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May 29, 2007

Biscuit Run approved by Planning Commission

20070529huntercraigbiscuitrun On May 29, 2007, the Albemarle County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the Biscuit Run rezoning.  The public hearing featured the first appearance by developer Hunter Craig (photo at right), an audience of approximately 100 people, and thirty-two speakers who offered their comments on the 3,100 home development in Albemarle's Scottsville magisterial district.  Up until this meeting, Craig had kept a low profile granting only one interview related to the project and typically deferring to his attorney Steve Blaine to represent the project in public.

20070529biscuitrunIn the view of staff which recommended approval, and by the end of the five hour meeting, the Planning Commission, the developer of Biscuit Run had brought a lot to the table to entice Albemarle County to rezone 828 acres of land for the new development.  The Planning Commission looked very favorably upon the proffers for transportation, affordable housing, and public parks. 

20070529struckobiscuitrun Roughly half the speakers from the public expressed their support for Biscuit Run, with many citing improvements that had been made to address their concerns.  While several speakers asked that the project be rejected, most of the other half of the speakers came with outstanding questions and concerns that they asked be addressed before the project was given the County's approval.

The Biscuit Run rezoning will next be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors in a work session on July 11, 2007.  A public hearing before the Board has tentatively been scheduled for August 8, 2007.

Watch a video of the Commission's vote:

Brian Wheeler

Developer Frank Cox calls for local government leadership and rural area protection

Sustainablegrowth_3 What tools do communities in Virginia have for managing growth, and are they effective? A diverse panel of experts addressed these questions at a discussion held at the Senior Center on May 24, 2007. The event was moderated by Morris Sahr, a former chairman of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, who now lives in Charlottesville.

"Who are we really planning for?" asked Sahr to kick off the event. "Are we planning for those of us in the room tonight, or the generations to come? How can you make a decision as to how much you can accommodate with all of the facilities that have to be provided?"

Developer Frank Cox is the man behind County projects like Albemarle Place, the Granger property, and the proposed retail development at 5th and Avon. Reflecting on past decisions by the County Board of Supervisors to downzone rural Albemarle in the great rezoning of 1980, Cox said the evidence indicates that today's rural area zoning was not doing enough to limit growth.  When asked what he would do to protect Albemarle's rural countryside today, he initially said he would not downzone further, but later clarified that what was needed was leadership to implement the community's vision, as described in the comprehensive plan, which he thought would call for minimum lot sizes of 50 to 100 acres.  Minimum lot sizes today, which were established in 1980, are 21 acres.

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"Albemarle County has been intellectually dishonest with itself for the last fifty years," said Cox about the ability of the Board of Supervisors to implement a vision for protecting the rural area.  With respect to downzoning, Cox said, "I think we should have done it thirty years ago.  I am not sure that we have the overall political and governmental strength to do it [today]."

Cox didn't mince words when it came to describing his belief that local government was failing to implement its vision and make the necessary investments in public infrastructure.  His Albemarle Place project is currently stalled because of inadequate sewer capacity.

"I go back to the point that we need to implement a vision....My fear is that we don't have the leadership to hang on to, to describe, to carry out that vision, to inculcate it in not only us....We need to inculcate that vision into a new generation that is coming....In the rural area we are intellectually dishonest. If we want to go back to our comprehensive plan in the way it is described right now, and then translate it into a zoning ordinance that would bring about the actual precepts that are articulated for rural area growth, we would implement a zoning ordinance, a new zoning district for the rural area, that would have one unit per 50 acres, maybe one unit per 100 acres."

Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center told the crowd that the essence of planning is to shape the future. "But I don't think there can be any denying that the decisions we make have an immediate impact as well."

Jack Marshall, President of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, said his group is calling for the County to define an "optimal" population. He defined sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." He says the costs of growth can exceed the benefits, especially as the United States becomes a more populous nation.

"If we are morally committed to being stewards of our own community, then we recognize an obligation to identify an optimal sustainable size for a community," Marshall said. "Without doing that, we grow either by accident or at the whim of those who profit from growth."

Attorney Steven Blaine told the crowd that Albemarle should consider population when planning for the future, to avoid the high rate of growth that has occurred in communities such as Loudoun County. But, he says "smart growth" policies to direct development into key areas is failing in the county.

"Last year, there were 575 home starts in 2006, down from previous years," Blaine said. "But 46 percent of those house starts were in the rural area."  [Note: During the first quarter of 2007, only 17.5% of new homes are in the rural area]

The discussion continued on the effectiveness of "smart growth" tools such as Neighborhood Model, how to maintain the region's quality of life, and what lessons can be learned from counties to the north of Albemarle.

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

May 25, 2007

Authority raises water-sewer rates and considers cost of new development

20070524acsa1_2 On a day in which the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) voted to approve a rate increase, members of the board also discussed who should pay for upgrades to water and sewer lines in the County. In their meeting on May 24, 2007, the board also approved a non-binding preliminary agreement with the Biscuit Run developer regarding who would pay the bill for sewer upgrades to support the largest development in the County’s history.

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The ACSA purchases water and sewer capacity from the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), and then sells it to county residents on public utilities. If RWSA raises its rates, ACSA generally must pass these increases on to its customers.  The average single-family home consumers 4,800 gallons a month. The total bill will rise from $41.93 a month to $51.71.

At a public hearing before the vote, Glenmore resident Jim Colbaugh expressed concern that the increase was high, considering that proposed capital improvements by the RWSA are not fully reflected in the increase.

