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May 30, 2008

Retail development near Carrsbrook returns to County Planning Commission

20080529-Northtown-SiteProposed Northtown Center site
across from Kegler's on Route 29 North
The Albemarle County Planning Commission will meet on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 to review the final site plan for the proposed Northtown Center retail complex on Route 29 North, across from Kegler’s bowling alley. Northtown Center last came before the Commission in October  2005 when the preliminary site plan was presented by local developer Wendell Wood.  County staff are recommending denial of the by-right site plan until conditions related to sediment control and storm water management are fully addressed.

In 2005, residents of Woodbrook and Carrsbrook, the residential developments that border the proposed site, expressed opposition to the construction, primarily citing the environmental impacts it could have on their neighborhoods. The construction plans involve burying a stream, in addition to fundamentally reshaping the topography of the area. Neighbors expressed concern about downstream impacts from sediment and storm water runoff.  As Dean Wenger, President of the Carrsbrook Homeowner’s Association put it at the time, “quality of life has centered over the lakes that exist in Carrsbrook.”

The members of the Planning Commission shared many of these concerns, and although the plan was approved by a vote of 5-1, the approval was conditional. The Planning Commission issued a four page action letter requiring Mr. Wood to make a number of amendments to the plan, and then return to the Commission with the amended version for final approval. According to a staff report issued this week by Bill Fritz, Chief of Current Development for Albemarle County, “not all conditions of the preliminary approval have been satisfied,” so he is recommending that the Planning Commission deny the application.

20080529-Northtown-Map The site plan currently before the Commission details phase one of the overall development, encompassing 83,900 sq. ft. of retail space on about 7 acres. The developers have not yet announced who they expect to have as tenants, although in 2005 Second Bank & Trust expressed interest in the site for a regional headquarters (a special use permit has been approved allowing for construction of a bank drive through.).  Second Bank & Trust is now an affiliate of StellarOne which has an existing branch location nearby on Route 29. 

This site has been considered for numerous developments including auto dealerships and a Home Depot since it was zoned as highway-commercial in 1980.  The Home Depot denial by Albemarle was a landmark decision as three of six Supervisors sided with the Planning Commission to uphold a recommendation to deny the critical slopes waiver request.  Lacking a fourth vote on the Board, the Home Depot plan was derailed.

The current Northtown Center project will also have to address zoning regulations governing construction and development on critical slopes, soil areas with an angular rise or fall of 25% or more. These regulations exist to prevent soil erosion and sedimentation, as well as runoff from storm water. Two acres of critical slope would be disturbed by the plan as presented.

The Planning Commission’s action letter called for a number of specific changes in order to justify approval of the waiver. Among these were stipulations that the construction plan must have a defined duration, as well as provisions to deal with storm water and stream flow during the construction process, in order to minimize disruption to the surrounding area. Mr. Fritz did not find either of these requirements to be satisfied in the latest version of the plan. The action letter also specified the implementation of high efficiency sediment basins using flocculants (particles that cause water contaminants to separate out of the water flow), but Mr. Wood has not yet committed to using this method.

Ben Doernberg & Brian Wheeler

May 25, 2008

Planning group holds transportation summit

20080510-workshop What will the region’s transportation network look like in 2035? Will developers respond to incentives by Charlottesville and Albemarle County to grow our community in a more dense way?

Those are the sort of questions asked during a half-day regional transportation planning summit held by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) on May 10, 2008. Around forty people attended the event, which featured a presentation on how communities can reduce carbon emissions by growing in a way that reduces vehicle miles travelled.

The participants were also there to give their feedback on how they’d like to see the TJPDC region grow over the next 27 years. Groups answered questions in workbooks ranging from “What needs to happen in your community to make it more transit friendly” to “Where should we focus [transportation] dollars?” The responses, as well as those taken online, will be compiled as part of the TJPDC’s update of the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan, or UNJAM 2035. Federal statues require each planning district to update something called the “Constrained Long Range Plan” which is an attempt to prioritize transportation construction projects for the next few decades. The most recent plan, UNJAM 2025, was adopted in 2004, and includes the plan for the MPO as well as the region’s rural areas.

Harrison Rue, TJPDC’s outgoing director, said much has changed since the last update. There’s been a renewed emphasis on the physical health of people, leading to a renewal of interest in “walkable” communities. The price of fuel has also increased dramatically since 2004, leading many to reconsider long commutes. Most importantly, Rue said more people are concerned about climate change and are willing to make changes.

With that in mind, Rue introduced Reid Ewing of the National Center for Smart Growth. Ewing is the co-author of a new book called Growing Cooler, which describes specific land use strategies for creating less auto-centric communities. He showed examples of how communities across the country are trying to achieve density as a way to battle traffic congestion. Ewing said the growth of vehicle miles travelled (VMT) must be stopped, and reversed, even as vehicles become more fuel efficient.

“The growth of VMT pretty much negates the value of the higher fuel economy standards that we just adopted as a country,” Ewing said. He claimed communities with compact development have smaller VMT rates, and showed specific examples from across the country.

Before each 15-minute workshop topic, Rue showed the audience slides with different scenarios facing the greater Charlottesville region. At the conclusion of the workshops, a representative of each group stood to announce recommendations. Charlottesville Tomorrow presents the entire video below.

