Week Ahead for February 22, 2021: Batesville solar project, Charlottesville’s future land use, and more

The final week of the second month of 2021 is here, and is slightly less hectic than last week. Or is it? The pandemic seems to have made everything busier than in years before with virtual meetings becoming commonplace and part of how things work in our community. 

This has been a busy year so far, and it’s only going to become more so as communities across Virginia get into the thick of budget season. I’m still writing up some of what happened last week, so this one will be on the shorter side so I can get back to work on capturing those details in future installments of the Charlottesville Community Engagement

As always, thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of this newsletter and the research that goes into it each week. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Board of Commissioners that oversees Charlottesville’s public housing projects will meet at 6 p.m. and one item on the agenda is an update on redevelopment projects. The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority has been planning for the renovation of Crescent Halls and construction of new units at South First Street for some time now, and COVID delayed finalization of financing and groundbreaking. Visit the CRHA meeting page for more information about the meeting.

Here are some pieces of information from the materials that were sent out:

  • The CRHA maintenance shops must move out of their location at South First Street by March 15 in order to make room for the new units. They will relocate to a garage on Levy Avenue owned by the CRHA that has been used by Community Bikes. 
  • Habitat for Humanity is working with CRHA to remodel seven apartments at Westhaven.
  • There are currently 499 families on the waiting list for CRHA properties
  • A city-funded program to expand the number rent vouchers has been in existence for a few years now.  As of last week, 71 families are enrolled in the program. Fifty-seven percent are living within Charlottesville and the rest are living in Albemarle. There are 122 families on the waiting list. 
  • Ground-breaking for the first phase of South First Street is scheduled for February 28 and will be live-streamed. 
  • The average annual household income for CRHA residents is $12,542. 

Other meetings:

  • The Charlottesville Social Services Advisory Board will meet at noon (meeting info)
  • The Board of Trustees for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library will meet at 3 p.m. (meeting info)
  • Albemarle’s Historic Preservation Committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. They will have a discussion of the group’s role in the process by which cell towers are approved in Albemarle. There will also be a discussion on three potential historic markers. (meeting info)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Solar facility planned near Batesville

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors amended its zoning ordinance in 2017 to allow property owners to petition for permission to install solar panels on fields in order to generate a large scale amount of electricity for consumer use. So far, none have been installed under the changes. 

Now, Sun Tribe Solar has filed a special use permit request for an 8 megawatt facility on a 136 acres property on Craigs Store Road owned by the Central Virginia Electric Cooperative. The project would also include a 4 megawatt battery storage unit. The site is currently undeveloped woodlands. More than half of the property would remain forested.  The Timmons Group has produced several environmental studies of the property. One found no “recognized environmental conditions” that would halt the project. 

The application from SunTribe states the project would be built on about 60 acres of the land and is proposed to last for 20 years, with the option for three more 5-year periods. There is also a decommissioning plan that lays out how the project would be deconstructed when it is no longer being used. (project narrative)

“The land disturbance required for construction of a solar facility is far less than most other types of development, such as residential development,” reads the application. “This carbon-free, renewable energy will power 2,600 Central Virginia Electric Cooperative households in Albemarle County.”

The application states the existing property has only generated $500 a year in local taxes due to the land use taxation program. Now that the property has had its agricultural and forest district designation removed, the new landowner will have to pay the full taxes on the property for the past five years. Other new sources of revenue to the county will also be available in the form of personal property taxes on the solar infrastructure. In all, the application states the project would bring in nearly $1 million in property tax revenue over the next forty years. 

“In comparison to the current tax base for this parcel, which would be expected to result in approximately $20,000 over the next 40 years, this project represents an approximately 48 times increase in current tax revenue,” reads the application. 

However, special use permits give adjacent property owners and others the right to make a public comment for the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The first step in the community engagement process is the community meeting that will be held virtually beginning at 5:30 p.m. (meeting info)

One of the reports in the folder for the special use permit is a simulation of visual impacts

Planning Commission to hold work session on future land use map

Charlottesville began review of its Comprehensive Plan four years ago. There are many reasons for delay, but one of them is a disagreement between newer commissioners who wanted to increase densities across the city, especially in areas predominated by single family homes. 