"I'm concerned with new development paying it's fair share," Colbaugh said. "I do believe because we're having such a big jump in cost for new capacity, some of that is for existing customers and some of it is for new customers. There ought to be a way to divvy up that expense."

The ACSA's newest board member, Lizbeth Palmer (Samuel Miller District), asked her colleagues if there was a way to do that by using system development fees . "Can we make sure that in some way, that the capital costs of these new developments are really covered?"

The RWSA has several major projects on the books to increase capacity. They include increasing the dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir to 112 feet, upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant at Observatory Hill, and the construction of a new pipeline between the South Fork Rivanna and Ragged Mountain reservoirs. Earlier this week, RWSA Director Tom Frederick set a "straw date" of 2021 for the construction of the pipeline.

In order to satisfy the community’s 50-year water supply plan, activists like John Martin of Free Union are concerned that's not soon enough. At Thursday's meeting, Martin told the board that the public needs action on these projects in order to satisfy projected growth figures.

ACSA Board Member Robert Larsen (White Hall District) expressed concern about the timing of the South Fork project. "2021 is an eye-opener for me. I hadn't heard that late [a date]. I appreciate that Mr. Martin has brought that to my attention."

This led to some discussion on the ACSA board about its role in the decision-making process about phasing and financing of major capital improvement projects.

The RWSA's board does not include an elected member of the Board of Supervisors, but Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker is a member. A joint meeting between the RWSA, the ACSA, the Supervisors, and City Council is planned for June to discuss capital projects, but no date has yet been set.

Palmer would like Fern to regularly update the Board of Supervisors. "I know that Gary is talking on a regular basis with the planning staff, but I think it would be a good idea to get something out in the public so that everybody can hear and see that we're working together keeping abreast of the water supply. There's just so much going on."

But ACSA Chair Donald Wagner (Rio District) said having Fern address the Supervisors would usurp the authority of Bob Tucker, who is a member of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority board. "If the Board of Supervisors wants to get a report from somebody, it seems to me that the Board of Supervisors should ask for that report rather than somebody go down and say they want to talk to them." Wagner has been on the board since 1984, and is a principal of Great Eastern Management, the developer of North Pointe.

But Palmer continued with her point. "It's appropriate for the Board of Supervisors to see the head of RWSA and the head of ACSA directly and get updated information in detail." She says the ACSA was set up to manage water and sewer issues, but that the current set-up prevents information from getting to the county's decision-makers. "They have a tendency to wall off water and sewer, and it's going to affect the citizens of this community dramatically over the next twenty years."

But Wagner said the proper place for that is for a ACSA board members to keep their individual supervisor informed. Each member of the Board of Supervisors nominates an appointee to the ACSA. "I don't feel it's appropriate for the Albemarle County Service Authority to tell the Board of Supervisors what they ought to be doing about these issues."

Palmer says her main goal is to reach the public. "I want to make sure the public is informed because there are so many changes taking place."

One of the biggest changes being considered by the County government is the future of the Biscuit Run property, just south of Charlottesville in the county's growth area. Wastewater generated at the new development would flow through the Biscuit Run Trunk Sewer, which discharges into the Moores Creek Interceptor before being treated at the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

On Thursday, the ACSA Board voted 3 to 1 in favor of approving a memorandum of understanding between the Authority and Forest Lodge LLC, Biscuit Run's developers. Under the non-binding preliminary agreements, Forest Lodge will provide improvements to the Biscuit Run Trunk Sewer once its usage surpasses 80% of the peak flow in the pipeline today. The ACSA originally designed and built the "trunk sewer" to handle a "peak flow" of nearly two million gallons of water per day.

When Biscuit Run is fully built, it will need a projected 2,211,250 gpd.  The developers have agreed to be responsible for the financing and design of capacity upgrades. Under the terms of the agreement, the ACSA will have the power to not allow new connections if it feels the capacity is not sufficient.  In addition, the Biscuit Run Trunk Sewer feeds into what is known as the Moores Creek Interceptor.  That sewer line is also expected to require upgrades.  The costs for that upgrade are not know at this time, however a second memorandum outlines the developer’s commitment to pay for an appropriate share of those upgrade costs based on the wastewater flows from Biscuit Run.

Parker was the sole vote against approving the agreements, and was skeptical about whether the agreements were powerful enough.  “I am wondering if we should be requiring money upfront to try to help with this infrastructure costs,” she said.

Steven Blaine, attorney for Forest Lodge, tried to allay Parker’s fears.   “It’s going to be like any other type of utility or infrastructure. If it’s not there and you wish to expand or build, you have to see that it is built as a cost of doing business. The memorandum of understanding puts the developer, owners and the public on notice that the developer will have to pay its fair share, whatever that may be.”

Sean Tubbs

May 24, 2007

Democrats hold candidates' forum at Buford Middle School

20070522citydems2
Candidate Jennifer McKeever (D)

The five candidates for three Democratic nominations for City Council held another in a series of candidate forums at Buford Middle School on May 22, 2007. The organizers of this forum decided to go with an informal approach, and opted to have the candidates and about thirty audience members gather around tables for an informal conversation. Topics covered a wide range of events, from affordable living choices to Council's role of in city schools. Leah Puryear of the Charlottesville City School Board served as the moderator.

Visit our Election Watch 2007 website for detailed information on the candidates, campaign finance reports, upcoming candidate forums, and related events. View all postings related to City elections.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070522-Democrat-Buford-Forum.mp3

Watch a video of the program:

Highlights from the forum related to growth and development issues:

Question: "How does each candidate feel about merging county and the city together?"

