by Charlottesville Area Transit and Jaunt, with recommendations about how both could make changes. That briefing is also Wednesday. 
  • Nelson County and the Virginia Department of Transportation will hold a public input meeting for the Route 151 on Wednesday 
  • Fluvanna County Supervisors will discuss Wednesday whether to proceed with two new government buildings that had been put on hold due to the pandemic.
  • Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Department will host a tree walk on the Downtown Mall to explain future maintenance work. 
  • There are no top-level meetings in Greene County or Louisa County this week.

Thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their sponsorship of this newsletter. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Albemarle Supervisors to convene special meeting to launch MicroCAT

There is a special meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors that will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. 

Under Virginia law, any time a quorum of an elected body knows they will be in attendance at an event, public notice must be made. Supervisors will be on hand for the launch of MicroCAT, a long-planned one-year pilot to run on-demand public transportation in areas that are underserved or not served by fixed-route bus service.

“MicroCAT officially launches to the public on October 30, 2023, and will use innovative technology to provide a transit option that matches multiple passengers traveling in the same direction into one shared minivan to solve ‘transit deserts,’ or areas where fixed-routes cannot efficiently reach,” reads a press release for the launch. 

The fare free service will cover the Places29-North and Pantops areas using Toyota Siennas provided by the firm Via. That company won a contract from Charlottesville Area Transit to provide the service. 

Supervisors will be on hand for the event. How will they know if the project has been a success? That’s a question I will be asking at the event. 

Previous stories:
The zones for the MicroCAT service

Public invited to learn more about Downtown Mall tree work 

One of the signature features of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is the presence of mature trees growing from what used to be a roadway. Some of the trees have shown their age and the city has been working on a plan to improve their health through pruning and selective culling. 

Nine trees were removed earlier this year, according to a story on NBC29. Future work will soon be underway with a contract awarded on October 17 to Wolf Josey Landscape Architects for a Downtown Mall Tree Management Plan. 

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department are offering a one-hour tree walk to explain what’s going to happen.

“Discussion will focus on the overall health of the Downtown Mall Trees as well as observation of select trees that will endure pruning and advanced assessment,” reads a press release for the event.

“Future tree maintenance will include structural pruning and removal of dead branches,” the release continues. “Timing of tree work will likely occur in late winter to early spring 2024.”

The walk begins at 5:30 p.m. and interested persons will gather at the Parks and Recreation office on the ground floor of the Market Street Parking garage.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Webinar to be held on Smart Scale process, potential changes

The Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board are considering changes to the Smart Scale process that is used to help determine what projects are funded. The program was mandated by the General Assembly in 2014 to create a way to prioritize funding based on a variety of factors including land use, public safety, congestion mitigation, and economic development.

There have been five rounds of the program so far and applications will be taken next year for a sixth. 

“In the previous five rounds of Smart Scale, projects within Albemarle County have received approximately $166 million,” reads a staff report for a presentation the Board of Supervisors will have on Wednesday. More on that in a moment. 

This year the Commonwealth Transportation Board has been reviewing potential changes to how the scores are calculated and will make a decision in December. A summary of the potential changes could be made at a two-hour webinar taking place from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. 

“Proposed changes by VDOT to the Smart Scale application and scoring processes have the potential to significantly impact Albemarle County’s ability to seek Smart Scale funding for transportation infrastructure projects prioritized by the County’s Comprehensive and Master Planning processes,” the Albemarle staff report continues. 

Learn more about the webinar including a link to the registration information in this flier

Learn more about what Smart Scale has funded on cvillepedia. See something that isn’t listed? Sign up and become a volunteer and help keep the community resource up to date. I have no formal affiliation with the website, but helped get it off the ground.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Albemarle County to talk transit at regular meeting

Local government in November gets off to a start at 1 p.m. with the regular meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. They gather in Lane Auditorium in the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. (agenda)

There will be a proclamation recognizing Veterans Day later in the month.

“November 11, 2023, marks the 85th anniversary of Veterans Day being recognized as a national holiday,” reads the proclamation. “On this day (and every day), we remember the millions of patriots who have served and sacrificed for the betterment of our nation.” 

Then there will be a work session on the transit governance study being shepherded by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Before the Supervisors meet, I will write up the discussion last week at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board. 

There are no advance materials in the packet as of Sunday, but if you want a jump on what the MPO was presented, view the technical memo on Phase III of the study. I’m going to hold off on writing that up until I can present the audio as well. 

