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April 30, 2007

Local campaign finance data online

Vpap2 Today the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) is publishing its first campaign finance data for the 2007 local elections in Charlottesville and Albemarle.  This is the first time donations to our local candidates have ever been available online.  The public can view contributors by name, occupation, and industry.

Charlottesville Tomorrow is proud to provide financial support to VPAP's local elections initiative.

View campaign contributions for:

The data in the VPAP database will be updated throughout 2007.  Data is currently available for all candidates who filed campaign finance reports on April 16, 2007.  Candidates will submit their next reports on June 4, 2007.

"People have come to expect information to be available on-line, but unfortunately that has not been the case when it comes to finding out who is funding races for boards of supervisors and city council," said David Poole, VPAP's Executive Director. "We hope this project ushers in a new era of transparency across the length of the Commonwealth."

"While the amount of money in our local campaigns is not immense, Charlottesville Tomorrow is contributing to this project to ensure even more information about our candidates is available to the public," said Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow's Executive Director.  "Before VPAP's local elections initiative, the only way to get this information was by visiting the local registrar's office to see the paper filings.  At the state level, however, campaign finance information is submitted electronically.  Until that happens for local campaigns,  Charlottesville Tomorrow will support VPAP's work to make this information available to the community."

Charlottesville Tomorrow is a non-partisan organization that provides information on all candidates for the County Board of Supervisors and City Council.  Visit our Election Watch 2007 website for detailed information on the candidates, candidate forums, and related events.

Brian Wheeler

April 27, 2007

Public gives input on Water Street Design Competition

More than forty people attended the first public meeting of the Water Street Design Competition, an "open ideas" event to get bold thoughts on what to do with the downtown area's last remaining open space.  Input from the public will shape the competition’s search for entrants who may create designs for uses including commercial space, housing, parking, the City Market, and new parks.   

"This is exactly why we have this design center, to have an open forum for public input on projects in Charlottesville," said Jane Fisher, the new director of the Charlottesville Community Design Center. The CCDC won a contract from the City to conduct the competition, which is being funded with City dollars. They also handled the Sunrise Trailer Court competition, which received 164 entries from all over the world.

John Semmelhack, CCDC’s competition coordinator says the competition is open to anyone, professional or non-professional. While the winning entry will not necessarily be built, the finalists will receive a cash award. The exact guidelines for the competition will not be finalized until after a second public meeting in mid-May.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20070426-CCDC-Water-Street.mp3

Toposite_2 The area under the scope of the competition consists of the two blocks between the east-west corridors of South Street and Water street, and between the north-south corridors of 2nd Street SE and 2nd Street SW. The first block contains a city-owned parking lot with just over 100 spaces, a small private lot owned by Charlottesville Psychological Associates, and a building on the lot that is currently occupied by H.R. Block.

The second block is wholly owned by the Charlottesville Parking Corporation, which operates a 125 space parking lot.  Last year, media reports that CPC was considering selling the lot prompted community members to request City Council proactively develop a community vision for the area.

"It became very apparent that people have a lot of ownership over the city lot, and what's going to happen with it," said Tim Michel, a Realtor with McLean-Faulconer.

The city turned to the design competition approach out of a recognition that the community is highly vested in the outcomes of development of the spaces. "These are incredibly important blocks," says Aubrey Watts, the city's director of economic development.

Watts says the City Council is primarily concerned with two elements. What will happen with the City Market, and what will happen the parking spaces?

"The council has always felt that in taking a look at a solution to this, they did not want to jeopardize the ability of small businesses to have access to parking for their customers," said Watts. He added that council wants to see some fresh ideas.

"Everybody that's involved in this is really looking to try to say what can we do that would be a little different that would really make this an exciting part of downtown," Watts said.

Semmelhack says the CCDC hopes to get submissions from all over the world, and staff are preparing a multimedia package to help designers who are not familiar with Charlottesville appreciate the site's importance. The animation places the two lots in perspective, including the slopes involved between South and Water streets.

Ccdcbreakout_2 After viewing the animation, the forty or so attendees at the event broke into three focus groups, each of which was tasked with giving feedback on one of the three challenge questions.

First, entrants will need to design an urban mixed-use development that fits in with the context of Charlottesville’s downtown. That is, it will need to serve as a bridge between the pedestrian mall and the rapidly developing area south of the railroad tracks.

Second, the design must use green building principles, and should plan for both affordable and market rate housing.

