Week Ahead for April 5, 2021: Charlottesville to consider Starr Hill Vision plan, $192.2 million budget; Both city and Albemarle consider COVID emergency

After a relatively quiet week, local government gets back to full speed with meetings of the elected bodies in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Greene, and Louisa.  Sorry, Nelson County! 

It’s been a very active year so far. Budget season is coming to a close. There’s been a lot of movement on transportation projects. Both Albemarle and Charlottesville will consider whether to keep COVID restrictions that are more stringent than Virginia’s. 

As always, thanks the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of this weekly research into what’s coming up in local and regional government. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Charlottesville City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. for a long meeting. They’ll begin in closed meeting at 5 p.m. first, and then get going with the consent agenda and then Community Matters. (full agenda)

Two of the three consent agenda items result from the same federal grant obtained by the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a program called the COVID Homelessness Emergency Response Program (CHERP). TJACH received a $29,876 grant for maintenance of its datakeeping system (Homelessness Management Information System, or HIMS) as well as a $806,594 grant for emergency shelter and rapid re-housing services

The first action item is an ordinance to designate specific trees as protected under an ordinance adopted by Council in November 2013. The four eligible categories are heritage trees, memorial trees, specimen trees, or street trees planted by the city. Six trees are being considered including an American Elm at Clark Elementary School. A public hearing will be held before Council takes a first reading. 

A “bur-post” oak at Maplewood Cemetery is one of the six trees being considered for individual designation (staff report)

Next are a pair of public hearings on the budget and tax rate for FY22. There have been several amendments to the budget made since public in February, including $1.6 million in additional revenue. The budget is now $192.2 million and includes spending on the following items not in the initial document:

  • $1 million for a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for city employees
  • $190,000 to hold in reserve for strategic planning and performance measurement
  • $500,000 for the Ivy Landfill
  • $125,000 to cover personnel costs in the public works department “to help with the Climate Action Plan.” 
Take a look at the full staff report to learn more about the budget before the public hearing

Next, City Council will consider a request from Councilor Heather Hill to repeal the city’s COVID-19 ordinance which was adopted in late July to limit gatherings to a level more restrictive that were in place at the time under Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order. 

“Councilor Hill is concerned that as things progress relative to reopening in the coming months, there will continue to be confusion and discrepancies between what is being directed at the state and local level, making maintaining our own local ordinance growingly more cumbersome,” reads the staff report for the item’s first reading

After that, Council will consider adding the Starr Hill Vision Plan to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The document covers nearly 48 acres including the 10.4 acre City Yard which is owned by the city of Charlottesville and has an assessed value of $7.5 million. The Planning Commission considered the plan at its meeting on March 9. (watch the meeting

“The Starr Hill Vision Plan is designed to guide the development of the Starr Hill community and investment of public funds,” reads the staff report, which dates the origins of the plan to a July 2017 meeting convened by former Councilors Kathy Galvin and Wes Bellamy. 

The first time the item appeared on a public agenda was November 5, 2018 when Council was asked to allocate $500,000 from the city’s Equity Fund to the New Hill Development Corporation to create the plan, which was intended to be a small area plan. 

“As a point of comparison, the City Council appropriated $350,000.00 to the Piedmont Housing Alliance for Friendship Court master planning efforts in 2015,” reads the staff report for the November 2018 allocation.  (read the minutes from that meeting)

Two and a half years later, the vision plan is slated to become part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. 

“Adoption of this plan does not mark the completion of the Starr Hill Plan process,” reads the staff report for April 5. “Implementation, which may include additional studies and outreach, facilitating support for cultural concepts in/outside Jefferson School (including Public Square and amphitheater), consideration of short term space options to locate potential small business incubation space, City Yard redevelopment, and seeking grants and funding for redevelopment initiatives and infrastructure improvement.” 

If the City Yard is to be redeveloped, a future Council will have to approve the sale or transfer of the land. A question: If this is added to the Comprehensive Plan, will that bind future Councilors? 

Read through the Starr Hill Vision Plan here

But wait, there’s more! Let’s go to the bulleted points for the rest:

  • Council will consider amending a special use permit for new apartments on Harris Street (staff report)
  • Council will vote on proposed rules to Council procedure related to expenditure of funds. 
    • “Council, as a body, may vote to approve compensation to be paid to individuals serving on a group, the purpose of which is to advise City Council on matters of public policy”
    • “The City Manager may establish focus groups, may implement public surveys, may approve contracts that include payments for public engagement services, or may establish programs—any of which may provide for individuals to be compensated for their participation in a group, survey, engagement, or program. Selection of participants must be by criteria established in advance.”
    • “City Councilors may make FOIA requests, just like any other City resident (Councilors do not lose their individual rights when elected to public office). HOWEVER, Councilors are not required to make FOIA requests to obtain information about matters in which City Council is interested.”
  • Council will be presented with an update of the Network2Work program at Piedmont Virginia Community College, otherwise known as the Orange Dot report. That name comes from the color of census tracts where household income is lowest in Charlottesville. The report carries the title “Family Self-Sufficiency in the Charlottesville Region— Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson counties & the city of Charlottesville, Virginia.”
Greene reservoir saga continues

The Greene County Board of Supervisors will convene virtually at 5:30 p.m. for a special meeting to vote on a request to Madison and Orange County for Greene to leave the Rapidan Service Authority. At issue is the future of Greene’s urban water supply plan. Greene has been planning for a reservoir at White Run, but the RSA has blocked the use of certain fees to fund the project despite being in possession of an active permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To catch up with the story, read Terry Beigie’s coverage in the Greene County Record about where things stand at the moment. 

