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March 30, 2008

Eastern Connector won’t be a “silver bullet”; part of larger complex puzzle

Grimm-lecturing
Lewis Grimm of PBS&J
The Eastern Connector Steering Committee met on March 28, 2008 for a discussion of whether any of the three remaining route alternatives would be effective in relieving traffic congestion on Route 250, the region’s main road for east-west local traffic. This was the first time the Committee has met since the Charlottesville City Council expressed their concern over the direction of the study .

At the last Steering Committee meeting in February, Lewis Grimm of the engineering firm PBS&J was directed to further study the possibility of making improvements on Route 250 to see if they would have any effect on congestion.  According to County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade, the committee did not direct PBS&J to develop these into full alternatives, but simply wanted more information.

However, City staff grew concerned when they read Grimm’s 21-page letter detailing how certain concepts would affect the traffic model.  The concepts include widening Free Bridge to 6 lanes, widening High Street in the City to four lanes as it approaches Route 250, and building a new bridge south of Route 250. These concepts have already been dismissed by the Committee.

No sitting Councilor sits on the Committee, though former Councilor Kevin Lynch’s
appointment remains valid.  However, Council voted in early March to send a message to the consultant, PBS&J, that any alternative that went through the City would not be considered by them to be a viable alternative. The March 4, 2008 letter reads:

“Some of these alternatives may be worth exploring as part of other studies, but we do not feel that they address the goals of this particular study or problem…The City entered into a partnership with Albemarle County to study a way to move traffic from Route 29 North to Pantops and back that did not go through the City road system. Studies have shown this to be an ever increasing travel movement in the County that has never been adequately addressed…”
Council’s letter was the starting point for the Steering Committee’s March meeting. Grimm asked the committee if they needed any further clarification on what he had submitted, and if they had any questions about the City’s letter.

Mark Graham, Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development, said he never expected the Route 250 improvements to stand-alone as the only alternative, but a recognition that none of the alternatives that were taken to the public last fall (Route 20 to Rio Road via Pen Park, Polo Grounds, and Proffit Road Relocated) would be effective in relieving traffic congestion on Free Bridge.

“One of the County’s main objectives with this whole exercise is to bring 250 to an acceptable level of service,” Graham said. “I really saw what was being proposed with the Route 250 improvements as supplemental  or part of a package of improvements.”

Graham said it was important for the community to identify a short-term, mid-term and long-term answer to address congestion at Free Bridge, given that the current funding picture would prevent any of the roadway alignments from being built for several years if not decades.
He suggested spot improvements to Route 250 as short-term solutions, and an Eastern Connector could be a mid-term approach.

Alexander-jeannette-boyd-gr
Members of the Committee listen to Grimm's explanations
Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors said he did not understand why City leaders were concerned. “Our traffic [data] indicate that there’s more traffic to alleviate by somehow providing for those people who are going to and from the City,” Boyd said.

Grimm went on to explain how the Pen Park option would attract approximately 14,000 vehicles per day from Route 250, most of which would be diverted from Free Bridge. Graham pointed out that Grimm’s traffic model shows that the Pen Park route would also attract an additional 6,000 vehicles a day to Free Bridge, possibly making the situation there worse.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch pointed out that the diversion is constrained because the road called for in the Eastern Connector study would be restricted to two lanes. So far, Grimm’s traffic forecast model has not calculated the effect of a 4-lane Eastern Connector.

“If we said a four-lane facility, then we would see a lot more cars that would be taking that location. What the model shows is that there is more than enough vehicles making that movement to saturate whatever facility we build there,” Lynch said. In fact, City Traffic Engineer Jeannie Alexander said her numbers projected a 2-lane Eastern Connector would open with a failing level of service.

After some discussion, the Committee agreed to direct Grimm to perform additional analysis of traffic model based on four-lanes, not just for the Pen Park Route, but also for Polo Grounds Road and Proffit Road Relocated. These “sensitivity tests” will not be considered as full alternatives, but the modeling will provide more information.

Graham pointed again at the numbers which show Free Bridge’s traffic volume increasing, no matter which option is selected. “My question is, is that a function of the limitation of the connector or not?”

Grimm reminded Graham that the Eastern Connector should be viewed as one piece of a large complex puzzle. “There is no silver bullet that one road is going to solve all the problems over the next 20, 30, 40 50 years. There will be multiple improvements that will need to be made,” Grimm said. The total vehicle miles travelled in the whole jurisdictional area of the MPO are projected to increase by 52% between 2005 and 2025, according to the traffic model.

Morris-pointing
County Planning Commissioner Cal Morris points out why he supports a Pen Park route
Albemarle County Planning Commission Chairman and Key West resident Cal Morris said that of the three solutions taken to the public in the fall, the Pen Park solution was the most viable solution, because of the three, it would be connected to the most mature infrastructure in the area. Boyd said he agreed, but that the community has a history of spending a long time planning roads that don’t get built for decades. Morris said that’s why it was important for the steering committee to reach consensus on depicting three alternatives.

Boyd said he did not want to discourage further study, but that it was almost time for the Committee to report back to the City Council and Board of Supervisors with three alternatives.  Morris said he thought the Committee was almost ready to select three, and he was ready to recommend one as a top choice. City Planning Commissioner Mike Farruggio said he wanted more information on a four lane Pen Park route, despite concerns by Kevin Lynch that it would be politically impossible to build that road.  

Lynch-farrugio
Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch and City Planning Commissioner Mike Farruggio
“How in the world do you govern effectively if you do the math, and it says what needs to be done is a four-lane road to connect to Rio Road to [reduce] traffic and plan for the next 20 years, but we’re not going to do it because it’s unpalatable to some folks,” Farruggio asked. He pointed out the purpose of the Committee was to recommend the road based on the data at hand, and that a decision would be up to Council and the Board.

Graham also asked for modeling of the High Street bridge connection, which would intersect with an extended South Pantops Road that will eventually connect to Peter Jefferson Place. He said he knew that the City would not support this route, but that he needed to show the Board of Supervisors how effective the corridor might be. “It’s not an alternative, but when we set this up, we did call for a modeling [of a High Street bridge],” Graham said.  

The City letter also requested that transit options be studied. The Committee agreed with Grimm that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Council would be better equipped to evaluate that possibility in connection with the Regional Transit Authority study.

The next meeting of the steering committee will be on April 25. The Committee will decide at that time whether to hold one more public information session before passing their recommendations on to the Council and Board.

Sean Tubbs

March 27, 2008

City Planners discuss downtown building heights

20080324-CPC-Tall-Buildings2
A three-dimensional depicting the heights allowed in a full zoning build-out allowed under the proposed zoning ordinance change (Image: City of Charlottesville)
The Charlottesville Planning Commission will wait one more month to give further consideration to an amendment to the City’s downtown zoning ordinances which would change by-right building heights.  New structures exceeding those limits would require a special use permit.  The City’s consideration of new building height limits began in mid-2006 in response to a rush of 9-story building proposals on and around the Downtown Mall.

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At their March 25, 2008 work session, the Commission also discussed ordinance issues related to housing density and the Commission’s policy for public input at work sessions.  The Commission will finalize recommendations for City Council at a future meeting.

BUILDING HEIGHTS

Five 9-story building projects in the downtown are in various stages of development. They are the Waterhouse, the Landmark Hotel, 201 Avon, the Coal Tower, and the corner of Ridge-McIntire/West Main.

Former Mayor David Brown appointed a task force consisting of Commissioners, members of the Board of Architectural Review, and key stakeholders, many of whom were in attendance at the work session.  The study initially looked at both building heights and allowed residential densities, but those were split into separate items to be considered separately by the Planning Commission.

 “Essentially we were concerned with two things. One was that the [by-right] overall heights allowed in the downtown area might be too high,” Tolbert said. “And we had the conflict that really initiated this with the Keith Woodard building at First and Main where we have a provision in the BAR’s guidelines that say no building or structure should be more than two times the mass and height of surrounding properties.”  Tolbert said the latter standard would have prevented nearly any tall building downtown.

