Week Ahead for January 23, 2023: Albemarle PC to review future public safety operations center; CRHA to invest over $1.5 million in three sites

The year 2023 in local government has certainly gotten off to a fast start. There are still so many stories I will want to write from the past three weeks. This week is a little bit of a slowdown with no meetings in Fluvanna County and Louisa County.  But this is a community with nearly 250,000 residents that is planning for more. Every week there’s something important going on somewhere. 

If not for this newsletter, how would you know? Three of the meetings listed below do not have agendas posted at the official location. I’m not highlighting which ones, but how can the public know what’s going on if the information is only sent to people who have asked to be put on a list? 

Highlights this week:

  • Public safety issues continue to be worth paying attention as volunteerism continues to fade. Greene County Supervisors will consider a grant for new career fire and rescue personnel, as well as the location for a new public safety complex. The Albemarle Planning Commission will consider a new public safety facility at Fashion Square Mall. The Albemarle Fire Rescue Board will also meet. 
  • Albemarle master plans completed within recent years identify specific projects. The Pantops Community Advisory Panel will review one of them this week that would convert Free Bridge Lane into something different. 
  • Charlottesville’s draft zoning ordinance is not yet ready for the public to review, but the Planning Commission will discuss several big issues that will guide its work at a work session on Tuesday. 
  • Work continues on redevelopment and refurbishment of the city’s affordable housing stock with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority set to execute over $1.5 million in contracts to make major repairs and replacements at three sites. 

Now, let’s get to the information! 

Thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their continuing support of this newsletter and the research that goes into it. This is their 51st year, you know. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Pantops group to see concepts for future Free Bridge Lane 

The first meeting of the year for the Pantops Community Advisory Committee comes with a first look at a new concept for how Free Bridge Lane along the Rivanna River could be reconfigured in the near future between Darden Towe Park and U.S. 250. This is called for in the Pantops Master Plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors in June 2019. 

“Free Bridge Lane provides a unique opportunity to further enhance the River corridor while improving upon the bicycle/ pedestrian connectivity in the area,” reads page 53 of the .PDF of the plan. “Free Bridge Lane should be reimagined as a “green street” that integrates elements of stormwater management into the street design to reduce runoff, while also enhancing facilities for bicycle and pedestrian travel along its length.” 

In the language of the plan, this is a “catalyst” project which means it’s intended to be completed  within eight years of the adoption of the plan. Other examples include expanded transit service, bike and pedestrian improvements on South Pantops Drive, and ways for pedestrians across Route 250. 

The firm LPDA has developed two draft concepts. One is a Promenade that would close Free Bridge Lane to through vehicular traffic and would include parking areas at either end. The stretch in between would be a 15-foot wide pathway. The second is a Multi-Modal Boulevard that would convert the street to one-way from Darden-Towe Park to Free Bridge Lane, though a parking area at the southern end would be accessible to motorists. 

The two concepts can be reviewed on the county’s website.  They will be presented to the Pantops CAC at their meeting which begins at 6:15 p.m. in the Martha Jefferson Hospital Outpatient Center in the Kessler Conference Room at 595 Martha Jefferson Drive. (meeting info)

The group will also discuss trails in the Pantops area. I will not be attending this meeting, and they are no longer recorded by the county due to being in-person. I look forward to coverage from media outlets. 

(image) This is a description of the Free Bridge Lane concept from the adopted Pantops Master Plan. It is one of eight “catalyst” projects called for in the document. (review the plan

CRHA investing in new windows for several properties

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners will hold a virtual board meeting at 6 p.m. This may be the only body that is still meeting via Zoom rather than in-person meetings. (agenda) (Zoom registration)

The first few residents have begun to move into new housing at the first phase of South First Street. Crescent Halls has been refurbished but the work is not yet complete. Planning is getting underway for redevelopment of Westhaven, the oldest CRHA property. 

There’s also a series of projects designed to address other sites that may not be ready for a full redevelopment yet. Tonight, the CRHA has three resolutions to execute contracts to replace windows, roofs, and siding at properties on Riverside Drive, Michie Drive, and Madison Avenue. The work will be done by FHP Tectronics at a cost of $522,527 at Riverside, $568,584 at Madison Avenue, and $626,185 at Michie Drive. (edited, 6:56 p.m. January 22, 2023)

Will Albemarle’s historic preservation group meet? 

The Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee are scheduled to meet in-person in Room 241 of the county office building at 401 McIntire Road. (meeting info)

Will there be a quorum? This group has struggled to have enough members to allow for an official meeting. Meetings in October, November, and December were canceled. In fact, the last meeting was in June. 

