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November 30, 2007

Public sends Eastern Connector study back to the drawing board

20071129ec6
The dots on this easel-pad represent the preferences of attendees. The other three options received one or two dots each

Members of the public who attended a second information session on three proposed routes for the Eastern Connector overwhelmingly told the consultant to return to the drawing board to come up with other alternatives for the region’s problems with traffic congestion. The overwhelming majority of attendees who voted for an option selected the no-build alternative, which includes widening Route 250 to six lanes through the Pantops area.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20071129-EC-Public.MP3

Over seventy-five people attended the event, which featured a presentation from Lewis Grimm of PBS&J as well as a series of break-out sessions designed to give feedback on the three routes. During his presentation, Grimm wanted to make sure the audience knew that the concepts on display are preliminary.

“We’re not talking about getting ready to go to build anything next Tuesday,” he told the crowd. “We’re still in the mode of looking for as much input as we can possibly obtain, because it’s you the community that really needs to support whatever recommendations are done.”

The scope and purpose of the study, which uses the traffic forecast model prepared by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in its UnJAM 2025 plan, is to develop a series of alternatives for a potential  new connection east of Route 20 and US 29 somewhere between Rio Road and Proffit Road.  Grimm told the audience that the study assumes that the population of the area is going to grow substantially in the next few decades.

“Between the year 2000 and the 2030, the projections are for about a 40 percent increase just in population,  and that’s going to generate a significant increase in [traffic] demand  in this particular region,” Grimm said.

Alternative zero assumes that other projects listed in the UnJAM 2025 get built, including the Meadowcreek Parkway, and Hillsdale Drive Extended. UnJAM also assumes improvements will be made at the intersection of U.S. 29 and the Route 250 Bypass.

20071129ec1
Lewis Grimm addresses the crowd

But Grimm said there are no projects in the UnJAM plan to address how to get from the Pantops area to US 29.  As a result, roads in the area are expected to have failing levels of service during peak travel times.  Grimm added that the kind of road being proposed as an Eastern Connector is a two-lane collector road.

“Not major roadways, not regional facilities, but two-lane roadways to build a better system of streets and highways in the Charlottesville area, not big major roads,” Grimm said. He added that any road would also feature bike paths and sidewalks.

PUBLIC OPPOSITION

After hearing Grimm detail the three alternatives, members of the public were vocal in their opposition. 

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Charts provided by PBS&J listing the relative merits and costs of each alternative

Many were concerned that none of the three alternatives would make a significant difference in reducing travel time, despite the large price tag. This analysis was based on a hypothetical trip from Hollymead to Pantop. Under the no-build, that would take 37.8 minutes in 2025, compared with 37.4 minutes for Alternative #1 (Proffit Road relocated), 36.8 minutes for Alternative #2 (Polo Grounds Road Connector), and 35.9 minutes for Alternative #3 (Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park).

Applause broke out in the auditorium after Grimm mentioned that a participant of the first information session had suggested that the parameters of the study be widened to as far north as Ruckersville and as far east as Shadwell.

“I’d be more than happy to do that, but it’s not in my current scope of work or budget,” Grimm said.
Clara Belle Wheeler, who owns a large property along Route 20 within the study area, suggested that the current scope is not wide enough.

“You talk about making significant improvements, and yet by your own study you’re going to reduce the traffic time by only two minutes [using the Pen Park route,]” Wheeler said. “I don’t think that’s cost-effective.”  Wheeler also generated applause when she demanded that Pen Park not be turned into a road.  Grimm told her to make sure that she and other opponents submit written comments to ensure their feedback is taken into consideration.

Another woman asked about the possibility of a bypass for U.S. 29 around Charlottesville. She said that would accomplish many of the same goals as the location study.  Grimm said that a bypass alternative has been selected, right of way had been purchased, but he was not hired to study such a road.  He later mentioned that such a project could approach a billion dollars, if a route from I-64 to Ruckersville were undertaken.

“Whether  or not that project is going to advance is not up to me, but if there’s enough support from the community for a project of that nature, all of your local elected officials, all of your state elected officials, clearly need to hear that,” he said.

Another man stood up and asked if the cost estimates for the projects included court costs, hinting at a possible law suit if the Pen Park route ends up as the selected alternative. Another person asked if increased public transportation was considered as an option for relieving congestion.  Grimm said that the federal government will not allow the MPO to model that possibility in its traffic demand forecasts.

“The [Charlottesville] urban area is kind of right at that marginal size of whether or not the federal government will support a mode choice model,” Grimm said. He also pointed out that a $50 million capital investment would also require ongoing funding to maintain and operate the expanded facilities. “If the local government wants to do it, it has been done in other parts of the country, and it can be done here.”

Sarah Hendley has organized a committee to preserve Pen Park, and says that she has collected well over 1,600 signatures from people who do not want the park to be used for a road. 

“I am struck by the emphasis placed on building the road through Pen Park in spite of federal laws and restrictions on building a road through a park… when there are feasible and prudent alternatives,” Hendley said.   “Why spend millions of dollars to ruin our best park and save two minutes of driving time?”

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Attendees were asked to add comments to maps of the three options during the workshop portion of the event

After the presentation, members of the audience were instructed to sit at one of several tables to participate in workshops to critique the alternatives. When they were finished, facilitators reported back their findings to the main group. County Senior Planner Judy Wiegand reported that the group she oversaw wanted to see a connection between northern U.S. 29 and Interstate 64, and that none of the proposed alternatives should go forward.  The next group concluded that none of the three solved a local traffic problem, and suggested an origin and destination study be conducted.  The other groups echoed the same result – that none of the alternatives helped solve any traffic problems.

Grimm acknowledged that he knew that any of the alternatives as proposed would not solve all of the region’s traffic woes.

“This is an issue where we’re looking to help define a better system for the Charlottesville area,” he said. Responding to audience complaints that the projections of spending $50 million to reduce traffic time by 2 minutes, Grimm said that was a policy decision that would ultimately be left to local leaders.  He said more study would be needed if the public wanted more details of who uses our area’s roads.

“The questions we’ve raised tonight have really pointed out the very large-scale regional issues that are involved,” Grimm said.

County transportation planner Juandiego Wade said about sixty people attended the first information session. Grimm said that many people at that meeting wanted to know why the study area was so limited, and that new alternatives may very well be drawn up from that meeting.

Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris sits on the MPO Policy Board, but is not a member of the Eastern Connector Steering Committee.  He suggested a new approach may need to be taken.

“Part of the problem is that we haven’t looked at this whole issue regionally to the extent that is really necessary, and we’ve sort of been approaching transportation on a somewhat piecemeal basis, “ Norris said.  “The broader conversation needs to be about the system as a whole.”