20080324-Height-Chart
This chart lists the changes that would be made to the zoning ordinance (click through to read)
Currently, a new building in the downtown mall district (north of Water Street and south of Jefferson) Street would have a by-right development height of 101 feet. The proposed ordinance change would lower that to 70 feet, but would allow a developer to apply for a special use permit to construct to 101 feet. 

Buildings on the south side of West Main Street are currently restricted to sixty feet by-right, with 80 feet allowed with a special use permit. The ordinance change would raise the by-right height to 70 feet, but would allow a height of 101 feet with a special use permit. That would increase by at least two stories the height of buildings on that side of the street.

On the other side of the street, buildings are currently allowed to be 50 feet tall by-right, with no opportunity to apply for a special use permit. Under the amendments, the by-right figure would be raised to 60 feet, with 70 feet allowed with a special use permit.

The committee also recommended changing the zoning ordinance to create a new district for the Corner, but to make no changes at this time to the existing zoning.  Other changes would be made to the required streetwall and stepbacks, as noted in the chart to the right.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller asked why the committee felt the need to raise by-right building heights on West Main Street. Tolbert said the Committee felt that West Main could use more height, and that the proposed changes would provide “symmetry on the street.”

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig asked why buildings on the south side could be 31 feet taller than on the north. Tolbert said one factor is that the lots on the south are separated from other neighborhoods by the railroad.

The ordinances would also institute minimum heights for downtown for the first time. Commissioner Keller asked if a property owner whose building is destroyed in a disaster would be forced to build to the maximum height. Former City Planner Ashley Cooper served on the committee, and now works for developer Bill Atwood. Cooper said the non-conformities could be allowed in certain situations.

Commissioner Keller also asked if there was more information on what the existing street heights are on West Main Street, saying that she needed to better understand how higher buildings would affect the street. Kay Slaughter, who represents the Southern Environmental Law Center on the committee, said they used anecdotal evidence. Keller said she wanted more concrete information.

“We’re making major decisions that will affect the development and redevelopment process,” Keller said. “I think it’s important that people understand what the base is before we make changes.” 

20080324-buildings
The Monticello building on 5th and E. Jefferson (left) stands tall above its neighbors
Commissioner Farruggio pointed out that under the ordinance changes, a developer could build a 70 foot building on the southern side of East Jefferson Street. Currently the tallest building on that side is the former Monticello Hotel, but no other building is currently taller than three stories. Farruggio recommended revisiting the zoning for that street and suggested a 40 foot maximum. Tolbert  pointed out that the by-right height was recently as high as 187, but that the Committee didn’t address Jefferson Street.  He suggested the boundary for the Downtown North district be extended south to cover the issue.  Keller said she would like to see some changes for Jefferson as well.  Tolbert agreed to make the adjustments, as well as slight adjustments for the South and Water districts

Rosensweig asked how a street that had two different sets of building height standards could appear to be part of the same street. Committee and BAR Member Fred Wolf pointed out that street walls and step backs would be the way in which planners can establish continuity for a street.

Keller also said she was concerned about a 101 foot building at the intersection of what used to be the corner of Garrett and Ridge Streets (the roads are no longer connected). Currently that site is occupied by the firm Macrosoft, and is proposed to have the same classification as West Main South. Tolbert wasn’t certain that was correct, and that may have been a mapping error. “The Committee has never focused on that [area],” he said.

Councilor David Brown asked Tolbert about the timeline for the ordinance changes. Tolbert said he had hoped to have the Planning Commission vote on the recommendations in April, but that would now need to be pushed back to May.

Brown said it was important to work fast. “The longer we take, the more properties get affected because someone has moved ahead in the mean-time,” Brown said. He suggested breaking the ordinance change into pieces so the areas that had been studied could be rezoned. Keller asked if that would be legal. Tolbert said it was legal to move forward with anything less than the whole of what had been advertised. Farruggio said he was reluctant to do move forward on a piecemeal basis. Deputy City Attorney Rich Harris said he would rather see it move forward as one ordinance change.

Keller said she was concerned with treating the two sides of West Main Street differently. “It troubles me from a design point of view that we would be encouraging buildings to be considerably taller on one side of the street than the other, “ Keller said. Farruggio said the setback of 15 feet would allow for the creation of a wide sidewalk extending all the way from the University of Virginia to the Downtown Mall.

Keller also said she would prefer to see the West Main corridor be split into two zoning districts out of a concern that the City was approving far too much for developers. “I wonder if we’re biting off too much at one time. Having lived here all of my life and watched all the development patterns it seems like we get one or two major buildings  a decade and so I really don’t believe we’re going to have a boulevard of very tall buildings. I think these will be cherry picked, and so I would really like to see us move ahead incrementally.”

Farruggio said he supported changing the zoning for all of Water Street now to take advantage of redevelopment that is soon to come.

 “There’s three very large areas that are ready for redevelopment and I would want to capitalize on what may occur there because I really want to get, and I think that we as a City really are moving awards getting the density to get some transit working, and I want to have the same plan for the whole area,” Farruggio said. Lewis agreed that all of West Main should be planned at this time, but also questioned why the two sides of the road would have different allowed heights.

Osteen said he thought the asymmetry would be imperceptible because of the setbacks and stepbacks.

Commission discusses reduced density proposal

After the discussion on building heights concluded, the topic moved to the issue of changing the allowed densities. Tolbert said the public hearing on these changes would not come until after the building heights issues moves forward.

Tolbert said staff was concerned that the by-right densities under existing zoning were set too high, denying the opportunity for the City to require a project developer to address impacts on infrastructure. For example, the developers are currently allowed 87 units per acre by-right, with an opportunity to apply for a special use permit to reach 200. For downtown, he suggested reducing the by-right to 43 units per acre and up to 240 units with an SUP.

“The gist of that is that by-rights would be lowered, and in most cases the ability to do more with an SUP would be increased, and the beauty of an SUP is that it gives us the opportunity to mitigate specific concerns resulting from that development that we might not otherwise be able to deal with,” Tolbert said.

After a discussion, Tolbert asked the Commission if they were satisfied with the direction he is going in on density. Farruggio said his presentation had been helpful. Keller asked for Tolbert to put his rationale into a narrative that she could read.  Lewis said she would have preferred to see the height and density adjustments undertaken in the same ordinance change, given that both will affect property owners.

After the two items were concluded, Farruggio asked if any members of the development community would like to weigh in on the discussion. Just as architect John Matthews was about to speak, Commissioner Keller raised an objection.

“I have no problem with listening to what [Mr. Matthews] is trying to say, but in my experience prior to joining the Planning Commission the work session was a closed meeting and I often attended work sessions and took notes but  I didn’t have an opportunity to speak,” Keller said, adding that the Commission needed a policy to govern public comment at work sessions. “There may have been people who would have attended this meeting and didn’t because they knew they wouldn’t have an opportunity to have input.”

Lewis said the Commission took comment during the historic preservation work sessions. Keller said if the public is allowed to comment, it should be reflected on the agenda.  Deputy City Attorney Rich Harris said he would come up with a policy that distinguished between a public hearing and public comment at a work session.

When Matthews finally spoke, he identified himself as an architect who is working on many projects on West Main. He said he thought increased building heights and densities were vital to the health of the corridor, and would not threaten the existing character.  Matthews also added that higher densities fit in with the City’s desire to become more sustainable.
Ivor Romenesko of the Appraisal Group and the Landmark Realty group pointed out that the City’s future growth in tax collections would come through additional density, and that increased residential density on West Main was justified because of the economic engine of the University of Virginia.

Developer Keith Woodard suggested that the special use permit process have clear guidelines that would allow developers to keep engineering costs lower by knowing what would be expected of them. He also disagreed with lowering by-right densities.
Ashley Cooper suggested that the City develop three-dimensional models to help the public understand the big changes that will be coming.

Keller supported Woodard’s request, and called for guidelines. “I’m concerned about us approving this ordinance and not being prepared to make decisions about special use permits,” Keller said. Cheri Lewis asked for more information on what other communities require for special use permits, and also wanted to know what design control powers the Commission would have.

When asked by Rosensweig if the intent was to improve the City’s ability to obtain proffers, Tolbert pointed out that proffers will not be part of the SUP process. Instead, the City can impose specific conditions directly related to the project, which could involve cash.

