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February 26, 2009

Meadowcreek Parkway opponents file first in a potential series of lawsuits

6a00d834519bec69e200e54f1c86668833-800wi  

A group called the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park (CPMP) has filed two legal actions to stop the City’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. Attorney Jennifer McKeever filed two motions in the Charlottesville Circuit Court on February 24, 2009 according to a press release from the group. The group is also preparing another battle in what could be a long legal campaign. McKeever is also the Co-Chair of the City’s Democratic Party and a former candidate for the party’s nomination to City Council in 2007.

McKeever’s first action was to file a motion asking for the court to declare that the City illegally transferred land to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). In June 2008, City Council approved permanent and temporary construction easements on 9 acres of land owned by the City in Albemarle County . The motion for declaratory judgment claims the action was unconstitutional because state law required a supermajority to convey public land to another body [4 votes on a 5 member body]. The vote on June 2, 2008 was 3-2 with Councilor Holly Edwards and Mayor Dave Norris voting no.

Download Download the Request for Declaratory Judgment

The second action is a request for a preliminary injunction to immediately halt all activities related to the construction of the Parkway. This request builds on the argument being made in the motion of judgment. The request claims that VDOT has caused and is causing “irreparable harm” by using the 9 acres as a staging area for the parkway’s construction.

Download Download the Request for Preliminary Injunction

Stratton Salidis, a member of CPMP, has frequently appeared before Council to make this argument. On September 1, 2008 he referred Council to Article 7, Section 9 of the Virginia Constitution.

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City Attorney Craig Brown (file photo)

“This provision is designed to give extra protection to valuable City lands to make certain they are not given away without due consideration,” Salidis said. Councilor Julian Taliaferro then asked City Attorney Craig Brown to comment.

First, Brown claimed the City did not permanently transfer the land but instead granted permanent and temporary easements on both City and County land. 

“I don’t know anyone who has suggested that the supramajority requirement applies to a temporary construction easement, [in McIntire Park,]” Brown said. “That is merely the legal requirement for VDOT to come onto City property to construct the road… When the project is completed the road will all belong to the City so you are not conveying anything permanently.”

Brown acknowledged the City’s land in the County near Charlottesville High School will be a permanent easement to be held by VDOT. He said the City requested an opinion from the Attorney General about whether a supermajority was needed.

“It was the opinion of the Attorney General at that time that conveyances from a municipality to the state for the construction of a road was not within the constitutional requirement… for a supermajority,” Brown said. The April 2004 opinion from then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore  concludes that a supermajority is not needed because a public purpose is being served.

“Public highways belong entirely to the public at large,” Kilgore wrote. “I am satisfied that the parkway will be a public road.”

A hearing for the two motions has not yet been set.

CPMP is also pursuing another legal angle to stop the parkway. Andrea Ferster, an attorney from Washington D.C., sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration which outlines their case for why the federal guidelines from both the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act need to be applied to the entire Meadowcreek Parkway, rather than just the Interchange between the 250 Bypass and McIntire Road.

Ferster serves as the General Counsel for Rails to Trails Conservancy and has extensive experience with enforcement of federal environmental and historic preservation law. The letter ends with the proposition, “Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park intends to pursue all available legal remedies, including but not limited to litigation to enforce NEPA and Section 4(f).”

Download Download Ferster's letter to the Federal Highway Administration

To make this case, Ferster argues that the County’s Meadowcreek Parkway, the City’s McIntire Road Extended, and the Route 250 Interchange are, in fact, dependent on each other, and that the 1997 subdivision of the Meadowcreek Parkway into three parts was intended to skirt federal regulations.

Ferster provides a few reasons for this position. Prior to 1997, the Meadowcreek Parkway had been considered a single entity, and an Environmental Impact Statement was at one time contemplated for the whole project. She also points to a 775-foot segment of the federally funded Interchange plans that juts to the north into McIntire Park and argues that this would not serve a purpose without a road to connect to it.

Furthermore, Ferster contends that the City has made it clear in writing that they would not financially support their portion of the roadway without assurance of federal funds for the Interchange. Finally, she highlights the Environmental Assessment for the Interchange, which assumes increased traffic volumes of a planned Meadowcreek Parkway in order to justify its own construction. Based on legal precedent from other similar cases around the country, the success of the lawsuit appears to hinge on how well the interdependence of these projects can be demonstrated.

Daniel Nairn & Sean Tubbs

February 25, 2009

Wood recycling center near Keswick gets thumbs-down from County planning commission

Illustrative-plan
Illustrative plan for the center (Source: Albemarle County)

Plans to construct a wood recycling center on rural land in eastern Albemarle County were dealt a set-back on February 17, 2009 when the County Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend denial of a special use permit (SUP). The land is located off of Route 250 near its intersection with Black Cat Road, and the SUP was required to allow industrial operations on land where agricultural and forestry uses are allowed by-right.