If there is a quorum, the agenda will see the election of new officers and then several updates. These include recent resignations, marker dedications at Union Run Baptist Church and River View Farm, the listing of La Fourche on the National Register of Historic Places, and a report on buildings that have been or will be demolished

In other meetings:

La Fourche in Keswick. Learn more on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources page (Credit: Robert Louis Brandon Edwards, 2021)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Albemarle Fire/Police center at J.C. Penney up for Planning Commission review 

There are four public hearings at this Tuesday’s meeting of the Albemarle Planning Commission. The first one is a project that will convert a section of Fashion Square Mall from commercial to institutional use. 

“The County is proposing to locate a public safety operations center at Fashion Square Mall, in a portion of the old JC Penney building,” reads the staff report. “The facility would provide office space and supporting storage and vehicle maintenance services to the County Police and Fire Rescue Departments.” 

Last August, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a $558,000 yearly lease with a company associated with developer Richard Hewitt. Now the Planning Commission will be asked if this is a use consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The document does not identify a public safety facility in this location. You may recall that earlier this month, the Planning Commission had a similar review of the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont at the intersection of the John Warner Parkway and Melbourne Road. (read my story)

The future operations center and future fleet headquarters for Albemarle Fire and Rescue is on property separate from the rest of Fashion Square Mall and are not part of whatever Home Depot plans for what it bought last year. There would be no public uses of the facility, but other portions of the former J.C. Penney will be leased to private businesses. 

“The lease contemplates the possibility of future commercial uses within the building and includes clauses for the loading dock and a portion of the warehouse to be designated as Common Areas at such time as another business/agency leases space within the building, so that future tenants have use of and ease of access to the loading dock,” reads a portion of the narrative

The general layout for how Albemarle County will utilize a portion of the former J.C. Penney for its uses. (Credit: Albemarle County)

The second public hearing is for a request to expand a commercial kennel in the rural area in the White Hall District. This requires a special use permit as well as a couple of special exceptions. (staff report)

The third public hearing is for a request for an additional development right on a 4.82 acre lot on Gobblers Ridge. Staff recommends this be approved but points out a concern. 

“Additional development rights for residential development in the Rural Area is not consistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan,” reads the staff report. “However, unique circumstances exist in this case.” 

The fourth public hearing is also related to development rights in the rural area. The owners of the 442.42 acre Spring Hill Farm want to amend an existing special use permit to subdivide two new lots of 28.77 acres and 64.52 acres. 

This dates back to a 1981 special use permits that created 33 residential lots and the history of subsequent amendments is a good example of how land use decisions have been made in the rural areas. 

The Albemarle Planning Commission’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. in Lane Auditorium in the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. (meeting info)

The consent agenda also minutes from the Planning Commission’s December 13, 2022 meeting. (read the minutes)

Charlottesville Planning Commission to hold work session on zoning code changes

The big land use topic in Charlottesville in the first half of 2023 will be the public review of the city’s zoning code. The Planning Commission will meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. in a work session to cover critical slopes, flood plains, and Entrance Corridor Overlay Districts.  (meeting info

The agenda packet gives a good description of the city’s critical slopes policy. 

“The Critical Slopes ordinance is designed to protect steep slopes associated with the City’s waterways with the intent of protecting against erosion and overall protecting potentially environmentally sensitive areas,” writes James Freas, the director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services Department. 

It is currently up to Council whether waivers should be granted if there is a greater public benefit, such as building more housing. The zoning rewrite intends to provide more clarity to what areas should be protected in a two-phase process. 

“The first phase would be to clarify the existing ordinance but mostly leave it as is for inclusion into the zoning ordinance rewrite,” Freas continues. “The second phase would be a more substantial project to draft a new ordinance intended to broadly protect sensitive environmental areas inclusive of critical slopes and stream buffers.” 

The second discussion is a review of the current floodplain ordinance, which allows development if foundations or bottom floors are above a certain elevation. 

“Staff would like the Planning Commission to consider amendments to this ordinance that would strengthen the City’s ability to reduce the risk of flood damage and harm to people and Property,” the report continues. 

Finally, there will be a discussion of the city’s Entrance Corridor guidelines. The Planning Commission doubles as the body that reviews applications within these areas. 

“The process of design review represents a cost and degree of uncertainty for the development process within these corridors,” Freas writes. 

Among changes staff are suggesting exempting residential buildings four stories and below, removing oversight of landscaping, and transferring review authority to the Board of Architectural Review. 

Rivanna authorities to meet: history lessons and sustainability review 

The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority are made of mostly the same people and have the same executive director in Bill Mawyer. The first RSWA meets at 2 p.m. followed by the RWSA. (meeting page)

The main item on the RSWA agenda is a presentation on the history of the group. This begins on page 84 of the packet

From the staff report, we also learn that a new baling machine has been installed at the paper sort facility operated by the RSWA and that the Southern Albemarle Convenience Center will be completed between March and May of this year. 

“Residents will be able to bring recycling materials and bagge refuse to this facility,” reads page 21 of the agenda. “Recycling materials will be trucked from the SACC to the

Paper Sort facility for baling and processing. Refuse will be trucked to the Ivy Transfer Station, and then trucked to a landfill in Henrico County for disposal.” 