Rosensweig then asked if the density changes could help create more affordable living choices. Tolbert said  a new bill passed by the General Assembly at the request of the City of Charlottesville gives the City more power. The City will be able to require a percentage of “affordable” units as a condition for each SUP. As with the County, the developer can either build the number of units, or contribute to the City’s affordable housing fund.

Timeline for podcast:

  • 1:00 - Vice Chair Mike Farrugio opens the meeting
  • 1:47 - Commissioner Cheri Lewis expresses concern about the Whole Foods item being on the agenda
  • 4:50 - Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert explains why the Whole Foods proposal was on the agenda
  • 6:01 - Commissioner Genovieve Keller asks how items get added to the work session agenda
  • 7:18 - Tolbert begins presentation on building heights, and lists the members of the committee that came up with the recommended ordinance changes
  • 9:40 - Tolbert relates the concerns that prompted the study
  • 10:30 - Tolbert lists the heights currently allowed under existing zoning, and describes the proposed changes
  • 17:33 - Commissioner Keller asks why the committee felt the need to raise by-right building heights on West Main Street
  • 18:07 - Commissioner Rosensweig asks why buildings on the south side could be 31 feet taller than on the north
  • 19:18 - Tolbert explains why different zoning districts are being proposed for Water Street and South Street
  • 20:56 - Rosensweig asks further question about why different sides of Water Street have two different proposed heights
  • 21:47 - City Historic Preservationist Mary Jo Scala points out her concern that one of the committee's recommendations were not reflected on the map
  • 26:06 - Rosensweig asks a quick question about the Waterhouse building on Water Street
  • 26:34 - Keller asks if minimum heights would apply to building replacements
  • 28:25 - Lewis asks why Water Street would allow for 101 foot buildings (with SUP) while South Street would be downzoned to 45 feet (with no possibility of an SUP)
  • 29:50 - Commissioner Osteen asks how the sun angle measurement of 38 degrees was determined, and Keller asks for a deeper explanation
  • 33:10 - Keller requests to see more information about how the street height figures were calculated for West Main
  • 37:09 - Commissioner Farruggio asked how Committee arrived at idea to allow 70 feet buildings by-right on the southern side of East Jefferson Street, prompting discussion
  • 47:33 - Keller asks for information on why the Downtown maps changed between November 07 and January 08
  • 49:37 - Tolbert says he is not sure if the corner of Garrett and Ridge Streets should be classified under the West Main South Zoning District.
  • 52:40 - City Councilor David Brown asks for a timeline on the ordinance changes
  • 55:35 - Farruggio asks if his fellow Commissioners have any further comments, and Keller expresses her concerns with treating the two sides of West Main Street differently
  • 1:05:40 - Osteen said the Committee had consensus that multiple sections of West Main would be developed as "destination nodes"
  • 1:10:25 - Farruggio opens up discussion on proposed density changes, and Tolbert lists the various proposed changes
  • 1:22:08 - Farruggio says he is concerned that the higher densities would encourage an overabundance of 1,000 square foot units
  • 1:24:56 - Tolbert answers questions about bedroom limitations and requirements in the ordinance
  • 1:30:00 - Tolbert asks the Commission if they would like staff to continue pursuing the density changes
  • 1:31:45 - Farruggio asks members of the development community if they would like to speak, and Commissioner Keller interrupts architect John Matthrews to object
  • 1:36:15 - Architect John Matthews comments on the plan
  • 1:37:46 - Ivor Romenesko of the Appraisal Group and the Landmark Realty group
  • 1:40:32 - Developer Keith Woodard suggested that the special use permit process have clear guidelines
  • 1:42:12 - Ashley Cooper of Atwood Architects, followed by follow-up comments from Woodard, Romenesko, and Matthews
  • 1:45:46 - Farruggio closes the public comment session and returns discussion to densities
  • 1:50:20 - Tolbert asks Commission if they are interested in revisiting the City's Highway Corridor zoning classification to allow for larger medical buildings, and the Commission appears to be receptive to the idea, followed by adjournment
Sean Tubbs

March 26, 2008

County Planners oppose Pantops sports and auto complex

20080325sports At their meeting on March 25, 2008, the Albemarle County Planning Commission held a work session to consider a project proposing a major indoor/outdoor sports complex, a two-story retail and office building, and an auto dealership on Route 250 East near the Interstate 64 interchange at Shadwell.  The East Pantops Complex is on three parcels totaling 58.2 acres which includes the South Lego Farm.

The majority of the commissioners expressed strong concerns about the scale and location of the sporting complex and additional Highway Commercial activity. In the view of the Commission, the overall project was not seen as compatible with the County’s Comprehensive Plan.  All of the commissioners were opposed to the seven additional residential lots proposed for the property.  Chairman Cal Morris was not in attendance at the meeting.

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The staff report identified numerous challenges the proposal presents for the County’s consideration.

  • Location: Project is in the rural area outside the Pantops Development Area.  In addition to the sports complex, the project proposes seven additional housing lots, an intensity of use not intended in the Rural Areas portion of the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Scale of facility: The applicant stated this would be the largest indoor recreation facility of its type in Virginia.  The indoor sports facility is proposed to be 93,750 sq.ft. covering 2.15 acres.  In Albemarle’s rural area, only four other buildings exceed 90,000 sq.ft.  Three of them are County schools and the fourth is the Earlysville Industrial Park Building.
  • Comparable projects: An indoor soccer facility less than half this size in the rural area off Polo Grounds Road was recently rejected by the Board of Supervisors.
  • Historic resources: There are several historic resources near the property (Monticello, Shadwell Estate, and the archaeological site of the 19th century Shadwell canal lock and dam.
  • Highway interchange policies: This property is on the rural area side of the I-64 interchange not designated for interchange-related development.
  • Master plan: The Pantops Master Plan was approved in March 2008.  Staff note there were no requests for changes along this eastern boundary of the development area (e.g. to include this property in the plan).
  • Natural resources: There would be grading and fill in the floodplain and in stream buffer areas to create outdoor playing fields.

20080325harding The centerpiece of the proposed project is the 93,750 sq.ft. indoor sports complex.  The applicant, Mike Harding, said it would include three indoor soccer fields, four indoor basketball courts, a health club, and a restaurant.  Modeled after a smaller facility in Rockville, MD, the building would cover 2.15 acres.  Harding said it would be the biggest indoor sporting facility of its kind in Virginia.  The Commission was skeptical such a facility could be done in accordance with the goals of the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Harding was encouraged to consider applying for a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) which would lay the foundation for the County to consider an appropriate application in the future.  However, given the tenor of the commissioners comments about the proposal and the concerns presented by staff, the likelihood of such a CPA being approved in the County’s rural area by the Planning Commission seems remote.

Harding described his request for the Highway Commercial rezoning along Route 250 as appropriate development that would be “linear infill.”  He questioned the County’s designation of that land as rural dating back to the great rezoning of 1980.  “To refer to any part of this project as rural in character, I’d have to say that our forefathers that did that were putting lipstick on a pig,” said Harding.  “There is nothing here that is rural in character where the rezoning is being asked for.”

The newest Commissioner, Linda Porterfield (Scottsville), told her colleagues that she could support additional Highway Commercial uses along Route 250 East given the numerous commercial properties between I-64 and Route 22 at Shadwell.  “What I am looking at on this side of [the Interstate] is that this is land that is very close in proximity to the other land that is being used commercially….I am also looking at land that…I don’t think has been used for rural [purposes] in a very long time.”

“What do we do to make this productive land for the County of Albemarle?” asked Porterfield.  In recent years, some of her fellow Commissioners have taken what they describe as a principled approach in opposition to the expansion of the county’s designated growth areas, whether through a master planning process or through rezonings like this for the proposed auto dealership.  Land left rural and undeveloped is a “productive” use of the land in their interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan’s goals.  Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) observed that the parcel was bordered by other non-commercial land with conservation easements and historic district designations.