Linda Seaman: " think it's time for us to sit down with the county and start talking again, because we have a revenue sharing agreement that we've only ever executed half of it, that is the half that involves the county sending some money to the city every year. The other half of that agreement indicates that we should have continued talking about consolidating various services and moving forward towards merger. But after a while I guess it was easier to write a check then it was to talk."

Jennifer McKeever: "I believe that we have merged some services including social services and libraries and we have an agreement between the fire departments and those are the types of things that I'd like to see. I think we are two distinct entities and I would like to see the culture be distinct and continue to be distinct. We are a city. They are a county."

Holly Edwards: "The county and the city have been dating for a number of years and I believe one had been waiting for the other to pop the question. I think clearly there are wonderful things about the city and wonderful things about the county, that merging services and consolidating services would make sense because of the resources. I think as we continue the conversation that we find common ground in terms of the health and safety of both communities, people by and large believe that's important, so maybe its essential to begin that conversation  by thinking about what can we consolidate that would be beneficial to both. What I don't want to happen is that while we're dating we give birth to an idea that will cause a shot-gun wedding before we are ready to actually go the altar."

20070522citydems1 Satyendra Huja: "There are a number of area where we can cooperate in in services, in facilities. We can cooperate in the area of transit, we can cooperate in the area of affordable housing. There are a number of areas in which we should be talking about, for example, policing in urban areas, there's no reason why we can't cooperate there. There's a question possibility in the schools. Our school population is going down, there's is increasing."

David Brown: "I think we should increase cooperation, but I'm skeptical of consolidation. I think there are so many examples of things we've chosen to prioritize that the country has not. An example would be curbside recycling. I think we all benefit and we appreciate that we can recycle at the curbside. The county doesn't. So if we consolidate, how does that all play out?"

Question: Two audience members asked two follow-up questions which are paraphrased: City and county residents both use each parks services in the other jurisdiction. How can we make sure the county is paying their fair share? What about children who frequently move back and forth between the school systems during their educational career?

Linda Seaman: "I think there's an opportunity coming later this month when the Y sits down with the city. The county's already put some money behind that. Maybe that's a door opening for us to talk about other ways that we can collaborate between the city and the county and a private entity."

Jennifer McKeever: "The parks and rec department in Charlottesville is very distinct. It has a lot of indoor facilities, a lot of programming for youth. I want the parks and rec place to be a place for our city students, and I'd love to see more programming going into it. I am more concerned with bringing our parks up to a high standard, and not as concerned with merging our facilities."

Holly Edwards: "[Charlottesville parks] have been part of the neighborhoods for so long... and I can't think of very many programs that we have that truly embraced every child, within every pocket of the community in that way. And I like to believe that we'll be able to continue that same kind of culture.

Satyendra Huja: "Recreational and athletic programs I think we can cooperate with the county more. Maybe of the people using our parks and rec facilities are from the county, and not from the city. If that's the case, I want them to share some of the cost of that with the city."

David Brown: "Another difference between the city and county does come in some of our recreational programs. An example is basketball. The city parks and rec department runs the basketball program. It's available at nominal cost to city children. On the other hand, the county doesn't have a program for basketball, the Y runs the basketball, and it's much more pricey. At the same time, when you look at it in terms of green space, the county parks are an asset to the city, and the city trails and parks are an asset to county residents, so to some degree a lot of this should be kind of seamless."

Question: "Right now, housing is unstable for the same children we're trying to help. What do you think you can do in a market-driven arena to create affordable workforce housing in significant numbers?"

Linda Seaman: "I think there's a tremendous need for workforce housing. I think the answer may be increasing density in the city, and it will most likely not be single detached housing. That said, we don't have a great deal of land on which to build that, so we'll have to increase density. We need to regionalize the housing issue."

Jennifer McKeever: "U.Va and the county are not necessarily good neighbors with respect to the very lowest income housing. As much as we can get out city employees to be able to the city, I'm for."

Holly Edwards: "I'm really curious as to what the affordable housing task force has decided because I really think those decisions need to come from the outside in. We could explore how the services that we can provide families can empower them to be in a place where they can buy a house. Helping people with their credit, helping people learn how to save their money."

Satyendra Huja: "We just built about thirty homes in the 10th and Page neighborhood. 10 of those were sold on the open market, and the profit from those ten plus some funds from the city and county were put into the other 20 houses to make affordable houses. It cost about $40,000 per unit to make affordable housing. So, I don't know if it's the best uses of money, but it's one way of dealing with it."

David Brown: "We're losing the stock of affordable rental housing in the city, and that's one thing we need to replenish. We will get moving on creating a joint U.Va-City-County task force. Hopefully the county will embrace this idea, but the reality is that the county so far does not provide any low-income housing."


HIGHLIGHTS  (times correspond with audio in the above podcast)

  • 00:00 - Introduction
  • 02:31 - Question: "How do you feel about merging county and the city together?"
  • 8:51 - Two audience members asked two follow-up questions which are paraphrased: City and county residents both use each parks services in the other jurisdiction. How can we make sure the county is paying their fair share? What about children who frequently move back and forth between the school systems during their educational career?
  • 23:30 - Question about why the city is holding payments to the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority.
    Only Mayor Brown directly answered the question.
  • 28:00 - Question: "I'm concerned as an administrator in the criminal justice field about the level of violence in our school systems. What are the candidates' thoughts on this subject? Would you support single-sex education or school uniforms as possible solutions?"
  • 47:00 - Question: "What do you see as the role of Council in addressing alcoholism and drug abuse in the city's school system?"
  • 58:50 - Question: "What role as city councilors would you have in recruiting and retaining highly-qualified and effective teachers who can help all children learn?"
  • 1:07:40 - Question: "Right now, housing is unstable for the same children we're trying to help. What do you think you can do in a market-driven arena to create affordable workforce housing in significant numbers?"

