Week Ahead for May 24, 2021: Charlottesville Council to discuss 7th Street parking garage, proposed CAT bus route changes

This is effectively the last week of May, a month that seems to have just started. I am still going through everything that happened so far and hope to have a full week of episodes of Charlottesville Community Engagement to document as much as I can. Thanks to all of you for reading and please share with others.

Things are particularly busy in Charlottesville, with a contested Democratic primary as well as an open public comment period for the Cville Plans Together initiative

As always, thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their sponsorship of this work. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meets at 6 p.m. (register for Zoom) (watch on Boxcast)

There’s no information about the meeting available on the CRHA website but an email with materials for the meeting was sent around. I uploaded the agenda to cvillepedia so anyone can take a look easily. (download)

There will be a discussion of creation of a new non-profit agency or other entity that would “facilitate development efforts in the city of Charlottesville.” There was a resolution included in the email, but the narrative for the discussion was not attached. There is already an existing non-profit called the Charlottesville Community Development Corporation, but it is simply the non-profit version of the CRHA Board of Commissioners that exists to receive low-income and distribute low-income housing tax credits. That is one tool that construction of new housing can be guaranteed to be kept below-market value for rental units. (resolution)

There’s also a resolution to direct the CRHA’s Redevelopment Committee to begin the process of adding more properties to the process to create new units and breathe new life into public housing complexes. The Public Housing Association of Residents will give a presentation. Here’s the resolution:

“Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority does hereby direct and charge the CRHA Redevelopment Committee to begin immediate resident engagement in order to begin the redevelopment of the sixth street property on vacant land and to get a tax credit application in March 2022 and to begin engagement of the Sixth Street and Westhaven Community in order to develop a resident lead decision making process to redevelop Westhaven and Sixth Street,” reads the resolution.

In other meetings:

  • Two pop-up meetings will be held to present information and take input on the Crozet Master Plan. One is at Grit in Old Trail beginning at 8 a.m. (info) and the next is at 10 a.m. at the Brownsville Market (info)

    Review the materials in advance at this link.
  • The Albemarle Historic Preservation Committee meets at 4:30 p.m. for another discussion about historic markers. (meeting info)
  • The Pantops Community Advisory Committee meets at 6:15 p.m. Items on the agenda include an update on the Rivanna River Corridor Plan being administered by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). There’s also an update on development projects in the Pantops area. (meeting info)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The following is background context for a Charlottesville City Council work session that begins at 3 p.m. today on two transportation issues. (meeting info)

How will people in the greater Charlottesville area move around in the future? For years, comprehensive plans have called for investment in systems that allow more people to commute to work without driving alone. Those calls will grow in more intensity as Albemarle, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how do we get there, especially when the entire region has experienced population growth?

The transportation chapter of Charlottesville’s draft Comprehensive Plan contains language that currently states that the city ‘is part of a regional network and the City will be an active partner in planning and implementing a regional transportation demand management (TDM) program as well as bicycle and pedestrian, rail, and bus transit improvements.”

The draft Transportation chapter in the proposed Comprehensive Plan update further specifies how Charlottesville might further reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles

According to Mobility Lab, a TDM program is intended to help individuals navigate multiple transportation options in order to decrease the amount of single-occupant vehicles. This can reduce demand for parking and more road capacity. The University of Virginia adopted a TDM plan in 2019 that identified a parking shortage when factoring in planned new construction. 

“Although the University strives for a more multi-modal culture, driving to Grounds is most conducive to the University’s suburban setting and will likely remain the more popular mode choice in the near future,” page 12 of the plan, which was adopted before the pandemic. 

The plan states that more parking spaces will likely need to built to meet demand, but offers several strategies to try to encourage more individuals to seek other options and to limit the impact of those vehicles on the streets to and from central Grounds.

UVA has also helped fund some of the start-up costs for a new commuter bus route to and from Staunton. At the moment, an $87 million project for a parking garage and related infrastructure at Fontaine Research Park is deferred, according to the staff report for the March 2021 Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Visitors. 

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for commuting data, five-year average (look at the tables yourself!

With all of that as background, Council’s 3 p.m. work session has two items that are related to transportation. 

In the first, city staff are seeking direction on whether to proceed with a 300-space parking garage at the corner of East Market Street and 9th Street to satisfy terms of an agreement with Albemarle County to provide spaces for the joint courts complex. As part of that deal, Albemarle offered to convey its ownership of a 0.41 surface lot the pair bought in 2005. (staff report)

At least two Councilors have expressed doubt in the 7th Street Parking Garage project and a majority agreed this spring to reduce the capital improvement allocation for next fiscal year from $8 million to $1 million. 

The staff report states that the project will not be completed in time for a November 30, 2023 deadline to provide 100 spaces in the new structure to Albemarle. Staff are asking for Council to appropriate another $7 million as soon as possible to meet that schedule. The adopted budget anticipates that $7 million being available on July 1, 2023, which staff said would mean a delay in allowing the project to proceed now.

A previous Council agreed to purchase of an adjacent 0.41 acre lot in January 2017 for $2.85 million, more than double the 2016 assessment. There was no public input before the purchase and no advance information was available to the public before the decision was made. Since then, the city has been the landlord for the Lucky 7 convenience store and a Guadalajara outlet.  

The staff report for the May 25 work session recommends proceeding as planned, but suggested two other alternatives that have been reviewed. One would be to build a smaller structure on the commercial lot with between 140-200 spaces. The other is to just demolish the commercial buildings to build a 38-space surface lot. Either would require an amendment of the city’s agreement with Albemarle. Other alternatives would be to provide 100 first-floor spaces in the Market Street Parking garage, or selling back the former joint-owned spot for the county to provide its own spaces for court purposes.