20080325copcWayne Cilimberg, the County's Director of Planning, summarized the Commission’s discussion at the conclusion of the work session.  He told the commissioners he heard them saying they could not support the creation of new residential lots nor could it support a rezoning of rural land to Highway Commercial to support the proposed auto dealership.  He also said that the sporting complex was not ruled out if it could be done on a smaller scale, but that the Commission would need to see more detailed information in a revised plan.

Next, developer Mike Harding will have to make a determination as to what type of revised request he plans to bring back to the County for further consideration.

Brian Wheeler

March 25, 2008

RWSA board votes to approve wastewater odor control measures

Rwsaodorcontrol
New facilities to help control odors at the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are marked in purple (Source: Hazen & Sawyer)

At its March 24, 2008 meeting, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) Board of Directors voted to undertake a series of steps to address community concerns about harsh odors generated at the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The RWSA Board approved a multi-step plan that follows some of the odor control recommendations presented in January by the firm Hazen and Sawyer.  The vote as 4-0 with Board Chair Michael Gaffney absent from the meeting.

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The adopted odor control plant will include three steps:

  • Design and build a new facility next to the accept septage from private haulers at a cost of nearly $3 million with an estimated completion by August 2009
  • Modify the ongoing Nutrient Removal Improvement project to add features that will allow for cleansing of holding ponds and equalization basins, at an estimated cost of $2.175 million. These improvements will be made concurrently with the upgrade
  • Evaluate effectiveness of odor control programs prior to proceeding with Phase II, possibly with a mail-in survey

This plan was crafted by an “informal work group” consisting of staff from the City’s utilities department, RWSA and Albemarle County Service Authority staff, with input from the Woolen Mills neighborhood. One of the participants, Bill Emory, addressed the Board and cited the spirit of an executive order signed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton that mandated the federal government provide “environmental justice” to minority neighborhoods.

20080324emory
Woolen Mills Resident Bill Emory addresses the RWSA Board

“No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of negative consequences resulting from municipal operations,” Emory said. “I would submit to you that people who live on Franklin Street within 600 feet of the holding ponds have been subjected to a disproportionate share of negative consequences.”

Emory acknowledged that ratepayers would bear the brunt of the cost of any upgrades, but that his neighbors have been “suffering silently for a long time.”

Gary Fern of the Albemarle County Service Authority altered the plan to specify that the RWSA will solicit a "Request for Qualifications" from other firms for the first phase of the project. Robert Wischer, RWSA’s Director of Water and Wastewater, had recommended the work be performed by Hazen & Sawyer, the firm that is currently designing the Moores Creek upgrade. Wischer said additional bids could add a few months to the project’s timeline.

Albemarle County will cover the cost of the new septage receiving station, though County Executive Bob Tucker said the locality will fund the project in its Capital Improvement Program for FY2010. If the County Board of Supervisors declines, the project will ultimately be paid for through higher fees for septage disposal.

In other news, the Board also saw an updated version of the RWSA’s Draft CIP for FY2008  through FY2013.  Since the CIP was first introduced in January, estimates for three projects have risen.

  • The Moores Creek plant upgrade is now estimated to cost $37 million
  • Odor control projects now budgeted at $5 million
  • Unanticipated capacity upgrades for Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant to cost $385K (and covered by the Albemarle County Service Authority)

The Board will vote on the authority’s operating and capital improvement budget at its May meeting.
Frederick also told the Board that the General Assembly cut $15 million from the state’s Water Quality Improvement Fund. The fund will reimburse localities who are upgrading their wastewater treatment facilities to met Department of Environmental Quality guidelines, and Frederick said he is concerned the money may not be there when it comes time for the RWSA to pay for the Moores Creek upgrades.

Sean Tubbs

Supervisors to discuss land use revalidation in April

Since 1975, Albemarle County has given reduced real estate assessments to landowners who use their property for agriculture, open space or forestry.  In 2005 alone, taxpayers avoided paying $13 million property taxes and that figure is projected to keep increasing.

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Supporters say the program helps farmers stay in business, because they cannot afford to pay the taxes based on their land’s market value. However, opponents say the program is a boon to wealthy landowners who are misrepresenting how their land is being used.  The County might redirect some of those tax revenues, if collected, towards community infrastructure needs and the purchase of development rights.

Landusechart
In 2007, Charlottesville Tomorrow asked County voters about their support of the land use taxation program.  58.4% of respondents indicated they strongly or somewhat supported the land use programSee Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Survey 2007 for details.

Glenmore resident Paul Accad addressed the issue when he spoke before the Board at their meeting on March 19, 2008. After listening to a podcast where Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said the County should revisit its revenue-sharing agreement with the City of Charlottesville. Accad said he was surprised at a statement made by Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) that the County pays more to the City in revenue-sharing then it collects in real estate taxes if the property is in land use. Revenue sharing will cost the County over $17 million in Fiscal Year 2010.  Accad suggested the Board should set up a committee similar to the Development Review Task Force to study both land use and revenue sharing

“The job of this task force would be very, very simple,” Accad said. “It would be to produce a document that would educate the average citizen on these two programs,” and would tell the history and justification for the programs. Accad also said the task force should suggest ways in which the two programs could be modified.

“These programs have grown too big to be left on auto-pilot, and they’re too big not to at least review,” Accad concluded.

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said the Board for has continuously asked for a thorough study of the issue, which is called for in the Comprehensive Plan’s section on rural areas.  She said 62% of the County’s land was enrolled in land use.

After Accad’s presentation, Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked staff to come back with information on how a committee would be set up.

County Attorney Larry Davis said staff was already preparing a “revalidation discussion” for an April Board meeting, as well as a summer briefing on the land use program. Revalidation means that anyone who currently receives a land use tax break would have to resubmit proof that they qualify. Currently the County does not have a revalidation plan.

Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, said the current work on land use being prepared by the Community Development Department was being pursued for financial reasons. He asked the Board if they agreed with that approach, or if they thought the program should be used as a tool to promote conservation.

Boyd said he disagreed with revisiting land use if the purpose was to raise more money, and Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) agreed. Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said he wanted more information because he thought land use assessments can be a tool for both purposes.

“There are others [on the Board] who have questions about what the program’s purpose is, whether or not its purpose is being fulfilled, and whether or not it’s the best use of the County’s revenue?” Slutzky said.
But Thomas said Cilimberg was right to remind the Board that it is a key tool to help conserve rural land from development, and said she understood the reason for the delay.

“We have, as you know, left our Community Development Department sorely underfunded and there may not be a person to do that right away,” Thomas said.  Currently the County has a frozen position for Rural Areas Planner, the person who would likely be responsible for a study. Slutzky said he thought the review process could begin much faster.

Rooker called the land use tax break “a huge fiscal issue” that should be revisited. He said it was a good policy, but questioned whether it was cost-effective.

“We need to understand what are the permutations of the plan that are legally possible? Could you require land to be in an agricultural-forest district in order to qualify? Could you require land to be in conservation easement to qualify?” Rooker asked.

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said he did not think the issue should be opened up because it would hurt farmers. While reluctant to use it as a tool for additional revenue, Boyd said he supported discussing the revalidation process.

“But I don’t have any mindset that tells me want to take away this important aspect of keeping some of our rural farmers in business out there,” Boyd said.

Thomas said the Board would have the chance to give further direction to staff after the revalidation discussion in April. Cilimberg said the Board would also be able to give direction to staff in May when Community Development Director Mark Graham will ask the Board to prioritize his department’s goals.

The topic was also an election year issue during last year's race for the White Hall, Scottsville and Rivanna magisterial events. The candidates were asked a question on land use during the Farm Bureau's debate last August.

Sean Tubbs

March 24, 2008

Council reviews funding for outside agencies

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Mayor Dave Norris opens up City Council's March 18 budget work session

On March 18, 2008, The Charlottesville City Council held their third work session on City Manager Gary O’Connell’s proposed budget for FY2009. This time, Budget Director Leslie Beauregard presented details of funding for outside agencies, and an update on how state funding will affect the budget.

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“What we do know is that the general assembly has once again passed the pain on to the localities,” Beauregard said. “What they’re saying is that they’re going to look for $50 million in savings and ask localities to actually choose how we want to realize what our portion of the savings is.”

