Week Ahead for February 20, 2023: Albemarle Supervisors to get first look at FY24 budget; Council to pick fifth member, hear appeal of BAR demolition permit denial

Today is President’s Day, which means that the local government won’t be in session. This newsletter usually comes out on a Sunday, but I took the extra time to get some more real estate research in yesterday. In addition to getting out the Charlottesville property transactions, I began work compiling ones for Albemarle. Look for that experiment later this month!

  • There are three town meetings for Charlottesville’s zoning code this week and that’s perhaps the best chance so far to go and talk to staff and others people about what your thoughts and opinions. Unfamiliar with the topic? Someone told me yesterday that my story detailing what’s in the first module is the best source of information. Do you agree? How can you know if you haven’t read it? Go read it.
  • On Monday, Council will discuss a report from city staff about how the city’s existing environmental standards will be kept during the update of the zoning. On Tuesday, the city’s Tree Commission will talk to Council Tuesday about the decreasing tree canopy and what they suggest may be done to address the issue.
  • A theme through this week is demolition of existing structures. A landowner is appealing to Council a denial of a permit by the Board of Architectural Review to demolish a structure they see as a shed but some see as a cottage. The next day, Council will take up a request to demolish the Stone House by the University of Virginia. In both cases, the appeal is to build more housing.
  • I was at a campaign event in Albemarle on Saturday where several community members complained about rising tax rates. What will be done about that? Albemarle’s budget cycle kicks off on Wednesday with the release of the budget. The county continues to increase in population meaning increasing demands for services. If you live in the county, try to watch this live on Wednesday at noon. 

Thanks as always to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of the research that goes into this newsletter each week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Charlottesville City Council to announce fifth member, resume New Hill funding discussion

The regular meeting of the Charlottesville City Council will begin with four members but will end with five. According to the agenda for the Tuesday meeting, the fifth Councilor will be announced and sworn in immediately after a closed session. City Council Clerk Kyna Thomas told me last week that technically this person won’t be able to begin work until February 27 due to paperwork with human resources.

There is very little business on the agenda for that person to have voted on. But let’s start with the 4 p.m. work session. There are three items. (meeting info)

The first is a report from the National Community Survey for which data was collected from November 9 to December 22 last year.  Here are the key findings straight from the staff report:

  • Residents generally feel safe in Charlottesville but have some concerns about police services
  • Residents appreciate Charlottesville’s natural environment and recreational opportunities
  • Charlottesville residents widely use alternative forms of transport and support increasing transportation options
  • While ratings for utilities are strong overall, Charlottesville residents point to affordable highspeed internet access as an area of opportunity
A slide from the presentation from the National Community Survey conducted by Polco (download the presentation

Next, the city’s Tree Commission will give the State of the Forest for FY2022. They are sounding an alarm that not enough work is being done to retain tree cover in a growing city. 

“Rather than robust and flourishing, Charlottesville’s overall tree canopy continues to decline at an accelerating rate,” reads the first page of the report. “Fourteen of the city’s 19 neighborhoods are now below 40% canopy cover, and two of these are extremely low-canopy, below 20 percent.”

That can have all kinds of health effects. I really hope to write about this one. 

That report will be followed by a review of the city’s Environmental Standards which illustrates some of the tension in land use issues in Charlottesville. Last month, the Planning Commission had a discussion about critical slopes and floodplain development and this item is a follow-up with Council. 

“The focus of our work in the zoning ordinance rewrite has been primarily towards the major goals of the Comprehensive Plan relating to affordable housing, land use equity, and promoting walkability and a high-quality built environment reflective of the culture and history of Charlottesville,” reads the staff report. “The environmental and climate mitigation benefits of directing new growth towards the City are significant, but there is still more that we can do to advance the environmental goals of the Comprehensive Plan.”

Some takeaways from the floodway section of the report are relevant to development issues. One would be to require City Council to approve any proposed changes to the floodplain maps before they are submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Another would be to require the finished first floor of any building in the floodplain to be two feet above the base flood elevation rather than the one foot requirement today. 

