Week Ahead for February 21, 2022: City Council to review State of the Forest; updates on Zion Crossroads and Rio Road Corridor plans

Today is Presidents’ Day and I celebrated by doing a different newsletter on Sunday, when I usually write this one up. There is only one meeting on the agenda today, so I took the liberty of getting this one out a little later than usual. I’ll be back to Sunday publication next week. 

For me, government at the local and state level has always felt more close to me than what’s happening at the federal level. There is enough in any community to keep any municipal reporter busy, but so much is happening in a region experiencing as much growth as this one. All of the levels of government are interconnected, though, and in doing this newsletter for over two years I see the different relationships. I produce this newsletter so you can as well. 

Thanks as always to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of this newsletter. They are just kicking off a celebration of their 50th anniversary so go take a look and see what they are up to

Monday, February 21, 2022

Places29-Hydraulic CAC to review plans for emergency animal hospital expansion 

Albemarle County’s Places29-Hydraulic Community Advisory Committee meets virtually at 5:30 p.m. for their first meeting of the year. (meeting info)

One of the roles played by Albemarle’s community advisory committees is to serve as a forum for community meetings required under the county’s land use rules. Tonight the Greenbrier Veterinary Clinic will present a request to expand its operations on Greenbrier Drive. 

“The existing Emergency Animal Hospital has operated for more than 14 years and other Vet specialty uses have been added since 2010,” reads the narrative for the application. “More space is needed for veterinary specialists and licensed technicians to provide a greater range of services to the community.” 

The narrative explains that expansion would allow services not currently available in the Charlottesville area, such as repetitive cancer treatment. That would decrease the chance of an animal becoming sicker during transport. 

The specific request is to allow veterinary activities to take place in an existing building on the site. 

The meeting will also include updates from Stonefield, the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, and the School Board. These meetings are still virtual, so if you have any interest in ever getting more involved, watch live through Zoom! You’ll learn a lot about the process. 

The site plan for the project shows minimal changes related to the expansion

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Community meeting for farm school on Barracks Road 

There are no community advisory committees for the rural area. In that case, the Albemarle County Department of Community Development will hold a standalone meeting. At 5:30 p.m. they will hold a virtual meeting for a special use permit request for a property just outside the Places29-Hydraulic designated growth area. (meeting info)

Foster Forge School wants to operate a small private school at 2900 Barracks Road. That’s a 6.44 acre property currently zoned for rural area uses, which requires a permit for the Foster Forge Farm School to operate.

“Our curriculum incorporates agriculture studies, animal husbandry, sustainability and environmental conservative studies into our students of language arts, math, science, history and other exploratories which include art, music, and language,” reads the narrative.

The narrative states the impact on the land would be minimal with small buildings with no more than 256 square feet. 

“Numerous studies have found many mental health benefits to children spending time outdoors, but that time is increasingly hard to come by for most children,” the document continues. “Unlike students stuck behind desks, Foster Forge Farm School students can experience all of the mental health benefits that come from spending time outside.” 

The conceptual plan for the Foster Forge Farm School on Barracks Road
City Council to take up BAR appeal, collective bargaining, State of the Urban Forest

The Charlottesville City Council meeting begins at 4 p.m. with another series of workshops, followed by a regular meeting which begins at 6:30 p.m. In between is a closed session. The meeting information for all three is in one convenient place. (meeting info)

In the first presentation, an umbrella group that seeks to make the community a livable place for older community members will present their annual report. 

“The Charlottesville Area Alliance is a regional organization whose primary purpose is to provide leadership and development for an age-friendly community through education, advocacy, engagement, planning, and evaluations,” reads the staff report.

The annual report is a seven-page document that provides an overview of what the group has worked on during the second year of the pandemic. 

“This has provided us an opportunity to reassess our action plans, holding fast to the three goals of Housing, Social Engagement, and Transportation,” writes Marta Keane, Alliance Chair and CEO of JABA. “COVID-19 just amplified the impact these three elements have on seniors.”

The second is a presentation on the State of the Forest report as well as a budget request for FY2023.

“A recent expert analysis of satellite imagery from 2018 shows a 10 percent reduction in tree canopy between 2004 and 2018, from 50 percent coverage of the city’s 6,600 acres to 40 percent, which is a loss of 660 acres of canopy in a period of fourteen years,” reads the report. “What is worse, the rate of loss is increasing over time, and the actual canopy in 2021 may be closer to 35 percent, meaning a loss of nearly 990 acres in less than two decades.”

Read the State of the Forest report for more details on the declining tree canopy (download)

The third is a presentation from the Virginia Institute of Government, a division of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. 

The evening meeting is sort of a technical one. The first action item is an appeal of a decision made by the Board of Architectural Review to approve a certificate of appropriateness for 605 Preston Place. That action allowed for construction to proceed of a three-story apartment complex, and several nearby homeowners have appealed to ask Council to overturn the decision. The staff report is 92 pages long, including the appeal. 

