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December 23, 2007

MPO Policy Board, December 19, 2007

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On December 19, 2007, the MPO Policy Board held its final meeting of the year, with discussions on the Eastern Connector, three amendments to the Transportation Improvement Program, and a farewell to City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who is leaving office. The MPO Policy Board is chaired by Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio).

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WIDENING PROJECT ON US 29 APPROVED

The MPO approved an amendment to the Transportation Improvement Program to begin the process of widening U.S. 29 between Polo Grounds Road and Airport Road. The MPO voted to approve the use of over $2 million in federal funds to begin preliminary engineering on the project.

During the public comment period, CHART member and City transportation activist John Pfaltz said he would rather see the money go towards the creation of a parallel road network. MPO members pointed out that would not be permitted because the federal funds are for primary roads, and any new roads such as Berkmar Drive Extended would be considered secondary funds. Pfaltz said he knew that, but thought the MPO should send a message to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Slutzky said he was confident Berkmar could be paid for in part by developer proffers, so he saw no need to deny the widening of US 29. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said the narrowing of 29 north of Polo Grounds Road created a safety hazard, and that completing the widening of 29 to Airport Road was one of the County’s priorities for primary road funding.

JAUNT OFFICIAL CONCERNED ABOUT FINANCIAL IMPACT OF FARE-FREE

Donna Shaunesey of JAUNT presented an update on the para-transit service, which provides ride services for human service agencies and the general public in the five counties around Charlottesville. Shaunesey passed out a hand-out which showed how much revenue would have to be made up if the Charlottesville Transit Service goes fare-free.

“By law, if CTS is fare-free, our services in the urban area also have to be fare-free,” Shaunesey said. That would likely mean more riders, and she estimated a $314,420 increase in local funding to make up the difference.  Shaunesey says when the transit system in Chapel Hill, North Carolina did away with fares, the para-transit service saw ridership shoot up 21 percent the next year.

However, JAUNT would continue to be able to charge riders for services who do not live in jurisdictions where there is free transit service available. JAUNT is not currently a party to the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) under development by Charlottesville and Albemarle.  However, the RTA approach endorsed by the MPO at their November meeting ensures the door is open to the agency being invited to join in the future.

UVA UPDATE

UVa Land Use Architect Julia Monteith said a system that will allow passengers of the University Transit System to track buses via GPS will go online in January. The system is being put into place by the New Zealand company Connectionz, which earlier this month reported a financial loss due to delays in implementing a similar system in Charlottesville.

20071219newlight Monteith also reported that two new UVa parking garages will open in late winter. The “Arts Grounds garage” next to the School of Architecture and the new North Garage on West Main Street are both under construction with an estimated completion date of late February or early March 2008. That will mean a new traffic signal at Crispell Avenue and the 9th-10th Connector (aka Roosevelt Brown Connector). Monteith said the grade of the area prevented the construction of a roundabout at that intersection. A complex intersection of 11th Street, Lee Street and Crispell behind the Medical Center is also being studied for improvements, but there is no final plan.

EASTERN CONNECTOR

During a discussion of the MPO’s FY 2008 work program, several members sought more information on the Eastern Connector, and requested a formal briefing from the County staff members who are overseeing the corridor location study. Members of the public who attended a pair of recent information sessions on the proposed road overwhelmingly questioned the need for the road. That prompted MPO members to talk about the current state of the area’s transportation models. Supervisor Dennis Rooker attended the second meeting on November 29, and suggested that the consultant did not correct misconceptions that were being claimed by some attendees. The MPO is responsible for the area’s official transportation forecast, upon which the consultants’ numbers were based.

TIP AMENDMENTS

In addition to the widening of US 29, the MPO adopted two other amendments to the TIP. Albemarle County is now eligible for Highway Safety Improvement Project funding from the Federal Highway Safety Administration. With the TIP amendment, those funds can now be used for safety projects on rural roads.

The other amendment will allow the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center being constructed in Darden Towe Park to receive federal funding for the project, which includes interpretative trails, a ferry service and new parking.

VDOT’s John Giometti reported that the current Commissioner of VDOT is interested in streamlining the TIP process. More information will be made available at a future MPO meeting.

PRAISE FOR KEVIN LYNCH

Supervisor Dennis Rooker made a motion to pass a resolution thanking City Councilor Kevin Lynch for his service on the Council and the MPO board.  Other members asked Lynch if he would consider joining the CHART committee. He said he would keep it in mind, but wants to take a couple of months off.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 0:47 Meeting called to order
  • 1:09 Matters from the public
  • 1:12 John Pfaltz speaks out against spending money on widening US 29, MPO discussion
  • 6:47 – Adoption of previous meetings’ minutes
  • 8:09 – Transit Update  - JAUNT and UTS
  • 8:08 – Donna Shaunesey of JAUNT
  • 16:09 – Julia Monteith of the University gives UTS update
  • 23:07 – Discussion of potential pedestrian bridges over railroad tracks by the Corner
  • 28:22 – Councilor Lynch asks if future UVa and City parking garages should provide for electric vehicles
  • 29:42 – Discussion of MPO’s Draft FY 2008 Work Program Status
  • 31:21 – Discussion of Eastern Connector study
  • 51:32 – Update from VDOT’s John Giometti on the UnJAM 2025 Year of Expenditure Dollars
  • 1:13:09 – Public hearing on TIP amendments
  • 1:16:15 – Public comment from Peter Kleeman
  • 1:18:54 – Public comment from Paul Grady
  • 1:30:33 – Discussion of Regional Transportation Authority changes
  • 1:56:47 – Other business – discussion of a new CHART appointee
  • 1:59:51 – Other matters from the public

Sean Tubbs

December 21, 2007

Albemarle's Supervisors sworn in for 4-year terms

20071221oath1

Shelby J. Marshall, the retiring Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk, administers the oath of office to the three newly elected members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors [from left to right: Ken Boyd (Rivanna); Ann Mallek (White Hall); and Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville)].

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      After being sworn in, Supervisor Ann Mallek signs the oath of office

Mallek is the only newcomer joining the six-member board having defeated incumbent David Wyant for the White Hall seat which covers North Western Albemarle County, including Crozet, White Hall and Earlysville.