However, Beauregard said the details are not yet known, but when the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget issues its formal request later this year, the City will have to select where it will save money in late summer. “We definitely have more questions than answers, and we don’t have any details on anything, and as soon as we do we’ll come back to Council with an action plan.”

Beauregard said the City will be asked to choose from a list of programs currently funded by the state. O’Connell said his understanding was that the list would not be presented until August.

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Councilor David Brown

Councilors also heard details on how outside agencies receive funding from the City. An Agency Budget Review Team holds work sessions to determine what social services proposals will be funded by the City.

A second process involves a team consisting of both City and County budget staff examine what arts, cultural and educational programs will receive funding, as well as any contractual obligations for shared ventures between the two localities such as the Emergency Communications Center and the regional jail.

Councilor Holly Edwards did not attend, but submitted questions in writing. She observed that the process by which agencies are funded is too complex and should be simplified. Councilor David Brown said Council should discuss that process at another time.

Councilors also suggested they would not need to hold the fourth work session, currently scheduled for April 1 at 5:00 PM. However, they left open the possibility of holding the session should conditions change.

Timeline for podcast:

  • 1:00 - Mayor Norris opens the work session
  • 1:40 – Beauregard describes how state funding reductions will be required later in the year, but that the exact areas to be cut are not yet known
  • 4:06 – Mayor Norris asks how the City can prepare for the cuts
  • 4:49 – Beauregard moves discussion to funding for outside agencies
  • 6:09 – Councilor Huja relays Councilor Edwards’ questions about the process, including how new agencies can compete for funding
  • 8:30 – Beauregard describes how City and County staff jointly examine proposals for arts, cultural and educational proposals, as well as any contractual obligations for shared ventures between the two localities such as the Emergency Communications Center and the regional jail
  • 9:00 – Beauregard describes new programs and ventures in the budget, and Councilors ask specific questions about each program.
  • 12:14 – Councilor Huja asks who makes the decision on what proposals get funded during the year from the $40,000 balance, and Beauregard says that is generally a staff decision
  • 20:33 - Beauregard begins discussion of programs aimed at serving children, youth and families. Councilors discuss fully funding the “Real Dads” program
  • 25:37 – Councilors discuss funding to help the Dogwood Festival, and Parks and Recreation Director Mike Svetz. The Dogwood Festival is run by a non-profit agency, and has requested that the bill they must pay to the City be capped at $8,000. Council discusses the issue, and possible changes to next year
  • 36:30 – Councilor Brown questions funding for Charlottesville Municipal Band – City Manager Gary O’Connell answers, having entered the meeting
  • 40:55 – Mayor Norris asks about a teaching program that was not funded, and Beauregard explains why, followed by Huja asking about funding for the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District
  • 43:43 – Discussion moves to funding for arts programs, with questions about the McGuffey Center and the Ashlawn-Highland Summer Festival
  • 47:20 – Discussion moves to public safety issues such as the regional jail, the Emergency Communications Center and the SPCA.
  • 51:57 – Discussion moves to miscellaneous agencies such as JAUNT
  • 53:20 – Discussion moves to City’s organizational memberships, including social services programs such as the Workforce One Stop Center as well as entities such as the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. Huja questions the basis for ongoing funding for the latter.
  • 1:10:55 – Councilor Brown asks how the City Manager’s performance is evaluated. Beauregard explains how Charlottesville is part of the Virginia Performance Consortium, a program run in part by the International City Management Association. Brown asks for a work session or a presentation to Council to evaluate this evaluation process
  • 1:15:40 – O’Connell describes this evaluation process
  • 1:17:04 – Public Works Director Judy Mueller describes how her department is beginning to sort its work program by neighborhood in order to show each City community how it is being served
  • 1:21:40 – Mayor Norris asks for more information on the African-American Teaching Fellows program which did not receive $7,500 it requested in the budget.
  • 1:22:31 – Discussion moves to Council questions on the budget, beginning with a further discussion on the tax relief grant for city homeowners. Huja questions if the program is reaching enough people. Council decides to raise the amount of money in the grant
  • 1:29:31 – Discussion returns to state funding issues, with City Manager O’Connell answering questions.

Sean Tubbs

Supervisors approve several new development projects

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved four development requests at their meeting on March 19, 2008.  The projects included two small residential developments, a church expansion, and a commercial building. 

New Housing and the Interconnection Conundrum

The neighbors in attendance at the two residential public hearings raised similar concerns about the expansion of the Fontana neighborhood in the Pantops area (34 homes) and the Patterson subdivision in Crozet (10 homes)--Namely traffic impacts resulting from new developments being interconnected to neighborhoods that were approved before the County’s Neighborhood Model standards were in place. 

New residential developments must comply with the County’s standards for, among other things, sidewalks and street trees.  Allowing cars from these new “walkable” neighborhoods to connect through the pedestrian unfriendly streets in existing neighborhoods has been a point of concern of County residents from Crozet, to Biscuit Run, to Glenmore. 

Supervisors that find these conflicts in their district often side with the existing constituents and oppose interconnection or only allow it for emergency vehicles.  Other Supervisors point out that it is an important principle of the County’s Neighborhood Model.  Even the General Assembly is starting to suggest they will be less likely to pay for maintenance of roads in cul-de-sac developments and will instead create funding incentives for interconnected neighborhoods that better mitigate traffic congestion.

20080319fontana First up was Fontana Phase 4C in the Pantops Development Area.  Two days after approving the Pantops Master Plan, the Supervisors unanimously approved the 34 home expansion of the Fontana neighborhood. 

Fontana resident Jeanne Anderson spoke during the public hearing sharing her concerns about Fontana’s road system.  She thanked the County for getting improved trails in the proffers, but noted “even with a fully functioning path system…it’s not a replacement for sidewalks [and] curb and gutter.  Keep that in mind…our roads are still sub-standard.”

20080319fontanaandersonFontana resident Jeanne Anderson

Anderson also expressed concerns about the nearby Cascadia development which was approved in August 2006 for up to 330 homes.  There the developer limited his interconnection to Fontana to initially be for emergency and pedestrian use only.  Some Fontana residents are concerned that the roads envisioned in the Pantops Master Plan will eventually allow Cascadia residents, and their own expanding neighborhood, a quicker path cutting through their neighborhood to the stores at the top of Pantops along Route 250.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) shared his concerns about the additional traffic this project, and nearby projects, would bring to the Fontana neighborhood.

“It’s still a real concern of mine.  Those roads are what they are.  They are built very narrow.  They are built with no sidewalks.  I am just fearful we are going to create a tremendous amount of traffic through there when we interconnect that, when we open up Olympia Drive, which will take you all the way up to the light on [Route] 250, with the Giant [grocery store]...”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) observed the evolving perceptions of the County’s Neighborhood Model design principles expected in new development.

“I would point out that there were people on the Board [of Supervisors] who really didn’t support initially the imposition of the [Neighborhood Model] standards that we are now concerned are not in place there.  And a lot of the development community at one point said that we should not adopt these standards.  I think what we are seeing is that the community wants and demands these standards.  If you don’t put the standards in place, it creates problems when you start creating links.”

The Board unanimously approved the Fontana Phase 4C development.

20080319patterson On a smaller scale, similar resident concerns surfaced in the Board’s review of the Patterson subdivision in Crozet.  Cliff Fox came requesting approval of a 10 home development adjacent to Grayrock North.  Fox’s property is on the edge of the Crozet Growth Area along Lantetown Road.  However, VDOT recommend against allowing a new cul-de-sac to be connected to Lanetown Road.  Instead, they said it would be better to utilize Lanetown Way within the adjacent Grayrock development.

Not surprisingly, Grayrock North residents were looking for fewer homes and a different road alignment.  Mike Beno spoke during the public hearing.  “We do still fee that the project is a little more dense than is fitting for the parcel,” said Beno.  He also acknowledged that his neighborhood (like Fontana) was developed prior to the neighborhood model.  “What we are asking is that the applicant and the Board of Supervisors is to not compound the shortcomings of that by adding extra traffic onto Lanetown Way....It is where all the kids play, there are no sidewalks.”