Watch the video:

Sean Tubbs

May 23, 2008

Fredericksburg officials brief MPO on efforts to create transportation authority

20080521-mpo-wide
With only three voting members present, the MPO Policy Board has heard details on the Fredericksburg area’s efforts to create a regional transportation authority. Officials with the George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC) spoke at the May 21, 2008 meeting.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080521-MPO

City Councilors Julian Taliaferro and Satyendra Huja were not present at the meeting.

Before the GWRC presentation, Melissa Barlow of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) gave a status report on the efforts of Albemarle County and Charlottesville to create a Regional Transit Authority. She said the consultant’s report will be available by the end of June. Albemarle County
Supervisors David Slutzky (Rio) and Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said they wanted to go ahead and schedule a joint work session with City Council to discuss the details. Slutzky, the current MPO Chairman, said he would soon be meeting with Barlow and outgoing TJPDC Executive Director Harrison Rue to discuss the next steps in the process. The goal is to have enabling legislation for the authority ready for an area legislator to introduce in the General Assembly for the 2009 session.

Five jurisdictions around Fredericksburg are also preparing their enabling legislation, and shared details of their situation with the MPO.

20080521-Robertson Lloyd Robinson

Lloyd Robinson, the GWRC’s transportation planning director, said the Commonwealth’s transportation problems must be addressed by linking regional governance with long-range planning.  When the Fredericksburg area’s planning bodies were reorganized in 2006, the meetings of the GWRC and Fredericksburg Area MPO (FAMPO) Boards were merged, and are now held on the same evening. Robinson said the new structure also has more of an equal partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).  For example, VDOT has devolved some procurement and planning responsibilities to the GWRC.
The challenges faced in the Fredericksburg area are on a larger scale than Albemarle County and Charlottesville, because of its proximity to Washington.  By 2035, the region is estimated to double in population to over 600,000.  Robinson said that has lead to a sobering lesson.

“The George Washington Region cannot afford its present land use policy, which is sprawl,” Robinson said. The long-range transportation plan currently under consideration by FAMPO will call for at least $5.7 billion in highway projects over the next 27 years, but revenue projections show only about $1.5 billion during that time. The GWRC is examining whether a transportation authority with the power of taxation could make up some of the funding gap. 

Robinson said enhancing transit is not an option given the suburban population patterns.

“Low densities make regional transit a poor tool in the transportation toolbox to solve congestion outside of the I-95 corridor,” Robinson said.  Currently, the Fredericksburg transit system serves less than 400,000 riders a year.

Robinson suggested the proposed Fredericksburg Transportation Authority could get into the land development business in order to create the densities necessary to support transit, but also to raise revenue. He also acknowledged this could prove to be controversial.

Robinson said two options for taxation authority are being looked at for the potential authority. First, they’ve looked at the potential of using the same taxing authorities granted in HB3202 (legislation approved in 2007), which gave the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority a set of potential taxes and fees that could be used to fund projects. If deemed constitutional, Robinson said that approach would yield approximately $65 million in the first year.

20080521-Kelly
Fredericksburg City Councilor Matt Kelly

Second they have looked at a half-cent regional tax, combined with a property tax increase, that would yield $50 million in the first year for the region.  Two jurisdictions in the GWRC already collect a half-cent gas tax, according to Fredericksburg City Councilor and GWRC/FAMPO Chairman Matt Kelly.

Part of the transportation challenge is to educate the public about the need for new revenues and about the link between land use and transportation, Robinson said. Kelly said elected officials across the GWRC region also have to be sold on the plan. 

 “At the end of the day, what I want to be able to do is say, alright, [GWRC], if you want to take care of transportation, these are the projects you’re going to need, this is how much it’s going to cost, this is how much we’re going to get from the state… if you want us to be able to come up with transportation solutions, are you willing to pay for it?” Kelly said.

Kelly called for reform of the way transportation projects are funded, specifically to give the population growth of a jurisdiction more weight in the formula that allocates funding. Communities that have higher rates should receive more funding to address the extra infrastructure required. He also said further devolution of responsibilities from VDOT to local communities will be necessary.

“VDOT needs to run the major highways and major arterials, but on secondary roads, if we had the capabilities to do that ourselves I think we as localities or regions… we could design and build them per VDOT standards, and I think we could get them built quicker and with less hassle and with less overheard then we’re currently doing,” Kelly said.

Fredericksburg will move ahead with its regional approach even in the absence of additional local taxing authority. They will rely on bond issues, public-private partnerships and proffers/impact fees to avoid needing to go to Richmond for permission for every project.

“I look at what’s going on in Richmond right now and it’s like two guys sitting on a boat arguing about how fast it’s sinking,” Kelly said. 

One of the other challenges facing Robinson and Kelly’s efforts will be to get all five jurisdictions in the GWRC to get on board with the enabling legislation for the authority. They’ll spend the months before October working with each governing body to shore up support, while concurrently presenting the long-range transportation plan.

Supervisor Slutzky said he felt Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s chances of getting enabling legislation are much greater, given it will only apply to transit funding. However, both Slutzky and Rooker said they were open to further study of an authority that did take on road maintenance and construction duties.