If the SUP is approved by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting on March 11, 2009, the Central Virginia Recycling Center would serve as a place for wood products to be sent to be turned into mulch. As many as 50 trucks a day would deliver stumps, lumber and other unwanted wood.

Joan McDowell, the County’s Rural Areas Planner, said that the land was rezoned in 1992 to allowed current owners Charles and Linda McRaven to operate an outdoor theater, but that use was never realized. The McRavens are hoping to sell the land to Central Virginia Recyling Center. In 2008, a zoning determination letter was issued that stated a sawmill, woodyard or planning mill could be constructed on the property if an SUP was granted.

The County has never approved an SUP for this purpose, and so County staff collected information about how wood recycling facilities impact the land. Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) visited one facility in Williamsburg as part of her research.

However, the application for the SUP did not receive a full review from staff as the applicant sought to go directly to the public hearing. McDowell said that one noise test in June 2008 showed that the facility would exceed permissible levels. She said staff had concerns with the amount of traffic that would be generated, the amount of groundwater that would be used, and the source of the wood products.

“The wood products in this case that would be turned into mulch primarily come from land-clearing for development,” McDowell said.

Mark Keller with Terra Concepts PC represented Central Virginia Recycling before the Commission. He said that the wood products that would be mulched would otherwise go into the landfill or be burned. Keller said that the site’s location was ideal for a recycling facility because of its proximity to I-64 and Route 250. Water would be used to reduce the amount of dust and to properly age the mulch. He said that the applicant was willing to work under any conditions imposed by the County, and offered to limit grinding operations to weekdays. Keller said this was the type of operation the County should be promoting.

“Rural areas are the most appropriate location for a business of this nature,” Keller said. “We feel we have a good application in the right location.”

20090217-APC-Line-Up
Chairman Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) instructed those who wished to make a public hearing comment to line up against the back wall in Lane Auditorium

However, the application was not met with appreciation from the community. Over two dozen residents spoke out against the facility during the public hearing. Dr. Cole Peyton of the Keswick Farms neighborhood said the center would be more appropriate in Zion’s Crossroads in Fluvanna County given where land is available for industrial uses. Julie Minetos owns adjacent property and said she was concerned the center would impact the availability of groundwater for her home. Donna Knoll lives on Three Chop’t Road and she said she was concerned that if the SUP were granted, the recycling center would be the first domino in the industrializing Keswick. Carlton Brooks lives 400 feet from the proposed center and said he suspected the applicant simply wanted to purchase rural land at a cheaper price than land zoned for industrial uses.

None of the Commissioners said they could support the special use permit. Commissioner Porterfield, who usually is in favor of projects that would boost economic development in the County, said that the residential neighborhoods came first and should be protected from industrialization. She made a motion to recommend denial of the SUP, which was approved 6-0 by the Commission.

The application now moves to the Board of Supervisors, who will consider it at their meeting on March 11, 2009.

Sean Tubbs

Panelists discuss sustainable development and site selection

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The James River Green Building Council hosted a panel discussion on February 9, 2009 entitled Site Selection and Sustainable Development. The meeting, which took place at the Charlottesville Community Design Center, brought together planners, developers, public officials, and activists to share ideas about sustainable building practices and the social and cultural issues underlying the way communities develop land.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090210-Green-Building

Planner Lyle Solla-Yates served as moderator and explained some of the benefits of urban infill over development of rural areas on the fringe of cities. New construction that reuses building stock and urban public infrastructure is more sustainable than construction that requires new infrastructure and more environmentally intensive transportation use. However, urban redevelopment is currently not the norm, even for LEED certified buildings, because of the added expenses and barriers involved in infill projects.

Developer Richard Price of the Folsom Group sees a “reshaping of the American Dream” as the underlying necessity for sustainable site selection. A low-density lifestyle has become embedded in our culture.  Price said sprawling development is already here, and the challenge will be in finding a way to redevelop suburban housing stock that he considers likely to become future slums. Price’s research is in how to integrate a highly connective natural ecology with a built environment that is currently very fragmented. This involves finding links in order to make people-centered and ecological connections between existing suburban developments.

Another panelist, Albemarle County planner Elaine Echols, explained the principles of the County’s Neighborhood Model and how it relates to LEED-ND. This involves pedestrian-orientation, mixed-use centers, options for alternative transportation, buildings of human-scale, parks and open space, and clear boundaries with rural areas. The goal is to “create livable, vibrant places for residents and the preservation of rural areas.”

Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use Planner in the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect, spoke about the new University land use plan. The Office of the Architect is working on connecting the various parts of campus and keeping all new development on grounds. Academic/Mixed-use and Housing/Mixed-use are the two zones in which infill development will be accommodated. She sees physical connectivity on campus as a way to encourage mental connectivity of academic disciplines.