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Patterson developer Cliff Fox

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) was the lone vote against the new project.  She cited concerns about the density of housing and the connection to Grayrock North.  The other five members of the Board overruled the Planning Commission’s 4-2 vote from January 2008 recommending that the plan be denied.  Some Commission members took a strict interpretation of Crozet Master Plan’s map which showed a portion of this parcel as being lower density.  They argued the edge of the Crozet development area should be lower density throughout the Patterson parcel.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) shared his perspective that the Patterson subdivision was consistent with the Crozet Master Plan.

“[W]e have got a commitment we have made through the master planning process to the broader principle of interconnectivity, of concentrating our development activities inside the growth areas, and upgrading the infrastructure on those sites as they develop.  And we are going to bump up against situations constantly where things that got developed [in the past] don’t have the sidewalks, they don’t have the other infrastructure.  But if those become the reason why we stop honoring the whole point of the growth areas and the master planning, I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot in a very big way…I am genuinely sympathetic to the real situation that the folks in Grayrock are articulating, but there was an opportunity during the master planning process to decide the boundaries of the growth area, decide the densities.  The community as a whole came up with a vision, and I think this proposal is consistent with that vision in many ways…”

The Supervisors approved the Patterson subdivision by a vote of 5-1.

Church expansion and new Office get approval

In other business, the Board of Supervisors quickly approved the request of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church for improvements to their property in Greenwood.  Church leaders were commended for being good stewards of their property and for planning their additional parking areas around the old oak trees the surround the historic church.

Supervisors also unanimously approved Keith Woodard’s plan for construction of a two-story office building at the southwest corner of the intersection of Hydraulic and Georgetown. The 20,000 sq. ft. commercial building will have two stories visible from the road and a third story visible from the parking area at a basement level behind the building.

Brian Wheeler

March 20, 2008

MPO discusses Eastern Connector, RTA

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The MPO Policy Board held its monthly meeting on March 19, 2008. Highlights include an update on the proposed Regional Transportation Authority, the Eastern Connector, and efforts by the VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to streamline the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

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Regional Transit Authority update

Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) asked his fellow MPO Policy Board members and Harrison Rue what the group will be doing in the next few months while preparing enabling legislation to allow for a regional transportation authority (RTA). Harrison Rue of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission said Transportation Coordinator Melissa Barlow is completing the RTA study with input from the February joint work session, and should be finished with that for a presentation to the Board at the June MPO meeting.

Slutzky asked what the next steps will be considering the Virginia Supreme Court’s recent decision that the taxing authority given to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority is unconstitutional. Rue said the consultant writing the RTA report is revisiting the governance section to make sure the legislation is written in such a way to meet the Constitution. He said the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority has published a series of requested fixes to its enabling authority on its website.

City Councilor Satyendra Huja asked if this region’s RTA could meet the Constitutional standard by restricting membership on its Board of Directors to City Councilors and County Supervisors. Rue said that could be one way of making it work, as long as the decision to impose taxes was made by elected bodies. Slutzky called for a lobbying effort in Richmond, but Rue said MPO staff is prohibited from making the case themselves.

Huja, appearing at only his third MPO meeting, wanted to know more about why the University of Virginia has not yet come on board as a full participant in the RTA discussion. UVa Senior Land Use Planner Julia Monteith said the university has a system that currently works for its needs. “The University has been working for a long time on perfecting its system,” she said. “Right now there’s not a strong reason for them to change their system until there’s some obvious incentive.” However, Rue pointed to the University Transit Service’s collaboration with CTS on route maps and real-time messaging as examples of how closely the two systems do work.

Slutzky added that he was hopeful Monticello would also participate in the system as well.

Eastern Connector Update

During a conversation on the MPO’s Draft FY2009 work program, Supervisor Slutzky asked what the status of the Eastern Connector is, given that the City Council recently sent a letter to the consultant overseeing the alignment study location to say any route through the City is not acceptable.

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Supervisor Dennis Rooker

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said his concern with the study all along has been that any recommendation made by the study’s steering committee would not get built for lack of funding. “As we look at our dismal state of transportation funding, most of those recommendations would probably be a $75 million plus project,” Rooker said. The road would more than likely be a secondary road project, which would likely take decades to fully fund. He suggested the only way the Eastern Connector could be built is if it would qualify for federal or primary road funding from the state. Rooker urged the steering committee to take a look at funding as an additional criteria for the project.

Councilor Huja said a transit project might qualify, and Slutzky suggested a dedicated transit-only route could possibly qualify.

Rue said he thought the consultant introduced the concept of improving Route 250 in and around Free Bridge because of the primary funding, but he and Rooker both acknowledged the City’s concerns.

MPO Board votes to endorse VDOT’s streamlining process

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VDOT's John Giometti holds up a copy of the MPO's project tracking matrix

In February, the MPO Policy Board expressed concern that a new agreement between the Federal Highway Administration and Virginia’s transportation agencies would limit its role in the approval process for roads. Under the proposed new rules, VDOT’s central office would group similar projects under one category. This would allow projects on the Statewide Year Transportation Improvement Program to be altered without an amendment by an MPO each time.

At the March meeting, Board members had several questions from Diane Mitchell, a representative from VDOT’s Central Office. After being told that VDOT would make a monthly report on what projects would be “grouped”, and being told that the MPO could request that particular projects not be grouped, the Policy Board voted to approve a resolution supporting the changes. The monthly report could possibly become part of the MPO’s project tracking matrix.

Other news:

  • The MPO will use a web-based survey tool to help take public input in the plan to develop UNJAM 2035, the update for the MPO’s long-range transportation plan
  • The MPO will hold a regional summit on May 10 at Monticello High School to open the UnJam 2035 process
  • CTS Director Bill Watterson says the new Downtown Transit Center has been certified LEED Gold, one of the first public buildings in the region to attain that standard
  • Bill Wuensch was appointed to serve on the CHART committee

Timeline for podcast:

  • 00:45 – Chairman Slutzky convenes the meeting and offers introductions. Also calls for comments from the public (none accepted), review of previous month’s minutes
  • 02:16 – CTS Director Bill Watterson makes announcements
  • 04:00 – Ann Whitham outlines how the UNJAM 2035 process will begin unfolding in May, and describes how the MPO will use a web survey tool powered by a company called Neighborhood America to collect data from participants. Members discuss the survey and the kind of information it will gather.
  • 22:16 – Brief discussion of the MPO’s project tracking matrix
  • 22:52 – MPO Policy Board members break for closed session, and then reconvene with a 45-minute window for open discussion given that the public hearing was advertised for 5:00. The first topic covers the fate of the proposed Regional Transportation Authority
  • 42:25 – Harrison Rue discusses how land-use/transportation planning decisions can assist in the quest to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.  He also says that quest will be futile if more is not done to reduce vehice-miles-travelled (VMT)
  • 45:56 – Slutzky says at least two of the presidential candidates still running are committed to meeting the above goal, and will financially support efforts to help local governments reduce emissions through land use and transportation initiatives
  • 48:00 – Rooker describes how the 44 percent reduction in state funding for road construction will affect projects in the county, and VDOT’s Diane Mitchell responds
  • 53:48 – Rue says he’s recently spoken with Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who is proposing a national infrastructure tax to help fund investment in public facilities including transportation.
  • 55:37 – VDOT’s John Geometti announces that the FHWA has advised that the current long-range modeling forecast can go forward
  • 56:33 – Councilor Huja asks about the proposed General Assembly special session on transportation. Rue says there is no firm commitment
  • 57:46 – Rue, a member of Board of Directors of the National Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, says that group is proposing an energy independence fund to help reduce the county’s dependence on foreign oil
  • 1:00:25 – Rooker says that Europe is fast gaining a competitive advantage over the US because of 200 mile an hour trains
  • 1:01:09 – Slutzky opens up discussion on MPO’s proposed FY2009 Work Plan, but does not yet open up the public hearing, and Melissa Barlow discusses
  • 1:05:22 – Rooker says he supports the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation’s desire to paint bike lane markings a brighter color to help them stand out more, and asks if MPO is involved
  • 1:06:50 – During the discussion of the work plan, the topic of the Eastern Connector came up
  • 1:14:54 – Discussion of FY2009 Work Plan continues
  • 1:16:00 – Public hearing on the Work Plan is opened, Peter Kleeman speaks, Rue responds
  • 1:22:37 – Discussion on Public hearing item on VDOT’s Unified Systems Investment Process. Peter Kleeman spoke in favor, but CHART member Robert Burke said he tentatively supported the idea

Oval roundabout preferred by 250 Interchange Steering Committee

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Alternative C1 was selected over G1 by the Committee

On a vote of 5-1-1, the committee overseeing the development of an interchange for the Route 250 Bypass and the future Meadowcreek Parkway has selected a large oval roundabout as its preferred alternative for connecting the two roads (Alternate C1). If the recommendation is accepted by City Council later this spring, the engineering firm RK&K will begin designing a detailed plan for the intersection, which would carry Route 250 over McIntire Road and the Parkway on an elevated bridge over the roundabout.