“We may find it easier to get a funding mechanism that is meaningful to the area by going that route,” Rooker said. Slutzky said the other 9 members of the City Council and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors should be polled on the question.

After the GWRC presentation, TJPDC Legislative Liaison David Blount gave the MPO Policy Board a preview of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly. He called the session a barometer of what might happen with this localities efforts to secure enabling legislation for a transit authority.

MPO staff seeks guidance on TIP information

The MPO will soon begin the process of updating the Transportation Improvement Program, a list of all of the projects that receive funding from the federal government.  One of the duties of the TJPDC’s Transportation Planning Coordinator, Melissa Barlow, is to update the project summaries that are presented to the MPO Policy Board as well as the general public. Before preparing the next set of project updates, Barlow wanted to know if she could produce the documents with less information in order to save time.

“This region has historically presented quite a bit of information to the decision makers as well as the public,” Barlow said. “I have a lot of work ahead of me depending on the amount of information you would like presented.”

Currently, the TIP Project Summaries lists descriptions of the projects, as well as a detailed breakdown of what funding can be used for. The summary also tracks funding allocations across six fiscal years, and outlines the sources of funding. However, VDOT is no longer providing this information to MPO staff as part of its efforts to streamline projects. The new project summaries would lack this extra level of detail, but would direct anyone who wanted to view this information to VDOT’s website. 

Barlow said she could recreate the information herself, but it would be time consuming and she wanted to get the MPO’s guidance before proceeding.

By this point of the meeting, Slutzky was the only elected official left, as Rooker had to leave. He advised Barlow to e-mail all of the policy board members with her question. 

John Giometti, who represents VDOT on the Policy Board, said the information that has been left out only presents a snapshot of a project’s funding. He suggested providing links to each project in the VDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. He also suggested an appendix could be created which would list these links.

The issue will come back before the MPO at its meeting in June.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

Saturation point

  • 1:00 - MPO Chair David Slutzky calls meeting to order, with only himself, Dennis Rooker and VDOT's Wayne Woodcock present as voting members
  • 1:16 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman who claims the MPO's transportation project tracking document contains misinformation about the Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 3:58 - Slutzky responds to Kleeman's comments about the Parkway
  • 5:30 - City transportation engineer Jeanette Janicyk responds to Kleeman's comments about the Hillsdale Drive Extension
  • 6:30 - MPO considers Resolution of Appreciation for outgoing TJPDC Executive Director Harrison Rue
  • 8:36 - TJPDC's Melissa Barlow presents a status update on enabling legislation for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 11:34 - Officials with the George Washington Regional Commission present the status for their enabling legislation
  • 1:08:02 - TJPDC Legislative Liaison David Blount previews special session on transportation
  • 1:18:57 - Update on US 29 North Corridor Story - will be presented at the June meeting. Dennis Rooker takes the opportunity to discuss VDOT's forthcoming corridor review study of US 29 from Amherst to Gainesville
  • 1:25:00 - Albemarle County Chief Planner David Benish explains that the US 29 North Corridor Study is the transportation component of the Places29 Master Plan
  • 1:26:20 - Slutzky tells MPO Policy Board that he has talked with a VDOT official who says the proposed bridge over the Rivanna River for Berkmar Drive Extended could be constructed for as little than $7 million, rather than the $30 million figure that has been publicized
  • 1:28:37 - TJPDC's Ann Whitham provides an update on the UNJAM 2035 Regional Summit
  • 1:33:55 - Under other business, Barlow asks policy board members if they will accept slightly less information on the print-outs handed to them on projects during the TIP process


Fredericksburg City Councilor Matt Kelley (Ward 3) is the Chair of the Fredericksburg Area MPO (FAMPO) as well as the Chair of the GWRC.

Sean Tubbs

May 22, 2008

Charlottesville BAR considers size of bricks for Downtown Mall revitalization

20080520-BAR-ws  
The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review (BAR) met on May 20, 2008, to discuss the details of the Downtown Mall renovation plan developed by MMM Design, but postponed most of the major decisions until further information could be provided.

MMM architect Chris McKnight was on hand to present their proposed solutions to questions raised by the BAR in previous meetings. A key objection raised initially by the BAR centers around the size of the bricks that will be used to re-pave the mall. In the original design created by architect Lawrence Halprin, 4”x12” bricks were used, according to board member Syd Knight and MMM landscaper Taylor Gould to “create a sense of scale.” The BAR had indicated they would like to see the same size bricks used in order to preserve Halprin’s vision, but MMM has stated that it is not economically or environmentally efficient to repave the mall with replacement 4”x12”bricks, as the nearest source for bricks this size is in Nebraska.

MMM has raised additional concerns both about the ability of these bricks to handle the wheel load from vehicle traffic at the cross streets, as well their stability in the sand foundation. This brick with sand foundation approach was taken in the Court Square paving project as well as in the recent extension of the pedestrian mall along Third Street at the Paramount Theater.  According to downtown zoning inspector Craig Fabio, local business owners have mentioned to him that the current 4”x12” bricks are coming loose in their foundations, and present a significant tripping hazard for pedestrians.