For background, this governance study follows the creation of a Regional Transit Vision Plan that imagines a more robust public transportation system. 

Sometimes creating this weekly newsletter is my way of reminding myself by reviewing previous stories to prepare. I forget the details of this stuff and suspect many others do as well. 

Keep your eyes open for another one, hopefully in Wednesday’s edition of the newsletter. 

Next, Supervisors will get an update on the Smart Scale changes that are being considered. 

“Proposed changes by VDOT to the Smart Scale application and scoring processes have the potential to significantly impact Albemarle County’s ability to seek Smart Scale funding for transportation infrastructure projects prioritized by the County’s Comprehensive and Master Planning processes,” reads a staff report.

Albemarle County has its own priority list and Supervisors were briefed earlier this month on a new reordering that’s being done for 2024. County staff use the list to help in seeking funding for planning and construction, as I reported.

The CTB itself was briefed on the potential changes at their meeting on October 17. 

“Since February, the CTB has been engaged in a holistic review of our nationally recognized, data-driven process for prioritizing multimodal transportation investments to determine if

SMART SCALE is meeting its goal,” reads a presentation from that meeting. 

Changes could include increasing the weight that economic development plays and reducing the number of applications localities could submit. A virtual town hall will be held on October 31, as you read above.

A slide from the CTB presentation on Smart Scale from the October 17, 2023 meeting (view the presentation)

Next Supervisors will return to the topic of public transportation and particularly Albemarle County’s investment in the service as a way of meeting its strategic goals. The current fiscal year includes $98,000 for a study of transit. 

“Transit is continuing to increase in complexity and quite frankly the county does not have one individual that is a service level subject matter expert for transit,” said Ryan Davidson, Albemarle’s Deputy Chief of Budget, at a March 29 work session. (read the story)

To that end, the county commissioned the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to review the current levels and produce a technical memo. 

“This technical memo documents TTI’s understanding of transit services in the County, including what entities operate them, what the services cost, and how the services are funded,” reads the executive summary.

Another set of population numbers for review and excitement (Credit: TTI)

This is a separate process from the governance study Supervisors will have heard about earlier in the meeting. In general, the work finds that transit service in the area is “appropriate for the service area.” 

The report is thorough and provides one of the best overviews of area transit I’ve read with specific details about operations and finances of Charlottesville Area Transit and Jaunt. 

“Local sources are forecasted to make up a larger and larger proportion of CAT’s fixed-route operational expenses, reaching a total of $5.8 million by FY2026,” reads page 31. “This is largely due to costs that are not offset by corresponding increases in the state or federal revenues.”

Part of that will be caused by the end of COVID-related funds from the federal government. 

The University of Virginia made a contribution of $84,900 for the free trolley-style bus in FY24, a figure that will increase to $90,070 in FY26. UVA does not make a contribution to other routes. 

The report also states the authors are seeking more information. 

“CAT also has a $23,011,897 capital improvement plan; however, the details of what’s in the $23 million plan are unclear at this time,” reads page 27 of the report

The report does not comment directly on the transit governance study that’s underway, but there is this key observation that follows a list of general recommendations to maximize funding through regional collaboration. 

“Funding mechanisms become notably more complicated when transit agencies collaborate to offer services across a region encompassing diverse jurisdictions,” reads page 65 of the digital document. “Developing a comprehensive cost sharing and fundraising approach becomes a matter of heightened importance when multiple transportation providers and authorities are engaged in delivering transit service.”

Charlottesville Area Transit has been running on the “lifeline” service since the pandemic which means no Sunday service. TTI suggests CAT attempt an on-demand response service on Sundays similar to MicroCAT. 

In finding #6, TTI evaluated commuter routes offered by Jaunt are missing the industry standard of having more than five passengers per hour.

“North CONNECT seems well-desired (based on customer comments in the County’s microtransit study); however, the route has low productivity (4.3 passengers per hour),” the report continues. “Crozet CONNECT has even lower productivity at 1.94 passengers per hour.”

As for the MicroCAT pilot, the report warns that it may be hard to meet demand for curb-to-curb service that is more convenient, especially with passengers not having to pay anything to use it. 

“CAT and the County should carefully evaluate the microtransit service’s performance, demand, and costs and should consider fare options for microtransit that will help manage demand and offset the service’s costs,” reads recommendation #9. 