The intent of the “future land use map” is to designate what types of uses and what level of intensity is desired by the community. These Comprehensive Plan designations are intended to guide decisions on rezonings and special use permits, but the City Council is not required to use it in making decisions. The intent is for the new comp plan, the new affordable housing plan, and the new zoning code to encourage the construction of more residential units to create more units affordable to people who make far less than the area median income. 

The Planning Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. to review a draft framework for the map that will be included in the next Comprehensive Plan. (meeting info)

The presentation from Rhodeside & Harwell is a must for anyone interested in land use in Charlottesville. It includes a thorough overview of land use in the city and recent planning efforts, and also provides context for Albemarle County’s urban ring around the city. The work appears to stop just short of presenting the Planning Commission with a draft map, but does provide a framework based on the following principles:

  • Increase dense, mixed-use development at key nodes
  • Establish mixed-use placemaking corridors that link mixed-use nodes
  • Transition from more dense development along placemaking corridors to neighborhoods, where soft density will be applicable
  • Maximize access to transit
  • Maximize redevelopment of large commercial properties to allow for a mix of uses

The presentation indicates a full plan will be ready for review by June 2021. 

In another meeting, the Greene County Board of Supervisors will meet virtually at 6:30 p.m. after an hour-long closed session. (meeting info)

The Cville Plans Together initiative builds on a series of recent planning efforts and seeks to use them to inform creation of a new Comprehensive Plan, an affordable housing plan, and a rewrite of the zoning code to encourage creation of more affordable housing units

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

There are lots of meetings today and this is perhaps the best way to present them all is in bullet points:

  • Localities have to create annual budgets every year, even if there is an uncertain financial outlook. Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson will present the Board of Supervisors on his recommended budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1. This will happen in a virtual meeting that begins at noon. (meeting info)
  • The executive committee for the Regional Housing Partnership meets at 2 p.m. The RHP is a project of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. On the agenda is an update on the Regional Housing Plan and the Porchlight affordable housing search tool. (zoom link)
  • The Ridge Street Priority Neighborhood Task Force will meet at 4 p.m. This group is will recommend infrastructure projects that will be paid for through the city’s allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding (meeting info)
  • Safe Routes to School is a federal program that funds sidewalks leading to educational institutions. There’s a virtual public input meeting in Charlottesville beginning at 5 p.m. (meeting info)
  • Last week, Albemarle opted to use some of a COVID-related budget surplus to invest in expanding internet into more of the county. The Albemarle Broadband Authority will have their regular monthly meeting beginning at 5 p.m. A special guest is Lewis Foster of the Orange County Broadband Authority and Fiberlync. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Fire and Emergency Medical Services Board meets at 6 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Nelson County Planning Commission will meet in person at 7 p.m. in the General District Courtroom (meeting info)
  • The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors will hold a budget work session beginning at 7 p.m. Supervisors will consider whether they want to advertise an increase in the property tax rate. (meeting info

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Another day, another set of bullet points:

  • The Regional Transit Partnership meets at 4 p.m. for a business meeting. Information has not yet been posted online. (RTP meeting page)
  • Last week, the Albemarle Planning Commission held a work session on the corridor study currently away for Rio Road East. The area is within the jurisdiction of the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee. An agenda for their 7 p.m. meeting is not yet posted, but I suspect that will be something that gets mentioned. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board is scheduled to hold a training session on oversight. There are no materials in the meeting info but the session is to start at 6:30 p.m.
  • The Louisa County Planning Commission will meet in person at 7 p.m. in the county office building. There are public hearings on the Capital Improvement Program and a utility-scale solar facility. (agenda)

Friday, February 26, 2021

Albemarle County has embarked on an initiative to improve stream health. As part of the effort, county staff are holding a series of webinars on the topic. The first is an introduction to the rural areas and it begins at noon. (meeting info)

So, what do you think? Having written the above I don’t think this is a less hectic week at all! What did I miss? What would you cover? Let me know in the comments!

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.