Although the plan includes a north-south pedestrian trail, committee member and former City Councilor John Conover said he could not support any of the two remaining alternatives because they did not go far enough in opening up the Park to pedestrians coming from downtown. Conover represents the Rivanna Trail Foundation on the committee, which has spent over two years evaluating alternatives. The other remaining alternative, G1, is similar to C1 but would feature a signalized diamond to move traffic on and off the bypass.

Additionally, a group of historic preservationists and opponents of the Meadowcreek Parkway are claiming that RK&K and the Committee did not go far enough when looking into the impacts on nearby historic resources.

This was the first committee meeting since the public hearing last November. Since that time, RK&K engineers and City Neighborhood and Development staff have been holding meetings with the historic preservationists to resolve some of the outstanding issues. According to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, any transportation improvement that uses federal funding must evaluate if any other reasonable alternative can be found. If not, Section 106 requires a plan for mitigating the effects on nearby historic resources.

The Section 106 “Consulting Parties” had the chance at the meeting to present their side to the Steering Committee. Rich Collins, representing Sensible Alternatives to the Meadowcreek Parkway (STAMP), read from an October letter from VHDR that stated that agency believed the impact on historical resources of the interchange and the parkway itself should be measured together. He claimed the FHWA and VHDR are still negotiating over this point.

Peery disputed that notion, and explained to Collins that the FHWA does in fact have the final say on the
Section 106 process.

“There is no discussion going on right now to my knowledge or will be going on between the FHWA and VDHR about what constitutes this project,” Peery said. He went on to say that the FHWA answered the letter by saying they stood behind their decision to treat the projects as separate.

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Owen Peery of RK&K reviews the ten alternatives proposed for the interchange

Before entering into a full status report of the ongoing Section 106 process, Project Director Owen Peery of RK&K described that the interchange process has always taken historic resources into account. He said the Committee had previously eliminated two larger alternatives that would have forced the removal of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He also said that RK&K has been concurrently working with representatives of the Dogwood Memorial and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post that operate the memorial. Two concepts are being shown to that group to show how the memorial would be affected by Alternatives C1 and G1.
Mike Svetz, Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Director said the issue is also related to the McIntire Park master planning process which is currently ongoing.

Lynch asked if the team has been able to establish whether the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was in fact the first in the nation, as its organizers have claimed. RKK Engineer Eric Almquist, who is supervising the Section 106 process for the firm, said they could not find any proof, but were treating the memorial as if it were the first.

As part of the Section 106 process, Peery says RK&K looked at ten potential alternatives to the Interchange that would serve the purposes of the project. These include using Grove Road to siphon traffic away, a 24-lane at-grade intersection, as well as improvements to the existing Park Street interchange.

Only two of these were considered to be reasonable alternatives – close the western ramps leading to and from Park Street, and aggressively pursue efforts to move people onto public transit.
Almquist said that Section 106 encourages but does not mandate historic preservation.  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) coordinates with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR), but makes the final decisions on whether the project  team considered other alternatives, established a list of what properties would be affected, and how the effects would be mitigated.  The end product of the Section 106 process is a Memorandum of Agreement that outlines steps that will be taken to reduce the impacts.

View
A view from the Rock Hill Academy site looking back to Route 250. Daniel Bluestone said the site is home to one of the region's most complex garden system (Image courtesy Daniel Bluestone)

As part of the three Section 106 meetings, the site of the former Rock Hill Academy was added to the list of affected properties. Located in the northeast corner of the proposed interchange, the Academy was set up as a school for white children when Charlottesville City schools closed in the mid-fifties rather than accept black students.  As such, the Academy is little-known today, and the property is owned by the Monticello Area Community Action Agency and assessed at $1.9 million, according to Mike Svetz.

Daniel Bluestone, a historic preservationist and associate professor at the University of Virginia, presented the Committee with images of the historic resources that he said were on every quadrant of the interchange. He suggested the interchange would be smaller if the committee had taken a full look at those resources. After giving a history lesson on how philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire donated the land in 1926 for the park to preserve the region’s agricultural past, Bluestone also showed slides of the remnants of the historical garden complex that predates the Academy but is largely forgotten today. Bluestone is representing Piedmont Preservation as a consulting party.

“One of the charges for your committee was to figure out good pedestrian and bicycle access into McIntire Park,” Bluestone said. “If you took seriously the mitigation and historic resources this is the place that you should be going through the park. Not through the middle of this interchange… You have an incredibly rich landscape. You have a historic park. You have the most important garden landscape in Charlottesville. You have the McIntire High School [now the Covenant School] and the houses on top of Park Hill… These historic resources should have been understood at the beginning of the process, not at the end.”

Another consulting party, City resident and historic preservationist Mary Howard, said the interchange alternatives were too big and more suitable for an urban environment such as in D.C. or Baltimore.

“We need to answer some questions about traffic, yes, but to put this style and this scale interchange into a historic district is just inappropriate,” she said. Howard is also with the

Almquist said RK&K will continue to work on the minimization and mitigation that could be done, and will also continue to fine-tune the pedestrian and bike trails as part of the continuing Section 106 process.
“We’ve done a good faith effort, we believe, to look at whatever we can to try and minimize [effects],” Almquist said.

Peery said the Committee needed to make a decision in order to move the process along. He had hoped to have one preferred alternative last summer, but the selection process was delayed as the Section 106 process continued.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who was appointed on March 17 to serve on the committee as a citizen at-large, said he wanted to see more information on how the effects on historic resources would be mitigated or lessened. Peery said details on mitigation would come during further design of the alternative, which will not occur until after City Council selects one preferred alternative.  He said mitigation would be the number one subject at the Steering Committee’s next meeting.

Hodous_2
Robert Hodous

Lynch said he supported taking a look at using the Rock Hill Academy site as an entrance. Committee  member Bob Hodous represents the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, and he said he had been aware of the historic aspects of the interchange site, but appreciated Bluestone’s presentation. City Planning Commissioner Cheri Lewis said she also supported using the site.   “It’s an asset that could open up this park and could mitigate the effects of an asphalt interchange nearby,” Lewis said.

As the time for the meeting ran out, Angela Tucker asked the Committee if they wanted to hold another meeting to make the decision, but Peery said he wanted a decision on the spot. Peter Kleeman of STAMP urged the committee to delay a decision until after the Section 106 process was fully complete.

Lynch said he preferred Alternative C1, but wanted to hold back on making an official decision out of a concern that the mitigation information would not be completed. “In my experience, if we just go forward and say we’ll work out the details later, my experience is that’s not as likely to happen,” Lynch said.  “My concern about saying we endorse C1 is that it gets cost-reduced and we end up with something we wouldn’t necessarily be proud of.”

However, Conover said he couldn’t support  either alternative because neither had gone far enough to open up pedestrian and bicycles to McIntire Park. He said the roundabouts did not appear to be safe, and that he would prefer crosswalks at signalized intersections because traffic stops.

“I guess I would be in favor of giving more access to pedestrians and bicycles, and if that’s at the expense of cars, fine,” Conover said. He suggested he could accept a smaller interchange.

Peery said the project budget did not anticipate the purchase of the Rock Hill site, but that the City could choose to purchase the property as a separate project in the future.