All three members sworn in today have terms that run for four years from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2011.

Brian Wheeler

 


 

December 20, 2007

Council approves ambulances; leaves billing decision for another day

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The Charlottesville City Council has voted to allow the City Fire Department to begin preparations to offer full-time ambulance service. The move comes despite the objections of the president and chief of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS), an all-volunteer service.

The vote came after members of the City Emergency Medical Services Committee gave a report to the City Council on the future of EMS Services for the City. Delegate and former City Councilor David Toscano (D) chaired the 14-person committee, which was charged in August 2007 with providing recommendations on how to improve EMS services in the City. The Committee un animously agreed that more personnel and rescue vehicles were needed to address “peak” service times. The question is – which organization should best provide that service?

Download_2Download the EMS Committee's report

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The Committee voted 5-3 at a meeting on October 24, 2007 to recommend that the City Fire Department provide ambulance service seven days a week, with a medic on board every engine company as soon as possible. Two of the three no votes were from CARS President Larry Claytor and CARS Chief Dayton Haugh. After a subsequent poll was taken via e-mail of the full committee, the vote changed to 10-2, with Albemarle County Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston changing his vote to yes. Councilor Dave Norris and Albemarle County Supervisor David Wyant (White Hall) were members of the committee but abstained from the vote.

Before the official discussion on the matter, Claytor told Council his organization is concerned they would be made obsolete by the move.

“Our volunteer professionals have done an outstanding job of providing service to this community, and by all records and accounts we feel we’re doing a fantastic job,” Claytor told Council.

“We feel like you’re trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” he said, adding that CARS exceeds targets for response times.

COMMITTEE DECISION BASED ON CAPACITY CONCERNS

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Mary Loose DeViney

Delegate  Toscano was not available to attend this week’s City Council meeting, so three other members of the Committee made remarks. The presentation was lead by City Representative Mary Loose DeViney, who owns Tuel Jewelers and serves as Chair of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the overwhelming reasons for choosing 24-7 over the peak was the cost factor,” DeViney said. Ensuring that medics were staffed on each engine company during peak hours would cost $500,000, but moving to a full-time system would cost only $100,000 more.  These costs are for staffing and operations and not for capital costs. The City budgeted $1 million in last year’s budget to address the issue.

DeViney told Council she had never had any experience with ambulances before, but that the experience of working on the committee was valuable, particularly her tour to the area's Emergency Communications Center. When emergency calls come in, the call is to the ECC, which then contacts the appropriate first responder agency. She said capacity, and not just response times, was a major factor in the committee’s recommendation.

“When we were at the ECC that morning, by 9:15, we’d run out of ambulances,” she said. “That means that all the ambulances at CARS had been used for calls, and that Medic-5, which is the one at the University of  Virginia, had been called out.”

DeViney said she was also struck by the fact that the ECC is a tiered system, where the dispatcher who receives 911 calls asks the caller to give details about the situation so the appropriate service can be dispatched.

“And a lot of our thinking was, if you had a medic [on each engine company], you don’t tier anything,” she said. “You just send them, and they just go.”   

But she stressed that the extra ambulance is not being positioned to supplement CARS, but to supplement the area’s EMS system as a whole.

Citizen Representative Martin Burks, a funeral director, said all members of the committee felt the need to add more medics to the system, and that each of the fire stations should have medics.

“More medics cut the dispatch time for EMS calls, because you don’t have to worry about asking those extra questions,” Burks said. “The 24-7 staffing approach provided that extra medic ambulance as well as a medic on every engine, something the third party proposal didn’t do.”

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Medical Director George Lindbeck

George Lindbeck has been the medical director for both CARS and the Charlottesville Fire Department since 1989. He said he disagreed with the idea that CARS would be destroyed if other agencies boost up their ability to provide EMS services.

“By implementing the plan the committee recommended, we’re going to augment the entire system,” Lindbeck said. He added that Council needed to think of the long-term future of the community, and called the recommendation an investment in the fire department.  He said CARS would improve its ability to train new volunteers because full-time medics would be available.

Finally, Chief Charles Werner spoke to Council about why he thought his department should run its own ambulance service. He likened the area’s multijurisdictional approach to EMS services to a patchwork quilt put together by a family for protection.

“We’re not looking at taking that quilt apart, we’re looking at making that quilt stronger and making it a bit bigger,” Werner said. “This is not anything negative about CARS. I want to reiterate that CARS is an exceptional organization.” He said growing response times are a symptom of a lack of ambulances in the system, and added that he would investigate looking at ways to help ensure CARS’ financial stability.

COUNCIL DISCUSSION

Councilor Kevin Lynch asked why the City should pay to add more medics, when CARS could possibly hire more personnel trained to administer advanced life support methods. Werner responded that would still cluster resources in CARS’ central location, and would not provide any faster service.

“The reason we have three fire stations is to meet response times, to get there as fast as we can,” Werner said. “In an EMS life threatening situation, those moments of first-response  care are the most critical, so you need to have them strategically located.”

When Lynch asked why CARS couldn’t just have its own bay in the City’s proposed fire station at Fontaine, Werner responded that wouldn’t solve the staffing issue.  Lynch remained unconvinced, and sought further information from Lindbeck.

“There are a lot of people at Charlottesville Fire right now who are great EMS providers, have years of experience, and don’t necessarily have a way to carry that on in the fire service,” Lindbeck said. He said CARS had a highly qualified staff , but had a high turnover rate as well. CARS is currently being supplemented by about sixty-hours of labor each week provided by the Albemarle County Fire and Rescue Department. He said he thought the County would likely pull out those units as it moves to staff its own fire stations with ambulances.

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Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner

Werner said going to a 24-7 approach would allow his department to more effectively utilize the resources. Each of six medics trained to provide advanced life support  would work a 56-hour work week, on 24 hour-shifts. That would allow at least one medic to be available at all times.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said she thought there had been a lot of hysteria around the proposal. She said the 10-2 vote gave her a strong level of confidence that the committee’s recommendation was the correct one.

However, Councilor  Lynch said he was not convinced that the Charlottesville Fire Department taking on a new role would provide the promised efficiencies.