20080208mall McKnight presented a 5”x10” brick solution which would in theory provide a similar sense of scale but would possess the more normal 2 x 1 length-width ratio that would minimize rocking of the bricks. However, the BAR did not feel comfortable making a decision on the brick size until they were presented with a large-scale model of how the herringbone brick pattern would actually look with the smaller bricks.

Also at issue were changes to  the  height and width of the taller light-posts called for in the plan. MMM’s McKnight said these that would provide better wind resistance, and would allow enough clearance overhead for emergency vehicles to turn onto the mall from side streets. These changes were approved by the BAR, along with proposals to place additional planters, benches, trash and recycling receptacles and  bike racks on the Mall. The design of these would be identical to those already in place.

The BAR also approved the placement of two new fountains that would closely mirror the current fountain design, and indicated their support in theory for a Sister City plaza complete with 45 foot flagpoles that would celebrate Charlottesville’s six sister cities, although a final design has not yet been presented. A bit of levity was injected into the proceedings by BAR member Syd Knight, who cautioned against treating Halprin’s initial design as a wax museum which could never be altered, characterizing Halprin affectionately as “an old hippy.”

Ben Doernberg

May 21, 2008

Council hears from public on water supply plan

20080519-CC-crowd The Charlottesville City Council will vote on June 2, 2008 to set the water and wastewater rates for City residents and businesses. They’ll also take a new vote to indicate whether the City supports the implementation of the 50 year community water supply plan, which was adopted unanimously by a previous Council in June 2006. Whatever Council’s decision, it will be informed in part by the recent three-hour Council work session on whether dredging should be a component of the plan, as well as the two hour public hearing held earlier this week.

There were roughly two camps among the thirty-four people who spoke at the meeting, and both sides traded applause throughout the evening. One group consisted of the opponents of the plan, who think dredging should be done first before a new dam is built at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  The second group was made up of business leaders, citizens and environmentalists who say the existing plan is the best way to proceed.

OPPONENTS MAKE THEIR CASE


Former Mayor Francis Fife, a past member of the RWSA Board, said he was astounded the organization did not consider dredging more carefully. Susan Smith, representing the Ednam Forest Association, urged Council to delay implementation of the plan if dredging could prevent the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Tom Olivier, Conservation Chair for the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, said his group still supports the adopted water supply plan, but added they now want dredging to be reconsidered as a key component. Colette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association said she should not have to pay higher rates to support future generations.  City Resident Downing Smith said the City should dredge now, and wait at least another 10 years before adding on to the dam. 

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch largely repeated the information he presented at the May 6, 2008 work session on the water supply plan, and criticized the permit for using faulty population data. Lynch also handed Councilors and reporters a written version of his plan. Rich Collins, a fellow member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said the group will be traveling to Richmond on Friday to ask the Department of Environmental Quality to reconsider the permit it issued in February.

Sam Freilich, whose property adjoins the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, doubted that the proposed $56 million pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir would be technically feasible, given that it would have to travel 9 and a half miles uphill. Keith Rosenfeld doubted the RWSA would be able to obtain the right of way for the pipeline.

Engineer Martin Chapman, whose company Indoor Biotechnologies tests water quality, said Council did not have enough information about dredging alternatives. James King said the RWSA should pay for a bathymetric study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Betty Mooney, who helped organize the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan group, said the current Council would be remembered for killing trees if they allow the plan to be implemented.  She also said many people cannot afford the higher water rates that will result. Her husband, Joe Mooney, concluded the public hearing by issuing a six point plan of action for Council, which involves repairing the Ragged Mountain Dam rather than expanding it.

SUPPORTERS URGE AFFIRMATION OF ADOPTED PLAN

Rod Gentry, president of Union Bank and Trust, urged the Council to show leadership and continue to support the plan. Martha Levering, representing the Natural Resources Committee of the League of Women Voters, said the adopted plan is the “least environmentally damaging solution.” City Resident James Nix said spending money on dredging would divert money from capital improvements to increase reliable storage.

County Resident Jim Kennan said further delay would increase the construction costs, raising the price tag for the whole plan. That sentiment was echoed by City Resident Bob Hodous and Timothy Hulbert, President of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Robbi Savage, Executive Director of the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS), acknowledged that “planning ahead can be tough” but said Council needed to take steps to make sure there is enough clean drinking water for “our children and our children’s children.” Jason Halbert, also with RCS, said Albemarle County and Greene County should do more to control sedimentation in the Rivanna River Basin “before one dime is spent on dredging” the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. David Hirschman, who supports the adopted plan, said the community needed to decide what role it wanted that Reservoir to play before undertaking a dredging program.

RCS Member Leslie Middleton called on Council to follow the legacy of City leaders who in 1908 built a second dam at Ragged Mountain, when it was clear that the first one built in 1885 was not enough to meet the needs of the community.

“This second dam has helped meet our needs for a 100 years, and we have benefitted from this investment since then,” Middleton said. “It is now our turn to invest in a plan that provides for at least the next 50 years, and we certainly hope more. We should bear this cost, and should be willing to bear this cost because it is our turn to bear it.”

