Week Ahead for November 22, 2021: A slowdown for Thanksgiving, but Albemarle and Charlottesville both take up next year’s capital budget this week

The first major holiday of the season is upon us and this week is quite quiet accordingly. Still, there is business that will be conducted and this newsletter is a good source to know what is on the agendas of the handful of meetings ahead. There are no meetings scheduled in Fluvanna or Nelson counties this week. But both Albemarle and Charlottesville have important conversations about capital planning.

We are definitely in that time of the year when things seem to slow down as everyone’s personal business takes precedence over the work of the community. 

I give thanks to the many supporters who have kept me in the air on this leap of faith I took in the summer of 2020 to become an independent journalist and researcher. 

Thanks as always to the Piedmont Environment Council for their support of this research. We’re another week closer to their 50th anniversary.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Aura Solar seeking permit for 94 megawatt facility

The Louisa County Board of Supervisors will gather for a special called meeting. The open session begins at 6 p.m. in the Louisa County Public Meeting Room. There are 485 pages in the meeting packet. A large number of those pages relate to a wireless contract with Motorola. There’s also an informational packet from the Virginia Rural Center’s Virginia Rural Leadership Institute. 

Every county reports information to their elected legislative body differently. Once a month, Louisa administrator Christian Goodwin issues a full written report which covers a lot of county business with briefings from each department. I am particularly interested in how busy Community Development departments are across the area, and am always glad to see a detailed report. My hope is that Charlottesville will one day have this information readily available. 

An activity chart from the Louisa County Community Development (page 133) 

There are two public hearings in Louisa. In one, Aura Power Solar is seeking a conditional use permit for a 94 megawatt utility scale solar facility on 200 acres near the Town of Mineral. 

“Energy produced by the Project will connect to the Dominion Energy electric grid via a 230 kV electric transmission line that crosses the property,” reads the staff report. “Estimated construction and operations could begin in 2023.”

This project would be adjacent to a 244 megawatt facility on a 1,369 acre site. The staff report said this project is being driven by the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 which calls for Virginia to be at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The land is currently a commercial timber farm which was harvested in 2020 and replanted soon after. The applicant states that the seedlings will provide a screening buffer as they mature. 

“The applicant believes the County could receive up to $6,580,000 in tax revenue over the 50-year life of the project, or $131,600 per year,” the staff report continues. 

In the second public hearing, Supervisors will consider restrictions on truck traffic on Chopping Road (Route 623) and Davis Highway (Route 22, Route 208). 

A map depicting approved utility-scale solar installations in Louisa County 

In the other meeting:

The November meeting of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners will be held virtually beginning at 6 p.m. The only items on the agenda are various updates. (agenda) (Zoom link) (Deputy Director’s report)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Budget season 

We are at the beginning of budget season, a season that seems to extend in length each and every year as more and more demands are placed on local governments to provide services. 

An advisory committee reviewing Albemarle’s capital improvement program budget will meet virtually at 2 p.m. There is no agenda available but between now and then I hope to have a preview based on last week’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors’ meetings. Look for that on Monday. (meeting info)

The Charlottesville Planning Commission will take up the city’s Capital Improvement Program at a virtual work session beginning at 5 p.m. Earlier this year, Council adopted a five-year CIP budget totaling $158.6 million, a sharp increase over previous years. That action only authorizes spending for the current fiscal year (FY22) but the higher amount indicates general support to raise $75 million through the sale of bonds to cover the cost of renovations at Buford Middle School to accommodate sixth-graders. Future Councils will have to decide eventually whether to raise the property tax rate to bring in additional revenue, or pursue other means. 

“Real estate property taxes will need to be increased by as much as $0.10 cents beginning in FY25 to cover the additional debt service required to fund this CIP,” reads the presentation. “This would be in addition to the potential tax increase (up to an additional $0.05) that may be needed to fund School operational increases that have been funded by one-time federal funds.” 

FY25 begins on July 1, 2024.

The Planning Commission will get the first look at a draft capital budget for FY23.  The document shows $2.5 million in funding for school reconfiguration next year, anticipating $72.5 million in FY24. That would appear to delay the decision on raising the tax rate for schools until at least FY24. 

Review the draft CIP in the meeting packet for Tuesday’s meeting

Here are some of the highlights of what’s in the draft CIP.

  • $1.2 million in additional funding to cover cost increases of the already approved Bypass Fire Station.
  • The transportation category has been reduced by $5.6 million because funding for a new parking structure at East Market and East High has been reassigned to the school reconfiguration project. The proposal also would see $638,000 designated for structural repairs at the city-owned Market Street Garage. 
  • The parks and recreation category now includes $150,000 for a comprehensive plan for the city’s parks system, $50,000 to assist with removal of dead Ash trees, and $350,000 for drainage issues at McIntire Park. An additional $26,500 could go to remove dead Ash trees at Darden-Towe Park, which the city co-owns with Albemarle County. 
  • The CIP continues to anticipate $2.5 million for Friendship Court redevelopment, $3 million to CRHA for public housing redevelopment, and $900,000 for supplemental housing choice vouchers. 
  • There are no future city funds anticipated for the West Main Streetscape. Council indicated in September they would support reprogramming previously approved funds to the school reconfiguration project. VDOT has not been formally informed of this decision.  (Charlottesville City Council chooses school reconfiguration over West Main streetscape, September 16, 2021)
  • $50,000 would be spent to update the city’s Historic District and Entrance Corridor Guidelines. 
What’s not funded

There are nearly $100 million in other project requests that are not included in the draft capital budget. This includes $35.6 million in city money for the West Main Streetscape, $15 million for land acquisition, and $3.5 million in improvements that would implement a master plan for Tonsler Park 

Piedmont Housing Alliance requested $1.98 million to provide gap funding for a proposal to build units at the MACAA site and another $1.95 million for gap funding for affordable units they seek to build at Park Street Christian Church as well as the Hinton Avenue United Methodist Church Apartments. These were not funded in the draft. Virginia Supportive Housing sought $500,000 for a housing project but this was also not funded. 

Several line-items for general categories for city projects were also not funded. These requests were $400,000 for bicycle infrastructure, $400,000 for a lump sum for the Parks and Recreation Department, $125,000 for parkland acquisition, and $230,512 for make city sidewalks and curbs compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Remember the Strategic Investment Area? A $100,000 request for implementation of that small area plan was also not funded. 

Charlottesville Area Transit requested $145,685 for funding in FY24 to purchase land in northern Albemarle County along U.S. 29 for a park-and-ride hub lot. According to the list, that amount would be a match to obtain $36 million in federal and state funding. 

Another item not funded through city funds is $2.8 million for a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue. Southern Development has offered to loan the city $2.9 million so that project can proceed to support their rezoning request for 170 units on 12 acres of undeveloped land. This is an innovative approach and it will be interesting to see how that is reflected in future capital budgets, including this one. 

Previous coverage:

In other meetings: 

  • The Albemarle County Conservation Easement Authority meets virtually at 5 p.m. (meeting info)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Albemarle Broadband Authority meeting will be held virtually at 5 p.m. One of the items of discussion will be how the recently adopted and signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act might affect efforts toward universal broadband. Read the November 16, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement to learn more about what’s in the act. (meeting info)

The Greene County Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. but I suspect that meeting will be canceled. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

How will you spend Thanksgiving? I will be spending time with friends and look forward to gathering with people. It’s easy to forget that last year the pandemic was raging and many of us were much more isolated. I’m grateful that this year I can make plans. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

What do you do the day after Thanksgiving? I plan to get right back to work to help you pay attention to what’s happening in local and regional government.

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.