Sean Tubbs

May 23, 2007

Developers, environmentalists, and government officials journey to Chapel Hill

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow

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How far will the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) go to ensure good ideas get on the table for new developments in Albemarle County? Today they went to Chapel Hill, NC.  PEC board member Tony Vanderwarker filled a Cessna Citation III jet with a Charlottesville-Albemarle delegation eager to learn about neighborhood model developments in Chapel Hill that successfully integrate public transit.  The objective was to bring home good ideas for Biscuit Run and other area developments.

20070522ch1 The passengers included Mr. Vanderwarker, Biscuit Run developer Hunter Craig, Albemarle County Supervisors Lindsay Dorrier and Sally Thomas, City Planning Commissioner Michael Osteen, PEC Field Officer Jeff Werner, and Susan Payne with Payne Ross (the public relations firm representing Biscuit Run).  Charlottesville Tomorrow was invited to report on the trip (In the interests of full disclosure, Mr. Vanderwarker is also on the Board of Directors of Charlottesville Tomorrow). 

Located two miles outside of Chapel Hill, the Meadowmont neighborhood has a lot of the features on Albemarle County’s wish list for new developments.  Street trees, bus stops, sidewalks, town centers, mixed uses, and a variety of housing types.  A former dairy farm, Meadowmont has about 1,050 homes on 435 acres with 200,000 sq.ft. of commercial/office space.  It took ten years to get approved and was built between 2000 and 2007.  By comparison, Biscuit Run is proposed to have 3,100 homes on 828 acres with 150,000 sq.ft. of commercial/office space.

20070522ch2
(L to R) Lindsay Dorrier, Sally Thomas, Hunter Craig, Tony Vanderwarker, Jeff Werner (hand visible with map), and Michael Osteen

During the 30 minute flight from Charlottesville, Michael Osteen commented on his priorities.  “Transportation is one thing that needs to be solved on a regional basis.  We need the County, UVA, and the City all on the same page.”

City Planning Commissioners like Osteen have recently received a lot of feedback about transportation, particularly since Biscuit Run took the public stage.  An architect who also serves on the City’s Board of Architectural Review, he admits transportation wasn’t originally at the top of his policy agenda.  That changed when Osteen was recently appointed to the City’s Street Car Task Force.  Now he is giving a lot more thought to how the University and downtown Charlottesville are connected.

Meeting the group at the Raleigh-Durham airport was Meadowmont resident and realtor Phil Patterson.  Patterson, a friend of Susan and L.F. Payne from when he worked with the couple developing Wintergreen, spent sixteen years in Charlottesville and was quite adept at comparing the various aspects of the community to things familiar to the group back home in Virginia.  Other experts there to offer advice included former Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf (1995-2001) and resident Gail Ross and her dog Madison.

On the drive from the airport to Meadowmont, Tony Vanderwarker outlined his group’s interest in working with Hunter Craig to achieve quality growth in Albemarle.  “In recent years, [the PEC has] been becoming aware that to fulfill the county’s comprehensive plans, growth areas have to be thoughtfully planned out in order to absorb population that would otherwise go to the rural areas.”  With respect to the Biscuit Run development, Vanderwarker said, “Hunter engaged us a couple months ago and asked for our point of view and perspective. We have been talking ever since.”

20070522ch3 The first stop on the tour was a retirement community known as The Cedars integrated into Meadowmont.  Similar to Charlottesville’s Westminster Canterbury, it has a front yard more like the lawn at UVA adjoining a town center with a Harris Teeter within walking distance.  This was not Hunter Craig’s first visit to The Cedars and he says a similar facility will likely be a design element in Biscuit Run.

“This is a market we are going to target,” said Craig.  “Looking at the 55+ age group, they want efficient and attractive transit.”  The Cedars has shuttle buses which take residents to the town center and Chapel Hill.  As part of the Biscuit Run development, Craig has proffered up to $1 million in cash towards public transit operations.  Craig said he has already spoken to UVA’s Leonard Sandridge about making use of the University bus stops for shuttles coming out of Biscuit Run.  Until the University participates in an integrated transit system, Craig wants the decision makers in Albemarle to know he is serious about helping residents choose to leave their cars at home.  “This trip is about a regional discussion on transportation, and is not just about Biscuit Run,” said Craig.

20070522ch4
The group walks past several of the 30 affordable homes designed for Meadowmont.

While public transit was a focus of the visit to Meadowmont, the residents the group met said they did not actually use the bus system themselves very often, if at all.  Interestingly, the bus routes initially looped through the interior of the development until neighbors complained about the noise.  The transit service was pushed out and the bus stops moved to the spine roads.  Residents now have a 4-5 block walk to the nearest stop.  Chapel Hill Transit has been fare free since 2002 and the University of North Carolina contributes heavily to its operation.  Working in Chapel Hill’s favor is the fact it already has a unified town-university transit system.  UNC is also famous for having very little parking and a master plan that seeks to eliminate even more parking in favor of infill development accessed by transit. 

