Week Ahead for March 21, 2022: Major redevelopment of Seminole Square Shopping Center to be presented at public meeting Wednesday

Sometimes there is too much happening in a given week and much gets lost. There are so many moving parts in a community that is growing in as many directions as ours appears to be doing so. The next several days have crucial decision points as well discussion sessions about our region’s future. Local and regional government affect what happens around you, and this newsletter seeks to connect with you opportunities to have your say and to learn more. It also helps me as a working journalist try to figure out what I’ll actually be able to cover!

This week is full. Council will take up two land use rezonings after a public hearing on a tax rate increase. Greene Supervisors will consider a proposal for 600 more units for the general population. The Regional Housing Partnership will have a retreat in-person at the North Fork Discovery Park The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority will get an update on whether there’s enough capacity for up to 1,400 homes there. Albemarle’s design review board will take a look at two recently approved large developments. A Places29 group will review potential transportation improvements to address increasing congestion and the need for better bike and pedestrian facilities.

Thanks as always to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their support of the research that goes into this newsletter each and every week. I am grateful to be able to do this work and to try to spread information about the community.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Council to hold work session on changes to how affordable housing funds are reviewed and selected

Charlottesville City Council now begins each regular meeting with a 4 p.m. work session to review reports. This week they will review the final report from the firm HR&A on the use of the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund (CAHF) since 2010. A previous Council created the fund in 2007 and the most recent one agreed last July to pay HR&A $165,000 to audit the CAHF as well as create a program for inclusionary zoning. There was an initial report at the final Council meeting in December. (Council briefed on affordable housing funds, December 31, 2021)

“Since 2010, the City of Charlottesville has administered a total of $46.7 million in funding to support a variety of affordable housing initiatives across the city, drawing from the city’s General Fund, Capital Budget, Housing Trust Fund (CAHF), and federal HOME and [Community Development Block Grant] funds,” reads the introduction to the report Council will review. (meeting info)

“Development” refers to construction of new units or major rehabilitation of older multfamily structures. “Program” refers to either single-family rehabilitation and energy retrofits, homelessness services, rental subsidies, and homeownership subsidies. “Operating” goes to pay for the organization’s administration. 

The second phase of the report makes sixteen recommendations that draw from the affordable housing plan adopted by Council in March last year, such as making substantial changes to how the Housing Advisory Committee is structured. A new CAHF committee would be set up to oversee the funds and make recommendations to Council. (read the new report) (read the Affordable Housing Plan)

HR&A also believes the city needs better metrics to determine if investments in affordable housing are getting the desired goals. 

“The City should set annual production goals for housing development and affordability, as well as ensure that housing policies and programs, and decision-making processes are intentionally designed to overcome the past history of racial segregation and ongoing inequities,” reads recommendation number six. 

The city has not had a housing coordinator since the summer of 2020 when the past occupant of the position became the executive director of the Charlottesville Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Many of the recommendations call for new staff to ensure projects are on track.

CDBG Task Force meets concurrently  

For some reason, the Charlottesville Community Development Block Grant Task Force meets at this exact same time as this 4 p.m. Council work session. Perhaps part of the confusion in this community is overlapping meetings such as this one. This group also makes recommendations on how a portion of the city’s affordable housing money is spent. Wouldn’t the nine members of this body as well as staff benefit by directly hearing the HR&A report, and what Council’s decisions might be about its future? Either way, I will record both. (meeting info)

Council holds first public hearing for FY23 budget and real estate tax rate

Council meets again at 6:30 p.m. for the regular meeting. (meeting info for 6:30 p.m. session)

The first item of regular business on the agenda is the first public hearing on the real estate tax rate and to see what community members think about reducing the personal property tax rate. For an overview of where we are, read or listen to my coverage of the March 10 budget work session

To recap, Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers technically includes $9.2 million in revenues from a potential ten cent increase in the city’s real estate property tax rate, but those funds are unallocated. 

“The purpose of ‘parking’ this revenue in the reserve is to allow Council to work through the public hearing process and to determine whether there are any programs, positions, projects or undertakings that it wishes to fund for FY2023 that cannot be undertaken with the same amount of [real estate] revenue that would be generated by keeping the current tax rate of $0.95/$100,” reads the staff report for the public  hearing on the real estate tax rate

The budget is also built on a potential decrease in the personal property tax rate to reflect a sudden increase in the valuation of used vehicles. At the March 10 work session, Council also signaled a willingness to increase the meals tax by a half-percentage point. There’s a public hearing for that tax rate on April 4. 