“One of the challenges of being on City Council is that any successful organization wants to grow,” Lynch said. “Most of our departments want to grow. But that doesn’t mean that growth in a situation where the number of taxpayers is finite is always a good thing.”

Mayor Brown, who was chairing the Council meeting as Mayor for the last time before passing the gavel in 2008, said he supported the plan, but was concerned that it did not have the support of either CARS President Larry Claytor, or CARS Chief Dayton Haugh.

“We have fences to mend, and I think it’s incumbent on everyone in the community, on me, the members of the committee, and our City Fire Department to reach out [to CARS,” Brown said. “What does happen in other communities is once the community moves to paid service, they lose volunteers, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”

But Hamilton said giving money to CARS would not necessarily solve the capacity problem.

“This community is not standing still. This community is growing,” she said. “It’s not realistic in my opinion to think we’re going to be able to address the growth in our community, the growth in our traffic, the overutilization of our roads, and the fact that our ambulance vehicles and response vehicles are competing with so much more traffic and so many more people and just a much different situation going forward.”

COUNCIL VOTE

No specific motion was prepared for the Council to review before deciding on the vote, so Mayor Brown asked City Manager Gary O’Connell to suggest one.  O’Connell actually suggested two motions. One to approval of the developing a budget based on six new full-time positions as well as operating costs.

“And the second one, and this is the more immediate one, of moving forward to acquire an ambulance, whether it’s lease purchase or pay for it with cash,” O’Connell said. “We’d like to do some investigation of that to be sure that the use of the money that we now have available, money you approved in the [FY 2008] budget, we can stretch it as far as possible.”

On the matter of providing budget direction to Gary O’Connell for the upcoming FY 2009 funding request, Council voted 4-1 in favor of adding new ambulance services, with Kevin Lynch voting no.

The second motion was on how to most effectively purchase two ambulances. There were two options.

“One is to use the money that was previously appropriated in last year’s budget and just buy them,” O’Connell said.

“The second [option] is a lease purchase that spreads the cost over a period of time, which is how we buy a lot of big equipment, we buy fire trucks right now.”

Werner said it would cost the City $53,000 a year for ten years to lease two ambulances, versus $460,000 to purchase both out-right immediately.  Councilor Norris made a motion to take the lease-purchase option. Again the vote was 4-1 with Councilor Lynch voting no.

NO DECISION MADE ON BILLING RECOVERY

The issue of EMS “revenue recovery billing” was not up for a vote at the meeting, but Councilor Norris did ask for an explanation of what that might be.

“First of all, the whole billing discussion was not something that was started by the City,” Werner said. “The County has a revenue recovery committee that has a recommendation to their board that will come forward. I think what will happen is revenue recovery as it goes forward will be something that we all do, and it’s something that’s being done by almost every locality in the Commonwealth.”

Werner said that if people do not have insurance, the Fire Department would bill under a “compassionate” system that either waives or reduces the cost.  Norris said he wanted people to know that billing would be a separate decision. City Manager O’Connell said Council would likely have that discussion during the upcoming budget cycle.

Brown said that the City would have to work hard to help raise funds for CARS, given that people may be less likely to donate if they get a bill for ambulance services.

Sean Tubbs

December 18, 2007

Eastern Connector Committee wants more data

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The area in blue is the area being studied for an Eastern Connector. Some committee members felt the solution to congestion on Route 250 would be found in a larger area

The Eastern Connector Steering Committee has directed the consultant overseeing the corridor location study to provide more justification for why the proposed new road is needed. Their request came after members of the public who attended two citizens information meeting in late November overwhelmingly rejected all of the options presented for the road.

At their meeting on December 14, 2007, several members of the Steering Committee said that the public was shown misleading information that failed to demonstrate the need for why the proposed road is necessary. The Committee referenced one slide presented to the public in November which listed a times-saving of only two minutes between Hollymead Town Center and Pantops.

“I didn't hear really any support for the three alternatives that we presented,” said County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade. “It just showed that no matter what we did, it didn't save a lot of time,” Wade said. He said he thought the public needed more information on why the road is needed.

City Representative John Pfaltz said he thought the consultant did not do a good job of selling the idea of an Eastern Connector as serving as just one link in an expanded road network, one that will take years to fully build.

The newest member of the committee, Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Mike Farruggio, says he's not sure that the Eastern Connector would solve the real problem In many ways, the Eastern Connector study is about more than just the immediate area being studied.

“Is the problem people from Route 20 or Pantops getting to UVA? Or is it people from Lake Monticello trying to get to NGIC?” Farruggio asked.

“I don't see convincing evidence, especially with the new information that was put out at the meeting, where [the Pen Park route] is only going to save a minute and a half to get from 29 and Seminole Square Shopping Center to Pantops, I don't see convincing evidence that this Eastern Connector is going to solve a problem.”

The Committee spent much of their two-hour meeting questioning the data, with questions about whether traffic models can be presented to the public.

20071214ecgrimm
Lewis Grimm of PBS&J explains how the  traffic model predicts more congestion by 2025 under Option Zero

“It is difficult to go through Transportation Planning 451 to people who haven't had 101 yet,” said Lewis Grimm, the lead consultant with PBS&J.

“The model that we're using is a state of the practice regional forecasting model that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission maintains, as a Metropolitan Planning Organization, working with VDOT. VDOT and the MPO realize that these models need to be enhanced, upgraded and improved over time. They're not static. What we're using right now is the best available for the Charlottesville area in terms of the overall level of detail it contains.”

Grimm said there is no forecasting model in the country that's 100 percent. The U.S. Census helps provide information on where people live, but Grimm says it is not very useful in determining where people shop. This makes it difficult to determine exactly when and where people are using the roads

Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) thought the way the data was presented did not got enough information to describe the realities of traffic congestion.

“I think these numbers would be very different if we just isolated the hours of 7 in the morning until 9 in the morning, and 4 to 6 in the evening. We've really got to concentrate on what's happening during those rush hours.”

“I assume that that there is a considerable amount of traffic wanting to go between the high development area on 29 North and the areas to the east of the City,” said Pfaltz in agreement. “And now people are saying, we don't have hard evidence.”