Third, special use permits would be required for development in the floodplain overlay district. 

There’s a lot in this and I recommend anyone who is planning on going to any of the zoning town hall meetings to watch this section of the Council meeting. That may answer questions. It may raise questions. But you are always better off when you can observe conversations and hear the arguments yourself. 

Then the closed session and the Council appointment. Then Council will appoint city staff to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund Committee. (staff report

There are two items under regular business. One is the Board of Architectural Review’s denial of a demolition request to remove an outbuilding at 507 Ridge Street. But is it a cottage or a shed? The landowners want to replace it with an accessory dwelling unit for an aging family member. Before the BAR hearing in December, a nearby resident suggested it may have been constructed by Allen Hawkins, a 19th-century brickmason. (staff report)

In their appeal to Council, the property owned called the BAR’s 4-2 vote against the permit to be “capricious and unreasonable.” 

“During conversations with the BAR, several members assumed the intractable position that our ‘historic’ shed must be preserved for preservation’s sake, though it clearly is in rough shape,” wrote Clayt Lauter. “This is a ~12’ by ~14’ shed, in poor repair (the roof is leaking, the windows are damaged, animals are living in it, etc.) on our private property, with no access to the community, which’s value is diminishing daily.”

The location of the structure to go before Council on appeal

Next, Council will hold a second reading on the allocation of $500,000 to the New Hill Development Corporation for their BEACON Kitchen Project. First reading was earlier this month and I have not had time to write it out yet. What do the draft minutes say?

“[Economic Development Director Chris] Engel stated staff’s recommendation for support of the project and resolution, as a one time investment. Presenters answered questions for Council.”

I hope to get a story out in advance to go through some of the questions. The one I had last time is still there. While perhaps an admirable project, why is this funding request not going through the same process other third-parties are subject to? (staff report)

Let’s conclude this entry with a quick review of the consent agenda:

  • Second reading of an appropriation of $229,803 for the federal Safe Routes to School grant to fund the city’s program (staff report)
  • Second reading of an appropriation of $61,500 for the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Behavioral Health Docket (staff report)
  • Second reading for an appraisal for the market value of 0 East High Street, where a developer has filed plans for 245 apartment buildings. A group has created an entity called the Circus Grounds Preservation Corporation in order to make a bid to buy the property. Is it too early to consider that the city might invoke eminent domain to do so for a park? What’s recent precedent for that in Virginia? How much would that cost? Where would the money come from? (staff report)
  • There will be second reading of the appropriation of $237,000 to purchase a new set of radios for Charlottesville Area Transit vehicles to communicate with emergency personnel. This is another story I want to have written already. There’s a lot. (staff report)
  • First reading of a special use permit for Three Notch’d Brewery to expand, which requires a reclassification from microbrewery (15,000 barrels or under a year) to a small brewery (30,000 barrels or under a year). (staff report)
  • First reading of the extension of an agreement to allow the city to operate its own transportation planning process rather than the Virginia Department of Transportation. (staff report)
  • The Piedmont Housing Alliance project at the Monticello Area Community Action Alliance site at 1025 Park Street is seeking Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the entity formerly known as the Virginia Housing Development Authority. That requires a resolution of support from the City Council. (staff report)

Nelson County Supervisors to meet with Amherst County Supervisors

Since last May, I’ve also been writing a newsletter called Fifth District Community Engagement. Some of the content from here is repurposed there, but the overall goal of that work is to begin to cover local government in all 24 localities within Virginia’s Fifth District. Why? I talk more about why there, so subscribe for free. 

What matters for this newsletter is that the five-member Nelson County Board of Supervisors will meet with the five-member Amherst County Board of Supervisors. They’ll meet at the Amherst County Administration Building at 4 p.m. Anyone seeking the District 11 Senate race in Virginia would do well to pay attention, as those counties are now included along with Albemarle and Charlottesville. (packet)

The topic for this joint meeting is to get more input on the idea of a joint agricultural complex. There’s new information from the firm Architectural Partners. The report itself is from last August when there was a cost estimate of $53 million. 