COUNCIL COMMENTS

Council took no action after the public hearing, but Mayor Dave Norris asked his Councilors if they had any reactions to the hearing.

Councilor David Brown, who is the only sitting member of Council to vote for the plan’s adoption in 2006, said he did not think there was any doubt that the water supply needed to be expanded, even as the community gets used to conserving water. He pointed to climate forecasts which show the southeastern United States will be dryer in the near future.

“If dredging alone can’t solve the problem, then the economics favor building the dam,” Brown said. “If you have to raise the dam part of the way, it doesn’t cost much more to raise it the rest of the way, and that negates any savings that occur from dredging being cheaper then you thought it was going to be.”
Brown went on to say he was not prepared to make the same assumptions being made by opponents of the adopted plan, who say demand will not be as high as the RWSA projects in 2055 because of increased conservation and lower population growth.

“I’m not prepared to go along with those assumptions,” Brown said. “The risks of not being conservative in your estimating are significant… I think we have to err on the side of being careful.”

Councilor Holly Edwards urged both sides of the debate to refrain from attacking each other, and added that the African American community has not been engaged in the discussion.

“The Rivanna River belongs to all of us, and in the past, African Americans weren’t a part of the decision process, but we’re there now so we need to be present,” Edward said.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he wants to make a decision and move forward. “This thing has gone on far too long,” he said.

Mayor Norris acknowledged the City and County have not taken good care of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. He agreed with some speakers who argued the RWSA Board of Directors did not adequately represent citizens, given that four of its members are City or County employees.  Norris cautioned against making direct comparisons between different dredging plans.

“I think it’s important when we talk about the competing visions and competing proposals that we compare apples to apples,” Norris said. “We hear occasionally people say ‘Why would you consider a $140 million plan when this company can do it for $20 million. That’s not an accurate comparison, and I think the public needs to know that.”

Norris also reminded Downing Smith that the state Department of Environmental Quality requires a 30-year planning horizon, but encourages a 50 year plan. “It would certainly be much easier if we could just plan for 15 years, because then we could do it by dredging alone,” he said. “But I agree with Dr. Brown that we can’t do it by dredging alone, and I think even Kevin Lynch has not made the argument we can’t do it by dredging alone.”

Norris said the community needed to move forward with an examination of dredging, though not necessarily as part of the water supply plan. He said he would introduce a motion before the RWSA’s June Board Meeting to direct the City’s representatives (Public Works Director Judy Mueller and City Manager Gary O’Connell) to move forward with a feasibility study as well as the creation of a task force on the future of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Sean Tubbs

May 20, 2008

RWSA Board approves rate increase

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has voted to increase the wholesale water and wastewater rates for fiscal year 2009. These are the rates charged by the RWSA to the City of Charlottesville and the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA). Both bodies will set their rates for residences and businesses in the near future.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20080519-RWSA

For water, the City of Charlottesville will be charged $2.285 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 2.65%.  The Albemarle County Service Authority’s rate will be $2.983 per  1,000 gallons, an increase of 2.44%.
For wastewater, the City of Charlottesville will be charged $2.466 per 1,000 gallons treated, an increase of 10.45%. The rate for the Albemarle County Service Authority will be $2.722 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 10.54%.

The rate increases are in part due to infrastructure upgrades associated with the community water supply plan, as well as the Enhanced Nutrient Removal upgrades for the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

20080519-Frederick
Tom Frederick
“We’re continuing to support a very challenging capital budget that addresses aging infrastructure, needs at the wastewater treatment facility for higher levels of treatment and the community water supply plan,” Frederick said. “The single biggest item is the planning that we are doing… on renewing the urban wastewater interceptor infrastructure.”

Board members Judy Mueller and Gary O’Connell disqualified themselves from the portion of the vote that  affected the City of Charlottesville. Gary Fern disqualified himself from the portion of the vote that concerned Albemarle County.  State law requires government employees to refrain from taking action on items that would affect the budget for the municipality or agency they work for.  Mueller is the City’s Public Works Director, O’Connell is the City Manager, and Fern is the Executive Director for the Albemarle  Service Authority. County Executive Bob Tucker did not disqualify himself.

Hook Publisher suggests new dredging solution

During items from the public, Hook editor and published Hawes Spencer asked if the RWSA Board had seen his latest article suggesting another proposal for the dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Spencer said the permit issued in February by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requires the RWSA to notify regulators when information about other options comes to light.

“[Dominion Development Resources LLC] is offering to do a complete dredging of the [South Fork] Rivanna Reservoir for $23.8 million,” Spencer said. “Do you intend to notify the DEQ that your consultant [Gannett Fleming] might have been wrong?”

Spencer also asked the Board if they intended to issue a Request for Proposals to dredge the Reservoir. RWSA Chair Michael Gaffney said the Board would take his comments into consideration.

RWSA grants $10,000 to Stream Watch

The RWSA Board has increased the yearly amount it will give to Stream Watch, a non-profit organization that monitors the health of waterways in the Rivanna River Basin.  StreamWatch will now receive $10,000 each year, an increase from $7,500. The amounts are now in line with contributions from the City of Charlottesville ($10,000), Albemarle County ($10,800) and the Nature Conservancy ($10,000). Fluvanna County contributes $3,000 a year.