The Eastern Connector Location Study Steering Committee will consider public input at their next meeting on December 14.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 00:56 - Lewis Grimm of PBS&J provides an overview of the project
  • 10:10 -  Grimm introduces the alternatives
  • 23:53 - Grimm answers a question about computer modeling that went into the project
  • 27:04 - Comments from Clara Belle Wheeler, who owns property in the study area
  • 31:56 - Grimm answers a question about the possibility of a bypass around Charlottesville
  • 34:46 - A man asks about more details about the possibility of route improvements on U.S. 250 through Pantops
  • 36:10 - Another man questions Grimm's figure of two minutes of time savings time using #Alternative 3
  • 38:02 - Pen Park activist Sarah Hendley addresses the crowd
  • 40:34 - The breakout groups report back their thoughts on the three alternatives

Sean Tubbs

November 29, 2007

Commissioners act on community concerns for Crozet’s downtown rezoning

20071127crozet    
This draft map dated November 19, 2007 shows staff recommendations for the boundaries of the proposed Downtown Crozet zoning district. The two general areas outlined in red (by Charlottesville Tomorrow) were taken out of consideration, prompting concerns from Crozet leaders. The Commission later restored them.

When arriving in Lane Auditorium before another Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting on a preemptive rezoning for Downtown Crozet, members of the town’s business community and other citizen leaders were shocked to find a draft map that showed a smaller downtown zoning district.

During the fourth work session on the topic, Commissioners overturned staff recommendations to draw a tighter zoning district, to establish a minimum size requirement for mixed use, and also threw out a plan to encourage affordable housing by setting an average maximum square foot floor for residential units in multifamily developments.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20071127-CpC-Crozet.mp3

County Senior Planner Rebecca Ragsdale described the reasoning behind the staff recommendation for the boundaries for the rezoning, should the County proceed. Unlike the boundary maps created by the consultant, the staff map does not include transition areas, and does not recommend including the 14.74 acre J. Bruce Barnes Lumber Yard at this time.  Ragsdale said downtown under this scenario would be about 53 acres.

Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) asked why the lumber yard wasn’t being included as part of this rezoning. Ragsdale responded that based on current use, the lumberyard would be non-conforming with its heavy industrial zoning classification.

“The lumberyard is only allowed in the heavy industrial category, so we didn’t see where heavy industrial type uses would be appropriate,” Ragsdale said, pointing out that the Master Plan anticipates the lumberyard moving or redeveloping at some point in the future.  “This is a way to allow them the flexibility to continue their operations which does provide a number of employment opportunities.”

Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) asked if the lumber yard could be included in the rezoning, and somehow allowed to continue operations. “It’s a key part of the future development of the downtown core of Crozet,” he said, adding that doing so might encourage the property owners to redevelop.

CROZET LEADERS EXPRESS FRUSTRATION

Many stakeholders from the Crozet business computer spoke to express their opposition to staff’s proposed changes.

White Hall resident Ross Stevens told the Commission he was concerned about the boundaries. He said that the point of creating a downtown Crozet was to help the community compete with other commercial areas in the County. As the owner of several properties in the area, he would like more consideration of the recommendations of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee and the Downtown Crozet Association.

“I didn’t anticipate Downtown Crozet getting smaller,” Stevens said. “We need more space in order to accomplish the flexibility of developing downtown in a larger space.”  He was specifically opposed to the western side of Carter Street being taken out of downtown. 

Sandy Wilcox of the Downtown Crozet Association said he was upset about the way the process was turning out. He said the idea of reducing the size of the downtown had never been discussed during meetings between property owners, staff and consultants. He also said he was confused by why the lumber yard was taken out.

“The idea that we had in there was for everything to be the same so there wouldn’t be a wild card out there that we don’t know what is going to happen,” Wilcox said. He added that he felt blind-sided by the staff’s report and that his trust in the process is broken. 

The complaints kept coming.

Mack Lafferty, a member of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee, said he felt blind-sided. Another member, Mary Rice, encouraged the Commissioners to walk along Carter Street before following the recommendations.

Mike Marshall, publisher of the Crozet Gazette and chair of the CCAC, said he was shocked that staff issued a new recommendation before the work session.

“It’s not really too much of a surprise because this is sort of consistent with the Crozet experience,” Marshall said. He said he did not think using a 1,000 average maximum size for residential units was the appropriate way to deal with affordable housing, and that the issue of the lumber yard not conforming had never come up before.  Marshall said he thought the County was more interested in creating more opportunities for proffers, rather than protecting the heart of downtown Crozet.

“You’re not going to get those proffers on the areas currently zoned commercial, so you take those areas that aren’t currently zoned commercial, like West Carter Street, and the lumber yard, you pull them out. That means in the future they have to be rezoned, when the rezoning comes, you ask for your proffer.  So this is really about generating future income for the County.”

Marshall finished his comments by reminding the Commission that the town wants a single district with a unified set of rules.

COMMISSION DISCUSSION

20071127cpc After the public comment period ended, Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) said he was surprised that members of the Committee felt blindsided.  When Commissioner Edgerton asked Ragsdale why areas had been removed, she responded that those particular areas lack appropriate infrastructure.

When Chairman Marcia Joseph (At-Large) asked what improvements would be needed, Ragsdale responded Main Street and Carter Street were substandard, so staff took a conservative approach when drawing the draft boundaries. 

“Without proffers, which is a very important tool to the County, as part of the rezoning process, we didn’t  have [infrastructure improvements] in the CIP now, we felt it was important to be able to have that tool in the future,” Ragsdale said.

But Commissioner Strucko said he thought proffers would be a disincentive for businesses to locate in the areas that have been taken out of the boundaries. 

“And the intent of the Crozet Master Plan was for the Downtown to be the center of commercial activity, an employment center, cultural center, also a center of public exchange,” Strucko said. He recommended staff add Carter Street and the Lumber Yard back to the draft map for the zoning district. Commissioner Duane Zobrist (White Hall) agreed.

Strucko also called for making the mixed use requirement more flexible, and called for removing the 1,000 square foot average maximum, and Zobrist and Joseph agreed with that as well.

While agreeing with the citizen input on the size of the zoning district, Commissioner Edgerton  shared concerns about the composition of uses that would be required.

“On every rezoning, we require mixed use, so we’re going to take just the rules off of Crozet and hope that it works out later?” he asked.

Strucko said looking at the map, he saw an intense business center in the middle of an area that contains residential and commercial use.  Edgerton said he was scared that without mixed use requirements that mandated residential use, the area would lack vitality because no one would be there at night when the businesses close.

That led to a discussion of how many residential units were within a five-minute walking radius of Downtown. Zobrist said people would walk downtown as long as there was a Dairy Queen, and also added that the Commission recently approved of the Crozet Station development, which includes residential units  in downtown.