And finally, entrants will be asked to create a plan that “actively engages the community life of the city.” In other words, the CCDC wants plans that factor in the fate of the City Market, provides places for pedestrians, while coming up with opportunities for public and private parking.

These questions lead to spirited discussions over the future of the whole downtown core, and not just the two blocks in the scope of the competition. The questions lead to other questions and possibilities, such as: how to add a north-south orientation to a downtown where east-west pedestrian access is the norm? Could the city lot become a park with underground parking? And, might the streets that currently end at the mall become a new home for the City Market, or possibly, multiple City Markets?

One of the concerns raised by attendees is over the market value of the private lots. For instance, What happens if CPC decides to sell the lot before the competition is over?

"All of the individual component owners know that they all are better off and gain by having a really coordinated design for the entire area," said Watts. But, he also said that he can't make any guarantees.

CCDC staff will now collate the feedback received at the meeting and use it to help shape the final entry guidelines and questions. A second public meeting will be held in mid-May, and the competition will open in early June. Entrants will have three months to create their submissions in time for an early September. A jury consisting of designers, architects, citizens and Realtors will then pick three finalists, which will be on display in October.

Sean Tubbs

Consultants recommend against consolidation of City-County fire-rescue services

At a press conference Friday morning, City and County leaders jointly released the City/County Fire Service Consolidation Study Report.  The report recommends against the consolidation of the fire and rescue services that cooperatively protect the residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle, but operate as separate agencies. The Matrix Consulting Group's report concluded consolidation "would result in additional costs rather than cost saving because of increased wage and benefit costs and an inability to reduce personnel needs through the consolidation of stations and functions."

In addition to reviewing the pros and cons of consolidation, the report outlines twenty-three additional recommendations to improve operations.  One of those recommendations is that the City operate a new ambulance.  The City's FY2008 budget was approved with a $1 million placeholder for the City to run its own ambulance service.  The City, and portions of the County, are currently served by the volunteer Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS). 

The consultant's report concludes:

"Although the report does not recommend consolidation there are a number of actions, described in the recommendations of the report, that the fire and EMS agencies can do, individually and collectively, to better coordinate their activities and ultimately improve services. We recommend that the fire and EMS agencies work systematically thorough the report to determine which recommendations will be acted upon and then develop an implementation schedule."

The costs of community infrastructure for fire-rescue services are expected to be important issues in the 2007 local elections and in the development of the FY 2009 budgets in both Charlottesville and Albemarle. 

Brian Wheeler

April 26, 2007

Woolen Mills residents appeal zoning decision on Timberlake-Branham house, seek protection of property

20070419timberlakebranham On April 19, 2007, the Charlottesville Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) reviewed a decision by the City's Zoning Administrator related to the historic, or protected status, of the Timberlake-Branham house and surrounding property located in Woolen Mills.  The Zoning Administrator found that three parcels around the home lost their protected status because of a technical mistake that was not caught at the time of the City's 2003 comprehensive rezoning.  Woolen Mills resident Bill Emory appealed the Zoning Administrator's February 2007 decision and the matter came before the Board.  At the end of a hour and a half discussion, with presentations by the City, and attorney's representing Mr. Emory and the property Owner, Preston Coiner, the BZA decided to a seek outside counsel and defer a decision until their May 17, 2007 meeting.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070419-Timberlake-Branham.mp3

Highlights of podcast:

01:30 -- Staff report by City Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead
06:25 -- Presentation by Attorney Erik Wilke (representing Bill Emory)
22:25 -- Presentation by Attorney Fred Payne (representing Preston Coiner) [See photo]
34:25 -- Comments by City Attorney Craig Brown (representing Read Brodhead)
46:00 -- Public comment begins
50:18 -- Comments by UVA Law professor Anne Coughlin - "Taking by Typo"
59:40 -- Comments by Preston Coiner
1:05:50 -- Board discussion

Other local media coverage of this issue:

The Daily Progress
The Daily Progress Editorial
The Hook, April 2007
The Hook, March 2007
WINA, Charlottesville Right Now - Brian Wheeler outlines the situation with Coy Barefoot

Brian Wheeler

April 25, 2007

Brown Announces Bid for City Council

David_brown_20070425 On a sunny Wednesday morning in front of the Charlottesville City Hall, Mayor David Brown announced he would seek a second term on City Council. That means there are now five announced candidates for three open seats. Mayor Brown is the only incumbent in the race for the Democratic nomination, which will be decided in June. City voters will go to the polls in November.