ARPA funds

Next, Council will hold the first of two readings on new uses of $536,553.97 in American Rescue Plan Act Funding. Details in the staff report. They are:

  • $62,000 for operating portable air sanitizing units for public schools
  • $6,000 for the Department of Social Services to purchase various pieces of equipment to support staff working at home
  • $60,000 for communications equipment for the Charlottesville Fire Department
  • $92,000 in improvements to the City Manager’s office to create physical barriers between staff and members of the public 
  • $20,000 in improvements to City Council chambers to prepare for hybrid meetings
  • $138,000 to pay for continued operations of the Community Hotline set up during COVID
  • $51,053.97 to pay for ambassadors at City Hall
  • $100,000 to pay for reconfigure the City Hall lobby to provide more space between staff and the public
  • $7,500 for additional cleaning equipment for the Charlottesville Fire Department

City Manager recommends denial of funding agreement for Stribling Avenue sidewalks

After the financial items, Council will take up two land use items. The first is a request from an out-of-town developer to build 28 units on 0.62 acres at the end of Valley Road Extended. On March 8, the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend a rezoning and a special use permit, and 5-2 on a critical slopes waiver for the project. At that meeting, Vice Mayor Juandiego expressed skepticism for the $48,000 the developer has agreed to pay sidewalk improvements somewhere in Fifeville. (staff report) (story and audio piece I wrote on the PC hearing

The second is for 240 Stribling Avenue. Southern Development seeks a rezoning to allow for up to 170 units on around 12 acres of currently undeveloped land in the Fry’s Spring area. They have agreed to pay up to $2.9 million to cover the upfront costs of sidewalk improvements on the roadway to support additional vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The city would pay Southern Development back through a tax increment financing arrangement committing which 100 percent of the new real estate revenues to repayment. 

In November, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning to Planned Unit Development, but only if the sidewalk is built concurrently. (staff report)

Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers recommends denial because that would break a long-standing formula for education funding. 

“To date, discussion of the proposed Funding Agreement has not taken into account the City’s longstanding practice of committing the first forty percent (40%) of all new real estate tax revenues every year for the School’s operational budget,” reads the staff report.  “Staff strongly recommends that the City is much better off, in the long run, finding money in the current CIP and reprogramming it for a sidewalk project to be added to the City’s FY2024-2029 CIP (as a funded project).”

Pedestrian Access Plan for the 240 Stribling project (Credit: The Timmons Group)
On the consent agenda: 
  • First reading of a $94,276 grant from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to cover the city’s costs to develop a flood resilience plan. (staff report)
  • Second reading of allocation of $980,599 in Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Funds to Charlottesville Area Transit, including $300,000 for a study of alternative fuels and how their introduction would be implemented. (staff report) (March 14, 2022 story)
  • Second reading of allocation of $188,810 to Rhodeside & Harwell and HR&A for additional community engagement for the Cville Plans Together initiative as well as creation of a model to predict how the new Comprehensive Plan and rezoning will work. (staff report) (March 14, 2022 story)
  • First reading of appropriation of $15,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to pay for stipends related to probation transformation. (staff report)
  • First reading of appropriation of $75,000 to repair the kitchen floor at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center (staff report)
  • First of two readings for appropriation of $200,000 from the federal COVID Homelessness Emergency Response Program that will go to the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. (staff report)

Albemarle ARB to review designs for several big projects

A rezoning is often not the last legislative approval required before construction can begin. The Albemarle Architectural Review Board must issue a Certificate of Appropriateness for projects within the jurisdiction of the county’s Entrance Corridor guidelines. Four such projects go before the five-person ARB today at a virtual meeting that begins at 1 p.m. (meeting info)

  • They’ll see an initial site plan for 327 units to be built at Rio Point, a rezoning approved by the Board of Supervisors in December 2021. (staff report)
  • They’ll review the final site plan for RST Residences which was approved by Board of Supervisors on a 5 to 1 vote in September 2021. (staff report)
  • They’ll see a final site plan for a by-right self storage facility at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Crozet Avenue. (staff report)
  • They’ll also review proposed signage changes for Shopper’s World Plaza (staff report)
Site play layout for Rio Point near the intersection of East Rio Road and the John Warner Parkway (Credit: Timmons Group)
In other meetings:

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Greene Supervisors to consider removing age restrictions on 600 proposed units for seniors

The Greene County Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session at 5:30 p.m. followed by an open session beginning at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is in person but there is a virtual option. (agenda)

First, a group of University of Virginia students will present Supervisors with their research on how revenues from the city’s new tax on cigarettes could be used to augment public health efforts. They’re with the UVA American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. (report)

Next, Jaunt CEO Ted Rieck will present the agency’s budget request to Greene. Jaunt assumed management of Greene County Transit in the spring of 2020. They provide service inside of Greene Monday through Friday as well as a link to Charlottesville. As you can imagine, ridership plummeted two years ago and has not rebounded. The draft budget does not fully fund Jaunt’s request and Rieck will make the agency’s case for that to be restored. 