Strucko said he spends about 15 hours in Crozet each work in his capacity working with the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, and that the downtown needs flexibility so that it has an advantage over Old Trail and business along Route 250. Commission Jon Cannon (Rio) suggested finding a way to maximize incentives for commercial development in the core.

But Edgerton stuck to his principles, and asked his fellow Commissioners if they would be happy with downtown Crozet being redeveloped without any residential units at all, something he felt would happen unless it is required. Strucko said he would be comfortable with that because many residences would still be within a quarter mile walk.

Though the work session was not a public hearing, Chairman Joseph received public comment and even called citizens back allowing them to provide additional feedback. Sandy Wilcox went back to the podium, and said he was not against mixed use, just having it forced upon Crozet property owners.

“We are not an incorrigible child that has to be regulated into having mixed use,” Wilcox said. “I think the whole world looks at the downtown areas differently than they did before. We don’t want to roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 but we do need the flexibility.”

After the discussion, Joseph said she thought the project needed revision. Edgerton said he would like to see the larger boundaries be revisited.

“We need to make the downtown area as large as possible and the idea of holding back with the hope of getting some future income off of proffers to the County is really counter to what is needed here,” Edgerton said. 

Zobrist said he supported using the boundaries approved by the Crozet Downtown Association. Joseph said all Commissioners reached consensus on this point.

They then took up the issue of whether the floor for mixed use for single structures should be raised above the 7,500 square feet figure recommended by staff. To accommodate Edgerton’s wishes to include some requirement, Zobrist suggested increasing it to 10,000 square feet. Strucko said he thought numbers were arbitrary, and Canon wondered if there were ways to apply Neighborhood Model Principles without micromanaging. For example, he suggested using density bonuses for affordable housing.

Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner said mixed used did not only include mixing residential with retail shops. A combination of retail and office would also satisfy the regulations.

County Planner David Benish said he was unclear what the Commission’s directive was in terms of the mixed use requirement. Joseph clarified that the Commission wanted incentives rather than hard targets. The Commission also recommended throwing out the average minimum floor size.

The Commission will take up the matter again in early January, according to Ragsdale.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 00:51 - Review of the staff report from County Planner Rebecca Ragsdale
  • 12:56 - Discussion of whether mixed-use should be required in each building
  • 16:29 - Discussion of the 1,000 maximum square foot average for residential units
  • 21:04 - Ragsdale continues staff report discussion and begins discussing recommended boundaries for Crozet
  • 26:54 - Commissioner Strucko asks for more information on the zoning proposal discussed at the last work session
  • 33:08 - Discussion of the fiscal impact analysis
  • 35:21 - Public comment period begins with Crozet property owner Ross Stevens   
  • 38:21 - Sandy Wilcox of the Downtown Crozet Association outlines his concerns with the new boundaries
  • 42:55 - Mack Lafferty, member of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee
  • 45:18 - Mike Marshall, chair of the Crozet Community Advisory Committee, briefs Commissioners on his concerns, followed by the Commission questioning Marshall about his opposition to the boundary change
  • 52:41 - Cliff Fox outlines his opposition to using 1,000 maximum average square foot as a tool to encourage affordable housing
  • 55:03 - Mary Rice urged Commissioners and staff to reconsider eliminating west side of Carter Street from downtown   
  • 57:03 - Commission begins deliberation   
  • 1:13:02 - Sandy Wilcox returns to the podium to say that the Downtown Crozet Association is not opposed to mixed use      
  • 1:17:39 - Chairman Joseph says she can't support the project moving forward without revision to staff's draft
  • 1:20:49 - Mac Lafferty returns to the podium to
  • 1:22:08 - Mike Marshall explains why DCA opposes transition zones
  • 1:25:21 - Commission reaches consensus that boundaries need to be expanded
  • 1:27:28 - Commission discusses whether floor for mixed use requirement should be increased or dropped 
  • 1:33:15 - Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner says mixed use does not necessarily include residential
  • 1:36:54 - County Planner Elaine Echols asks for clarification

Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler

November 28, 2007

CBIC unveils high-tech employment figures

20071120cbicwebready
Economist Billy Kinsey of Virginia Commonwealth University presents the results of the survey

On November 20, 2007, the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council continued their series of tech town hall meetings at the Omni Hotel in downtown Charlottesville.  The highlight of the luncheon was the release of an economic study on the impact of high-tech companies on the local economy (.PDF).  The study was conducted by the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University and funded by the City of Charlottesville.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with local high-tech business executives who discussed the challenges of hiring and retaining technical employees in our area.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20071120-CBIC.MP3

Watch the video below:

Kendall Singleton

November 26, 2007

Drought warning continues amid growing concerns about Sugar Hollow Reservoir

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      RWSA's Tom Frederick (left) briefs Judith Mueller and Gary O'Connell and other members of the RWSA Board

On November 26, 2007, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) held their monthly meeting.  Executive Director Tom Frederick provided a "sobering" update on the area's continuing drought warning.  Despite recent rainfalls, the Sugar Hollow Reservoir remains 12 feet below full and there is growing concern that the reservoir may not refill before next Spring. 

A pipeline built in 1925 runs from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir in the mountains above White Hall to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir near Charlottesville.  According to Frederick, during November, the RWSA shut down the Sugar Hollow water supply intake depriving Ragged Mountain of its main source of new water.  Ragged Mountain is currently 1.6 feet below full and its water storage is now being withdrawn by the Observatory Hill Water Treatment Plant.  "In a situation like we are in right now we will routinely switch [sources], because what we are trying to do is put both reservoirs in relative balance to each other, so when we do get rain we get the maximum opportunity for refill," said Frederick.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20071126-RWSA.mp3

Since Sugar Hollow has not been utilized for urban water supply needs, RWSA has been able to make a closer examination of the actual water flows coming from Shenandoah National Park into the reservoir. In the past, flow predictions have been made based upon the Mechums River flow gage.  That has been used as a rough predictor of what was happening in the Sugar Hollow watershed that feeds into the Moormans River.  Based upon observations this month, RWSA's data shows that Sugar Hollow has only 22% of the flow that would have otherwise been predicted.  Frederick said, "That was a surprise to some of us, that it was that different."

After ruling out potential causes for under counting the stream flows, RWSA has concluded the 4 inch rainfall in late October had only a "marginal positive effect" on the streams feeding Sugar Hollow.  Frederick said Sugar Hollow is the most critical facility for RWSA right now and the Authority's goal is to have all its reservoirs full before next Summer.  As a result of this assessment, Frederick informed the Board that, "There is still a lot of concern at the staff of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority that, without more rain than we've been getting so far this fall and winter, there's a chance we may not fill Sugar Hollow by spring."

After this update, the Board left the Drought Warning status in place.