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Left to right: Stratton Salidas, Richard Price, Julia Monteith, Dan Rosensweig, Karen Waters, Sean Dougherty, Elaine Echols

City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig acknowledged the tragic ecological consequences of the suburban development practices over the last several decades. Rosensweig said Charlottesville is at an “interesting existential impasse” because it needs to decide whether to stay as a “big town” or become “small city.” Rosensweig is personally pushing for more density, mixes of uses, and regional cooperation. There has been some success to this end in recent years, particularly with a new zoning ordinance to allow higher density around the University. Rosensweig believes that a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) system could be a helpful tool toward achieving this goal, and the city could benefit from being more involved in this discussion with Albemarle County.

Planner Sean Dougherty of Octagon Partners sees Urban Growth Boundaries as an effect tool in ensuring pockets of growth. He said that while Albemarle County has a boundary, there is a problem when development can leap-frog into other jurisdictions such as Greene County that do not have the same regulations in place. There needs to be regional or state-wide cooperation.

Karen Waters, director of the Quality Community Council, brought up the dilemma of gentrification. She said infill development may be  green, but there must be a way to avoid displacing current residents with new growth. People often fight new urban redevelopments because “the people who come in may not be the people who were there before.” She asked the question of how social sustainability can be included with environmental sustainability.

Local activist Stratton Salidas said he thinks the most important factor in sustainable development is the difference between building for pedestrians versus automobiles. Sustainable land use policies are important, but they will never be successful without pedestrian-oriented transportation infrastructure. Zoning should be loosened up, he said, to encourage “micro-infill” rather than large subdivisions on the outskirts of the urban area.

Daniel Nairn

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 00:55 – Introductory remarks, James River Green Building Council
  • 02:25 – Panelists are introduced
  • 05.35 -  Lyle Solla-Yates frames questions on site selection
  • 09:20 – Richard Price on connecting the existing suburban landscape
  • 15:45 – Elaine Nichols outlines Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model
  • 18:05 – Julia Monteith tells about University of Virginia planning initiatives
  • 25:35 – Dan Rosensweig offers his vision for the City of Charlottesville
  • 33:05 - Sean Dougherty explains the tool of Urban Growth Boundaries
  • 38:05 – Karen Waters brings up the dilemma of gentrification
  • 42:20 – Stratton Salidas combines ecological health and social justice
  • 51:40 – Question and Answer: How does LEED-ND factor in site location?
  • 53:00 – Is it easy for developers to redevelop on sustainable sites?
  • 1:03:15 – What is more responsible, the demand or the supply?
  • 1:11:55 - How much flexibility does planning commission have in allowing new development practices?
  • 1:15:45 – How can a denser lifestyle be sold to the homeowners, neighbors, and developers?

February 24, 2009

RWSA agrees to convene dam panel, commission pipeline study

Wide-panel

In late November 2008, the four Boards with jurisdiction over the community water supply met to discuss the future of the 50-year water supply plan. Issues on the table included the rising cost of the Ragged Mountain Dam, concerns by City Councilors about the feasibility of other elements of the plan, and how to proceed with a feasibility study. Three months later, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) has finally taken action on the first two issues.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090223-RWSA

First, at their meeting on February 23, 2009, the RWSA Board of Directors agreed to spend up to $264,000 to convene a three-member panel of internationally-recognized experts on dam construction to study the geotechnical issues that led dam design firm Gannett Fleming to increase the estimate for a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Data collected from drillings last summer revealed that the underlying bedrock on which the new dam was to be built was fractured. The RWSA retained the services of a second firm, Schnabel Engineering, to get a second opinion.

The RWSA received proposals from 15 dam design and construction experts interested in joining the panel. Three have been selected to serve on what is now being called the Independent Technical Review Team (ITRT), which will be charged with:

  • Review the geotechnical data that uncovered the fractured bedrock and make recommendations on how to proceed.
  • Review Gannett Fleming’s preliminary design recommendations for the proposed dam and I-64 embankment, as well as Schnabel engineer’s work. The ITRT will specifically discuss Gannett Fleming’s belief that the dam’s foundation can be laid deeper than in the original designs.
  • Provide recommendations to the RWSA concerning the most cost-effective way to build a “structurally stable dam with settlement and seepage within acceptable limits, which will comply with all regulatory requirements and which will provide the requisite reservoir storage volume.”
  • Determine whether or not additional geotechnical data will be needed to assist with the above charges

The ITRT will first meet in mid-March for a three-day workshop in Charlottesville. The last item listed above will determine the panel’s timeline. If the panel calls for more borings to be drilled for core samples, Frederick said the panel’s work may not be completed until early to mid-summer. He said it is likely the additional drilling will need to be done.