The evening session at 6 p.m. has a public hearing on the Covenant School’s request for an amendment to a special use permit to add 2.61 acres to the Hickory Campus for the purpose of building tennis courts. (staff report)

Details about CAT’s budget from FY19 to FY26 (Credit: TTI)

There are several items on the consent agenda worth reviewing.

  • Supervisors will approve the minutes of several meetings from March 2022. 
  • The Virginia Festival of the Book and the Front Porch will both receive funding in an appropriation due to a faulty submission online portal during the budget process. (staff report)
  • The county’s personnel policy is being amended in part to change the title of “Termination of Policy” to “Separation of Employment.” (staff report)
  • Supervisors have been formally given the draft goals and objectives for several chapters of the next Comprehensive Plan. These are Environmental StewardshipParks and Recreation, and Historic, Scenic, and Cultural Resources,
  • The Albemarle School Board will hold a public hearing on November 9 to consider candidates to be a replacement member for the Rio District seat. Katrina Callsen resigned in mid-September to devote time to her campaign for House District 54. That’s one item of information from the October report from the School Board to the Board of Supervisors. (read the report)

Fluvanna Supervisors to act on dissolution of aging committee

The five-member Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors will meet at 5 p.m. in the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center at 8880 James Madison Highway in Fork Union. (agenda)

There are four action items:

  • David Blount of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will present the agency’s legislative program for the 2024 General Assembly. 
  • There will be a presentation on the upcoming deer hunt for disabled hunters at Pleasant Grove Park. This annual event scheduled this year for December 22 is done to help cull the population. 
  • There will be a resolution to dissolve the Fluvanna Partnership on Aging. The board has not been able to have a quorum since early 2022. 
  • There will be a contract with CityScape telecommunications to help with analysis and review of specific applications for towers as well as advice on overall policy when needed. 

Under presentations there will be updates from Aqua Virginia, the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, and the forthcoming request for proposals for a new county administration building and a new social services building. 

The latter dates back to a space study conducted by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates that was presented to Supervisors in December 2019. 

“The goal of the study was to provide the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors with an assessment of the condition of the County facilities, program use of the facilities, and a potential future use of existing or acquired facilities and properties,” reads the staff report. 

Work on the two buildings was put on hold due to the pandemic. Supervisors will be asked if they want to now proceed and if so, how to pay for the design. 

An overview picture of part of what’s in Option 5 of the Fluvanna County space study (Credit: Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates)

Charlottesville City Council to hold second work session on Development Code

We’re moving closer and closer to a new Development Code for the City of Charlottesville that will implement the vision of a denser city where developers don’t have to get legislative approval for large projects. The goal of the Cville Plans Together initiative is to do that in the name of creating more housing units with more guarantees that some stay affordable. 

But what’s in the current draft of the zoning code?

There are no materials online for City Council’s second work session since the Planning Commission made their recommendations on October 18. I’ll have a write-up of that in the next edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement as I try to catch up for a week I spent with family. 

To catch up, take a look at stories on the Information Charlottesville website that are marked Cville Plans Together. I would have liked to have been caught up, but this week I should be. Stay tuned! 

The work session will be held in CitySpace.  

Nelson County and VDOT holding input session for Route 151 study

The Virginia Department of Transportation has hired the firm RK&K to conduct a study of a 14-mile stretch of Route 151.

“We’re trying to correct the measures and issues that are on there now in preparation for the future based upon the data that we collect,” said VDOT planner Rick Youngblood at a briefing before the Nelson County Board of Supervisors in February. (read the story)

Several months later there’s another public input session to be held at 4 p.m. at the Rockfish Valley Community Center Auditorium 190 Rockfish School Ln, Afton, VA 22920. 

The study is a successor to one that was published in 2013. (read that study)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

In two meetings:

  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority meets at 5 p.m. in Room 241 at the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. This is the replacement meeting for the one that had been scheduled for October 25. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Natural Heritage Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. in Room 235 at the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. There will be a presentation from the Rivanna Conservation Alliance. (meeting info) (agenda)

This post was contributed by Sean Tubbs. Sean is a journalist working to build a new information and news outlet centered around Charlottesville and Virginia. In 2020, he launched a daily newscast and newsletter and also created a semi-regular podcast on the pandemic.

Support for Sean’s “Week Ahead” update comes from The Piedmont Environmental Council.