In other business, the Board received an update from Ron Taylor, a consultant with the engineering firm of Hazen and Sawyer.  Taylor provided an update on the design work for upgrades to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment plant which are expected to cost about $35.9 million.  Upgrades will ensure that RWSA can comply with new nutrient removal regulations related to the protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  The Board took action to refine the final design and to allocate another almost $1.7 million to Hazen and Sawyer to complete the final design and execute the bid process.

Taylor also shared with the RWSA some concerns about current trends in the inflation for construction costs and the fact that a perfect storm was developing with respect to these nutrient removal compliance projects around Virginia.  Approximately ninety treatment plants will need to be upgraded in Virginia By January 1, 2011 and there is insufficient labor and construction resources in the region to complete that work.  Thirteen of the ninety localities have gone to bid thus far and three of those localities (Henrico, Fishersville, and Culpeper) saw bid prices 29-44% above what their engineering firms had originally estimated.  Over the next two months Hazen and Sawyer will finalize work on the design and the project's cost estimates.

Brian Wheeler

MPO decides on structure for regional transit

20071121mpo1 On November 21, 2007, the policy board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) held their monthly meeting and decided on the organizational structure for the new Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority.  Public transit in the area is currently provided primarily by the University of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville.  The MPO decided in July 2006 to explore the feasibility of creating a new transit entity which could expand operations into an urbanizing Albemarle County. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) began work as the lead consultant for the project in May 2007.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using the player above or download the podcast: Download 20071121-MPO.mp3

At this month’s meeting, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, the MPO received three technical reports prepared by VHB’s Frank Spielberg.  The reports covered the topics of management and governance, transit supportive corridors, and transit service strategies.  Most of the MPO’s discussion focused on the recommendations for six possible organizational structures for increased cooperation on transit.  The options presented were as follows: 

  1. Legislatively-Enabled Regional Transit Authority
  2. Continued Charlottesville Transit Service Operation with a Regional Transit Coordinating Council
  3. Joint Powers Agency
  4. Joint Powers Board
  5. Transportation District
  6. Service District

City Councilor Dave Norris reflected the consensus of the decision makers when he zeroed in on his preference for how to structure the new organization.

“Any of [the] options that does not provide for the possibility of UVA to be a full and equal partner is off the table from my perspective.  My continuing hope is that at some point UVA will be a full and equal partner,” said Norris.

20071121mpo2_2 Two of the six organizational structures (#1 or #4 above) would allow for UVA to be a full participant, however only one of those, a legislatively-enabled regional transit authority, allows for the transit entity to raise new funds [click to view PDF of chart of options at right].  Norris said keeping the door open for UVA and the ability to raise tax revenues were his deciding factors.  “[T]he potential for new funding is also an essential piece of this puzzle,” said Norris.  While it has representation on the MPO, the University of Virginia has opted to not participate in the regional transit initiative at this time.

Having reached consensus on how to structure the organization, Albemarle County Supervisor, and MPO Chairman, David Slutzky (Rio) pushed for getting legislative authority in the upcoming 2008 General Assembly session.  He asked the Board to consider getting resolutions approved by City Council and the Board of Supervisors such that the area’s local delegation could submit appropriate bills in Richmond next month.  Harrison Rue, Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and staff to the MPO, outlined some of the challenges of getting legislation passed.  He described the expectations legislators would have with respect to the City and County first finalizing the many management and governance issues before any legislation would be likely to get approved.

Spielberg described the challenges before the MPO.  “[T]here are a number of other issues that were raised in our discussions…. What is the composition of the [RTA’s] board?  What are the bylaws?...How are decisions made?  Is there equal representation by each jurisdiction?...How are the costs allocated?  Bylaws…will take some negotiation between the City and the County….The legislature tends to prefers to put a fair amount of detail into this when they set up an authority.”

The MPO reached consensus to wait and seek legislative authority in 2009 while looking for any opportunities to get this issue in front of the General Assembly in 2008.

Wrapping up their discussion on management and governance issues, the MPO agreed to the following additional goals:

  1. The Regional Transit Authority will focus initially on transit as opposed to raising funds for road projects.  The opportunity to raise revenues for roads will still be explored.
  2. The goal of the RTA’s efforts will be to “vastly expand” public transit as opposed to taking an incremental approach.
  3. The RTA will start with the City/County but allow for possibility to add other contiguous jurisdictions or entities like neighboring counties, the University of Virginia, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello).

In another technical report, VHB presented four options for transit service strategies.

  • Option 1 . New local service in Albemarle County
  • Option 2 . New local service plus creation of a transit center at Barracks Road Shopping Center and a new Crosstown route
  • Option 3 . New local service, Barracks Road Transit Center, High Frequency Route 29 Trunk route, and local circulators
  • Option 4 . New local service, Barracks Road Transit Center, Bus Rapid Transit and local circulators

Capital cost estimates for three options range from a low of $4.6 million for simply expanding existing bus service to a high of $31.8-$123 million for a bus rapid transit system.  Not all Board members were satisfied with the four options presented and Supervisor David Slutzky said he would be reluctant to share them with his Board without some modifications.  Rue responded that the consultant’s report would stand as a starting point for their work and that the service options would be refined by the MPO and staff at future meetings.

Next, the MPO will share their governance recommendations on the regional transit plan with City Council and the Board of Supervisors gathering feedback for review at the MPO’s January 2008 meeting.  Early in 2008, the MPO expects to hold a second joint work session for local officials and to utilize a Federal Transit Administration grant to facilitate a broader public involvement process.

Brian Wheeler

November 21, 2007

County planners consider waiver process as a way to streamline development

20071120copc At their meeting on November 20, 2007, the Albemarle County Planning Commission held a work session to consider proposals for streamlining the development review process.  A series of six recommendations were presented by staff which, if approved, would empower them to administratively review certain issues currently requiring waivers without bringing the requests before the Planning Commission.  According to the staff report, they had “considered which issues may be taking unnecessary agenda time,” and they focused on the goal of “streamlining the review of minor issues in the Development Areas and consequently allowing the Commission to have more time to focus on policy issues.”

In early 2006, Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) initiated the formation of a County task force to review the County’s development process.  The goal at the time was to eliminate obstacles and inefficiencies leading to developer frustration and to facilitate new development inside the designated growth areas instead of in the rural countryside.  The task force recommendations were received by the Board of Supervisors in May 2007 and there was consensus to have staff move forward with the highest priority recommendations to improve the review process in the areas of private roads, critical slopes, and buffers. 

Of the six recommendations brought to the Planning Commission, three were proposed by staff and three by the task force.  All apply primarily to development in the designated growth areas.