Later, Planning Director Jim Frydl will review the county’s potential Smart Scale submissions. All of the potentials are intersection improvements with either U.S. 29 or U.S. 33. (review the presentation)

A chart depicting ridership declines for Greene County Transit (read the rest of the presentation)

Finally, Supervisors will resume discussion of an item that went to public hearing in December. The Fried Companies want to rezone 172 acres of land zoned for “Senior Residential” to Planned Unit Development. The original rezoning is from both 2004 and 2007 but that proposal was never built. (staff report)

Because the project will now allow anyone to live there, Supervisors have been presented with information about the additional number of school children that will be generated. The developer is proffering the dedication of 17 acres for future schools. 

A chart listing recently completed and recently approved developments in Greene County (Credit: Greene County)

Two information meetings for Tonsler Park field house and parking expansion

In 2013, a master plan was adopted for Tonsler Park called for upgrades to the basketball courts and a sprayground. Those have since been built. However, a fieldhouse and a potential expansion of parking have not. The Parks and Recreation Department will hold two meetings today to present plans for those additions and to receive feedback. 

“There will also be Parks staff at the park from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm on Monday, March 21st to explain the proposal and gather public input, and materials will be available in the community center,” reads the announcement on the city’s website.

The virtual meetings are at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

In other meetings:

  • The Nelson County Board of Supervisors will hold another budget work session in person at 1 p.m. in the county courthouse in Lovingston. (agenda)
  • The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s Board of Directors meets at 2 p.m. There will be presentation and public hearing on the new clean fill program at the Ivy Materials Utilization Center, as well as an introduction of the proposed fee schedule for FY23 (agenda) (zoom registration)
  • The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors meets at the conclusion of the RWSA. They will get an update on water and sewer capacity in Albemarle’s northern growth area as well as a public hearing on the Buck Management Plan. There will also be introduction of the FY23 budget and rates. (agenda) (zoom registration)
  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority meets virtually at 5 p.m. There will be an update on the State Corporation Commission’s pending decision related to the acquisition of CenturyLink assets by a new company. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Electoral Board meets in person at 6 p.m. at the Office of the Registrar. Agenda items include ‘HART Election Equipment Upgrade and Staff Training” and “Registrar Meeting with Dem Tech.” (meeting info)

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Site plan conference for proposal to put 352 homes at Seminole Square Shopping Center

Great Eastern Management Company has filed new plans to redevelop 23.9 acres of the Seminole Square Shopping Center and there’s a public meeting at 10 a.m. today where staff with Collins Engineering will go over them. (meeting info)

“This site plan is for remodeling of existing building facades and parking lots for expansion to build two new commercial buildings, one mixed-use building, and three multi-family residential buildings with underground parking,” reads the March 11 notice sent to adjoining property owners. 

In all, Great Eastern Management seeks to build 352 units on the site. 

An overview of the redevelopment (Credit: Collins Engineering) 

Aside from the Entrance Corridor Review Board, this may be the only public meeting for the project, which is being pursued by-right.  The property is zoned Highway Commercial and the new Future Land Use Map designates the land as Higher Intensity Residential. 

The company submitted a different plan in 2018 that would have required a rezoning. The plan will remove the existing commercial building that most recently housed a Giant grocery story as well as the southernmost section of the shopping center and replace that with most of the new buildings. 

How does this submission match up against a small area plan created for the area in late 2017? Read the Hydraulic plan here and see! The Charlottesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization was awarded Smart Scale funds in Round 4 for a pedestrian and bike bridge across U.S. 29 to connect this area with Stonefield. 

Anyone can submit written comments on the project through April 22. 

A conceptual drawing of the rendering for the redevelopment (Credit: Henningsen Kestner Architects

Regional Housing Partnership to meet in person at North Fork Discovery Park

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission manages the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership, which includes representatives from all six of the TJPDC localities. The group will meet in person at the North Fork Discovery Park for something that’s being called the Spark Mill Strategic Planning Session. Spark Mill is a Richmond-based consultant that will take the group through this retreat. They’ve produced a report based on input with members of the partnership. 