A 2015 parking study conducted by the firm Nelson Nygaard recommended the city pursue a TDM strategy, but that has not yet happened. 

“Specifically, the creation of a Transportation Management Association was recommended,” reads the staff report. “TMA’s are usually non-profit organizations that focus on expanding knowledge of alternatives to commuting in single-occupant vehicles. TMAs are common in large metro areas that experience commuter congestion and have multiple alternative transportation options available. To be successful in reducing single-occupant vehicle trips, TMAs required consistent funding, dedicated partners, and a considerable amount of time.” 

The city did briefly implement the results of another Nelson Nygaard study for an on-street metering pilot, but ended it before its scheduled six months were complete.

The second item at the work session relates to proposed service changes for Charlottesville Area Transit. The Regional Transit Partnership reviewed the proposal in February. Read Allison Wrabel’s story about that in the Daily Progress.

There is no corresponding staff report, and no mention of how CAT might play into a regional TDM effort. At the moment, CAT and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission are both independently studying how to expand transit in Albemarle. 

The 53-page presentation does not make any mention of ways to encourage more people to seek alternatives to driving, though it does documents the 15 percent decline in ridership over the past five years. (presentation)

The proposed changes would add Sunday service to all routes and would make some route modifications to accommodate construction of the Belmont Bridge replacement. That will shift the downtown circulation to High Street and Market Street, removing service from the Downtown Transit Center. 

There are major realignments proposed:

  •  Route 5 would travel all the way to the University of Virginia Hospital
  • Route 6 would no longer travel along Prospect Avenue to get to the hospital
  • Route 7 would no longer serve Stonefield, but would travel to Wal-Mart 
  • Route 8 would no longer travel downtown but would instead travel between Stonefield and 5th Street Station 
  • Route 9 would no longer serve the Greenbrier neighborhood or the UVA hospital. Instead It would travel to Fashion Square Mall and Seminole Shopping Center, via the YMCA in McIntire Park
  • Route 11 will serve the Center in Belvedere

The staff report states that public input will be required before the changes are made. If you are interested in transit issues and have not yet gotten involved, this is a good opportunity to do so. Public comment will be taken at the end of the meeting.

Anyone who wanted to follow up on this issue at a regional level may want to consider watching or participating in the Regional Transit Partnership meeting on Thursday. See below!

Ridership is down and an assumption baked into these proposed changes is that more frequent service along corridors will help correct what CAT Director Garland Williams has called a “death spiral” 

In other meetings:

  • The Albemarle Acquisition of Conservation Easement Committee meets at 5 p.m. The agenda includes reviews of recent activities as well as changes to the criteria for what purchases might be funded in the future. (meeting info)
  • The Cville Plans Together will hold a second webinar to explain the current draft of the Future Land Use Map and language in the draft Comprehensive Plan. I wrote a long explainer earlier this month and covered the first webinar in the May 17 newsletter. I’ll have another before this webinar which begins at 6 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Greene County Board of Supervisors meets in open session in person at 6:30 p.m. (meeting info)
  • Albemarle planning staff will hold a virtual information session on the Crozet Master Plan beginning at 7 p.m. (meeting info)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization  will meet at 4 p.m. The five-member panel is a federally-mandated group that consists of two Albemarle County Supervisors, two Charlottesville City Councilors, and the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District. (agenda)

“MPOs bring together local officials in a decision-making body responsible for planning the transportation network of an entire region,” reads an entry on the topic at the Center for the Study of Federalism.

On the agenda this time around is a review of potential projects for the next Smart Scale round, a review of an updated public participation plan, and support for a grant application Charlottesville is applying to complete the Meadow Creek Trail and Bridge Project. 

However, attendance at this meeting by City Councilors will be brief as they have a joint meeting with the School Board that begins at 4:30 p.m. 

This time around, the five elected general government officials will meet with the seven elected school officials to talk about the middle school reconfiguration project. Council approved a placeholder of $50 million for the project, which is being studied by the firm VMDO. There do not appear to be any advance materials available yet for the meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m. (meeting info)

In other meetings:

  • There will be a pop-up on the Crozet Master Plan at the Crozet Library beginning at 3 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The fourth and final Crozet Master Plan for the week will be held at Claudius Crozet Park beginning at 4:30 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Albemarle Broadband Authority has a regular meeting beginning at 5 p.m. (meeting info)
  • The Nelson County Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. in person. They will have two public hearings on two rezonings, a discussion of some zoning code revisions, and a discussion of the Comprehensive Plan. One of those public hearings is to rezone a property to which the Gladstone Depot would be moved in order for it to be a community center and transportation museum. (meeting packet)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership meets at 4 p.m. In addition to updates on how the area’s three transit agencies, their leaders will also discuss how they were affected by this month’s fuel shortages caused by the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline. (meeting info)

The Places29-Rio Community Advisory Committee meeting has been canceled. One day I do hope to provide the full agenda for one of these meetings in this newsletter. 

There is a final candidate forum for the Charlottesville City Council candidates before the June 8, 2021 Democratic primary. The Free Enterprise Forum and Town Crier Productions will hold a forum beginning at 7 p.m. I’ll have more details in this week’s newsletters and podcasts, as well as links back to the four previous events. (register)

Friday, May 28, 2021

There are no meetings that I am aware of at this time. Perhaps I missed some. Please let me know!

But, please let me know if you have any questions about any of this. I produce this material for everyone and seek to serve as someone who can provide context.

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.