A conceptual plan for the Amherst-Nelson Agricultural Complex (ANAC) (Credit: Architectural Partners)

Louisa County Supervisors to hold budget work session

The seven-member Board of Supervisors in Louisa County will begin their day with a 3 p.m. work session on the budget for FY24. The budget was introduced at the Supervisors’ meeting on February 6. You can learn more about that from Tammy Purcell over on Engage Louisa who had a recap in last week’s installment.  (meeting info)

You can also learn about that budget from the draft minutes. Keep in mind that Louisa County grew 5.5 percent in population between the U.S. Census in April 2020 and July 1, 2022 according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service

According to finance director Wanda Colvin, operational expenses are up 10.6 percent in the draft FY24 budget. The five-year capital improvement budget has increased $38.6 million. Health insurance costs are up 13.5 percent. 

Staff are assuming a five percent increase in employee salaries, as well as increasing all wages to at least $15 an hour. There are requests for three new positions in the Sheriff’s office, eight positions at Fire & Emergency Medical Services, and two animal control positions. 

Supervisors will go into closed session at 5 p.m. and begin the open session at 6 p.m. (meeting packet)

The meeting does not have any public hearings. Instead, there are a handful of other items. One is a presentation from the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. 

There are two resolutions related to public safety. One is a resolution to authorize the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Departments to apply for a grant to purchase SBCA’s. What are those? From the actual resolution we learn that stands for Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus and the department is seeking a grant of $194,650.18 to replace all of the existing equipment. 

The other is a budget resolution to authorize additional staff positions for the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services. This is to staff the New Bridge Fire & EMS Station. The annual cost is $550,716 and there’s a $30,000 one-time charge for new uniforms and protective equipment. The specific resolution here is to amend the FY23 budget to bring on the new personnel beginning March 1 at a cost of $213,572. 

Cost breakdown for the six new Fire and EMS positions (Credit: Louisa County)

Charlottesville Parking Panel to meet

There’s much that has happened in Charlottesville in the past ten years that seems to have passed without much comment from the general public. Council spent well over $2 million to hire architects, civil engineers, and others to produce an intricate and detailed fancy design for a streetscape West Main Street that was later abandoned. Council went through a long process to seek a development firm to build on a city-owned parking lot downtown, only to have the project collapse after the Board of Architectural Review did not issue a favorable ruling. Sometimes there’s not so much follow-through, but follow-thud. 

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions made by a previous City Council was to spend $2.85 million to purchase a lot with two businesses on East Market Street in order to build a new parking garage. That project is now abandoned, as is a plan to put parking meters on downtown streets. Yet, the Parking Advisory Panel created to oversee a new era of parking management still exists. 

The group will meet at City Space at 3:30 p.m. for their first in-person meeting since before the pandemic. They’ll discuss tickets issued in January and usage of the municipal parking garages. They’ll also discuss the parking spaces dedicated for restaurants for pick-up orders. There will also be discussion of repairs to the parking garages.  (agenda)

In other meetings: 

  • The Management Board of the Emergency Communications Commission will have their regular meeting for February at 2 p.m. at the ECC Conference Room at 2306 Ivy Road in Charlottesville. (meeting materials)
  • The Albemarle County Department of Social Services Advisory Board will meet at 3:30 p.m. in the County Office Building at 1600 5th Street. One of the items on the agenda has the title Money and the Annual Report.(meeting info)
  • The Albemarle County Economic Development Authority’s Board of Directors will meet at 4 p.m. in Room 241 of the Albemarle County office building at 401 McIntire Road. On the agenda is an amendment to a bond for the Covenant School, an update on a recent grant for Kelly Turkeys, and an update on the outstanding loan to the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center. This meeting can be viewed remotely.  Click here for meeting materials and look on the right hand side of the screen. (meeting info
  • The Greene County Emergency Services Advisory Board will meet at 6 p.m. in the county meeting room in the administration building. The guest speaker is Ed Furlow with the Virginia Department of Forestry. (agenda)