The fact that the Charlottesville Transit System (CTS) receives federal funding has been cited as an obstacle to integration with the University of Virginia.  Federal funds come with restrictions on the use of transit equipment.  Hunter Craig said our community should be able to overcome that challenge.  “I think we need to work together and get the laws changed if necessary,” said Craig.  The University of Virginia’s Director of Parking and Transportation, Rebecca White, says, “That would be fabulous.”  White was not on this trip, but reports a delegation from UVA is also heading to UNC on June 14th to talk with their colleagues about sustainability.  “We do not receive federal funds and my understanding is equipment purchased with federal money cannot be used for charter services,” said White. 

White said there are other universities that have worked around this problem by carving out fleets not supported by federal dollars.  UVA needs to have buses for parking lot shuttles, graduation, sporting events, and field trips.  According to White, last year CTS said it would no longer be able to allow its fleet to be used for UVA’s graduation because of the City’s interpretation of federal law.

20070522ch5
Meadowmont resident Gail Ross and her dog Madison with Albemarle County Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier.

Her curiosity piqued, resident Gail Ross observed the Charlottesville delegation walking through the Meadowmont Town Center and she introduced herself and her dog Madison to the group.  “I walk to Harris Teeter.  I walk to the wellness center,” said Ross.  “I live here because of the convenience of this lifestyle.”  Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier asked how she got her groceries from the store to her apartment.  Ross responded, “I don’t get a lot of groceries on each trip because I go by there all the time.” 

Rosemary Waldorf was mayor of Chapel Hill when the Meadowmont development was approved.  “This is a community that doesn’t take change easily,” said Waldorf.  “People went berserk when Meadowmont was submitted.”  Supervisor Sally Thomas asked how well the community worked now that it was fully built out.  “I have lived here three years, and it functions unbelievably well as a community,” said Waldorf.  “People who chose to live here like this lifestyle.  People try and support the retail here too.”

20070522ch6 A question raised about Biscuit Run is whether there is enough commercial and retail use being included in the development.  As a largely residential development in the current plans, Biscuit Run is anticipated to have a negative fiscal impact on Albemarle County.  More non-residential activity leads to increased tax revenues, fewer students in public schools, and more internal vehicle trips “captured” within the town center development.  “I am concerned Biscuit Run will be the bedroom community to the retail on 5th street,” said Thomas.  The 5th Street-Avon Center project, also under review in Albemarle, will add a large home improvement store and grocery store just North of Interstate 64.

20070522ch7 It appeared each member of the delegation saw something in Meadowmont that they liked and hoped could be brought to new developments back home.  Thomas said the best thing she saw all day was the full bike rack at the Rashkis Elementary School.  Students were taking advantage of the safe streets and trails to get to their neighborhood school.  Hunter Craig like the “rolled curbs” and driveways with grass median strips in the residential area.  He asked each Supervisor to consider the benefits of this curb system that allowed driveways to be placed anywhere along the roadway, which is built first, without the need for a curb cut later.  “I hate when we have to put in a driveway and a new curb with concrete that doesn’t match.”

Back in Charlottesville, the PEC’s Jeff Werner and Hunter Craig agreed that co-operation in Charlottesville-Albemarle can put our community ahead of Meadowmont and Chapel Hill.  “In many ways we are ahead of where they are.  There are some design elements we can take away for use in Biscuit Run,” said Craig.  “Our transit will be better.  We will have more bike lanes.”  Werner agreed on the potential to come out ahead of Meadowmont, but said, “We can’t answer all the questions by next Tuesday.”  Biscuit Run has its next public hearing before the Albemarle County Planning Commission on May 29th.

May 21, 2007

Water authority discusses budget and phasing of infrastructure upgrades

20070521rwsaOn May 21, 2007, the Board of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) held their monthly meeting and reviewed several items related to the FY 2008 budget and the community's 50-year water supply plan.  RWSA has two customers, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the City of Charlottesville.

FY2008 BUDGET

During the budget discussions, staff informed the Board that Dominion Virginia Power had passed along a rate increase of 12.9% for each of the next three years in its contract with RWSA.  Staff recommended against making adjustments in the proposed FY 2008 budget and that the Board keep a close eye on these expenses in the next fiscal year.  The operations impacted by the rate increase today have annual utility expenditures budgeted for $1.1 million.  The rate increase would add about $145,000 in additional costs during FY 2008.  The budget was approved unanimously.

WATER SUPPLY & IN-STREAM FLOWS

The Board heard recommendations from staff on the sequencing of infrastructure upgrades related to the 50-year water supply plan.  The plan calls for construction of a new larger dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, upgraded treatment facilities at Observatory Hill, the construction of a pipeline between Ragged Mountain and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, and the abandonment of a 100 year old pipeline running from Sugar Hollow to Ragged Mountain (this pipeline fills Ragged Mountain, but prevents some water from reaching the Moormans River).

The Board began with a report on the ongoing discussions between the authority and The Nature Conservancy about how in-stream flows could be improved below the Sugar Hollow Dam (Moormans River) and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070521-RWSA-Meeting.mp3

RWSA Executive Director, Tom Frederick, said, "We've got an opportunity to be number one, perhaps in the world in terms of coming up with a strategy for how to utilize a stream for both human needs and for nature's needs."  The goal is to have in-stream flows mimic their natural state (what existed before the reservoirs were built) while balancing the community's water supply needs, particularly during times of drought. According to the staff report, RWSA intends to leverage the expertise and ideas from The Nature Conservancy to "rewrite 'the book' on how releases from reservoirs throughout Virginia and the nation are regulated in the future."  The Board authorized Mr. Frederick to move forward with the stream flow proposals.