The panel will consist of Paul Rizzo of Rizzo Associates, Donald Bruce of Geosystems, and Daniel Johnson of GEI Consultants, Inc. All have participated on similar panels in the past, according to Frederick.

“It’s going to be a creative process of looking at options and alternatives,” Frederick said. “We want to keep the proposed dam structurally sound, have it meet all the safety criteria, but we want to take a really hard look at the cost.”

Itrt-chart
The budget for the Independent Technical Review Team (Source: RWSA)

The $264,000 budget includes payment to the three experts for attendance at three workshops, as well as fees for representatives of Gannett Fleming and Schnabel Engineering to attend at least one workshop to answer questions about their work. One of the three experts will receive an additional amount up to $25,000 to serve as the panel’s chair. Frederick said that person will be charged with writing up the panel’s report. There’s also a $30,000 contingency which Frederick said would be used to amend any of the contracts in order to deal with “unforeseen needs that may come up.”  However, Frederick said the budget for the panel does not include any additional funding for any borings the panel may recommend.

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker asked if the Department of Conservation’s Dam Safety Division was aware of the panel’s creation. Frederick responded that they have been notified, but have made no comment.  He said the agency has not extended their deadline to repair or replace the existing Ragged Mountain Dams by June of 2011.

The second action taken by the RWSA Board on the community water supply plan was to authorize Frederick to spend up to $25,000 to conduct a pipeline study as discussed by the four Boards. The scope of the work will be guided according to the following paragraph:

“RWSA will retain a firm to review the reasonableness of the methodology and opinion of cost used by Gannett Fleming in 2005 in its conceptual design of the pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. This review will be within the context of the objectives established in 2005, to include the operating rules for the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and the desire to control sediment transfer between the reservoirs. The cost of this review will not exceed $25,000. RWSA will also retain a firm to assess the impact of the size of the pipeline on necessary storage capacity of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, using existing modeling techniques. Rivanna will also provide a summary list of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed South Fork Rivanna Reservoir Pipeline, the Sugar Hollow Reservoir pipeline, and a pipeline from the James River, based on information currently available.”

The item was delayed due to ongoing differences of opinion between the City Council and the Albemarle County Service Authority. After the ACSA decided not to continue pursuing the negotiations through the use of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Frederick felt it was appropriate to ask the RWSA Board for direction.

During the public comment period, Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan called for both the dam and the pipeline to be treated as one project. She also questioned whether $25,000 was enough to develop an estimate of how much the pipeline would cost.

“Neither the dam nor the pipeline work unless they are both constructed to meet the 50-year water supply goals,” Mooney said. “To build the dam without knowing accurately the costs associated with the pipeline would be like building the shell of a house with no plumbing pipes to supply the occupants with water.”

The third issue remaining to be decided about the community water supply plan involves how to proceed with the question of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Frederick recommended that the RWSA Board take action after the next meeting of the four Boards on March 3, 2009.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - RWSA Chair Michael Gaffney opens the meeting
  • 01:30 - Report from RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick
  • 03:00 - Frederick briefs RWSA Board on possibility of stimulus money for RWSA capital projects
  • 04:00 - Public comment from Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan regarding her group's "minority report"
  • 05:45 - Public comment from Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan on the ITRT and the pipeline study
  • 10:30 - Public comment from Sally Thomas, Chair of the South Fork Rivanna Stewardship Task Force
  • 12:00 - Frederick introduces the RWSA budget for FY2009-2010
  • 19:00 - Frederick opens up discussion on the ITRT
  • 23:40 - RWSA's Chuck Kent describes the panelists
  • 40:00 - Frederick introduces item on requesting direction on pipeline review
  • 45:30 - RWSA Counsel Kurt Krueger reads statement that opens executive session for the RWSA Board
  • 45:50 - RWSA Counsel Kurt Krueger reads statement calling RWSA Board back into open session

Sean Tubbs

RWSA proposes rate hikes for Charlottesville and Albemarle County

Rates-chart(Source: RWSA - Click for larger image)

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has scheduled a public hearing for May 18, 2009 to consider next year’s proposed rate increases. The City of Charlottesville will see its wholesale rate increase 7.83% to $2.464 per 1,000 gallons. The Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) will be charged $3.323, an 11.4% increase.

Wastewater rates will also increase. The City’s wastewater rate will be $2.794 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 13.3%. The ACSA’s will rise to $3.073 per 1,000 gallons, a 12.89% increase.
Both the City and the ACSA will set their rates for individual customers later on this year.

The RWSA Board of Directors set the public hearing at their meeting on February 23, 2009 shortly being presented with the FY 2009-2010 budget by RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick. He said this year’s budget was the most austere in years, and reflects the downturn into the economy.

Flow-chart
(Source: RWSA - Click for larger image)

The rates are going up even though the operating budget will shrink 3% over last year’s by $382,000. The increase can be attributed to at least two factors. First, water and wastewater flows are projected to decrease next year. In order to break even, Frederick said the RWSA has to increase its fees to cover the increased costs of chemicals.