20071214ecslide_2Grimm said presenting complex information such as this to the public can be difficult 

Pfaltz said he only had to point to the traffic on 29 North at night to point out the faulty assumptions of the traffic model.

“These times are based on all day. Most of the time, there's no delay,” Pfaltz said. “It's rush hour, where you'd buy ten, fifteen minutes [in time savings], but averaged over the day, you'd average only two. And that point was never made.”

Grimm said most traffic models in Virginia are based on an “average weekday” and can't give traffic engineers an hourly breakdown. Boyd said this showed a fallacy in the model, and said something had to be done to improve the model. Grimm said it would be expensive to get better numbers to capture driver behavior in the existing network, because markers would have to be laid at each individual intersection, each of which would have to be coordinated.

City Councilor Kevin Lynch suggested spending money to conduct a survey by tracking the license plates of cars as they travel through the area. Such surveys have been conducted in the area before, but they are costly.

County Representative George Emmitt suggested building a model around tracking drivers by their GPS devices, joking that it's going to be one of the holiday's top sellers. But he was serious about finding a way to demonstrate what he considers a real problem.

“A lot of the skepticism comes from the hand-waving on the models, and everybody's perception doesn't fit. To me, that's what we owe [the community] if we're going to start talking about trying to justify any of these routes that are going through and near established communities,” Emmitt said.

The Committee agreed to keep all of the alternatives on the table for the time being, including the route through Pen Park to connect Route 20 with Rio Road. However, Mark Graham, Director of Community Development for Albemarle County, reminded the committee that the Meadowcreek Parkway has been in the planning stages for over forty years, and that the same can be expected if the route goes through Pen Park.

County Planning Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) said he thought the public needed to know what would happen if Option Zero really were selected. Option Zero anticipates that all of the projects in the MPO's UnJam 2025 plan are constructed, including a widening of Route 250 to six lanes.

“You still have Free Bridge. It's the end of the funnel that you're concerned with,” Morris said.

20071214ecboydlunch Members of the Committee
listen to Grimm's report

Ken Boyd suggested that other alternatives besides a full-blown Eastern Connector could be made. Boyd said that as a Supervisor, he has many other road projects waiting for money, and that if he had $50 million to build a brand new road, he would want to put it towards a “western connector.” He said he the data presented by the consultant showed that it would make more sense to spend less money to make major improvements at the intersections of Route 20 and 250.

John Pfaltz disagreed. He said area leaders have always taken the politically cheapest route when trying to solve the area's transportation problems.

“We haven't built any more roads,” he said. “We put one past Monticello High School. We built Berkmar to serve Sam's Club. But there have been no new roads built. We keep trying to fix the same old roads and we sort of shift the bottleneck from here to here. And you know, I think we have to bite the bullet and built some roads.”

No specific date was set for the next meeting of the steering committee.

Sean Tubbs

Council approves McIntire Park lease for YMCA

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The Charlottesville City Council has voted 3-2 to approve a ground lease for the Piedmont YMCA to construct a fitness and aquatic center in McIntire Park. The new facility will be built on one of the existing softball fields, though the exact location and size will not be determined until after the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department conducts a new master plan for McIntire Park. 

Outgoing Councilor Kendra Hamilton and Councilor Julian Taliaferro voted against the proposal. The approval came despite Hamilton's request that the lease only move forward with a 5-0 or 4-1 vote.

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20071217hamilton
Outgoing Councilor Kendra Hamilton

“We have always held that standard on things that involve the park,” Hamilton said. “For the history that I've been on Council, with Meadowcreek Parkway issues, we have been able to achieve that consensus. [Here] we have not gotten that consensus either in the community or on Council.”

If Council does not approve a plan for the facility by May 20, 2008, the Piedmont YMCA will proceed with a proposal to build on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Under the terms of the lease and use agreement, the Piedmont YMCA will lease space in McIntire Park at a cost of $1 a year for the next four decades. The facility will contain a fitness center, a gymnasium, a track, classrooms, locker rooms, as well as a family aquatic center. As part of the negotiations, the City and the County will both be able to appoint two members to the Piedmont YMCA's Board of Directors.

The YMCA will also commit to providing financial assistance to those who can't afford to become members. All families living below federal poverty guidelines will be admitted for free. City Parks and Recreation Director Mike Svetz suggested using the criteria that if a family has children that qualify for a free lunch, they'll qualify for free membership.

Albemarle County will contribute $2.03 million, regardless of whether the YMCA will be built in the park or at PVCC.  The YMCA will conduct a capital campaign to pay the balance for construction. If the City agrees to pay $1.25 million, the YMCA will make sure the competitive swimming pool has at least six lanes, and Charlottesville High School will get priority access to those lanes for the two hours immediately after school.

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Kurt Krueger

Kirk Krueger, chair of the Piedmont YMCA, said that the organization would try to seek an additional $1.25 million from the County which would go towards building even more lanes.

The lease also contains language that gives the City the right to halt construction if those activities disrupt the park. The City Planning Commission and City Council will have to approve a site plan. However, the lease says the approvals “shall not be unreasonably withheld.” 

The lease also specifies that the new facility will enhance existing events held in the park, such as the Dogwood Festival, Earth Day and the annual fireworks at the Fourth of July. The YMCA will also seek to “offer programs and services that will take advantage of McIntire Park's inherent assets.”

When the facility opens, the user agreement states that City and County families will be charged $72  a month. Individuals would pay $48 a month, seniors over the age of 62 would pay $43 a month.

The lease anticipates that the City will extend the CTS bus line that runs down Rugby Avenue to the Park.

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Outgoing Councilor Kevin Lynch

Councilor Kevin Lynch voted for the proposal, but said he would still prefer the YMCA to be built at McIntire Park. He said he was initially skeptical, but his opinion has changed over the past year.

“I was willing to entertain this site because of the potential it has as a cooperative project with Charlottesville High School,” Lynch said. “And, I believe that in the past several months of negotiations the YMCA has been a good faith partner.” He said that while most of the conversation has been about the impact on City pools, CHS students will benefit from having additional athletic facilities within walking distance.