Next, the Board was introduced to the specifics of the phasing proposal for the $130 million 50-year water supply plan.  The key recommendation is to start by building the new 112' Ragged Mountain Dam all at once (below the existing dam and 45' higher).  Building the dam in multiple phases would generate $3 million in additional costs.

The proposal given to the Board for consideration was as follows:

  • By 2011, build the new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir all at once ($37 million)
  • By 2015, upgrade water treatment facilities at Observatory Hill
  • By 2021, build a new pipeline between Ragged Mountain and the South Fork reservoirs ($52 million)

The RWSA Board asked Mr. Frederick to schedule a public hearing during Summer 2007 so that they could finalize a phasing and financing plan at their August 2007 meeting.

Brian Wheeler

May 19, 2007

Democrats participate in another City Council Candidate Forum

On May 19, 2007, the five candidates seeking Democratic nominations for three seats on Charlottesville City Council held another in a series of forums at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging. Over sixty people attended the event, which was hosted by the Charlottesville and Albemarle Democrats as part of their monthly breakfast meeting. Columnist Bob Gibson of the Charlottesville Daily Progress served as moderator for the forum.

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(L to R) Bob Gibson (Daily Progress), Jennifer McKeever, Holly Edwards, Linda Seaman, David Brown, and Satyendra Huja

Visit our Election Watch 2007 website for detailed information on the candidates, campaign finance reports, upcoming candidate forums, and related events. View all postings related to City elections.

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The candidates did not give opening and closing statements. Instead, Bob Gibson presided over a series of ten questions, many of which touched on growth and development issues. The following are some of the questions as well as selected responses from the candidates.

Question 1: “Is Charlottesville one community with Albemarle County? Should the county and city explore a possible merger?”

20070519mckeever Jennifer McKeever: “I believe that we can look to merging different things, for example the social services works very well, the fire department, the library works well. I'm not opposed to studying those issues, I just don't want to see reversion or merger necessarily because we are two distinct localities.”

Holly Edwards: “Consolidation does bring out a better use of resources, but the reality is before you get married, all those pre-marital counseling sessions are for a reason.”

Linda Seaman: “The city and the county have a revenue sharing agreement. We finished the first part. In other words, the city gets a check from the county each year. We haven't finished the second part which was to further discuss ways of consolidating services.”

David Brown
: “There are a number of areas where the city and county are showing an ability to cooperate. The idea of moving towards a regional transit authority and figuring out ways of investing and sharing resources to make transit improve in Charlottesville is a great idea. We should look for opportunities to work together.”

20070519huja Satyendra Huja: “There are many areas where we can cooperate and consolidate and have economies of scale. Transit, we can't solve the affordable housing problem only in the city. For that to happen, we need to meet together on a more regular basis, more of a team basis, instead of just meeting on a crisis basis.”

Question 2: “Should the city look specifically at the consolidation of police, fire and rescue services?”

Satyendra Huja: “Yes, I think we should do that.”

David Brown: “We just had a study look at the possibility of merging the fire departments, and it didn't come back thinking there were reasons to do that. On the rescue squad issue, I think the city has tried to move a little too fast and we should work more closely with the county to identify what are the performance issues and what are the best strategies for improving them as a region.”

Linda Seaman: “I would like us to very seriously look at the consolidation of police and fire, and also bring the University into that conversation. As the county urbanizes around the ring of the city, I think they are finding a lot of the services the city provides, they're going to have to provide too.

20070519edwards Holly Edwards: “One aspect that would perpetuate the idea of consolidation is having both the county and city agree on what common ground is, and clearly health and safety is common ground for everyone. So, to explore the police, the fire and rescue squad would be a good way to start.”

Jennifer McKeever: “I would want to research that subject more before I commented further.”

Question 6: “Given several legal and community questions about the viability of the Meadowcreek Parkway, would you support transferring money from the Meadowcreek Parkway to other transportation projects?”

Jennifer McKeever: “I would like to see that money right now put into city coffers for transportation initiatives. The Parkway is an idea whose time has past.”

Holly Edwards: “Some of the issues will come to rest by the fall. I'm hoping some of the questions we've been asking over the years will finally come to resolution.”

20070519seaman Linda Seaman: “I favor our building the parkway using the same requirements City Council put on in 1999, and that it be built to certain specifications. We also have an opportunity to develop it as a multi-modal transportation corridor, having it as an HOV road during peak transportation times.”

David Brown: “I've supported the Meadowcreek Parkway in line with the 1999 agreement. I don't think it's a yes or no question. The key ingredient for regional transportation will be an Eastern Connector. There's no doubt that if everyone who wants to go from Pantops to 29 North has to come through the city, we're always going to have a big problem."

Satyendra Huja: “I support the Meadowcreek Parkway because I believe it's a road that will provide good access to downtown as long as it is designed in a quality manner so that it's a parkway, not an expressway.”

Question 8: “What is your position on the possibility of converting the Charlottesville Transit Service to a “fare free” system?”

Jennifer McKeever: “I support that proposal, but we have to make them convenient and desirable alternatives to driving.”

Holly Edwards: “I'd be interested in learning more about the details in concert with finding out more about which places in the community have higher bus usage than others to see where a free bus service would be most useful.”

Linda Seaman: “The MPO which is looking into the idea of a regional transit district needs to move that along as quickly as possible. We need to expand the bus service not only within the city, but also out into the county.”

20070519brown David Brown: “The cost of the bus didn't seem to me to be the determining factor on whether people chose to use the bus or not. If going to a fare free bus system does significantly boost ridership, then we should look into that. More important is that it has to be dependable.”