Louisa Supervisors meet 

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors meets in person at 4 p.m. for a special called meeting, though there is no agenda for that portion of their day. Their regular meetings begins at 6 p.m. after a closed meeting scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Items on the agenda include a presentation from the Virginia Loggers Association and a resolution authorizing construction of an animal exercise yard at the Louisa County Animal Shelter

The major item on the agenda is a public hearing for a proposed tax increase for fiscal year 2022. Technically, the FY22 budget is built on the existing tax rate of $0.72 per $100 of assessed value, but the county’s overall property assessments increased by 5.58 percent trigger a need to advertise the “lowered tax rate” which would yield the same property tax revenues as the current year. That tax rate would be $0.682 per $100 of assessed value.  (meeting packet)

In other meetings:

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Usually, Tuesday has the most meetings. Today there are only three. 

  • Charlottesville’s Tree Commission meets at 5 p.m. and will have updates on the tree canopy and a study of trees on the Downtown Mall (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. and have a public hearing on a change to the zoning ordinance to amend procedures and requirements for special use permits, special exceptions, and rezonings. (meeting info)
  • The Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will meet at 6 p.m. in person in the General District Court in Lovingston (agenda)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors meets virtually at 1 p.m. Their first action items are to consider special exceptions for two homestays. One of the zoning changes mentioned above would provide a way to revoke a special exception.  (agenda)

Next there will be a work session on the draft land use chapter of the Crozet Master Plan update. In March, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee held a work session on the chapter. Read Lisa Martin’s thorough story in the Crozet Gazette. This was also the subject of the March 14 installment of Charlottesville Community EngagementThe latter is available in audio or written form. (staff report)

Next up is the quarterly transportation report from Daniel Butch, senior planner. In January, Virginia Department of Transportation staff recommended nine out of ten projects that Albemarle had submitted. The Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote on whether to approve the projects in June.(report)

The transportation report also provides brief updates on various bike and pedestrian projects:

  • Construction of sidewalks and shared-use paths between Hydraulic Road and Greer Elementary “is likely going to occur in Summer 2021.” So is a pedestrian crossing of Avon Street at Mountain View Elementary. 
  • Plans for pedestrian improvements on Commonwealth Drive and Dominion Drive are being reviewed. An initial cost estimate was higher than expected. A public meeting will take place sometime this year. The same is happening for a project to extend the shared-use path on Berkmar Drive from Hilton Heights Road to south of Woodbrook Drive. However, the reo
  • The reconstruction of Crozet Square and an extension of Library Avenue are expected to go to construction later this calendar year. 
  • A project to put a sidewalk and shared-use path along along Old Lynchburg Road from Azalea Park to Sunset Avenue has been broken into two pieces. Work would begin first on the sidewalks due to reduced funding. The shared-use path will be re-evaluated in the future. 
  • Several “quality of life” projects have been put on hold due to funding issues. These include a shared-use path on Avon Street Extended, some sidewalks in Crozet, and a Rio Road shared-use path. 

Supervisors will also get an update from VDOT.

In the evening, there are four public hearings:

  • Albemarle seeks approval for a one-time bonus for county employees (staff report)
  • The FY21 budget will be amended to add $7,548,165.41 from various sources which will then be appropriated to various projects (staff report)
  • The county ordinance for business license requirements will be amended to add that companies selling alcoholic beverage sales must also have a business license (staff report)
  • Albemarle’s emergency COVID ordinance expires today and a public hearing will be held on whether to extend it. County Executive Jeff Richardson will make a recommendation at the meeting (staff report)

The consent agenda is always worth reviewing but easily missed. This time around it includes a resolution to authorize the lease of vacant space at the Crozet Library to the Crozet Sports Community Foundation, the annual report of the Natural Heritage Committee, and an update on the county’s Stream Health Initiative

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors meets at 4 p.m. for a regular meeting. There are seven action items on the agenda, including a discussion of strategic initiatives for 2021. These include the completion of a master water and sewer plan, pursuit of a streetscape project for Palmyra, and pursuit of a second phase of a streetscape project for Fork Union. (meeting packet)

Fluvanna anticipates receipt of $5.34 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan. The staff report from County Administrator Eric Dahl states that the funding cannot be used to offset a tax increase and must be used by the end of calendar year 2024. That may come up during the continuing discussion of the budget for FY2022 and discussion of how Fluvanna utilized its CARES Act funding. 

At 10 a.m., Charlottesville will hold a site plan conference to add more apartments at 64 University Way (meeting info)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The PLACE Design Task Force meets virtually at noon. One of the items on their agenda is a discussion of the West Main Streetscape. At their final budget work session, Council agreed to take a year to determine whether to proceed with the project. Staff told Council that VDOT will allow the city to delay the first two phases so they could be done at the same time as a third phase recommended for funding through Smart Scale. (meeting info)

In other meetings:
  • The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. No agenda is posted at production time. (meeting info)
  • Council is scheduled to hold a work session on the budget and appeared to not need it as of the end of the most recent work session. However, it’s possible that something will have come up at the Council public hearing on Monday and the meeting has not yet been canceled. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. No agenda is yet posted. (meeting info)
Before they worked on the Cville Plans Together initiative, Rhodeside & Harwell was paid to oversee creation of the design schematics for the multimillion West Main Streetscape

Friday, April 9, 2021

Charlottesville’s Historic Resource Committee meets at 11 a.m. There is no agenda available at production time. (meeting info)

Albemarle’s Stream Health Community Learning Series continues with “Stream Restoration 101.”

“What is stream restoration?” reads the website. “What does a stream restoration project look like? Learn from technical experts and hear about successful stream restoration projects in Albemarle County.” (meeting info)

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.