David Brown has operated a chiropractic practice in Charlottesville since 1982 who was first elected to the Council in 2004. He has served as mayor of the five-person council since then. Before government service, he was active in the governance of his profession, having served as president of the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards.

He says his tenure has been productive and he wants another shot at helping solve the challenges the region faces.

"I feel like we've gotten a lot of things done," says Brown, citing the passage of an affordable housing initiative and a stream protection ordinance. He also says transit has improved during his time on the council, and the east end of the Downtown Mall has been transformed. "Pedestrian and trail issues, bicycling issues have become more prominent."

Brown says there's a lot more work to be done, and he the city and county must continuing working together.

"Most of the issues we face are regional issues - growth, traffic, poverty, affordable housing. The solutions for these problems are also regional."

Brown cites the creation of a regional transportation authority, work on an eastern connecting road, and continued joint of the city and county planning commissions as examples of the kind of cooperation he'd like to see more of.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20070427-Brown.mp3

Watch the program on YouTube:

The City Council election is being held in November 2007 and local Democrats have scheduled a June 2nd nominating convention. See Charlottesville Tomorrow's Election Watch page for complete coverage of the City Council elections.

Sean Tubbs

April 20, 2007

Albemarle examines cost, benefits of green buildings

Albemarle County is one of several dozen jurisdictions around the country that are beginning to change policies to make way for green building practices such as the LEED certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was created by the U.S. Green Building Council to help measure the environmental impact of using such practices such as the use of recycled materials, and the use of better plumbing to eliminate the waste of water.

In December, the Albemarle County Planning Commission passed a resolution of intent to amend the comprehensive plan to encourage builders to adopt green techniques. County planner Sean Dougherty says the Board of Supervisors is generally supportive of green building practices, "as long as budgetary impacts are kept in check."  That resolution led to a February decision by the County Board of Supervisors to have its future public buildings be LEED certified.

20070320copcgreenLast March, the Commission heard from Jason Hartke, Manager of State and Local Advocacy at the U.S. Green Building Council. He told the commission LEED-certified buildings practices can reduce energy bills by up to thirty percent by reducing water use and preventing heat loss. In his presentation, Hartke addressed the costs of such benefits.

"We know that green buildings increase property value, they also decrease liability, but they also have a huge impact on health and well-being." He even says green buildings can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism by providing healthier places to work and learn. But, he told the commission the dollar value of such improvements are hard to quantify.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070230-CoPC-Green-Building.mp3

To become LEED-certified, builders must use materials that are more expensive. Architects and engineers must also spend more time integrating the building practices into their designs. He points to a 2003 study produced by Greg Katz of the firm Capital E which says green buildings cost an average of 2 percent more than traditional methods. Hartke says the extra spending will pay dividends, with savings up to twenty percent of the construction costs over the lifetime of the building.

"An initial upfront investment of up to $100,000 to incorporate green building features into a five million dollar project would result in one million dollars over the life of the building," Hartke told the commission, reading from the Katz report. The report also demonstrates that LEED-certified buildings use 30 percent less energy.

The idea is catching on. Hartke said the General Services Administration is now requiring its new buildings to be LEED certified. He says ten other federal agencies now have similar requirements.

"But it's really the local level where there's been a laboratory of innovation," Hartke said. "More than twenty jurisdictions have developed incentives for the private sector, in the form of tax credits, density bonuses, expedited permit reviews, and grant programs."

"When folks have a public ordinance in terms of requiring LEED they usually see a lot of savings," says Hartke. He says San Diego has recently begun an initiative to push development towards the LEED-Gold status.

Sean Tubbs

April 18, 2007

Usage survey of Downtown Mall vehicular crossings ends today

20070418mallsurvey RKK Engineering returned to the Charlottesville today to survey drivers making use of the Downtown Mall's two vehicular crossings.  One of the surveyors who works from RKK's Richmond office, Brian Revels, indicated this would be the last of four survey days as the firm collects data for their consulting report assessing the use of the 2nd Street West and 4th Street East crossings.  Previous surveys were conducted in August 2006, December 2006, and March 2007.

The image below shows the survey being administered by RKK.