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Albemarle Supervisors to be presented with FY24 budget 

There has been a lot of change in Albemarle County in the past several years, but one tradition  remains in place. County Executive Jeffrey Richardson will introduce his recommended budget for fiscal year 2024 to the Board of Supervisors at 12 p.m. in a special meeting. This meeting can be viewed remotely. (meeting info)

In larger communities, budget season never really stops. Last May, Supervisors adopted a $586.3 million budget for the current FY23. 

Supervisors last held a work session on the budget on December 14 when they talked about the five-year financial plan. That document is intended to get a sense of the county’s capital and operating needs. In January, Supervisors learned that the average real property assessment increased by 13.46 percent for 2023, which will bring in new revenue if the real property tax rate remains the same. (read my story from January 13, 2023)

In December, Albemarle County Public Schools requested $318 million over the next five years which would include funding for two new elementary schools and land for a third. What will Richardson’s budget recommend? Stay tuned, as this will be the main topic for the February 23 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement. And to catch up, take a look at all stories on the Albemarle budget process at Information Charlottesville.

VDOT and Albemarle to present transportation concepts for Old Garth Road / U.S. 250 bypass 

In late November, the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended denial of a rezoning on Old Ivy Road for up to 525 units. Part of the reason was that staff with the Virginia Department of Transportation had developed several transportation concepts to potentially alleviate congestion, but could not make that information public at the hearing. 

In December, the closed-door Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee had a presentation on the Old Ivy Residences project and learned the project would generate 4,236 trips a day and would cause Ivy Road and and the Old Ivy Road to function more poorly than the current conditions. (review the LUEPC presentation)

Earlier this year, Supervisors were briefed on some of these solutions after they’d had a chance to be vetted

Tonight there is a public meeting in Lane Auditorium at 401 McIntire Road from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for community members to ask questions of VDOT staff and others about the proposed solution which has a cost estimate between $600,000 and $750,000. (meeting info)

“This safety and operational improvement project will create dual right turns from Old Garth Road onto U.S. 250 westbound and one-way directional traffic flow around the triangle created by Old Ivy Road, Faulconer Drive and the U.S. 250/U.S. 29 Bypass off-ramp,” reads the VDOT website for the project. 

This is an in-person meeting. 

A slide from the presentation shown to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors about the proposed improvements. 

BAR to discuss removal of Stone House near UVA Central Grounds

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review meets at 5:30 p.m. in CitySpace but the meeting can be viewed remotely. (meeting info) (agenda)

There are a few items worth mentioning. One is a demolition request for a property that is not within a historic district but has a layer of protection due to some historic or architectural significance. 

The current owner of 104 Stadium Road wants to tear down a house known as either the MacLeod house or Stone House. A 2011 historic survey described the 1927 structure as “an exceptionally well-preserved example of an English Tudor Revival style residence.” The landscaping elements such as terraces with rock steps would also be removed. 

The property is designated by the city as an Individually Protected Property. In recent years, the owners of 1328 Riverside Drive tore a mansion down despite not having a permit. The designation remains on that property.  I will look forward to this conversation to clear it up in my head. 

The Board of Architectural Review cannot consider what might replace the building. A recent example of a similar demolition review came last August when they conditionally approved a request to take down the building on Market Street that currently houses Brown’s Lock and Safe

Let’s set aside the property’s future for a moment and take a look at the past from the staff report. 

“This house was built for Malcolm M. MacLeod, an English literature professor at the University of Virginia. MacCleod resided there until its sale in 1954. The house is also associated with Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., who attended UVA in the early 1920s. Becoming acquainted with MacCleod, Stettinius was a frequent visitor to the Stone House.” 

Existing conditions taken by the development firm seeking to redevelop 104 Stone House 

The future? You must know the answer. This is Charlottesville where the past generally makes way for what’s to come. 