Administrative waivers under review include the following:

  1. Buffer disturbances (task force recommendation)
  2. Separate driveway access for split properties (staff recommendation)
  3. Site plan waivers (staff recommendation)
  4. Open space dedications (staff recommendation)
  5. Critical slope disturbances (task force recommendation)
  6. Private roads (task force recommendation)

In their presentation, staff took the matter of private road waivers off the table since it is not an issue generating recurring waiver requests.  That left five recommendations for consideration by the commission.

An increase in staff authority to approve waivers means these matters would not be discussed at a public hearing before the Planning Commission.  To address a concern raised by the Board of Supervisors related to this diminished opportunity for public input, staff recommended that adjacent property owners continue to be mailed a written notice that a waiver request for one of these issues was under review.  The public would have an opportunity to provide feedback to staff in advance of their decision, but not in public before the Planning Commission. 

Critical slope waivers were the focus of the majority of the discussion. Albemarle’s zoning ordinance requires Planning Commission approval to disturb critical slopes in the County’s designated growth areas.  Staff recommended codifying the existing practice of allowing man made critical slopes to be disturbed when requested by a developer.  However, they sought additional feedback from the Commission as to how to approach all other critical slope disturbances.

Three critical slope options were suggested:

A) Remove the prohibition on critical slope disturbances altogether in the growth areas and rely on measures detailed in the water protection ordinance.
B) Allow disturbance of critical slopes within a specified area limit (e.g. not to exceed 10,000 sq.ft.).  Disturbances above that limit would require Commission review.
C)  Develop very specific criteria in new regulations which would be used by staff assessing critical slope disturbance requests and mitigation measures.

In the discussion, Commissioners expressed reservations about the approaches in options A & B and they asked for staff to return with more information about the specific criteria to be used in option C.

Next, staff will prepare a resolution of intent for the commission to consider at an upcoming meeting that puts in motion staff’s work developing new ordinance language for all five of the administrative waiver proposals.  Before ordinance changes receive a public hearing, the commission will hold another work session to review the staff’s final recommendations in a summary form as opposed to in the legal language of a draft ordinance.

Next month the Planning Commission is also expected to receive staff recommendations on improving the submission process for rezoning requests that would set limits on the number of deferrals a developer could receive for each of their projects.  Staff believes the development review process can be improved with clearer guidelines about when a project will be scheduled for a public hearing and when a deferral will be an option.  Today, developers can repeatedly seek a deferral, and avoid having their plan rejected, in an effort to refine their plan after receiving staff, public and Commission feedback. Staff would prefer to use work sessions and a more flexible public hearing schedule to make efficient use of staff resources and to ensure only complete plans which address matters brought up by staff or in a work session reach a public hearing for action.

Brian Wheeler

November 20, 2007

Council wants more options for community water supply plan

20071119waterAt least three members of the Charlottesville City Council are expressing reservations about the 50-year community water supply plan, which was approved unanimously by Council in June of 2006. However, Councilors Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro were not on the Council at the time.

Residents with concerns about the plan lobbied City Council to schedule a public hearing to receive additional feedback on the plan. The main element of the water supply plan involves building a taller dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir in order to increase the storage capacity. The group Friends of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir believe the plan sacrifices natural areas, and that dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir (SFRR) deserves another look. Dredging to remove sedimentation from SFRR was earlier deemed to be too expensive.

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The public hearing began with a report from Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. Prior to the meeting, Frederick sent a letter to the Council that addressed many of the concerns of the group. He wrote that the four local boards with jurisdiction with jurisdiction (Albemarle County Service Authority, RWSA, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and City Council) voted a combined 22-0 in May and June of 2006 to approve of the plan. 

He also pointed out that a wide range of groups support the plan to expand Ragged Mountain Reservoir, including the Rivanna Conservation Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Free Enterprise Forum. Frederick said their support stemmed from the fact that the adopted plan keeps the water supply in the community, rather than piping it in from the James River.

"This community has struggled for over 20 years, dating back to the beginning of property acquisition for a "Buck Mountain Reservoir" in the early 1980's, to find a new water supply that can be permitted by appropriate regulatory authorities," a process he says has now been successful. He reminded the Council that the community later found out that the federal and state authority would not authorize a new reservoir at that location.

Frederick said he was charged by the RWSA Board to put together a plan with community input, but also to find a solution that would be acceptable to regulators. He told Council the adopted plan is the “least environmentally damaging” of the options that were available in 2006. Frederick acknowledged that project will be expensive. In September, the RWSA announced it would cost just over $142 million to build the new dam, a new pipeline to the SFRR, and upgrades to area water treatment plants.

Councilor Kevin Lynch said he was concerned existing residents of Charlottesville were going to be pay for infrastructure that will be used by newcomers.  Frederick said there are three possible scenarios in terms of phasing the elements of the plan, and that the community still has to decide what will be acceptable. He added that he is aware that consumers in both the County and City are concerned about how much their water bill will go up to pay for the construction costs. A cost-sharing agreement is currently being negotiated between the Albemarle County Service Authority and City staff. The RWSA is not a direct party in those talks.

Frederick said Council should keep in mind that the plan is for the next 50 years, and includes major upgrades and replacements.

“It's not appropriate to look at that entire price tag as being solely the result of growth,” Frederick said. “The existing Ragged Mountain Dam, the upper dam is 122 years old. The lower dam is 99 years old. We have a Sugar Hollow pipeline that's 80 years old.”

Councilor Lynch pointed out that RWSA has drastically increased its budget since 2002, and asked what infrastructure has been replaced in that time. Frederick said a lot of planning and design work has been done to make repairs, but when he came to the job in 2004, there were no plans in place. He said that City residents can expect to see a lot of repairs in the next two years.

Frederick said that in the spring of 2005, dredging was deemed by elected officials to be too expensive in terms of expanding the water supply. Lynch asked what the future capacity of the SFRR will be, but Frederick said he could not be sure without an extensive study of the watershed to determine where the sediment is coming from.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said he had not seen any documentation to back up the claim that dredging is too expensive. Frederick responded that he recently asked Gannet Flemming to check their estimate again, and a report will be posted on the RWSA website soon. But, he said fully dredging SFRR down to the bedrock to restore its original capacity would cost between $200 and $225 million. Much of that cost would come in transporting the sediment.

Hamilton also asked about the possibility of using Luck Stone’s Shadwell Quarry as a reservoir in the future. Frederick said he did not think that was viable option for several reasons. First, the County's water protection ordinances are designed safeguard water supply in the western half of the County. Shadwell is in the east, and the group Streamwatch has reported that water quality is not as good in that section of the county.

“Some of the areas draining the Rivanna River in the Shadwell area come from tributaries that have been classified by Streamwatch as poor water quality,” Frederick said. He also said the existing water infrastructure is designed to distribute from west to east, and reconfiguring to make it move the other way would be problematic. He also said that the Rivanna River is considered by the state to be a scenic river, and the General Assembly would have to approve of a new reservoir.