The members of the Committee spent some time discussing the timing of mitigation, and wrote a motion advancing C1 as their preferred alternative, with the condition that steps will be taken to lessen the impact on the historical resources. 

Hodous said the Steering Committee would continue to be involved while the design phase proceeds, and he moved forward the motion. Councilor Satyendra Huja abstained. Farruggio, Lewis, Richard Berman, Lynch and Hodous voted yes, while Conover vote no.  Leigh Middleditch indicated his support for C1 in writing before the meeting, and three committee members were absent.

Sean Tubbs

March 19, 2008

Supervisors approve Pantops Master Plan; Wheeler property removed

20080317pantopsmap
Source: Albemarle County

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has voted 4-2 to approve the Pantops Master Plan, a Comprehensive Plan amendment that will guide planning of one of the County’s development areas.  The County’s other approved Master Plan is for Crozet and that was adopted in 2004.  Supervisors Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) voted against the plan, in part, because it removes a 77-acre parcel of land from the growth area against the landowner’s wishes.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080317-BOS-Pantops.mp3

 

The approval came following a March 17, 2008 work session at which the Supervisors reviewed three outstanding questions about the plan.

  • Should the Board follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation to allow a 77-acre parcel of land owned by Clara Belle Wheeler to remain in the growth area? (Clarification 3/26/08: Staff originally recommended to the Planning Commission that the Wheeler parcel be removed)
  • Should the Board accept a request by the Vermillion family to add their 25 acre property to the growth area? (Clarification 3/26/08: Staff recommended to the Board that the Vermillion parcel not be added.  The Planning Commission did not consider this request in their review.)
  • Should the Board follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation to not include a relocation of Hansens Mountain Road?

The Board reviewed the Plan on August 1, 2007 and held a public hearing on September 12, 2007. After the public hearing, the Vermillion family requested that their property be added to the development area. In order to do so, the Board would have had to have held another public hearing.

In the discussion, Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked staff when the master plan could be adopted.  The County’s Chief of Planning, David Benish, told the Board they could adopt it immediately if they do not make any amendments. The Board decided to not include the Vermillion property at this time, but left open the possibility of amending the plan in the future.  Benish said staff was concerned the topography of the site would not support a dense amount of population without steep slope waivers.  Rooker suggested the Vermillions could return to the Board in the future with a request for a Comprehensive Plan amendment.    

Many of the same arguments for keeping the Vermillion property out of the designated growth area were also made for removing the Wheeler property. Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said taking the property out would help protect Route 20 as a rural road, and would prevent development along the Rivanna River.  He acknowledged that Wheeler has publicly told the Board that she would like to keep her property in the growth area.

“That’s not unimportant, but we’re supposed to make the determination for the overall long term good of the community,” Slutzky said. Rooker said it made no sense to him to have her property in the growth area.
Boyd disagreed and said her property rights were being violated and that he respected Wheeler’s desire to keep her property in the growth area. Rooker responded that no one has a property right claim in a comprehensive plan designation. “There really have been a number of mixed signals from this property owner in the sense that they’ve talked about putting the property in conservation easement,” Rooker said.
The County does not accept easements on property in the growth areas.

The bulk of the discussion in the work session focused on the Hansens Mountain Road issue. The County was forced by a court decision to approve a site plan by developer Richard Spurzem to build a 180,000 square foot shopping center at the western corner of the road and Route 250. The Board of Supervisors is opposed to the Gazebo Place development, but has no authority to stop it because of the underlying zoning.  VDOT officials have said they would close a crossing of the median at Hansen Mountain Road if the center goes ahead, given the proximity to I-64/250 interchange.  That crossover is also the exit from the Ashcroft neighborhood and it’s elimination would force residents into a right turn only traffic pattern onto Route 250.

The Planning Commission recommended not including any recommendation about a proposed relocation of Hansens Mountain Road to address traffic issues associated with Gazebo Place, citing concern about increasing commercial traffic in the neighboring Glenorchy subdivision.  Staff had amended their recommendation to read as follows:

“Relocate the Hansens Mountain Road from its current intersection with Route 250 to a new location that would utilize the Glenorchy Drive/Peter Jefferson Parkway crossover at the Route 250 intersection to align with the existing entrance into Peter Jefferson Place in a manner that avoids significant negative impacts to occupied dwelling units in the Glenorchy neighborhood. Several possible alignments are identified on the Pantops Master Plan.”

The plan states three possibilities for how the road might be built, even though staff acknowledged some of them might be difficult. Rooker said the developer has even purchased lots in the Glenorchy subdivision in order to build an alternate entrance given the limitations of Hansen Mountain Road.  Slutzky suggested waiting until it was certain Gazebo Place could have some form of a public road built to serve it. “It seems silly for us to adopt a comprehensive plan that may or may not be implementable,” Slutzky said.

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David Benish and Wayne Cilimberg listen as Supervisor Thomas asks a question

Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) asked if adopting the Pantops Master Plan would accommodate Spurzem’s plans for Gazebo Place. Wayne Cilimberg, the County's Director of Planning, said Gazebo’s site plan has been approved, even through the Pantops Master Plan would not recognize the land use that Gazebo Place will employ. County Attorney Larry Davis said the Plan would allow the County to place restrictions on Gazebo Place should Spurzem seek a rezoning in the future.

Rooker moved approval of the Pantops Master Plan with the staff recommendations to keep Vermillion and the Wheeler property out of the growth area, as well as the staff recommendation on the relocation of Hansen Mountain Road. Boyd said his colleagues were forcing him to vote against the plan. Lindsay Dorrier joined Boyd in voting against the plan.

Timeline for podcast:

  • 01:00 –David Benish updates Supervisors on progress of Plan since September 12, 2007 work session
  • 02:40 – Supervisor Rooker asks staff to depict how Hansen Mountains Road would be relocated, and Supervisors discuss how the by-right Gazebo Place development might affect traffic patterns on Pantops
  • 07:44 – Supervisor Slutzky asks if the County could condemn the Gazebo Place property in order to avoid a transportation nightmare. Rooker suggests that the developer will have a hard time finding tenants, given that VDOT will not allow a crossing of 250 at that location.
  • 16:04 – Supervisor Thomas asks if adopting the Plan would affect the plans for Gazebo Place
  • 25:06 – Supervisor Rooker asks when the Plan will come up for a vote, and is told by Benish they could adopt it immediately if they do not make any amendments
  • 25:44 – Supervisor Slutzky asks if the Plan can be adopted if the 77-acre plot of land owned by Clara Belle Wheeler (no relation to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Brian Wheeler) is taken out of the development area
  • 27:03 – Chairman Boyd asks why the Vermillion property was not recommended for inclusion in the development area
  • 31:24 – Slutzky outlines reasons why taking the Wheeler property out of the growth area would benefit the County
  • 36:30 – Benish explains staff recommendations, as well as the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Staff had recommended taking Wheeler’s property out and leaving the Hansen Mountain Road connection in the Pantops Master Plan. Discussion returns to Gazebo’s potential traffic impact on Glenorchy Drive
  • 39:43 – Supervisor Thomas asks question about how Gazebo Place might interpret adoption of the Pantops Master Plan with the language suggesting the three potential routes for the access road
  • 44:55 – Rooker suggested taking out all references to Hansen Mountain Road and asks what would happen
  • 47:53 – Wayne Cilimberg explains staff’s reasoning behind how the three potential routes was selected, and offers thoughts on each one. He outlines one scenario where VDOT might decide to build one of them, perhaps with funding from the developer.
  • 52:38 – Rooker describes how VDOT will close left-turn options at Hansen Road Mountain if Gazebo Place is built – limiting access to Ashcroft subdivision
  • 57:26 – Cilimberg suggest Board can vote on plan if they’ve resolved Wheeler, Vermillion and Hansen Mountain issues
  • 58:00 – Boyd asks if Pantops Master Plan could extend east of I-64 in order to bring more land into the plan to be zoned for Light Industrial, prompting a discussion
  • 1:07:00 – Rooker sums up the questions facing the Board, and Supervisors discuss the merits of taking the Wheeler property out of the growth area, followed by motion to approve which carries 4-2

Sean Tubbs