“The plan for a three story, commercially styled student housing block, renting an estimated $1,500 per bedroom a month, would occupy the entire area of the side yard of a significant historic home, the circa 1857 Wyndhurst manor house,” reads a letter on page 8 signed by nine households.  “We argue the standards for the historic overlay on the R-3 zoning of the Rugby Road-University Circle-Venable Neighborhood [Architectural Design and Control District] were not fully acknowledged and properly applied.”

Such appeals do not happen often.

An exhibit in the staff report for the BAR appeal of 605 Preston Place (page 16)

Next, Council will take up collective bargaining and will consider adding an additional $625,000 to the city’s capital budget to cover the cost of a “collective bargaining project.” Until recently, localities in Virginia were prohibited from recognizing labor unions made up of their employees. Legislation passed the General Assembly in April 2020 and went into effect on May 1, 2021. 

So far, the much larger localities of the City of Alexandria and Loudoun County have adopted such an ordinance. There’s no model ordinance for others to follow. 

“City Council and the City Manager’s Office have a number of decisions to make as to what procedures might best fit the City administration and the City’s workforce, how many bargaining units to authorize, etc,” reads the staff report. “Council may also choose to specify what are the mandatory topics of collective bargaining agreements—such as wages, work hours, schedules, paid time off, disciplinary policies, bonuses, and work rules—and what may be other permissive subjects.”

So far the Amalgamated Transit Union has been organizing on behalf of transit employees and suggested an ordinance in October. Staff is recommending denial at this time due to a lack of information on how much it will cost to hire staff to conduct the negotiations. Loudoun County hired eight people to do the work there. 

“It appears that a majority of City Councilors may favor the establishment of collective bargaining within the City administration, so the City Manager’s Office also recommends that City Council discuss, during its Budget adoption process for FY23, the possibility of appropriating funding for additional staff positions and consultants, as necessary to commence the process of developing and implementing a collective bargaining ordinance for the City,” the staff report continues. 

If Council proceeds, a minimum of two full-time positions will be added to the FY23 budget. 

Next, Council will formally adopt new rules, procedures, and a calendar for its meetings. That will be followed by a presentation from Commissioner of Revenue Todd Divers on the drastic increase in vehicle valuation in 2022

In other meetings:
  • The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority meets virtually at 2:15 p.m. The big items on the agenda are introduction of a new capital improvement program for the next five years as well as an update on a management plan for the Buck Mountain Property. (agenda)
  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority meets virtually at 5 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Louisa County Board of Supervisors meets at 5 p.m. for a closed session and go into open session at 6 p.m. The main item on the agenda is a presentation on the Louisa Arts Center. (agenda packet)
  • Legal Aid Justice Center and the Public Housing Association of Residents will have the ears of the Human Rights Commission for a special meeting to discuss conditions in subsidized housing in Charlottesville. This takes place at 6 p.m., shortly before the City Council comes back into open session. (meeting info)
  • The Greene County Board of Supervisors meets in open session at 6:30 p.m. One item on the agenda is the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help upgrade county meeting rooms to make virtual meeting participation more palatable. (agenda)
  • The Scottsville Town Council will hold their regular meeting in a hybrid form beginning at 7 p.m. On the agenda are final votes on two special use permit requests for additional density downtown for clustered houses. (meeting info) (agenda)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Albemarle County’s FY23 budget to be presented

The development of Charlottesville’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 has been done in public with several work sessions. In Albemarle, Supervisors gave basic direction to budget staff late last fall and a capital improvement advisory committee has also provided input. 

At a special meeting at noon, Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson will present the budget to the six members of the Board of Supervisors. This will be the first look at a document that will be scrutinized and marked up by the elected officials in a series of work sessions. To learn more about the process, consider reviewing the county’s budget development website. (meeting info)

Work on the budget development in Albemarle has been underway since last fall 
Nelson PC to consider glass studio, mobile home park off of U.S. 250

The Nelson County Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. in the General District Courtroom in the Nelson County Courthouse in Lovingston. There are three items on the agenda. (agenda packet)

The first is a continuation of deliberation of a special use permit for an “antique, craft, or gift shop” on Route 151. The applicants want to construct a hot glass studio and gallery on land. 

“We believe a glass blowing studio would be a wonderful addition to the agri-tourism program in Nelson County and provide a unique, creative experience for locals and visitors alike,” reads the narrative for what is being called Glass Hollow.

Second, Shimp Engineering is seeking a special use permit to create a mobile home park on Stage Bridge Road for 51 units that would follow the layout of a subdivision platted in 1959 but not built. This would require a new entrance onto U.S. 29 as well as a decentralized wastewater system. The Comprehensive Plan designation for the R-1 zoned property is designated for rural and farming uses. 

It would create a new entrance onto the roadway which will require approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation. They were not able to attend the January meeting of the Planning Commission so the item was deferred. 

“Nelson County’s rural character, beautiful views, and proximity to regional nodes have made the County a desirable place to live,” reads the narrative. “However, the housing supply in Nelson County has steadily declined with deteriorating housing stock.” 

The narrative refers to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s recent Planning for Affordability Report which found that only are at least 15.1 of Nelson’s 492 square miles have underlying zoning that allows for multi-family development. 