Councilor Dave Norris wanted an update on the acreage that was going to be lost when the new dam is built and filled. Frederick said discussions were taking place, but an exact amount of acreage would not be known until planning was complete.

Eight people spoke at the public hearing, and they were split between environmental groups that support the plan, and others that say it is against the City's interests

Dede Smith says the price tag is too high for the City, both financially and in terms of a loss of ecological resources. She said there were still other plans that had not been fully explored, and suggested that Council has the power to reopen the plan.

Rich Collins, who chaired the RWSA in 2002, said the process to date has not been transparent, and that environmental groups supporting the adopted plan are only doing so because it avoids the James River pipeline.  “The groups were so ecstatic that we stopped the James River as being the source that we dropped our guard and forgot about all the other things that we hold dear,” Collins said.

Joe Mooney said dredging must be an option, and said Gannett Flemming does not perform dredging operations, and that's the reason their estimate for dredging is so high. He called for a second estimate from an independent firm. “They have given the only opinion on dredging feasibility and costs that we have to date,” he said. “I disagree, as an amateur, with the idea that dredging is the most expensive of all the projects. I think that it's possible based on some research I've done.”

Betty Mooney said it was not fair for Charlottesville to have to pay such a high price to increase capacity for growth that would occur mostly in the county. She acknowledged that the current plan kept the water supply in the watershed, but that the loss of 30,000 to 50,000 trees was not worth it. Mooney asked for a written plan that outlines the cost for all steps.

However, Ridge Schuyler of The Nature Conservancy said the adopted plan works because it meets future demand, restores natural stream flows to the Moorman's River, and keeps the water in the watershed.

“It is restoring the flows to the rivers of the Rivanna that this plan achieves, while also simultaneously meeting the demand of the people who live here,” Schuyler said. “The Ragged Mountain Natural Area is a lovely place, and I would only have to say that when I look at the fact that at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, we're going to move trails. We're not going to lose them, we're going to move them. The mussels that live in the rivers that are being affected by altered flows can't move from where they are.”

Jeff Werner, land-use field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said by his calculations, there are over 3,500 housing units in the development pipeline within Charlottesville city limits.

“All of us who live in the City, we rely on a reservoir that was built a hundred years ago,” Werner said. “When I moved to Charlottesville, no one said you now need to pay for your piece of the reservoir. So, people a hundred years ago planned for the future and we're in that situation now.”

After the public hearing, Councilors weighed in with their thoughts. Only Mayor David Brown did not have reservations about the plan.

Councilor Lynch, who voted for the plan in June 2006, said that he wasn't sure if the adopted plan did represent the best possible alternative. He also questioned whether all of the plan needed to be implemented right away, and drew comparisons to the Metropolitan Planning Organization's 25-year planning horizon for transportation projects. Lynch suggested that the City wait for several years for the regulatory climate to change so that a bladder can be placed on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, which he said would boost storage capacity.

“I believe firmly that in twenty years we will have better options open to us than what we have right now,” Lynch said. “The fifty-year plan is the best plan that can be put together given the regulatory climate that we're in right now.” He also repeated that the Shadwell Quarry may yet be an option, and predicted that dredging technologies would also be cheaper in the future.

“Certainly nothing that we've seen and been shown tonight looks anything like implementation, and I want to be very careful before we sign on to a $142 million dollar project that we don't end up spending any more of that than we need to out of the City's pocket when the City doesn't need it,” Lynch said.

Councilor Dave Norris said he agreed with much of what Lynch had to say, and said there was merit in taking another look at some of the other alternatives that would keep the water supply in the watershed. He also wanted to see more details in terms of how the City would be compensated for loss of land at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, and that he wanted a one-to-one match for all of the trees that were going to be lost.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he did not think dredging had been fully evaluated, and wondered why the City was in such a rush to finalize a plan. Neither he or Norris were on Council when the plan was adopted.

But Mayor Brown said that dredging was looked exhaustively, and the consensus among the four boards was that it was too expensive to have to deal with the sediment. In response to Lynch's comments that the future may open up other alternatives, Brown said he did not think it was prudent to develop a water supply plan based on the hopes that the rules would change.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said she thought it was possible that Council had dropped the ball by not continuing to pay attention to the issue after voting to approve the plan in June 2006.

Councilor Norris said he didn't think the public hearing was meant to derail the existing plan, but wanted more details.

No action was taken by City Council after the public hearing.

Timeline for podcast:

1:00 - Comments from Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
9:22 – Councilor Kevin Lynch asks Frederick to detail why the cost is so high
14:38 – Lynch asks Frederick what infrastructure has been replaced in the last five years
16:48 – Councilor Taliaferro asks about sedimentation in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, prompting a discussion about whether that reservoir will be used in the future
24:49 – Councilor Hamilton asks Frederick why dredging is considered to be too expensive
26: 17 – Hamilton asks about the possibility of using Shadwell Quarry in the future
28:46 – Councilor Norris asks about how the land at Ragged Mountain will be compensated
32:19 – City resident Colette Hall
34:14 – City resident Dede Smith
37:27 – Former RWSA Chair and City resident Rich Collins
41:05 – City resident Joe Mooney
47:15 – City resident Betty Mooney
50:39 – Ridge Schuyler, director of the Piedmont Program at The Nature Conservancy,
54:01 – Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
59:28 – County resident Tom Jones
1:03:32  - Councilor Lynch describes why he thinks more study is needed
1:13:09 – Councilor Norris responds
1:14:45 – Councilor Taliaferro says dredging SFRR needs to be looked at more
1:15:18 – Mayor Brown defends the June 2006 vote to approve the plan

Sean Tubbs

Public will see three options for Eastern Connector

20071119ec_3
The committee overseeing the Eastern Connector Corridor Study has eliminated another possible alternative for the proposed road, which has been proposed to relieve traffic congestion on Route 29 North and on Route 250 near Pantops by providing an alternate connection between these two areas.  The committee unanimously voted to remove from consideration a design alternative that would have accomplished the study's objectives by building a new bridge over the Rivanna River into Charlottesville, and by making intersection improvements along 250.

The Committee also heard cost estimates for the first time:

  • Alternative #1: Proffit Road Relocated  - $44.5 million
  • Alternative #2A: Polo Grounds Road Connector (with RR overpass) - $57.4 million
  • Alternative #2B: Polo Grounds Road Connector (with RR underpass) - $84.8 million
  • Alternative #13: Rio Road to Route 20 via Pen Park - $42 million
  • Alternative #13A: Rio Road to Route 20 (north side of park) - $54.1 million
  • Alternative #13B: Rio Road to Route 20 (south side of park) - $33.6 million

Much of the meeting was spent discussing what will be presented to the community at two upcoming public input meetings. The first will be held at Baker-Butler Elementary on November 28 beginning at 7:00 PM, and the second will be held in the second floor lobby in the Albemarle County Office Building on November 29.