The RWSA will also get a history lesson as well as a financial update on the agency. And then the RSWA will reconvene and there will be an overview of sustainability and climate action policies. (agenda packet)

Both the RWSA and RSWA agenda have minutes from their most recent meetings. 

A photo of the new baler being installed (Credit: Rivanna Solid Waste Authority)

Greene County to consider another SAFER grant to fund public safety investment

The five-member Greene County Board of Supervisors will meet at 5:30 p.m. for a closed session followed by an open session at the Administration Building in Stanardsville. (agenda)

There is one public hearing. A couple seek a special use permit for a commercial bakery in a private home. Then there are several action items. 

  • Supervisors will be asked to appropriate $12,889.74 from a forest sustainability grant obtained by the county. Staff is recommending using this for equipment on a fitness trail in the Greene County Community Park. (staff report)
  • Staff is requesting authority to apply for federal funds to hire career firefighters. A first attempt to obtain money through the SAFER program in FY21 was not successful. The staff report provides a review of the county’s personnel needs for public safety staffing. The new request is for $4,537,830. (staff report)
  • The Emergency Services Authority Board is asking for a committee to be formed to evaluate sites for a future public safety complex. (staff report)
  • Supervisors will also be asked to approve a plan to install a Restricted Crossing U-Turn (RCUT) at U.S. 29 and Route 609. (staff report)
  • Should Greene County compile a registry for short-term rentals? Supervisors will be asked whether they want to schedule a public hearing for such a thing. (staff report)
  • To proceed with full control over public water and sewer operations, Greene County needs approval from the Virginia Resource Authority. There is a resolution to allow the chair to sign paperwork once it is finalized. (staff report)

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

MPO to discuss long-range transportation plan, Smart Scale projects

The Charlottesville Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Board of Directors will meet at 4 p.m. on 407 Water Street. (agenda packet)

Last week, the Virginia Department of Transportation released the results of the fifth round of Smart Scale funding. A project to build a bridge over the Rivanna River at Woolen Mills was not recommended to proceed. Now staff are proposing applying for a federal grant to fund the project instead. 

The members will also review the Smart Scale applications for the region. Take a look at my story which covers how the Culpeper District, Lynchburg District, and parts of the Richmond District fared. 

There will also be an update on the Long Range Transportation Plan which goes by the name Moving Toward 2050. One day I’ll write a good story about this. Perhaps this week? 

In other meetings:

  • The Charlottesville Retirement Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. They will get a presentation from Steve Scheuermann of MissionSquare and another from Barry Schmitt of CapTrust. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority will meet in Room 241 of the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road but the meeting can be observed through Zoom. In addition to getting updates on existing projects, they will also discuss the idea of sending two monthly reports to the Board of Supervisors. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle County Fire and Emergency Medical Services will meet at 6 p.m. (or 1800 hours if you prefer) in Room 235 of the county’s office building at 401 McIntire Road. (meeting info)
  • The Nelson County calendar lists a meeting of the Planning Commission at 7 p.m. but there does not appear to be an agenda. I’ll follow up to be sure. (calendar)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Regional Transit Partnership to get updates including first phase of governance study

The Regional Transit Partnership meets at 4 p.m. at the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission offices at 407 East Water Street. (agenda)

Jaunt will present a review of 2022 as well as a preview of what’s coming up in 2023. They have a new commercial, are creating a transit development plan, and are studying fuel alternatives. Then there will be staff updates. One of them is the first product from a governance study currently underway by the firm AECOM. 

Here’s a broad overview. Note that Region 10 here refers to the technical name for the TJPDC and not the social services agency. 

“Region 10 is served by three transit operators: Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT), Jaunt, and the University of Virginia’sUniversity Transit Service (UTS),” reads the document. “CAT provides fixed-route service in the City of Charlottesville and some urbanized parts of Albemarle County; Jaunt provides ADA paratransit for CAT service as well as commuter route and demand response service to the rural portions of the region; UTS serves the University of Virginia Grounds and neighboring commercial and residential areas.” 

The idea of the governance study is to determine alternatives that would potentially bring more revenue to the area. This starts on page 49 of the packet.

In other meetings:

  • A subcommittee of the Albemarle Solid Waste Alternatives Advisory Committee that meets on operations will meet at noon in Room 246 of the McIntire County Office Building. They will discuss the status of glass recycling, school composting, and goals for 2023. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Sister City Committee Grants Subcommittee will meet at 4:30 p.m. in CitySpace. They will review the applications for grants up to $4,000. (agenda) (meeting info)
  • 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. They will elect new officers, discuss the virtual meeting policy, and review a watch list of projects. (meeting info)
A side-by-side review of three transportation authorities in Virginia as well as what powers are enabled in the legislation that allowed a Charlottesville transit authority to be formed. 

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.