Second, the RWSA is increasingly taking on more debt in order to finance major capital projects such as the 50-year community water supply plan, the state-mandated upgrade to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plan and improvements to the Meadowcreek Interceptor.

Both the City and the ACSA are charged the same flat rate to cover operations. The difference in rates is solely due to the level of debt being paid for by each community. If the budget is adopted, $1.231 of the City’s rate will cover debt service, whereas the ACSA’s portion will be $2.090. Total debt service is 48% of the RWSA’s budget.

“Because we are still in an intense capital cycle of renewing and replacing infrastructure that had not been replaced earlier, there still is a little bit of an increase in the expenditures,” Frederick said.

Sean Tubbs

February 23, 2009

Planning and Coordination Council agrees to cooperate on single room occupancy units

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Chief of Housing for Albemarle County Ron White

One of the recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing was that the City, County and University of Virginia explore the creation of “single-room occupancy” (SRO) units. These would involve clusters of studio apartments which would be built at a high enough density to allow them to be rented out at affordable prices. There are several SROs in San Francisco that were placed in converted hotels.  The topic was explored at the most recent meeting of the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) on February 19, 2009. PACC is a joint council with representatives from Charlottesville, Albemarle and the University of Virginia. 

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download PACC Affordable Housing Task Force

The PACC discussed ways that the University can help Charlottesville and the County to receive state and federal stimulus money in order to accomplish some recommendations of the Task Force.  Mayor Norris pointed out that UVA has already been helping with the development of the SRO idea. “Lending their intellectual resources and their energy to the project really took that project to a whole new level,” Norris said.

Mayor Dave Norris explained that SRO units would be a good way for the County to participate in providing affordable housing without having to raise taxes or take money away from other initiatives. Norris suggested that the County could participate by designating rent vouchers for this project which could be leveraged to raise other funds. “There are ways to make real gains without necessarily spending money,” Norris said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) asked representatives from UVA if they would be supportive of the SRO idea.   “It is something we should pursue to see if we can obtain stimulus money to make it happen… it would be helpful to have UVA participate,” said Rooker. 

Additionally, the Task Force recommended that University of Virginia consider higher density development when constructing new housing for graduate students and employees.  Ideally, this would free up some of the affordable units surrounding the University for area residents.  The Task Force recommended that UVA continue to provide housing for first year students and provide more options for other students.  The task force also recommended that the University support a regional transit authority and try to move towards a living wage for University employees and contracted workers whenever possible.

20090219-PACC
The Planning and Coordination Council

County Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and Supervisor Rooker explained to the group that while some of the additional recommendations for the County may be sound, the County has little money to direct towards new affordable housing funding at this time.  Rooker expressed concern that federal and state funding for affordable housing would continue to decrease.  “We are rapidly finding ourselves in more and more areas that have been previously met by the state and federal government,” Rooker said.

Boyd suggested that he would like to know where Albemarle County stands relative to the rest of the nation in money designated for affordable housing.  He expressed concern that County money was not being spent on the affordable units for those who need it the most, those at the lowest end of the income range.  “We might have to figure out a new way to slice up that pie,” Boyd said.

Fania Gordon & Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:45 Ron White, Albemarle’s Chief of Housing, introduces who was on the Joint Task Force.
  • 02:45 Ron White explains that Task Force did not carry out needs analysis but that largest gaps were in the 30% to 50% AMI.
  • 05:15 Ron White explains that recommendations for UVA are less strong that they initially were
  • 06:00 Ron White presents recommendations of Task Force.
  • 07:30 Ron White discusses instruments to promote long term affordability
  • 09:15 Mayor Dave Norris Asks how the regional housing fund would work
  • 11:15 Mayor Dave Norris explains it would be a fund for development costs rather than down payment assistance
  • 12:00 Rob White presents recommendations to UVA
  • 13:45 Supervisor Boyd explains that the County does not have money to pay for many of these things
  • 17:15 Supervisor Rooker asks if the land trust would help the lowest income groups
  • 20:30 Supervisor Rooker says that Albemarle is one of the few Counties in the state with an affordable housing policy
  • 23:00 PACC discusses thinking creatively as a community about getting federal and state money to address these issues
  • 25:00 Supervisor Rooker says he thinks the SRO would meet the needs of the lowest income individuals and is the farthest along
  • 27:00 Mayor Norris explains that City has program through PHA for people who want to become homeowners
  • 28:30 Supervisor Rooker asks the University to help put something together for SRO application for stimulus money

February 21, 2009

Mayor Norris repackages his water plan for local Democrats

20090221-DemBreakfast2 What happens when you take the Mayor, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, put them in a room of about 50 Democrats, then add water?  It quickly reaches the boiling point.  That was the outcome of the February 21, 2009 Democratic Breakfast when Mayor Dave Norris and Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) squared off on the water supply plan.  They were joined in the panel discussion by Liz Palmer, a Board member of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA).  Norris, used the event to announce his latest water plan proposal which calls for repairing and enlarging the existing Ragged Mountain Dam, built in 1908, as an alternative to building a new, much taller, dam at the same location.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast:Download 20090221-Dems-Breakfast-H2O

The panel began with Palmer providing background on the history of the current urban water supply system and the key components of the proposed 50-year community water supply plan.  Norris, Slutzky and Palmer actually all agree on the basic plan concept which was approved unanimously by City Council and the Board of Supervisors in 2006. 