“We did not hear any negative sentiments about you,” reads page 16 of the agenda packet. “Instead there was a lack of clarity or understanding about what you do and what you offer.” 

This document appears to go over much of the same ground covered in the Regional Housing Partnership’s Planning for Affordability report from 2020. That document is not mentioned in Spark Mill’s report. (agenda packet) (2020 report) (meeting Zoom registration)

Albemarle Supervisors to hold work session on athletic fields, approve redistricting

Earlier this year, Albemarle Supervisors voted to speed up the process to draw new boundaries for the six magisterial districts. They will vote on one of the three options at the beginning of a budget work session that begins at 3 p.m. (meeting info) (agenda) (staff report)

Second, there will be a discussion of athletic fields. Albemarle’s draft budget calls for $3 million in spending at Biscuit Run Park in FY23 and $5.3 million in FY24, and that will include new grass fields. At the first budget public hearing, several people urged the Board to restore a defunded plan to install synthetic turf fields at Darden Towe and to add lighting. There is no staff report available at publication time. (Albemarle holds first public hearing for $565M budget, March 3, 2022)

Third, Supervisors will vote to formally begin the process required to enable a five cent tax on plastic bags. There would also need to be public hearings to increase the food and beverage tax rate from four percent to six percent as well as an increase to raise the transient occupancy tax from five percent to eight percent. (staff report)

In other meetings:
  • The Charlottesville Retirement Commission meets virtually at 8:30 a.m. (meeting info)
  • Charlottesville will hold a Community Budget Forum at 6 p.m. In recent years has been a more informal way for people to learn about what’s in the budget that is under development. To catch up on the budget, read my stories on the Information Charlottesville archive. (registration info)
  • The Albemarle Fire EMS Board will meet virtually at 6 p.m. Under new business is a presentation from the new Deputy Chief of Community Risk and Reduction. (meeting info)
  • The Nelson County Planning Commission will meet in person at the county courthouse in Lovingston at 7 p.m. On the agenda are five public hearings. One is for a rezoning from agricultural to business for the Lovingston Herd Health to allow construction of a second building. Another is for a rezoning that would allow an existing sawmill to become complaint. (agenda packet)

Transportation Thursday, March 24, 2022

MPO/Regional Transit Partnership double-header

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission hosts both the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership. Both groups will meet back to back beginning with the MPO Policy Board at 2 p.m. They usually meet on Wednesdays. (meeting info)

The main item on the MPO’s agenda is to choose an alignment for a pedestrian bridge to cross the Rivanna River to connect Woolen Mills with Pantops. The group had a special meeting on March 10 to go through the two choices. One would connect to Charlottesville at Chesapeake Street at a cost of $11.3 million. The other would connect at East Market Street and would have a cost of $15.4 million. (alternatives report) (comparison matrix)

The Regional Transit Partnership meets at 4 p.m. On the agenda is a presentation on Mobile App Trip Planning from the chief information officer of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. (meeting info)

Places29-Rio group to review second phase of Rio Road Corridor Study

There has been a lot of development along Rio Road East in Albemarle County in recent years, such as the by-right development of Dunlora Village. Many people who did not support the recent rezoning of Rio Point argued that the transportation infrastructure is not in place to handle more people. 

In response, Albemarle has hired the firm Line & Grade to work on a corridor study to recommend changes such as intersection improvements. The first phase spans from the Rio/U.S. 29 intersection down to the John Warner Parkway and the Places29-Rio Community Advisory Council reviewed that section in January and February. (read my February 3, 2022 story)

The second phase heads south to the Charlottesville city line. The P29-Rio group will review this section at their meeting which begins at 6 p.m. (project site) (meeting info)

In other meetings:
  • Charlottesville’s Towing Advisory Board meets virtually at 1 p.m. One of the items is a review of potential changes to the city’s towing ordinance. (meeting info)
  • Charlottesville’s Youth Council will meet at 6 p.m. There is no agenda available at publication time. (meeting info)
  • Charlottesville’s Human Rights Commission will have a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. There is no agenda available at publication time. (meeting info)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Nothing on my calendars, but I’m likely missing something. This is also where I ask you to tell me if you see typos so I fix them.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Clean-up events to be held in southern Albemarle

Albemarle County will hold another Community Clean-Up at the Yancey Community Center, as well as other locations around Esmont, Keene, Scottsville, and North Garden. 

“Participants will have the option to pick up small road-side litter during this event,” reads the announcement for the event. “Gloves, safety vests and pickers will be provided.” 

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.