Frederick said StreamWatch provides many benefits to the RWSA, including the analysis of sedimentation in local streams. “It helps provide a benchmark from which public policy decisions are made,” he said.  He added that StreamWatch performs many of the same monitoring functions that were once done by the DEQ.

StreamWatch Executive Director said the extra funding was requested to help provide organizational stability. The agency’s annual budget is $50,000.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 1:00 - Call to order by Michael Gaffney, RWSA Chair, followed by adoption of minutes from April
  • 1:34 - Hook Editor and Publisher Hawes Spencer raises questions about a dredging proposal during items before the public
  • 4:49 - Adoption of consent agenda
  • 5:11 - Public hearing on for FY2009 Operating Budget
  • 14:34 - Drought Response and Contingency Plan Update
  • 18:06 - StreamWatch funding
Sean Tubbs

Supervisors take a pass on peace resolution

At their meeting on May 14, 2008, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors heard public comment requesting that the County endorse a resolution supporting the creation of a Federal cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence.  While peace and nonviolence are not initiatives followed by Charlottesville Tomorrow, we do monitor and report on the different approaches taken by our local governments. 

The Charlottesville City Council voted 4-0-1 (David Brown abstaining) to approve a resolution of support for the Department of Peace at their meeting on April 7, 2008. The Board of Supervisors did not place the resolution on their agenda.  Instead, Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) accepted comment on the proposal under other matters from the public, then he read a letter being sent by the Board in response to the request.

Boyd's May 14, 2008 letter states in part:
The Board of Supervisors is a locally elected body that is charged with responding to matters specific to our community of Albemarle County.  Therefore it has not been our practice as a body to adopt formal positions on issues to be determined at the federal level that are outside of our area of jurisdiction, and so we are not officially adopting your proposed resolution. 
Boyd commended the public for their dedication to this issue.

Charlottesville City Council has taken other actions which the County might view as "outside our area of jurisdiction" including:
Three of the current members of City Council were asked about the appropriateness of local government reviewing resolutions related to impeachment and war at a candidate forum held September 12, 2007.

Q. Do you believe that it is appropriate for local governments to prepare and present resolutions to the Federal Government concerning impeachment and war issues?

David Brown: "I think our resolutions should be limited to issues that affect people locally..."
Peter Kleeman: "I do not believe issues of conscience should necessarily be determined by majority vote."
Holly Edwards: Indicated agreement with Kleeman.
Satyendra Huja: Indicated agreement with Edwards and Kleeman.

Brian Wheeler

May 16, 2008

Speak up on the water supply

Charlottesville Tomorrow has been reporting on the community water supply plan since 2005.  Three years ago the discussion focused on whether a pipeline should be built to the James River versus using reservoirs within our own watershed.  Charlottesville Tomorrow did not take a position on which option was preferable, but rather presented a set of shared facts by which the public could come to their own conclusion about which alternative made the most sense.

Click here to review our action alert and send a message to Charlottesville City Council.

SugarHollow1-long
At the time, it was a very difficult exercise to compare those options and present the cost data simply and accurately.  When we sent out an action alert to our subscribers in September 2005, 100% of them voiced their preference for the local watershed solution, building a new dam at Ragged Mountain and connecting that reservoir via new pipeline to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.  Yet, with the recent discussion in the community, I think many of those same subscribers today might be confused about where we are with the community water supply plan.

City Council is also asking questions.  They are holding a public hearing Monday, May 19, 2008 and intend to vote again on June 2, 2008 on an issue that they unanimously approved in 2006.  The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors also voted unanimously for the plan in 2006, however they recently reiterated their support for the plan in a meeting on May 14, 2008.

Our public water and sewer system is a very complex and expensive operation.  It is relatively easy to attack any one component, or assumption, or decision maker, or consultant and suggest that a smarter and more cost-effective solution is available.  In 2005, a coalition of environmental groups did just that, however the new ideas they brought to the table led to a rare consensus among elected officials, business leaders, and environmentalists who secured the approval of a fifty-year plan for our water supply.

In late 2007, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan stepped forward and raised questions about the approved plan.  Their research has also brought to the community’s attention alternative ideas for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and phasing (or eliminating) the construction of a new Ragged Mountain Dam.  Importantly, that information has not changed the opinion of the leadership of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, The Nature Conservancy, the Rivanna Conservation Society, the Piedmont Environmental Council, the business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce, nor the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  They all believe that the fifty-year community water supply plan endorsed in 2006 is still the most cost-effective and least environmentally damaging option.

The Charlottesville City Council has been responsive to their constituents' concerns and held a recent work session in advance of their public hearing. Dredging has been the recommendation that has captured the public’s attention.  The community debate has ensured dredging of sediment collecting in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir will be an important component of any plan for maintaining our water supply.  There has been significant debate about the feasibility and cost of dredging.  That spirited discussion about the feasibility and cost of dredging should lead us to a more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars.  It will not lead us to a complete solution for our future water supply.