Hamilton acknowledged that the proposal has improved throughout the negotiations, but that she could not support it. She thought Council was rushing through negotiations, and was not looking at the bigger picture.

“We are looking at a short-term problem, a ten-year problem, perhaps. We have specific needs for high schools and pools right now,” Hamilton said. “But we're committing to a 40 year program, and once we alter the park, we alter the park for all time. I don't think that we're thinking big enough.” She went on to suggest that the City should get together with the County and the University to build a larger, regional facility, without using the YMCA as an intermediary.

Councilor Taliaferro also said there were too many unanswered questions for him to support the proposal, citing the lack of an exact location.

Lynch asked Hamilton what it would take to earn her vote. Hamilton said if she were remaining on Council, she could likely vote for the proposal and then participate in the final negotiations.

Krueger said he would be willing to participate in further negotiations to expand the project, and would aim towards building a 12-lane facility.

“By having the City and the County at the table at the same time, there is a reasonable opportunity here to have a facility exactly like you're talking about,” said Krueger. “It's just a matter of covering the capital fees to build it, and the operating costs to run it.”

Hamilton pointed out that the larger the facility, the larger the impact on McIntire Park.

Councilor Dave Norris said he was excited about the plan, which would construct a new facility without overly burdening taxpayers.

Sean Tubbs

December 17, 2007

State funding for wastewater improvements threatened

20071217frederick The Executive Director of Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has asked area legislators to support legislation that will continue Virginia’s financial commitment to upgrade the Commonwealth’s wastewater treatment facilities. Tom Frederick told his Board of Directors that a continuance of the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund is his top legislative priority.

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The upgrades are needed to eliminate pollutants from wastewater that would otherwise find their way into the Chesapeake Bay, and to protect rivers from excess nutrients.   The Fund was set up to help localities pay for the capital costs so that states that border the Chesapeake Bay can satisfy stringent Environmental Protection Agency quality tests by 2010. Frederick said while there are many sources of pollution, Virginia is focusing on wastewater as a factor it can control. Others include air pollution, stormwater, and fertilizers.

The state has contributed $381.2 million dollars into the fund since 1999, but Frederick said that demand from water authorities across the state has meant that there’s not enough money for all applicants. Last year, the General Assembly authorized the sale of bonds to help finance the difference, which amounts to $177.3 million, but that authorization will lapse unless the legislature acts.

Frederick says he is concerned that with a state budget shortfall approaching $2 billion dollars over the next two years, legislators might use the bond revenue to finance other projects and to make up the deficit.

“We want to make sure that they don’t close that gap on the back of urban citizens through sewer rate charges,” Frederick said.  “If this funding is now pulled, that means the urban citizens, those who live in the urban areas and depend on sewer service, are going to pay for something everybody’s going to benefit from.“

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker, who serves on the RWSA Board, said he would suggest that the Board of Supervisors adopt a resolution of support.

Also in his report to the Board, Frederick said he saw no reason to remove the area’s drought warning.
“Natural flows in the Sugar Hollow area remain critically low, and the risk continues that the Sugar Hollow Reservoir may not refill by April 2008,” Frederick said.

Sean Tubbs

December 14, 2007

Board approves First Church of Nazarene near Keswick

Second of a two-part series

20071212nazarene3_2
Red outlined area is the future site of the First Church of the Nazarene

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has approved a special use permit from First Nazarene Church that will allow them to construct a new 374-seat multipurpose center near the intersection of Route 250 and Route 22 near Keswick. The rezoning came despite opposition from neighbors who felt the proposed facility was too large for the area, and would encroach upon the Southern Mountains Rural Historic District.

At the item’s first public meeting on November 7, 2007, the Board suggested that the proposed 18,811 square feet was out of scale with the rural areas portion of the Comprehensive Plan. After that, the Church submitted a new plan that reduced the facility by over 4,000 square feet. However, the proposed capacity remained the same.

The church currently rents space from the Covenant School. The new facility will be built on the southern edge of a huge parcel of land owned by Albemarle Edgehill Farm LLC. The church will be constructed on a 7 acre section of the property just south of I-64 and just north of Route 250. Other properties in the surrounding area that have uses not consistent with the rural area include a gas station, an Albemarle Bank, the Shadwell store, and Stone-Robinson School. A quarry operated by Luck Stone is just to the west.

The church was represented before the Board by Valerie Long of the firm Williams & Mullen. She said the Church needs a new modern facility to support their growing congregation, and has been searching for a new home for the past five years. Today, they have over 200 members, but anticipate modest growth in the future. At the moment, they lack nursery space for children during Sunday services. Long called the new facility “particularly efficient” in its use of space. In fact, the sanctuary can be used as a basketball court, a key part of the Church’s outreach efforts.

“I personally believe that a church of a modest size and scale can really be a very appropriate use for this property,” Long said. She added that it would not add to the commercial nature of the area and would not impact any of the residential properties and farms that are part of the Historic District.

Comments during the public hearing were split between parishioners who pleaded for a new home, and neighbors who thought the church was too large for the property.

Brenda Hill said a new facility is needed so her grandchildren will have a place to worship into the future. Brian Young served on the Church’s relocation committee and said the reduction of space requested by the Board was a tough sacrifice to have to make. Church treasurer Jamie Townsend was overcome with emotion and said the Church has provided tremendous value to her family. Several other congregation members spoke as well.

But, many neighbors also spoke about their desire to preserve the rural area.

20071212nazarene
Conceptual plan for First Church of the Nazarene (Source: The McKnight Group)

Jerry Lee Chafin of Keswick said the convergence of Routes 250 and 22 creates a dangerous corner and increased traffic will cause accidents. Jim Ballheim said the church was “simply too big” and would change the area to a more suburban character. Ed Bain worried that the special use permit would set a precedent for other rural areas along Route 250. Pat Napoleon wondered if there was a need for basketball programs in Keswick, and suggested that the congregation should build in the City of Charlottesville. Former Board of Supervisor candidate Peter Hallock said he has worked hard to put areas of that section of the County under easement to preserve the rural character. He added that the County should set a limit on the size of churches in rural areas.

Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said his organization did not oppose the church, but was concerned about the scale of the church, even with the reductions. He pointed out that the housing dilemma faced by First Church of the Nazarene is part of a growing trend of expanding churches seeking new homes in the rural areas, which are more affordable.

“And as with the ongoing discussion you’re having about available land for light industrial space, it might be in the County’s interest to look deeper into this trend and to seek solutions which keep churches within the growth area and near the residents that benefit from their work and from their mission.”

When the matter came before the Board, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said local authorities have to abide by the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which limits the power of local governments to place land use restrictions on places of worship.  The legislation reads as follows:

“No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution – (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

“If you’re going to take an action, it has to be the least restrictive measure to fulfill that compelling government interest,” Rooker said. He said that the First Church of the Nazarene has responded to the Board’s requests, and received his vote. “There are other churches in the vicinity that have been approved of a comparable size, and as staff pointed out, the County has previously approved other churches of similar size in the rural areas and there is insufficient evidence in the record to establish that this application is materially different.”

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said he would support the special use permit because the rural area in question is already fairly commercial. He also pointed out that the County would likely face a lawsuit if it did not grant the permit.

But Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said she would not support the permit out of traffic and water concerns. 

“I think Congress has tied our hands in a way that our local citizens should be outraged about,” Thomas said. “But since they’re not, and since this law has sat there on  the books with apparently no opposition for some time, I think we probably will vote to adopt this land use whether we're comfortable with it or not.”

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) requested that when permits for rural churches come before the Board in the future, staff prepare a deeper analysis of the phrase “compelling governmental interest.”

“I’m operating in this decision under the assumption that we’re not constrained in our ability to deny based on this law, but I’d like to know that for future instances,” Slutzky said.

Supervisor David Wyant (White Hall), appearing at his last Board meeting, made a motion to approve the resolution. Slutzky seconded, and the vote was 5 to 1, with Thomas voting against.

The item will now go before the Architectural Review Board at a date to be determined.

Sean Tubbs

The Supervisors and their major donors

Using the data recently compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project for Albemarle County's recent election, it is possible to evaluate the major donors and the total funds raised by each candidate this election cycle.

The major donors* to Albemarle County's 2007 Board of Supervisors candidates were as follows:

$38,000 - Monticello Business Alliance (See also: MBA's donors)
$10,000 - Zobrist Law Group (Duane Zobrist)
$7,800 - Ben Brewster
$7,500 - Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association
$7,500 - Virginia Association of Realtors
$7,000 - Democratic Road Back PAC
$5,250 - Barbara Fried
$5,000 - Virginia Association of Realtors - Charlottesville Area
$4,500 - Va Dem - Albemarle Charlottesville
$3,000 - Leo Mallek
$3,000 - Marie Woodward
$2,500 - Phil Wendel
$2,500 - Boyd Tinsley
$2,500 - Bill Edgerton

* Major donors were those who gave a total of $2,500 or more to one or more candidates

This table shows where each of the major donors made their contributions (Click to view complete table).

20071206donations

The fundraising totals for all the candidates as of their December 6th financial report are as follows:

$61,239 - David Wyant (R-White Hall)
$60,541 - Ken Boyd* (R-Rivanna)
$47,183 - Marcia Joseph (D-Rivanna)
$41,555 - Ann Mallek* (D-White Hall)
$39,425 - Lindsay Dorrier* (D-Scottsville)   
$6,350  - Dennis King (I-Scottsville)
$575 - Kevin Fletcher (I-Scottsville)

* Candidate won seat

Brian Wheeler

Largest local campaign contributions as of December 6th

Today the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) released the latest campaign finance data for our recent local elections.  This update includes the December 6th financial reports covering the late fundraising activity from October 25th to November 29th.  On the VPAP website you can get contribution profiles on all the Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors candidates. 

In the most recent reports, the largest donations of $1,000 and above are as follows:

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

White Hall (Winner was Ann Mallek-D)

Scottsville (Winner was Lindsay Dorrier-D)

Rivanna (Winner was Ken Boyd-R)

Charlottesville City Council

No donations of $1,000 or more during this period.

Brian Wheeler

December 13, 2007

The gathering before the crossing: Commissioners debate impartiality

At their meeting Tuesday, December 11, 2007, Charlottesville Planning Commission voted 4-3 that a second vehicular crossing of the Downtown Mall was consistent with City’s recently updated comprehensive plan.  Commissioners expressed interest in holding a work session at a future meeting to prepare a recommendation as to whether a permanent crossing should remain at 4th Street East, where it has been piloted over the past year, or moved to 5th Street East.

However, heading into the evening’s discussion, it was not clear who would be chairing the meeting or who would be voting on the matter, if anyone.

20071211fullpc

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20071211-CityPC.mp3

During 2007, the City Planning Commission has begun holding short meetings in advance of their regular meeting in Council chambers.  During the half hour “gathering” Tuesday, held in a small conference room down the hall from chambers and not broadcast on local TV, Chairman Bill Lucy asked his colleagues whether they even wanted to vote on the mall crossing matter.  A majority of the commission expressed support for holding the public hearing, but deferring any action.  Lucy also announced that he would not act as chair during the discussion of the mall crossing.

Discussion in the pre-meeting focused on the appropriate role of the Commission and the meaning of impartiality and recusal.  Commissioner Cheri Lewis told her colleagues she thought several of them should recuse themselves from the vote since, in her opinion, they were not acting in the spirit of the Commission’s operating guidelines which called for impartiality.  There was some discussion about whether Lucy was recusing himself from the matter or just stepping down temporarily as chair.  Rich Harris, Deputy City Attorney, advised Lucy that if he planned to vote on the matter in the future and participate in the discussion, then he was not recusing himself.  Commissioners could recuse themselves if they had a conflict of interest on a matter on the agenda.  Typically a recused member leaves the room to avoid being a participant.

A partial transcript of the pre-meeting discussion can be found at the bottom of this post and the complete audio is included above as a podcast.

20071211farruggiolucy Later in the evening, when the commission reconvened after a recess to begin their public hearings, Lucy announced that the rest of the meeting would be presided over by Farruggio, the Commission’s Vice Chair.  No explanation was offered to the public at this point in the meeting as to why Farruggio was made the presiding officer over all the evening’s public hearings.