20070418survey

Charlottesville City Council approved the 4th Street East crossing on a trial basis in April 2006. The data collected by RKK will be reviewed by City staff, the Planning Commission and City Council this Summer to determine if the trial crossing should remain and what wayfinding improvements might be made for drivers seeking parking.  Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the term "wayfinding" was coined by a Kevin Lynch, but not the Kevin Lynch who currently sits on Charlottesville City Council and was the lone vote against the second trial crossing.

I spoke to our Kevin Lynch today about the Mall crossing. He said, "I am skeptical of the report saying anything useful.  I think it is very difficult to make any objective measure of how it is working."  Lynch prefers other steps to make the Downtown Mall more visible to visitors, specifically improvements on the side streets with amenities like street lamps and banners.  There has been a recent proposal under review by the City to improve signage around the Mall and parking garages, but Lynch says he is opposed to what he has seen so far on the project and thinks the money can be better spent.

While he thinks the Mall crossing is a solution in search of a quantifiable problem, Kevin Lynch says, "if we are going to keep the crossing, it should be moved to Fifth Street and the direction of the 2nd Street crossing should be reversed."  Jim Tolbert, the head of City's Neighborhood Development Services, says 5th Street East would be the home of the permanent second crossing.  Lynch points out that reversing the crossings will get traffic moving with the natural flow of the neighboring streets, improve circulation around the Mall, and put the crossings in a location that will not lead to the creation of a "cross-town thoroughfare."

During their campaigns, Councilor Dave Norris indicated he would have voted against the new crossing and Councilor Julian Taliaferro indicated he would have supported the trial.  When the matter returns to City Council for the first time since their election, they will both get the opportunity to vote on whether the crossing should be made permanent.

According to Downtown Mall business leader Mary Loose DeViney, of Tuel Jewelers and current Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board, the business community has been very supportive of having two vehicular crossings.  "I am not hearing anyone opposed to this.  Our customers have said this is really nice." DeViney's store has been on Main Street since 1945.   

The Chamber of Commerce has argued that the second crossing is needed to replace the one that previously existed at the current location of the First Amendment Monument, before the pedestrian Mall was extended from 6th Street to the Pavilion.  In a May 24, 2005 letter to City Council, the Chamber leadership wrote, "Our Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the efforts of the Downtown Business Association and others for the City to expeditiously replace lost east end vehicular crossings of Main Street with a safe, accessible vehicular crossing in the east end of the Downtown Main Street Mall."  In 2007, the Downtown Business Association is conducting its own survey about the impact of the Mall crossing on area businesses.

In January 2006, the City Planning Commission voted 5-2 against a second vehicular crossing.  In February 2006, at the City Council public hearing, City Manager Gary O'Connell recommended against consideration of a new crossing until after the construction was completed on the Transit Center.  During public comment, speakers were divided on the issue with twelve indicating they favored the crossing and nine speaking against.  Those opposed to the crossing suggested a decision should be made only after construction on the east end of the Mall was completed and after improved parking signage was installed.  Other expressed concerns about safety of pedestrians on the Mall.  City Council approved a one-year trial and plans to revisit the decision this Summer.

Brian Wheeler

April 16, 2007

Sean Tubbs joins Charlottesville Tomorrow

I am pleased to announce that Sean Tubbs has joined the staff of Charlottesville Tomorrow as our first Program Officer.  Sean Tubbs is the founder of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network (CPN).  He joins Charlottesville Tomorrow after working as News Director at WNRN Public Radio and as a freelance reporter for WVTF Public Radio. 

Read the Media Release

Sean brings to our organization the combined talents of a professional journalist and a new media pioneer.  He is well known in the community for his work to make audio podcasts an essential source of local in-depth information and news.  Over the past two years, Charlottesville Tomorrow has used its website, e-mail alerts, podcasts, and blogs to provide information to the public about local growth and development issues.  With Sean's help on staff, I am looking forward to enhancing our coverage to make the information we share with our subscribers even more timely, comprehensive, and compelling.   

Click here to subscribe to Charlottesville Tomorrow's e-mail lists

Sean plans to maintain the Charlottesville Podcasting Network’s website as a home for feature audio stories on arts and entertainment and as a library of local radio interviews. A lot of Charlottesville Tomorrow’s stories are posted there as well as my weekly appearances with Coy Barefoot on WINA.  Sean’s volunteer efforts maintaining the CPN site and training people how to create their own podcasts are a phenomenal public service. 