Based upon our review of the publicly available documents and attendance at virtually every water related public meeting since 2005, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s research indicates that dredging alone does not provide enough water for times of drought and for a growing population over the next fifty years.  So in the big picture of planning for our long-term water infrastructure, it really does not matter how much dredging costs or how it is done, we still need more capacity than what can be found in the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

If one starts challenging the assumptions of the community water supply plan, it is easy to make many alternative approaches seem more attractive.  In the extensive public process that led to the plan's approval, the community in effect accepted the following assumptions:
  • We need to plan for fifty years
  • There are engineering firms qualified to accurately assess our current system and future needs
  • We will make estimates for a certain rate of population growth and demand for water
  • We will plan to conserve a certain amount of water at times of drought
  • We need to have enough safe yield from the water supply to handle severe droughts
  • Qualified engineers can determine the safe yield of our water supply system today, and in fifty years with continued sedimentation
  • We will ensure a certain level of stream flow remains in the Moormans River and the Rivanna River, even during a drought
  • We have to repair or replace the Ragged Mountain Dam
  • We have to replace or retire the Sugar Hollow Pipeline to Ragged Mountain
  • We have to upgrade our water treatment facilities
  • If we store and treat more water, we need to have adequate sewer facilities
  • We have to evaluate Crozet’s water supply needs separately
  • Dredging should get further study, but not be mandated as part of the water supply plan permit
  • We need a plan which can receive the approval of the regulators
  • We are unable to use the land at Buck Mountain in Free Union for a new reservoir, in part, because of the endangered James River Spiny Mussel (our previous "fifty-year plan")
Eliminating or reconsidering any one of those assumptions opens up all sorts of options.  It also raises many questions in the minds of the public.  For example, if our population grows less quickly, we do not need to have as much water storage capacity.  If we plan for thirty years instead of fifty years, we might avoid building a new dam and see what our needs look like down the road.

So, here we are at another opportunity where the public can express its opinion to our elected officials.  Charlottesville Tomorrow encourages you to take this opportunity, whether you are a resident of the City or the County, whether you have a well or public water.  You may see a specific assumption above you think should be questioned. You may also say you are not sure, but you want certain things carefully considered. Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to speak up.

Click here to review our action alert and send a message to Charlottesville City Council.

Sincerely,

Brian Wheeler
Executive Director
Charlottesville Tomorrow


For those who would like to do some additional homework on this project before writing a letter or attending the public hearing, the following resources may be of interest:
Each of these organizations have online resources related to the plan:

County Planning Commission mixed on wind turbines

20080513-APC-WS  

With the rising cost of electricity, many homeowners are seeking ways to generate power on their property. Could wind turbines be part of the answer for Albemarle County residents?

That was the basic question explored in a work session held by the County Planning Commission on May 13, 2008. Mark Graham, the Director of Community Development, briefed the Commission on how wind power works, and explained that the structures are currently not permitted under existing zoning. He also assessed the viability for a commercial wind farm, and the results aren’t promising.

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To generate enough electricity to be commercially successful, an operator needs sustained winds, close access to the national power grid and transmission lines, as well as roads that can transport very heavy components. A wind resource map created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) shows only a handful of spots in Albemarle County, such as Bucks Elbow, where a commercial site might work. However, Graham suggested the site’s proximity to Shenandoah National Park would likely prevent any application from being permitted by the State Corporation Commission.

20080513-example An example of a small wind turbine
However, the bulk of the work session dealt with whether the County zoning ordinances should be amended to allow small wind turbines for residential or agricultural use. To be effective in generating a current, a turbine must be tall enough to catch sustained winds. The taller the tower, the more power is generated. Turbines also need enough clearance to avoid causing turbulence in surrounding structures.  Graham said the bottom of the rotor needs to be at least thirty foot above rooftops or landscaping. 

“Right now under the zoning ordinance with residential properties, the maximum height for structures is 35 feet,” Graham said. He also pointed to a chart that showed how taller towers can greatly maximize the voltage generated, but said the smaller ones could power well pumps. 

Graham said mountainsides and hilltops are the best locations for turbines in Albemarle County, but if they are permitted, a land-owner would need to clear-cut several acres around the turbines in order to provide for enough space for the wind patterns to be sustained.  That would conflict the County’s comprehensive plan, which calls for protecting tree cover in rural areas.

However, Graham said the technology is changing, particularly in European countries that are rapidly developing wind power. Firms are experimenting with using different shapes to capture wind in urban environments, and also to minimize noise and wildlife issues. Graham also suggested wireless providers might also develop wind turbines as way of getting taller cell towers through co-location, though the technology for this does not currently exist.

Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) asked Graham if anyone had approached the County about installing a turbine. Graham said no one had yet officially sought a permit, but he was aware of a couple of interested parties in the County. He said investigating those is a very low priority for his department, but the Board had directed staff to do this preliminary investigation.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said she would be interested in pursuing a way to allow for small wind turbines. Graham suggested one course of action would be to allow them as an accessory to a building, which could be regulated with a special use permit.

20080513-MapThis wind resource map from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that Albemarle County is "wind poor"
Loach said given community opposition to cell phone towers that are only seven to ten feet taller than surrounding trees, he could not see a future for small wind turbines. Loach said residential structures are capped at 35 feet in the County, and questioned what wind turbines twice that height would look like.

