Week Ahead for May 31, 2021: Albemarle PC to consider new hydroelectric generation on Hardware River; city tree panel to hear more on Ash crisis

A four-day work week for most begins Tuesday, a day after the observance of Memorial Day. But this is a fairly light week, which I think many of us welcome! This is a time of adjustment as COVID-19 restrictions are now lifted but things may not seem quite back to normal. But, what is normal, anyway? 

Thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their ongoing support of this weekly look into what’s coming up in local and regional government. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

While there are no meetings today, I would like to exercise my prerogative to wish my father, Joseph Thomas Tubbs, a happy 80th birthday. When I was young, my father started his own business. His success working on his own terms fueled my own independent streak. So, he’s to blame!

Born in Liverpool on this day in 1941, my father and my mother moved to North America in the 1960’s. I’ve grown up with one foot in England and one here in Virginia, where I’ve lived for most of my life. I feel blessed to have had the chance to hear his counsel as I try to turn this reporting endeavor into a sustainable business. So, happy birthday! 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Albemarle County Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. (meeting info)

There is a single item on the agenda. The owner of an old dam and mill on the Hardware River wants to build a new hydroelectric system capable of generating 20 kilowatts a day.

“The Jefferson Mill building was built around 1800 and is a brick structure supported by wooden beams,” reads the narrative. “The mill was a working mill until 1945.”

To get the use compliant with the county, the Board of Supervisors has to grant a special use permit. No additional water impoundment will occur with the project. A new reinforced concrete intake structure will be created. The narrative has a lot of details about the structure, and I encourage this to be forwarded to anyone with an interest in energy generation. 

I encourage anyone interest in aquatic life to also take a look. There are proposed mitigations upstream and downstream the dam to limit the impact of the existing and proposed use on eels, sea lampreys, and fish. Staff recommends approval in part because living conditions are expected to improve with construction of a ramp and a fish passage. If approved, the project would get under construction in August.

The existing building was constructed in 1800 

In other meetings:

  • The Albemarle Board of Equalization meets virtually at 2 p.m. for what appears to be an organizational meeting. In Virginia, Boards of Equalization hear appeals from property owners who feel their property assessments are not correct. (meeting info)
  • The Charlottesville Tree Commission meets virtually at 5 p.m. On the agenda is a presentation on wasps and the Emerald Ash Borer crisis. The invasive beetle is destroying ash trees across the east coast and there’s a long report in the packet. There will also be a report from the city arborist, including an action item trees on mall trees between Central Place and the Omni/Code buildings. (meeting info)

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

In late April, Albemarle County publicly debuted their new community engagement van with an event to open a little library at Darden Towe Park with a pamphlet on the Monacan people and their history. It was the first public event I had covered as a journalist in almost three years. (read that newsletter)

At 1 p.m. the Let’s Talk van will return to Darden Towe park for an outdoor hiring event being put on by Virginia Career Works. They’ll have at least four dozen employers on site to speak with people looking for work. Here’s the registration form if that description fits you or someone you know

Supervisor Diantha McKeel at the April 28 kick-off event of the Let’s Talk community engagement van

At 2:30 p.m., the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will meet virtually. (meeting info)

The meeting begins with a proclamation of LGBTQ Pride Month, followed by an official appropriation of funding for fiscal year 2022. Then there will be a review for a special exception for a homestay for a property right across from the Michie Tavern. 

“I firmly believe ‘Beauchamps’ will once again realize its lost glory,” reads the narrative for that application

Then there will be a report from the Shenandoah National Park followed by a quarterly report from the School Board. One item is a notification that the school system will debut a new virtual only school beginning on August 23. Families will have the option to remain virtual in the fall. 

“We want students to be excited about how and what they learn,” said superintendent Matt Haas in the written report. “When schools meet students at their individual interest and passion points, their academic performance becomes more purposeful and fulfilling.” 

The evening session features five public hearings. The first is an appropriation of funds for the current fiscal year. This includes over $3 million to the county’s Business Process Optimization Reserve, $600,000 to the Housing Fund, $600,000 for the Climate Action Reserve. Take a look at the rest of the details in the staff report

In the second, organizations seeking federal funding through the Community Development Block Grant will be asked to comment. 

“Over the years, Albemarle County has been successful in receiving a number of CDBG grant awards,” reads the staff report. “The most recent grant was awarded in 2016 to improve 29 owner-occupied homes in the Alberene neighborhood.  Prior grants have resulted in improved infrastructure for the Oak Hill subdivision and preservation of owner-occupied homes and rental units located in neighborhoods throughout the County. 