When the mall crossing matter was before the Commission, Lewis raised a point of privilege and asked whether three members should be participating in the mall crossing discussion.  Lewis cited the following clause in the Commission’s operating guidelines:

“Members shall discharge their duties and responsibilities in an impartial manner, without favor or prejudice toward any person or group. When making a decision or recommendation Members shall give due consideration to the recommendations of the professional planning staff, but shall ultimately be guided by good zoning and planning practices and the public health, safety and welfare.”  Approved May 8, 2007

20071211lewis After some discussion by the commission, Farruggio told the public he would not be recusing himself from the matter and then he asked Pearson and Lucy about their intentions.  “I feel I can be impartial and I would like to continue to participate in this meeting,” said Pearson.  Lucy said he could also be impartial but that participation in the public hearing raised other questions for any commissioner.  “The question is whether you are going to bring your mind to the subject and think about it,” said Lucy.

Lewis again voiced her concerns about the exchange of e-mails in advance of the meeting and she suggested that such action should be avoided in the future on matters coming before the Commission.  At this point, the Commission started their public hearing on the mall crossing matter which resulted in the 4-3 vote (Farruggio, Lucy, and Mitchell against) that the crossing was consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Brian Wheeler


Charlottesville Planning Commission Gathering, December 11, 2007, 4:00 - 4:30 PM

Participants:

Bill Lucy, Chairman
Mike Farruggio, Vice Chairman
Genevieve Keller
Cheri Lewis
Hosea Mitchell
Michael Osteen
Jason Pearson
Staff: Missy Creasy, Jim Tolbert, and Rich Harris

Lucy - “As you know this is called a gathering… we do need to have minutes as this is a public meeting.”

Lucy - “We have a very long agenda as you know… Beyond the issues of time, there are the issues of comprehension and substance and uncertainties about items, public hearing items 4 [building heights] and 5 [vehicular mall crossing] in particular.  Do we have any preliminary sense of how many members can imagine themselves in some realistic way being ready to vote on the zoning ordinance tonight [related to the downtown building heights]?”

Tolbert – “I would like to take that off the table, because I have told people I am not going to be asking you to do that… I would not be asking because of all the comment.  What I asked in the email that I sent out was that we have the hearing tonight and we take all the comment, but that because of all the volume of letters that we handed out tonight [to each commissioner] …We would have the hearing and determine whether we need a work session.”

Lucy – “What about the downtown mall?  Is there anyone who can imagine themselves voting on [the location of the vehicular crossing] at 4th or 5th, on comprehensive plan consistency, and what else, oh $950,000 for the crossing?”

Lewis – “Are you considering deferring this whole thing?”

Lucy – “Yes I am, sure.”

Lewis – “I would be, because of the fact that this has been publicly noticed, I wouldn’t pull public hearings on either of those.  Whether we vote or not is a different thing.”

Lucy – “I didn’t say cancel the public hearings.”

Lewis – “I said are you thinking of deferring and you said, ‘Yes.’  I define defer as we are knocking it off the table right now because we are discussing it at 4:15 and I think that is inappropriate when it has been publicly noticed.”

Lucy – “That wasn’t the question.  So no comments then.  O.k. let’s move on.”

[several Commissioners express their confusion]

Pearson – “As I see it, we are here gathering to get some sense of issues, which is my understanding of what Bill [Lucy] was asking. What’s the likely direction of where we are likely to end up? What I heard in the term defer was the possibility that we would have a hearing but we wouldn’t necessarily vote on these issues. And you were trying to get a sense as to how many of us concurred with that sense.  I concur with that sense, but I am going to hear a lot of comments and I am not sure I am going to be ready to vote given the number of comments we have been getting on a rolling basis all the way up to the last minute”.

Mitchell – “The 4th vs. 5th, I have no clue.  On the Comprehensive Plan consistency, I’m pretty certain.”

Rich Harris, Deputy City Attorney – “On this topic there are a few things I want to mention to everybody. Hosea [Mitchell], you just mentioned about the Comprehensive Plan consistency… I want to reiterate that it is a two tier process for this downtown mall crossing.  First decide whether it is in accordance with the comprehensive plan.  After you get that under control you can decide whether it is going to be 4th, 5th, or somewhere else.  Just want to make sure everyone is clear about that process.”

Tolbert – [Clarifies that question from City Council was whether the vehicular mall crossing should be at 4th or 5th street, not anywhere else.]

Harris – “The other public hearing about the downtown zoning… I want everyone to understand that any legal advice given to you folks, that’s legal advice between me and my client, which are you guys.  And attorney-client privilege is confidential, not for disclosure or sharing.  I want you to understand that the privileges are in your hands.  Does everyone understand that?”

Pearson – “By that you mean it is at our discretion whether we share those communications or not?”

Lewis- “ That’s correct.”

Harris – “That is correct. If you are going to do so, I would make the recommendation that we side together on that…otherwise I can’t break up the fight...” [laughter]

Lucy – “In terms of managing the overall agenda, I have two thoughts.  One is that, when we have a really long agenda, like tonight, I think we should consider as a matter of common practice the sharing of the chairing and the possibility that the Vice Chair would chair some part of the meeting.  And in particular, I want to suggest that that would be useful tonight because of this rather interesting issue that has arisen, and I would prefer not to make that a diversionary subject tonight.”

Lewis – “I think if you chose to recuse yourself Bill you should publicly announce that.  If you are exhausted and it is 2:00 in the morning and you don’t feel like you can chair towards the end of the agenda and Mike can help, then that is another matter.  For public transparency, I think on the record you should…”

Lucy – “Well I am not going to recuse myself. So we have only 10 minutes [before the 4:30 meeting starts] are there questions about...”

Farruggio – “Is that going to become a contentious issue on TV tonight if Bill does not recuse himself?”

Lewis – “I am going to ask him to recuse himself publicly, yes.”

Lucy – “Recuse myself from being chair or from…?”

Lewis – “From chairing on that matter [the downtown mall vehicular crossing], from conducting a public hearing on that matter.”

Farruggio – “Alright so I’ll take over for that matter.”