“Allowing for a mobile home park on use on a 204-acre property would fall in line with supporting the existing rural fabric, while continuing to the affordable housing system of the County,” the narrative continues. 

Shimp himself would own the park and would purchase some of the units to offer as rentals. 

And the third is a discussion on updating the zoning ordinance on kennels. Service Dogs of Virginia wants to expand the number of dogs it places each year from 12 to 20. To do so they need a new facility and seek to build one in Nelson. 

Layout for the proposed glass studio on Route 151
Planning continues for a more urban Zion Crossroads 

Zion Crossroads is an unincorporated area that straddles Fluvanna and Louisa counties in the vicinity of the intersection of U.S. 15 and U.S. 250. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has been assisting Fluvanna and Louisa with a Small Area Study intended to guide development. 

“This effort is largely driven by the tremendous development pressure Zion Crossroads has experienced in recent years,” reads the TJPDC’s project website. “With heavy involvement from the Virginia Department of Transportation, this planning process will include developing solutions to improving traffic safety and flow throughout the area, identifying opportunities for future development, and establishing a unique sense of identity.”  

A virtual meeting will be held tonight at 5:30 p.m. to go over the work to date and to review potential intersection improvements. If you’ve ever wondered how new areas get planned, this is the video to watch this week. There’s also a previous virtual workshop you can take a look at before you attend. (meeting registration)

Study area for the Zion Crossroads Small Area Study 
In other meetings: 
  • Charlottesville’s Retirement Commission meets at 8:30 a.m. (meeting info)
  • Albemarle County’s public roll-out of the AC44 Comprehensive Plan update and review continues with a pop-up meeting at 4 p.m. at the Southwood Community Center at 387 Hickory Street. The Let’s Talk Albemarle van will be on hand with applications for people to join the working group for the plan process. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Fire EMS Board meeting will be held virtually at 6 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will have a budget work session in person at the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center in Fork Union beginning at 7 p.m. (agenda)

Thursday, February 24 2022

Rio Corridor Plan draft available for review (or: Places29-Rio CAC agenda ready at publication!)

Longtime observers of the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee will know that one member has asked several times for the agendas to be ready in time to be made available for this newsletter. I am grateful to Chair Martin Meth and staff for getting that done in time. (meeting info)

There is no community meeting this time around, but there will be another presentation on the Rio Road Corridor Plan. The first study’s first phase covers the area between Rio Road and the John Parkway. A draft of the first phase has been completed by Line + Grade and is now available for review. (read the draft)

“The Corridor Plan is an opportunity to establish informed growth management strategies which will have a direct effect on the residents, property owners, developers, and the County administrators,” reads the introduction. “It is also an opportunity to identify how the infrastructure of the corridor can promote human scale, meaning that infrastructure is proportioned based on human dimensions and is at a size appropriate and comfortable to people.”

The study area for Phase 1 extends from U.S. 29 to the John Warner Parkway (read the draft) (Credit: Line + Grade)

The draft has several recommendations including creation of buffer strips, addition of street lighting, installation of pedestrian crossings, and better facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists. There are specific solutions such as an elaborate roundabout at the intersection of Hillsdale Drive, Old Brook Road, Northfield Road, and Rio Road. 

The study is being produced at a time before formal work on a new roundabout at the John Warner Parkway gets underway. Several recommendations are presented there, as well as at the intersection with Belvedere Boulevard. The sixteen pages are well worth a read for anyone who uses the corridor. 

The CAC will also get an overview on the county’s entrance corridor guidelines and the role played by the Albemarle Architectural Review Board

A bean-shaped roundabout is one of several recommendations in the Phase 1 draft (read the draft) (Credit: Line + Grade)
Schenks Branch restoration 

A tributary that flows into Schenks Branch runs through the city’s McIntire Park on a portion of land that is leased to the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont. The city of Charlottesville is launching an environmental restoration project to address an issue.

“The stream is experiencing active severe erosion of its banks and bed, sending excessive amounts of sediment downstream to waterways listed as impaired by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality,” reads a notice for a public meeting that will be held at 5:30 p.m. (meeting info)

The firm Hazen & Sawyer has been hired to conduct an assessment of current conditions and to design an approach to the restoration. The meeting is intended to give an overview of the work and to explain how this will fit into the “larger context of the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont.”

For background, there is a StoryMap available that is worth review. If you have any children who are interested in environmental science, this is a great resource. 

The project is funded through the DEQ’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. Read through the StoryMap to learn more. 
In other meetings:
  • The AC44 pop-up tour continues when the Let’s Talk Albemarle bus stops by Cismont Market at 12:30 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Youth Council meets at 6 p.m. There’s no agenda available as of Monday morning. (meeting info)

Friday February 25, 2022

Last week, Albemarle County held a kick-off meeting to formally begin the AC44 Comprehensive Plan process. If you missed it, there’s another chance today at noon. 

“Staff will share information about the update process, future engagement opportunities, and how to apply to be a member of the AC44 Working Group,” reads the calendar item

See also: Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan review underway, February 7, 2022

What have I missed? Certainly I’ve missed something. I am certain you will let me know!

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.