Ken Boyd, Chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said a “key issue” was to show the public why the road would be needed. Lewis Grimm, project manager for consulting firm PBS&J, said the information that would be presented to the public would offer traffic and population projections to make the case for the road.

“There's been significant observed growth in the past five years, there's been substantial growth in population and employment,” Grimm said. “Associated with that is projected increases in traffic, particularly across the river. All things considered there seems to be a need to continue with this work.”

But Boyd said the main purpose of the Eastern Connector study is to find the road that will have the most effect in terms of relieving traffic on Route 250.

Charlottesville City Planning Commissioner Mike Faruggio joined the committee for the first time at this meeting. He replaced Jon Fink, who stepped down from the Commission earlier this fall.

City Councilor Kevin Lynch expressed the concern that of the three alternatives being shown for Alternative 13, the Pen Park route, none showed the alignment that went along an existing service road. The consultant has developed three other alignments with detailed engineering drawings. One of these runs slightly to the east of the route Lynch supported at the October steering committee meeting, and the other two traverse the northern and southern edges of the park.

“I don't think any of those are workable,” Lynch said, and asked the consultant to consider depicting only the conceptual drawing at the public information, and only depicting the central alignment through the park. If the road goes through the park, the federal government will have to be convinced that the benefit to the area's transportation network outweighs the impact to environmental and cultural resources.

The committee debated the issue for a few minutes. John Pfaltz, who serves on the panel as a citizen representative of the City, said he thought the public should see the most viable of all the Pen Park options. Lewis Grimm of PBS&J said he thought they could demonstrate that a Pen Park solution could be proven as the most effective with respect to taking traffic off of 250, but that federal approval would be hard to come by.

Two options will be considered for the Polo Grounds road option. In both, the road will cross the railroad, but the question is whether the grade separation will be via an underpass or an overpass.  Going underneath the railroad would be significantly more expensive, with a cost estimate of over $84 million for the whole alternative. Going over the tracks would cost over $57 million alternative.

“It's one of those toss-ups of where you want to spend the money,” said Grimm. He pointed out that the full costs would not be known until detailed engineering work could be done.

The real discussion of the day came in respect to the alternative that was eliminated from consideration. At the October meeting, Alternative 3 was redeveloped to incorporate both improvements to Route 250 as well as a second bridge south of the Rivanna River to divert traffic into the City. Several committee members expressed the concern that this route would not serve as an eastern connector, though it technically meets the scope of the Eastern Connector Location Study.

Ken Boyd of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors said he wanted to see how much traffic that option would take off of Route 250, but agreed that it may not be a viable option to move forward as part of the Eastern Connector study.

John Pfaltz made a motion to strike Alternative 3 from consideration, because he thought it presented unacceptable changes. He said he did not think it was feasible to remove left-hand turns lanes from eastbound traffic on Route 250 onto River Road, given that the area had several industrial sites that trucks would need access to.

Mark Graham, Albemarle County's Director of Community Development, said that he was concerned that the committee was putting too much stock on the Pen Park route.

“When I look at the traffic numbers, Proffit Road doesn't really do anything for you, Polo Grounds Roads doesn't do anything for you. Pen Park will do something for you, but you have a major environmental hurdle,” said Graham.

The committee reached consensus that a southern bridge may be a viable way to relieve rush hour congestion on Free Bridge, but that was not the point of the Eastern Connector. But, Jack Kelsey, Albemarle’s Transportation Engineer, made the motion that Alternative 3 be removed, but that the possibility of a future southern bridge be recommended for consideration at a later date, as part of a separate study. The committee took a vote, and all approved of the motion.

The Pantops Master Plan, which has not yet been adopted by Albemarle County, depicts two possible future transportation corridors. One would align with the Pen Park route, and the other would align with the southern bridge option. The Pantops Master Plan also anticipates that Route 250 through Pantops will eventually be expanded to six-lanes. The request for proposals that set the Eastern Connector study in motion contains this language:

“The successful project will result in the design of several alternative road alignments that will provide a connection between US 250 east of Route 20 and US 29 between Rio Road and Proffit Road.”

Thirteen options have now been whittled down to three, but until the City Council and Board of Supervisors approve of a preferred alternative, any route can be reconsidered.

The road would be a two-lane “collector type route” with pedestrian and biking trails. Grimm said it would have a variable design speed, based on the section of the route.

Sean Tubbs

November 19, 2007

RWSA's Tom Frederick details aging sewer and water infrastructure

On November 13, 2007, the League of Women Voters of Charlottesville-Albemarle continued a series of public lectures on the water supply in the our area.
Slide8
A woman stands above the spillway for one of the two antiquated dams at Ragged Mountain Reservoir

Tom Frederick, Executive Director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, made the case for why the area's dams, pipes, and pumping stations are in need of major upgrades.

About thirty-five people attended the event, which is part of the Treva Cromwell Memorial series.

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Watch the video below:

Sean Tubbs & Kendall Singleton

November 16, 2007

County staff briefs Supervisors on five-year financial forecast

20071114bosview

While exact figures for next year's Albemarle County budget are not yet finalized, it is certain that staff and the Board of Supervisors will be using a new way to analyze the numbers. The County is moving to a five-year financial plan which proponents say will help officials better understand how financial decisions made today will affect the budget in years to come.

The Board first learned how a five-year plan would work at its strategic plan retreat in September, but heard more specific details at a work session on November 14, 2007 where they heard staff's recommendations for how the County's general fund budget could be balanced over the period. Based on feedback received, the Board will follow-up with a second work session on the topic in December.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20071114-BOS-five-year.mp3  

The five year plan will be updated on an annual basis, according to County Executive Bob Tucker. His deputy county executive, Tom Foley, called the plan “a financial forecast and a planning exercise” built on a series of assumptions.

“The real focus is to assure a focus on policy and long-term thinking with the board,” Foley said. He added that the goal is to align the County's strategic plan with the annual budgeting process.

Foley went on to say that the five-year process will better reflect the financial impact of strategic priorities, such as a Board commitment to hiring new police officers. The revised process will allow the Board to better evaluate if programs and initiatives are affordable, and Foley said that the idea is to give staff clearer direction.

“Board priorities not put into financial terms sometimes cannot be achieved,” he told the Board. The five-year forecast as presented to the Board assumes that the County will pay for additional public safety employees. The five-year plan lists all of the financial obligations the County is responsible for paying, as well as any anticipated revenues. And, it has to be balanced.