You can reach Sean Tubbs at his new e-mail address as follows: stubbs @ cvilletomorrow.org

Brian Wheeler

April 13, 2007

Senior Statesmen discuss the challenges of growth and development

20070411ssv1

(L to R) Jack Marshall (ASAP), Jeff Werner (PEC), Neil Williamson (FEF)

On April 11, 2007, the Senior Statesmen of Virginia (SSV) held their monthly meeting at the Northside Library in Charlottesville, VA.  The three invited panelists, among the community's most familiar faces when it comes to discussions of local growth and development issues, shared their views on topics including land use, transportation, population growth, government regulation, and property rights. 

The panelists were:

Jack Marshall, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
Jeff Werner, Piedmont Environmental Council
Neil Williamson, Free Enterprise Forum

20070411ssv2

Before an audience of about forty people, each panelist made a presentation about the role of their organization and provided their assessment of the growth and development challenges facing local government and our community at-large.

President Don Wells, described the Senior Statesmen "as a vehicle for senior citizens to get together to learn about issues, to discuss them, but also to potentially take action... to influence the political process."

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070411-SSV-Growth.MP3

Audio pointers and representative quotes:

  • 00:08:30 -- Jack Marshall, ASAP
    • "A small but powerful group has been delighted with the relentlessly expanding local population.  For its members enjoy profits from land speculation and construction, or from an expanding market for whatever they sell."
    • "Although 'smart growth' is necessary, ASAP argues that it's not sufficient. Smart growth addresses where and how a community's population expands, but not whether it should expand. Over the long haul, smart growth merely accommodates growth. ASAP's approach goes beyond smart growth by contending that every community should try to identify its optimal population size, then work to reach and maintain a stationary size at that point."
    • "The only thing more radical than stopping growth is not stopping growth."
  • 00:21:35 -- Jeff Werner, PEC
    • "We support growth and development at a pace and in a pattern that is fiscally responsible and not a burden on taxpayers."
    • "In total, the current residential pipeline for the [County's] growth area and for the [City of Charlottesville] is now over 18,000 units.  This does not include the rural area...which is another 30,000 to 50,000 lots. That 18,000 units in the growth area and the City is enough for approximately 42,000 additional people.  In other words, while the development community argues that the growth area needs to be expanded, their own proposals clearly indicate that such an expansion may not be necessary for at least another generation."
  • 00:37:14 -- Neil Williamson, FEF
    • "As a purpose, [the Free Enterprise Forum] strive to provide balance to the public debate.  We feel that without such balance issues are often skewered by special interest groups which may not have a full understanding of the community ramifications for the solutions they propose."
    • "It is true that we would like to see more development in the development area.  That is clear. That's where the infrastructure should be placed.  It is also true that property rights are important."
    • "Right now the rural areas, for the past three or four years, probably the past seven years, have been at or above the [level] of development in the development areas.  I firmly believe that is due to government regulation making it difficult to develop in the development areas. This is something I see starting to change."
    • "Jack [Marshall] had mentioned, 'Are there limits to growth in our future.'  I think that is a very relevant question.  The other question is who should place those limits....Placing an arbitrary number [on population] is digging a moat around the County.  And who gets to man the bridge?"
    • "There are some in Albemarle County that want to place this population cap.  I find that elitist and it would be the equivalent of digging a moat."
  • 00:48:20 -- Q&A

Brian Wheeler


 

Edwards announces bid for City Council

20070412edwards Thursday afternoon at the Crescent Halls apartments, Democrat Holly Edwards announced her bid for a seat on the Charlottesville City Council.  She is the fourth announced candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for one of three seats on City Council this November.

Holly Edwards is a nurse and sixteen-year resident of the City.  She said her professional and volunteer experience in the community, working with residents one on one to connect them with resources and essential services, has prepared her to work at the next level setting policy as a City Councilor.  She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Public Housing Association of Residents.

Ms. Edwards intends to follow her motto, "Meeting people where they are," as she examines "the systemic issues that foster the struggle to find an affordable place to live."  Edwards also highlighted her interest in creating sustainable jobs and promoting the health and wellness of all citizens.

She was introduced by City Councilor Kendra Hamilton who is not running for re-election.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070412-Edwards.mp3

Watch the program on YouTube:

The City Council election is being held in November 2007 and local Democrats have scheduled a June 2nd nominating convention. See Charlottesville Tomorrow's Election Watch page for complete coverage of the City Council elections.

Holly Edwards' campaign website is available here: http://www.hollyforcville.org

Brian Wheeler