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville is working with the county on an application for $1 million to pay for some of the costs of the first phase of the Southwood redevelopment project. Any other requests are due by June 12.

The third public hearing regards changes to the zoning ordinance, including a change to the way deferrals are handled. That’s all in the staff report

The fourth public hearing is a request for a utility easement and temporary construction easement on Albemarle property for the 999 Rio Road East project. Supervisors approved a rezoning for the project to Neighborhood Model Development on March 4, 2020. (staff report)

The fifth public hearing is a request from the U.S. Army for a cable easement under Boulders Road that serves the National Ground Intelligence Center. The county currently holds the easement, but the U.S. government wants it. (staff report)

Two information items are on the consent agenda. The first is an economic outlook for the county dated May 10, 2021.

“The County’s economy in FY 21 has experienced a number of challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic but, in a general sense, the impact of the pandemic on Albemarle’s economic environment does not appear to have been as significant as was feared at the beginning of the fiscal year,” reads the report

There’s also an update on a project to extend the Old Mills Trail along the Rivanna River. There’s been some relevant news.

“Implementation of the Old Mills Trail Extension between Pantops and Milton will require the acquisition of easements across multiple properties,” reads the report. “This easement acquisition process is partially complete. The remaining properties where greenway easements must be obtained are now all owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello) following their recent acquisition of the last remaining privately-owned riverfront parcel in this planned greenway corridor.” 

The update on the Rivanna River Greenway is on the consent agenda

In other meetings: 

  • The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors meets at 4 p.m. for what appears to be a light agenda. (meeting info)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission meets at 7 p.m. and there’s a lot of note on the agenda. (agenda)

There are two presentations at the beginning of the meeting. One is on a federal transportation grant program called RAISE, which stands for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity. Long-term acronym aficionados may remember BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) or TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). It’s all the same program.

In FY2020, the TJPDC submitted a request for $710,000 in funding for a master plan for the 3.3 acre Union Station Site. This was not successful, so they’re trying again.

“TJPDC staff will submit a revised grant application for FY21/22 for no more than $800,000 for the creation of a master plan to address capacity, safety, and accessibility issues at Charlottesville Union Station and the surrounding site in a manner that meets the community’s expectations,” reads the resolution.

The second presentation is an update from interim executive director Christina Jacobs. Then they’ll vote on new officers, with Nelson County Supervisor Jesse Rutherford up to be the new Commission chair. There’s also a resolution to support issuance of a request for proposals for consultant services for a potential TJPDC role for the Virginia Eviction Reduction Pilot (VERP) being run by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

“VERP utilizes a coordinated systems approach to effectively prevent evictions,” reads a DHCD information letter for the program. “This includes creating a collective impact model where organizations that serve as a safety-net within the community collaborate to ensure households have early access to resources to stabilize their housing situations.”

Commissioners will be briefed on a new policy for their remote participation at meetings. There’s a scheduled closed session to deal with an “individual employee(s) discussion” followed by a notification of possible personnel actions to take place afterward.

In other meetings:

  • The Charlottesville Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets virtually at 5 p.m. Items on the agenda include a mobility needs assessment, bringing crosswalks up to Streets That Work standards, and implementation of reduced speed zones. On the latter point, legislation passed the Virginia General Assembly to allow localities to reduce the speed limit to 15 miles per hour in residential or business districts (HB1903). (meeting info)
  • Three committees of the Charlottesville Human Rights Commission meet over the course of the evening. They are the Community Engagement Committee, the Housing Committee, and the Legal Representation Committee. The latter meets at 6 p.m. and the others meet at 5 p.m. (meeting info)
  • Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee meets virtually at 5:30 p.m. There will be a conversation of John Lewis of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club on trails at Biscuit Run. (meeting info)

Friday, June 4, 2021

Albemarle’s Audit Committee meets virtually at 11 a.m. There’s no agenda posted. (meeting info)

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Speaking of the Old Mills Trail, there will be a community clean-up as part of National Trails Day. 

“Recycling Ambassadors from our Solid Waste Alternatives Advisory Committee (S.W.A.A.C.) will be on site to share valuable information about recycling and anti-litter awareness,” reads the bulletin. “Tim Padalino, our Chief of Parks Planning, will also be on site to share information about the County’s plans for the Rivanna Greenway, including a planned future extension of the Old Mills Trail downstream from Pantops.” 

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.