In order to do that, Foley offered several steps to reduce spending. For instance, the County will need to freeze between 15 and 20 positions over the course of the five-year plan. Another position has been eliminated. Funding for new full-time employees to staff County ambulances has also been removed. No new funding will be available for new initiatives. Raises for County staff are based on a projected market increase of 3.35%*, and department operational budgets will be limited to 2%. The amount of money transferred from the general fund to the capital improvement program will be reduced by 1 cent. A tax increase of 1 cent is expected in FY11 if County revenues do not rebound from the current slowdown.

Foley said the school budget was a separate document not contained within the five-year plan.

Foley also briefed Supervisors on a comprehensive review of programs and services that's being conducted with an idea of reducing spending by ten percent over the five-year period. Programs will be evaluated on whether they provide “core” or “enhanced” services. An initial assessment of possible savings is reflected in the plan as part of a “Form 4” process, named after the form given to department heads to itemize possible reductions.

Slide13_3
A slide listing revenue assumptions made by County staff in putting together their five-year forecast (Source: Albemarle County)

During the work session, County Budget Analyst Laura Vinzant went into much more detail into the various assumptions that went into forming the plan. The plan assumes maintaining the tax rate at 68 cents through 2011, with a one cent increase that year. The plan also projects the growth in real estate assessments returning to 4% by 2013. Next year, however, the plan assumes a decline by 1 percent. Revenues from construction of new houses are projected to increase to 3% by 2013.

Beginning in FY09, the County will begin receiving money from the EMS Revenue Recovery which Vinzant said will eventually amount to $1.6 million a year. A flat sales tax is projected for FY09, and then back to 4 to 5 percent in subsequent years. State and federal revenues are also projects to remain flat.

Vinzant also took the Supervisors through the various obligations and commitments the County must pay. Perhaps chief among these is the revenue sharing the County must pay to the City. A major increase in revenue sharing is expected in FY2010, when the formula is recalculated to reflect the County's 2007 assessment.

Slide14
A slide listing obligations and commitments made by County staff in putting together their five-year forecast (Source: Albemarle County)

Other obligations include 12 percent increases in funding for the regional jail, increases in funding for mental health services mandated by the state and federal governments, as well as a mandated accounting changes which requires County governments to list the amount of money they will spend on retirement benefits. Funding for the Emergency Communications Center is also projected to increase by 4 to 5 percent each year.

Where the plan really comes into effect is when the Board's general policies and previous goals are put into the matrix.

One Board priority is to fund four new police officers each year, to bring the ratio of citizens to offer closer to 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents. The Board has also called for 12 full-time firefighters to be stationed at Pantops beginning in April 2009, as well as another 12 for the East Ivy station the following year. A Public Safety Training Facility will begin impacting the budget with FY10.

Vinzant said hiring the four new police officers each year would cost $482,000 annually. Each set of a dozen firefighters is budgeted at $1.2 million for the first year, and $860,000 in ongoing costs each year. The Board spent several minutes discussing whether more can be done to bring these numbers down by recruiting more volunteers.

Vinzant also listed other big-ticket expenditures expected in the next few years include funding for the Crozet Library and continued operation of recycling centers. Financial impacts for the proposed Northern library have now been placed outside of the five-year plan.

Vinzant said the 16 positions selected by staff to be frozen were chosen because they are currently vacant. She suggested that the exact positions would swap over time as new vacancies occur. However, the position of housing coordinator has been suggested for elimination.

The County will also save about $600,000 a year when a contract with the City of Charlottesville to provide fire service is allowed to lapse. Other attempts at savings will be reached by replacing fewer county vehicles, as well as the Form 4 program and service review. Staff is recommending no new funding for new initiatives, except for the additional public safety officers.

BOARD DISCUSSION

Foley said the work session had been intended to get Board direction on a limited number of issues, but at times, Supervisors preferred to delve into other detailed financial matters. That meant there was not much time for the Board to answer staff's specific questions. However, each supervisor did weigh in with some direction.

Supervisor David Wyant (White Hall) suggested putting more flexibility into the five-year plan to reflect the uncertainty of budgeting for the future.

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) expressed concern that one of the frozen positions is for an agricultural support staff member. She said she would like to figure out some way to shift some of the least the functions of that position to some other department or agency. “We can't wait six years to have those functions performed, even if we don't have the exact position,” Thomas said.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) raised the concern that the five-year plan was too limiting, and he recommended that staff come back with a series of scenarios, rather than making assumptions such as freezing sixteen staff positions.

Slutzky also cautioned staff to make sure that the assumptions used to make the five-year plan are valid, otherwise the whole exercise is pointless. “Saying we're going to assume a two percent increase in operating budgets for departments, when based on fuel and other considerations we know that's significantly out of whack with what we're going to experience, we need to acknowledge that in the assumptions and say we're making a draconian decision because we need to have a balanced budget or whatever.”

Foley said that the two percent figures would require budgets to cut travel expenses and other costs in order to come below the target. But Foley acknowledged Slutzky's point. Slutzky later asked if departments were restricted to 2 percent increases last year, and Vinzant said that they were. Slutzky said if fuel costs go up by 30 percent, that will mean drastically cutting services just to keep budgets balanced.

Slutzky added that he wanted to see the five-year plan have more options for what would happen if the tax rate were to be raised. He suggested that staff put together a second model on a 74 cent tax rate, to see how that would affect the assumption. He also suggested modeling for lower tax rates as well.

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said she wanted more discussion on the reduction of the transfer to the capital budget in part because of the potential need for major infrastructure upgrades. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he did not support reducing the amount for capital transfer.

“The cost of infrastructure is not going down,” he said, mentioning several projects such as the expansion of Albemarle High School and the Crozet library. “The amount of money we have in the [Capital Improvement Project] affects the amount of cash we have to put in versus the debt we have to take on to fund those projects.” Thomas and Slutzky agreed.

Thomas also cautioned against limiting the definition of “core” services, and Slutzky agreed that different Supervisors likely had different ideas about what “core” means.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he had no problem with using staff's assumptions as a baseline, but thought many of his colleagues were not looking at the big picture, but concentrating on little details.

“I think for us to micromanage that today by saying put this feature back in, or that feature back in, I think is wrong because the implications of it across the board is large,” Boyd said. He said the model will change as the Board goes through the actual budget process.

Slutzky countered that the tax rate was only dropped last year to counter-balance the effects of large increases in property tax assessments. “Now that we're not even close to that same scenario, I'm suggesting that a revisiting of the tax rate is going to be inevitable in the spring,” Slutzky said.

The discussion during the work session ran over, and Boyd suggested a second session be held in December to continue the conversation.

Sean Tubbs

* UPDATE 11/19/07: This sentence has been corrected from the original post which had stated that local government salary increases "will be limited to 2%."