  • All agree a higher dam is needed at the Ragged Mountain Natural area off Fontaine Avenue near Interstate 64 to store a greater supply of water for droughts and population growth. 
  • All agree that this larger reservoir needs to be connected by a new pipeline to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir near Hollymead on Route 29 North.  
  • All agree the 13-mile Sugar Hollow pipeline which runs from the mountains above White Hall to Ragged Mountain Reservoir should be decommissioned.  
  • All agree there are environmental benefits to allowing natural stream flows from Sugar Hollow to be returned to the Moormans River (instead of being diverted to Ragged Mountain) where downstream the water can be collected again at South Fork.
  • All would prefer not to get our drinking water from the James River, one of the 32 other water supply alternatives that was under consideration in 2004-06.

The broad agreement on these topics, however, was not what led to the heat in the debate.  Norris acknowledged that the water plan was an issue that had divided environmentalists in the community.  “This is a difficult issue,” said Norris, “because there are smart well-intentioned, well-reasoned environmentalists on both sides of this issue in pretty substantial numbers.”  

20090221-DemBreakfast3
Supervisor David Slutzky (Left) and Mayor Dave Norris (Right)

The key areas lacking consensus relate to: the calculations about how much water the community’s growing population will need in 50 years; assessments of the community’s ability to conserve more water; whether the regulators who issue permits for the water supply plan will agree to changing conservation or population assumptions; the appropriate design size and costs of an expanded Ragged Mountain Dam and new pipeline; and the role of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir in the plan.

After listening to an hour of the discussion, City resident Lloyd Snook raised the white flag.  “I don’t know what the hell you all are talking about,” said Snook ending a debate between Palmer and Slutzky on the panel and opponents of the adopted water supply plan in the audience, including former City Councilor Kevin Lynch.  “You are arguing back and forth, using terms that the rest of us don’t know and don’t understand, and for those of us that were hoping to have some enlightenment, what we have is heat and not light.”

Elements of the “Norris Plan” summarized at the breakfast, including raising the existing Ragged Mountain Dam by thirteen feet and doing dredging at South Fork, come from alternatives also backed by Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan and dismissed previously as infeasible or insufficient to meet projected water needs by other local officials. 

The four parts of the current Norris Plan include:

  • Increase conservation and efficiency with respect to water usage.
  • Reduce the storage needed at Ragged Mountain by dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, if it can be shown to be done in a cost effective way with a feasible disposal site for the sediment. 
  • Reduce the storage needed at Ragged Mountain by enlarging the diameter of the new pipeline connecting the reservoirs which he says will allow Ragged Mountain to be filled more quickly by water taken from South Fork.
  • Repair and enlarge the existing dam at Ragged Mountain by raising the pool elevation only by 13 feet instead of the 45 feet proposed.

For months, Mayor Norris has led Council’s effort to try and require new studies of conservation, water demand projections, dredging, dam design, and pipeline designs, all before any construction starts on the Ragged Mountain Dam. 

Late last year when Council passed a resolution directing the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to conduct a full re-evaluation of the water plan, it led to a rare “four boards” joint meeting on November 25, 2008 at which City Council backed off on most of its demands at the time.  Of the six studies requested by Council, only three are expected to be conducted in a way that may impact the plan.  One of those three studies was significantly scaled back while the other two were effectively already getting started. 

Then at a Council meeting in December, Norris sought to add additional requirements into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was intended to simply summarize the next steps from the “four boards” meeting.  As a result of the City’s modifications, that MOU has been officially set aside by the Albemarle County Service Authority which refused to adopt it.

Norris continues to advocate for revisiting the 50-year water supply demand assumptions and for new conservation studies despite warnings from Tom Frederick, RWSA’s Executive Director, that regulatory agencies who have already approved the water plan’s permits may, as a result of these new studies, require the community to start a multi-year water planning process all over again.  Time, Frederick fears, is not on his side when it comes to supplying the community with sufficient water should we enter another drought or have a catastrophic failure of a deteriorating pipeline or dam.