Joseph said she did not want to preclude a farmer from constructing one in a field, and that she wanted staff to work on an ordinance change.  She said the country needs to be looking at other energy resources, and said she was concerned that land owners can’t currently even consider putting up a wind turbine. Chairman Calvin Morris (Rivanna) agreed that residential wind turbines should be allowed in specific cases.

Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) was another voice against pursuing the ordinance change, given the current work load of planning staff. Instead, the County should encourage residents and businesses to invest in solar technology. Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said because of Albemarle’s “wind-poor” status, other options should be explored, but said a way should be found to allow small-scale ventures. Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) agreed that owners of large tracts of land should be able to experiment, given rapid changes in technology.

Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio) said he thought the permitting process would be just as controversial as the one for cell towers, but that the County should take a deeper look. He wanted staff to find out more about the feasibility of turbines before making a commitment.

Sean Tubbs

May 15, 2008

Land use taxation program reviewed in Albemarle

20080514-BOS1 On May 14, 2008, the Lane Auditorium at the County Office Building was packed with residents interested in the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors’ discussion of the land use taxation program.  In their afternoon work session, the Board unanimously directed staff to begin planning for a revalidation program for property receiving the land use tax subsidy, a program which lowers the tax burden for land used for agriculture, open space and forestry.  Determining whether to make other adjustments to the program revealed a diversity of viewpoints on the Board.  Ultimately, by a 4-2 vote (Boyd and Dorrier against), the Supervisors decided to hold another work session this Summer on one potential change to the program.  All Board members made it clear that they want the land use taxation program to continue in Albemarle County.

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While they did not get an opportunity to speak to the board, the public in attendance did make their opinions known.  Despite being warned by Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) to show respect for all Board member viewpoints, there was an occasional outburst of applause for any expression of support for the status quo that demonstrated that the majority of those in attendance had concerns about the Board’s potential tinkering with the program.

LongRural1-BW

As of 2008, 59.8% of the land in Albemarle County is enrolled in land use, which includes parcels in both the rural area and growth areas (where undeveloped).  That results in deferred taxes of $18.78 million this year.  Land use is viewed by County officials as one strategic tool for protecting the County’s rural fields, farms, and forests.  However, some Supervisors and members of the public have encouraged the Board to take another look at the program to see if it is accomplishing that goal most effectively.

Revalidation is one way to address real and perceived abuses of the program and it has been considered by the Board, but not implemented, three times since 2001. Revalidation will require property owners to confirm on an annual basis that their property still meets the program’s requirements.  The Supervisors directed staff to bring back a formal revalidation proposal and sample documentation for consideration at a meeting in June 2008.

The lengthier discussion related to the merits of tinkering with the program to allow use value taxation only on parcels with the “open space” designation and which are located in agricultural/forestal districts.  The discussion ultimately focused on what is known as “Option 2” from the Board’s 2001 land use report.  This approach, as presented in 2001, would: 1) effectively eliminate land use from the County’s growth areas; 2) require property owners to place their land in an ag/forestal district and qualify for the open space designation; and 3) require a commitment from the property owner to not develop their land for 4-10 years, or permanently protect it with a conservation easement.  The Board did not get into an in-depth discussion of these details, and decided that work would be the focus of a future work session.

SqRural2-BW Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) expressed a preference for having a citizen committee conduct an in-depth assessment of the land use program to bring recommendations back to the public and the Board.  “I definitely don’t want to eliminate the land use tax program, because I do think it provides a value to the community,” said Slutzky.  “For me, the intended purpose is to motivate property owners in the rural area to preserve the use of property in its natural state.” 

Slutzky suggested a committee could evaluate ideas like requiring conservation easements to access the land use program.  Slutzky said his concern about the current system was that some property owners, those who intend to sell their rural land for future development, were getting subsidized by making their “holding costs on the land cheaper on an annual basis.”

That proposal was vigorously opposed by Ken Boyd (Rivanna). “I don’t think that this is something we need to take this community through. I really do not think that we have a program that is broken.  I think we have a program that is very beneficial to preserving land use,” said Boyd. “Every time we start tweaking with these things we always end up with unintended consequences….I don’t want to drag this community through what I think would be a gut wrenching discussion of the pros and cons...” 

Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she preferred to see what the revalidation program revealed before making further adjustments.

Slutzky focused his remarks on encouraging the Board to determine if land use, as currently defined, was optimally designed to achieve rural protection goals.  Boyd reflected that the public has told him they do not want their land locked up in conservation easements, or other non-development commitments, in exchange for the tax break.

Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville)
said he thought land use was a popular program that has worked well and deserves continued support.

Borrowing from the suggestions of Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller), Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) made a motion to study further the Option 2 recommendation first brought to the Board in 2001.  A citizen committee would not be involved in this review.  He asked for a work session on that matter after which the Board would vote to determine whether to send the matter to the community for a public hearing.  Thomas said she was not committed to supporting the approach in Option 2, but that she thought it would be helpful to have the public focus their comments on this one item.

The motion passed 4-2 with Boyd and Dorrier voting against.  County Executive Bob Tucker did not give a date for the work session, but said staff would bring back information on land use revalidation at one of the Board’s meetings in June 2008.

Brian Wheeler