Satyendra Huja: “We've talked about this idea before, I support it, but more than that, buses have to be every fifteen minutes, dependable.”


HIGHLIGHTS  (times correspond with audio in the above podcast)

  • 02:00 – Question 1: “Is Charlottesville one community with Albemarle County? Should the county and city explore a possible merger?”
  • 6:40 – Question 2: “Should the city look specifically at the consolidation of fire and rescue services?”
  • 9:30 – Question 3: “How do you feel about projects such as 'Art In Place' during a time when people have a hard time finding an affordable place to live?”
  • 14:30 – Question 4: “I have in mind that there are three school systems in the region. City, county and private schools. Do you feel we should have a 'school czar' to deal with these three entities, and do you feel that the size of the school systems have anything to do with the quality of education?”
  • 21:30 - Question 5: “Housing in the area is often referred to a crisis. I want to know when it will be dealt with as a crisis. IMPACT has talked to a lot of people who say there is a lack of cooperation between the city, the county and the University. What are your positions on a joint task force to address the issue?”
  • 32:00 – Question 6: “Given several legal and community questions about the viability of the Meadowcreek Parkway, would you support transferring money from the Meadowcreek Parkway to other transportation projects?”
  • 37:44 – Question 7: “Where are all the cars going to be parked when they come to downtown Charlottesville?”
  • 42:30 – Question 8: “What is your position on the possibility of converting the Charlottesville Transit Service to a 'fare free' system?”
  • 50:45 – Question 9: “What do you see in Charlottesville that you champion that is a success story?”
  • 57:20 – Question 10: “Are there any other transportation solutions besides buses, roads, and more individuals in private cars”

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

May 18, 2007

MPO Policy Board indicates desire for CTS to go “fare-free”

20070516mpo
MPO Board receives public comment during meeting on May 16, 2007

A fare free system for the Charlottesville Transit Service took one small step towards becoming a reality during a recent meeting of the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Members unanimously passed an informal resolution to direct consultants working on the creation of a regional transit authority to "look hard" at the option. That study is being undertaken by the firm VHB.

Kellem Emanuele, the MPO’s Transportation Program Coordinator, delivered a report (.PDF) that examined other communities' transitions from paid to free systems and weighed financial and other impacts.

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"If you reduce the fare, you see an increase in ridership," Emanuele told the board, citing a 1994 report from the Washington State Transportation Commission. In some cases, the increase can be as much as thirty percent. "But the caution [the researchers] give is that before you entertain that, you define what your goals are in reducing the fare."

For instance, increased ridership does not necessarily mean a corresponding decrease in congestion or single occupancy vehicles on the roads. Research shows that people who have other transportation options have answers they want answered before they'll consider taking public transit. How on time is the service? Where do the routes go? How clean are the vehicles?

And, transit planners would also need to consider the kind of rider that a free fare system would attract. When Austin went fare free, buses were filled with school truants and drunks.

"What happened was their loyal riders were driven away because the experience was less pleasant," said Emanuele. But, she said fare free experiments usually work best in small to medium-sized communities where it's easier to keep the peace. MPO members discounted this notion, and said it was unlikely to be a problem in Charlottesville.

Bill Watterson, Director of the Charlottesville Transit Service, said he is not opposed to making the system fare-free, as long as the revenue could be made up elsewhere.

"We are getting ten percent of our cost covered, though, and ten percent is not ninety percent, but if ten percent goes away, we have to figure out a way to get that ten percent or we'll have to cut service by ten percent."

Watterson also said the experiment of offering free rides to University students and employees is paying off. An additional six hundred riders used CTS during April, a 6.6 percent increase. CTS will be fare-free until the end of the fiscal year, and an extension will be considered depending on the CTS budget for next year.

Albemarle Supervisor and MPO Policy Board Chair David Slutzky made a motion for the MPO board to go on record with a "statement of enthusiasm" to encourage consultants to keep it in mind as they design a proposed regional transit authority that would include the County. He also suggested a move to fare-free could complement the region's attempts to provide more affordable living choices. But, he cautioned eliminating fares would have to make financial sense.

"If the numbers don't crunch, they don't crunch, and we'll have good reason to continue charging fares."

Sean Tubbs

Peter Kleeman preparing a run for City Council as independent candidate

20070519kleeman City transportation activist Peter Kleeman is collecting petition signatures to get on the November 2007 ballot as an independent candidate for Charlottesville City Council.  Kleeman last ran for Council in 2000 on the "Democrats for Change" slate with Maurice Cox and Kevin Lynch, both of whom went on to win seats on Council.  According to former City Democratic Party Chairman Lloyd Snook, Kleeman "came within a whisker of getting nominated instead of [Meredith] Richards."

When asked today why he is considering a run for Council, Kleeman said, "I want to be more involved in the process.  As a citizen, it is very difficult to get the information I need from City staff and VDOT. As a result, it is hard to feel like I am participating as a fully involved citizen.  Part of the reason I am running is to see more opennesses for the public."

An area resident since 1981, Kleeman has been an independent transportation consultant since 1997 specializing in air quality, noise, and energy modeling and analysis relating to transportation activities. Before becoming a consultant, he worked for three years as an engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Kleeman is a long standing opponent of the Meadowcreek Parkway and has lobbied City and County government to consider alternatives and to conduct a broader review of the environmental issues related to the road project.  He is on the Board of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation (ACCT) and has spoken in favor of public transportation as an alternative to new road construction.  He is also a frequent defender of open government and public involvement policies before local government boards and commissions.