“Subtext is an integrated real estate development company that creates better ways for students and young professionals to live and connect,” reads a January 31, 2023 from Dylan Lambur with the firm Subtext. “Our firm is currently engaged with the owner of the subject property and surrounding properties to develop a residential project, albeit merely a concept until the future of the structure located at 104 Stadium Road is determined.” 

Subtext hired a Roanoke firm to provide an opinion on the state of the house. 

“While this house is old and an identifiable example of Tudor Revival residential construction, it is not a master-work of the genre or precious because of its rare type or associations,” wrote Mark McConnel of Summit Studio. “What you have here is a nice old house.”

McConnel notes that there are other examples of the type of house nearby in the Oakhurst-Gildersleeve Architectural Design Review District. He also notes that this house is no longer in the neighborhood that used to be there. 

“With one exception, the residential, single family, housing stock among which a resource like this should find a home has disappeared and been replaced by large structures,” he continues. “Major secondary roads border the house site on two sides contributing to the loss of its appropriate context.” 

The house sits on 0.22 acres and is within the new Commercial Mixed-Use 8 in the draft zoning. That could allow 114 feet tall buildings by-right (eight stories) or 142 feet with bonus units (ten stories).

Next, the BAR will have a preliminary discussion on a proposal to add additional floors to 214 West Water Street. This building is between Umma’s at 210 West Water and the Waterhouse building at 216 West Water. There was a previous discussion in 2007 regarding an addition to this building, which used to be the home of La Cucina Italian Restaurant. 

In other meetings:

  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority will meet in Room 241 in the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road at 5 p.m. This meeting can be viewed remotely. (meeting info)
  • Fluvanna County Supervisors will hold a budget work session at 5:30 p.m. This will be at the County Administration Building in Palmyra and not at the usual meeting place for the Board. This meeting can be viewed remotely. (meeting info)
  • The first of three open houses on the first module of the draft Charlottesville zoning code is to be held at the Charlottesville High School cafeteria) at 1400 Melbourne Rd from 6:00-8:30 p.m. You can get the material hereYou can get my story here. I’ll have another in the next edition of the newsletter.
  • The Nelson County Planning Commission will meet at 7:30 p.m. I could not find the agenda and packet at publication time. (meeting info)
  • The Greene County Board of Zoning Appeals will meet at 7:30 p.m. After electing officers, they will hear a special exception request for a larger sign that allowed under the zoning code. (agenda)

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Places29-Rio group to get briefing on the Comprehensive Plan

The Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee will meet at 6 p.m. in Room 235 of the Albemarle County Office Building at 401 McIntire Road for their monthly meeting. After approval of the minutes, Community Connector Allison Wrabel will provide an overview of the county’s Comprehensive Plan review. (meeting info)

Albemarle Supervisors got a status report in January and here’s a paragraph from a story I wrote back then

“The comp plan is being updated using a four-phased approach moving from big ideas and visioning to more details policies and action steps,” said Tori Kannellopolos, a senior planner with Albemarle County’s Community Development Department. “We just completed phase one where we focused on reviewing the growth management policy and building the framework to build the next phases of AC44.” 

And yes, I recycled this copy again. 

In other meetings:

  • The Operations Subcommittee of the Solid Waste Alternatives Advisory Committee will meet at 12 p.m. in the Room 246 of the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. An agenda is not available at publication time. (meeting into)
  • The Arbor Subcommittee of the Tree Commission will meet virtually at 5 p.m. No agenda at this time. (meeting info)
  • The second of three open houses on the first module of the draft Charlottesville zoning code is to be held at the Buford Middle School (cafeteria) at 1000 Cherry Ave from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. You can get the material hereYou can get my story here. I’ll have another in the next edition of the newsletter.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The third of three open houses on the first module of the draft Charlottesville zoning code is to be held at City Space at 100 5th Street NW, 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. You can get the material hereYou can get my story here. I’ll have another in the next edition of the newsletter.

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.