20090221-DemBreakfast1 In his remarks, Supervisor David Slutzky questioned whether water conservation strategies could be the basis for scaling back the community’s projected water needs.  He said he didn’t think a decision needed to be made immediately about dredging the South Fork because doing so doesn’t provide enough new water capacity for the next 50 years.  Slutzky said he was open to discussing dredging options, but that he did have concerns about the ongoing impacts on the quality of life of those living around and using the reservoir resulting from the noise of the dredging equipment.

“The biggest concern that I have for all of this though, I’ve got to tell you, is the concern of uncertainty,” said Slutzky. “We’ve got a water supply number, how many gallons we will need based on…our estimation of how many gallons people are gonna likely use based on hard to predict behaviors in the future, and based on some assumptions on demographics…”

Slutzky said he supports the current water supply plan as the best long range plan for the community given the uncertainties around population growth and the location where new residents will decide to live.  Slutzky said that if Albemarle is successful channeling more of its growth into the designated growth areas over the next 50 years, then a lot more residents than previously projected could be on the urban water supply.  Slutzky said he would rather address the community’s long term needs now rather than restart the search for more water in 20-30 years.

Charlottesville Tomorrow asked Mayor Norris how much water his plan would supply for the community in fifty years.  He said he did not have it broken down from that perspective, and that instead he was approaching the problem from the demand side.  “If we get more aggressive with conservation, we should be able to reduce the long term demand projections,” said Norris.  The money saved from a smaller project at Ragged Mountain, Norris argues, could be channeled into dredging, sedimentation prevention, and a bigger pipe connecting the reservoirs.

Norris said he accepts the population estimates in the current plan.  When pressed about what targeted water supply demand his plan could satisfy, Norris said he was convinced that the water conservation study currently underway by the City and the ACSA would help identify a revised 50-year water supply goal. 

“If these other things line up, and they are demonstrably more cost-effective and feasible, then why would we not chose that course,” said Norris. “Unless, and this is a big ‘unless,’ you believe as Mr. Slutzky does, that we need to assume a much greater demand than we are currently assuming, and be prepared for a much greater demand in the future.”

The next steps for the water supply plan will be discussed at two upcoming meetings.  On Monday, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board is expected to take action to convene an expert panel to assess the geotechnical data, engineering design, and projected costs of the larger Ragged Mountain Dam proposed in the current water plan.  On March 3, 2009, the “four boards” will convene again (City Council, Board of Supervisors, ACSA, RWSA), this time to receive the final report from the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force.

Brian Wheeler

ACSA agrees to work with Rivanna Conservation Society to promote rain barrels

Rain-barrels
These two rain barrels are linked, giving this homeowner 110 gallons of storage capacity (Photo by chrisdigo)

One of the outcomes of the November 25, 2008 meeting of the four Boards with jurisdiction over the water supply was that the Albemarle County Service Authority agreed to boost efforts to promote water conservation. One strategy was to find a way to promote the use of rain barrels to ACSA customers, either through a rebate or by selling them at a low cost. ACSA Administrative Supervisor Katrina Thraves was charged with working with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD) and the City of Charlottesville to explore how such a program might be implemented.

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Thraves reported her proposal  to the ACSA Board at their meeting on February 19, 2009. She was able to locate a source for barrels that would allow the ACSA to sell a barrel to its customers for $30 each, with non-customers being charged $60. The goal would be to reduce the amount of treated drinking water used for outdoor purposes, such as washing cars and watering gardens. One quarter inch of rain water can fill a 55-gallon barrel. 

Thraves said she met with Garnet Mellen, Education and Easements Coordinator for the TJSWCD, to find out how the ACSA could get involved without duplicating other community efforts.

Mellen said rain barrels are a good first step to encourage citizens to think bigger and to consider installing underground storage tanks. She also told the ACSA Board that the TJSWCD favors barrels because they can stop some stormwater runoff from entering the watershed.

20090219-ACSA-Savage
Robbi Savage of the Rivanna Conservation Society

However, the idea raised a red flag for the Rivanna Conservation Society, which relies on the sales of rain barrels as part of its fundraising strategy. The RCS sells barrels for $115 each, and the TJSWCD offers a “make-your-own” rain barrel workshop for $45. RCS Executive Director Robbi Savage said that with the economic downturn, her organization was counting on the revenue from selling the barrels.  Last year, they sold 157 barrels.

“To see something come out that would be $30 or $60 would essentially eliminate our [rain barrel] program altogether,” Savage said. She suggested that the ACSA could provide a rebate to help customers purchase barrels from the RCS. Savage said she thought the ACSA should focus on educating its customers on the benefits of larger rainwater harvesting systems.

Tatiana Patton, Vice President of the RCS’ Board of Directors, suggested that the ACSA could help RCS by securing the cheaper barrels, but said that the RCS wants to continue being the primary source for their sale. Patton suggested that the program could expand dramatically if the ACSA gets involved.