Kleeman expressed frustration that other candidates were not in the race, including Republicans.  "I am disappointed the Republicans have not brought forward a candidate," said Kleeman. "I think we would have a better discussion of the issues with more candidates in the race."  When asked why he was not seeking the Democratic party's nomination, Kleeman responded, "My feeling is the elections are more about issues and the community than the political party." 

"The party doesn't stand behind issues, they stand behind people.  We need to have a broader community discussion about the issues, and not just those perceived to be important to a subset of people in the party," said Kleeman.  While not yet an official candidate, Kleeman says he has collected 50 of the 125 signatures he needs to have before the June 12th filing deadline.  If he gets on the ballot, he will face at least three fellow Democrats vying for three seats on City Council.  The Democratic nominating caucus is being held June 2nd.

Brian Wheeler

Hat tip: Sean McCord

May 17, 2007

Council Candidates address Fry's Spring Neighborhood

On May 15, 2007, The Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association (FSNA) served as the host for the second in a series of forums featuring City Council candidates. There are three open seats and five candidates have declared. All of them are Democrats. The only incumbent in the race, Mayor David Brown, was not available to attend the forum which was moderated by FSNA President John Santoski.

20070515fsna_2

(L to R) Jennifer McKeever, Holly Edwards, John Santoski (FSNA), Linda Seaman, and Satyendra Huja

Visit our Election Watch 2007 website for detailed information on the candidates, campaign finance reports, upcoming candidate forums, and related events. View all postings related to City elections.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20070515-Fry-Spring-Candidates-Forum.mp3

Watch the video program:

The candidates began the event by giving a short opening statement, followed by responses to two questions submitted in advance by the Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association.  One of the major issues for Fry's Spring area residents is cut-through traffic from the County along Old Lynchburg Road, and residents wanted to know how prospective councilors would weigh neighborhood interests versus those of the City and County governments.

20070515hujaQuestion #1 with excerpts from the candidate’s responses:

Question #1: "What should be the priority for protection of the residential quality of City neighborhood in relation to development and other interests, would you work to establish a policy to protect the neighborhood residential interests, and how would Council assure that the policy is implemented by City staff?”

Satyendra Huja: "Neighborhoods are building blocks of any community, and I think if you don't have healthy neighborhoods, you don't have a healthy community..."

20070515mckeeverJennifer McKeever: "I think we should follow the plans that we create. We have this inordinate process, this strategic process, all of these processes in place, and they seem to kind of go away at some point in the decision-making process, in particular with special use permits."

Linda Seaman: "It's important for neighborhood associations to be involved in any kind of development planning process from the very very beginning." 

Holly Edwards: The city needs to place pressure on "UVA for predatory student development and the county for predatory building and an inability to follow through with previously outlined plans."

Question #2 with excerpts from the candidate’s responses:

20070515seamanQuestion #2: "How would you measure the negative impact on the quality of life in the City's residential neighborhoods, including the safety and comfort of their residents, rather than just using the levels of service measurement that measures only the convenience of drivers and their riders?"

Jennifer McKeever: "The way that I would measure negative impact specifically rates to my family time. How much time do I have to spend time at home or doing things with my family?"

Linda Seaman: "I think we may need to measure problems on a road in some different ways than they've been measured before, not by just volume."

20070515edwards Holly Edwards: "What I'd really like to do is develop a tool specific to the neighborhood based on how the residents define quality of life."

Satyendra Huja: "I would like to switch the question around, how would I like to see how happy the neighborhood is... find out what the neighborhood people feel, what they think needs to be improved, what would make it a nicer place to live."


HIGHLIGHTS WITH QUESTIONS ON GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT ISSUES (times correspond with audio in the above podcast)

  • 01:00 - 03:55 - John Santoski gives the highlights
  • 03:55 - Holly Edwards opening statement
  • 05:30 - Satyendra Huja's opening statement
  • 07:00 - Jennifer McKeever's opening statement
  • 08:50 - Linda Seaman's opening statement
  • 11:20 - Question #1 (see excerpts above)
  • 20:00 - Question #2 (see excerpts above)
  • 27:30 - Audience Question: "In your opinion, what functions of city government are not now being effectively managed? As a city council member, what would you do to [address] these shortcomings?"
  • 38:39 - Audience Question: "How do you ensure that city staff are responsive to the needs of City Council?"
  • 43:30 Audience Question: "Could you talk a little about your working style and the leadership you would bring to the City Council?"
  • 49:43- Audience question: "Please say some concrete ways in which you would reduce the budget? What would you be willing to eliminate?"
  • 58:40 - Audience question: "What will candidates do to get the county to address traffic that affect neighborhoods such as Fry's Spring?"
  • 1:10:00 - Audience question: A resident of the Johnson Village neighborhood asked the candidates to weigh in on the approval of the Cherry Hill development, which resulted in the clear-cutting of more than 30 acres off of Cherry Avenue.
  • 1:25:00 - Audience question: "The city has given up land for the Meadowcreek Parkway. The city council recently given up as much as 500 acres at the city owned Ragged Mountain Nature Area to increase the water supply for county growth. And some people feel they'll come for city land for the Eastern Connector? How do you feel about giving up city parkland or city public space to support county growth?"
  • 1:30:40 - Audience member asks a question about how candidates will deal with growth that may be caused by growth at the University of Virginia.
  • 1:36:33 - Moderator asks candidates to close by stating a promise they intend to keep if elected.

Sean Tubbs