Lucy – “Well or maybe earlier, that’s the question, maybe it should be earlier.  Maybe we can chat about it on the way up.”

Farruggio – “If Bill has discussion, is that going to be alright?  Will anyone object to Bill discussing or Bill voting?”

Lewis – “From what I understand, once you pull yourself out…you can’t participate in the discussions, you can’t vote… Recusal is different than a conflict though…”

Keller – “Is recusal necessary?”

Farruggio – “I don’t know if it is necessary, but I want it to be clear whether or not that if Bill is going to recuse himself from chairing that he going to be not discussing the issues, not voting on the issues.”

Lucy – “I think it is just a useful, simple device…”

Lewis – “A chair chairs the meetings, that’s the primary purpose.  You can’t just step aside. And I don’t think recusal is an admission of whatever, it’s just a procedural courtesy to make sure that as a public body we are conducting ourselves the way we should.”

Farruggio – “Let me put this on the table, then ask you a question, because what I want to avoid is Bill recuses himself from chairing, then I take over chairing, and then we start having some discussion, or we do end up coming to a vote, and then someone objects to Bill even having discussion and or voting, and that’s what I think we should decide upon now before we go out in front of the TV camera and we are public.”

Lewis – “Well we are in a public meeting now.”

Tolbert – “Recuse is different from stepping down as chair and letting someone else chair…”

Harris – “Can I ask what the goal is here?”

Lewis – “I guess to that end, I’ll present that memo to you guys too.”

Lucy - “The goal just be to minimize contention I guess.”

Harris – “So are you still looking to vote on this matter?  Or whenever the vote does occur are you looking to vote on it?”

Lucy – “Yes.”

Harris – “So you are not planning on recusing yourself from this matter.  I wasn’t sure where that terminology came from.”

Lewis – “Well should we talk about this now instead of on TV?  We adopted, all of us but Jenny [Keller who joined commission afterwards], six months ago, operating guidelines… for this organization.  Number three on those guidelines says that we all need to be impartial.  I have just handed [Pearson & Farruggio] a memo and I have also discussed with Bill, as a courtesy real-time, and said that both of them have said by e-mail that they are opposed to this crossing.”

Lucy – “I have not said that.”

Lewis – “Bill appeared before City Council when this was voted on last time.  What I was told was that Bill’s comments were opposed to the vehicular crossing.  Bill says that that is not true.  Bill was quoted in The Hook as being opposed, but Bill says that those were opinions when this was last considered and he was on the commission.  My concern is the guidelines say that we need to be impartial.  It is a tough call, because we all come here with our biases, our talents, our subject matter preferences…We don’t come here as clean slates, I realize that.  But I have never in my six years on the commission seen members express publicly their personal preference about the outcome of a vote that was coming before us at a public hearing.  This is not a site plan.  This is not something where we don’t have a public hearing.  We have a lot of people interested on both sides and this is a public matter.  And I think that if it is not a fifty-fifty chance that the members who have expressed a public opinion being opposed to this crossing… if there’s not a fifty-fifty chance that you can walk in there and have your minds changed by something that is said tonight then you should recuse yourself because you are partial and you have expressed your partiality publicly.”

Pearson – “Can I respond to that?  First of all I can say that I would be entering this meeting with a fifty-fifty chance of voting either way on either of the issues.  I am saying that partly because the e-mails you are referencing I do remember now… what I do remember expressing is that Mike [Farruggio] forwarded a letter around that expressed some strong opinions to Council and that he said that ‘This doesn’t present all the information. I am not sure I have all the information, but based on this letter it sure sounds like we are making a mistake and this sure sounds like it requires discussion…’ I read the letter he had forwarded and said, ‘Based on this letter, I too don’t have all the information…this sure sounds like from this letter we are making a mistake.’  That I agree with the Interpretation of this letter.”

Lewis – “You are impeaching Council’s decision and that’s not what I see as our job here.  Council has delegated to us two discreet questions that are very complex and that ultimately go to the ultimate question of whether there should be a crossing or not, but the issue of whether there should be a crossing or not is not before us.  Mike and I spoke about this.  I would hope you could have a clear mind, erase it, go in there and listen to what every single person has to say with an open mind.  But if you have already expressed an opinion that Council made a mistake in that vote, [then] I don’t know how you can [give consideration] to those two sub-topics impartially.  I have never seen Planning Commissioners express a personal preference before a public hearing vote.  I find it wrong.  Let’s just repeal the operating guidelines.  We reviewed and discussed them at length.  It said we have a duty to be impartial.  There [was] no wiggle room.”

Pearson – “Cheri… I must say I don’t see the partiality there…”

Lucy – “Ladies and gentleman, it’s 4:27 and we need to go to the chambers.”

Farruggio – “I have a question to ask first before we can go to chambers…Is there a test, as Cheri is suggesting, for impartiality? I can say right now I have come into a meeting feeling like I [feel] right now having some of the information and then came out with a different decision at the end.”

Harris - “That’s the idea behind a public meeting...”

Lewis – “But Mike if you have sent a public letter all around, how are members of the public going to perceive that?”

Farruggio – “I didn’t send it all around, I sent it to the Planning Commission and City Council.”

Lewis – “But you know that’s a public document because of the way you have distributed it.”

Farruggio – “I would agree it is a public document but I didn’t send it to the newspaper...”

Lewis – “This issue is whether the public that signs up to speak tonight will believe that Mike Farruggio, Bill Lucy and Jason Pearson can possible listen to him [or her] with an open mind.”

Harris – “The decision to be made is whether or not a mall crossing will go along with the comprehensive plan.  I didn’t even know about these comments that are out there, but if Bill or any of you can make that decision rationally, does this comply with the comprehensive plan, then I don’t see the issue.”

Lewis – “We are not a political body.  We were given an assignment, it’s a hard one, it’s very narrow to the ultimate question that Council has already decided.  It’s really hard.”

Pearson – “We are not a political body, so the idea of public perception swaying whether or not a member who is publicly stating… I am stating, ‘I can make an impartial decision.  Mike is stating he can make an impartial decision. To weigh whether the public will perceive or impartiality as impartial, that is a political consideration...”

[Commissioners leave the room]