ACSA Board Member Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller) says her agency’s main interest would be to increase public awareness about the benefits of collecting rain water. As such, she said a partnership between the RCS, the TJSWCD and the City of Charlottesville would be a good idea. ACSA Board Member John Martin (White Hall) said a public-private partnership would create a demand for rainwater collection systems.

“Think about the efforts that have been made in the past with energy conservation measures for construction,” Martin said. “Now builders and developers have recognized that if they build energy-saving features into houses, it helps them sell houses.”

After some discussion, Thraves’ original proposal was tabled in favor of negotiations between the various parties to discuss how the rain barrel program can be expanded. A new proposal will come before the ACSA Board at a later date. Martin urged the negotiations to proceed as fast as possible so that additional barrels can be made available this year in case of drought.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Executive Director Gary Fern explains why the ACSA sought to begin selling rain barrels
  • 02:00 - Katrina of the ACSA describes what she learned during her investigation of rain barrels
  • 10:00 - Comments from Garnet Mellen of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District
  • 16:00 - Comments from Robbie Savage of the Rivanna Conservation Society
  • 22:00 - ACSA Board Member John Martin asks how many barrels the RCS has sold
  • 24:00 - Comments from RCS Vice President Tatiana Patton
  • 25:30 - Comments from ACSA Board Member Liz Palmer
  • 27:00 - Comments from John Martin
  • 33:30 - Comments from ACSA Board Member Richard Carter (Jack Jouett)
  • 37:00 - ACSA Board Member Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) moves to table existing proposal for a later date, prompting discussion of parliamentary procedure


 

February 20, 2009

Charlottesville receives quality of service and efficiency study

20090217-City-QOS On February 17, 2009, Charlottesville City Council became the third locally elected body to receive the results of a resource management study conducted during 2008 on the quality and efficiency of their local government operations.  In January, the Charlottesville City Schools  received their efficiency review findings and last week the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors received the results of a similar review.  All three studies were conducted by different outside organizations.

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City Manager Gary O’Connell began the presentation with several reminders for City Council.  First, he said the report “just starts the discussion.”  Second, he said that it was important to remember that the consultants were asked to look at both the quality and level of service being provided by the City to its residents, not just at efficiencies that might be gained.

“It would be awfully easy to just come in and lop off a whole lot of services that people in this community find very valuable and important and are willing to pay for with their taxes,” said O’Connell.

The Quality of Service and Efficiency Study for the City of Charlottesville was conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.  The presentation of the findings was made by Brad Hammer who has spent the past two decades as Deputy County Administrator in Chesterfield County, Virginia (population 311,000 in 2008).

According to the report, “the study’s purpose was to make a detailed review of the City’s departments to determine how well their staffing, procedures, systems, and practices matched up to their Virginia peers and the best local government practices nationally.”

Hammer said it was no surprise that Charlottesville was found to be one of the leading cities in Virginia.  “Charlottesville actually goes beyond the norm in terms of the program array in human services, and in the courts, and in education that distinguishes it above other local governments in Virginia.”  According to Hammer, Charlottesville is most similar to Alexandria, VA. “Alexandria is a very compassionate city, just like [Charlottesville],” said Hammer.

Part of the study involved comparing Charlottesville’s per-capita expenditures against 39 other cities in Virginia.  Hammer said he found two City departments that had higher than normal costs, police and social services.  Hammer said the higher costs for these two particular departments were easily explained.

“Your demographics, and your crime statistics, and your socioeconomic data show that you do have a challenged population of folks who are struggling,” said Hammer.  “Some of these folks do not graduate from high school, some of these folks get involved in the criminal justice system…and his creates a need for a higher level of policing.”

Hammer said if you look at the national average for public safety staffing, Charlottesville should have seventeen fewer police officers. “But if you look at where the seventeen positions [exist], they are in community policing, neighborhood policing, and in drug task force operations.” 

Hammer said the increased investment in police was “logical” for Charlottesville.  Similarly, the population of residents needing foster care and living at or below the poverty line explained the higher cost of social services.

The report notes that, “it is the opinion of the study team that Charlottesville delivers very competitively on ‘value’ for the taxpayer dollar.”  Yet, Hammer told Council the team was aware of complaints that the City’s tax rate should come down, particularly as compared to neighboring Albemarle County [95 cents in City vs. and effective tax rate of 61 cents in the County].

“Having a compassionate, world class, outstanding, high quality of place to live comes with a price,” said Hammer.  “It comes with a price because the City Council, and Councils before them, have made those policy decisions, those hard decisions, to spend money in a worthwhile way.” 

When City Council took the opportunity to ask questions, Mayor Norris said the City needed to move towards a “new paradigm” with respect to helping people in poverty. 

“You said many times in your presentation that we are a compassionate community based on the amount of funding we dedicate to programs for the disadvantaged,” said Norris.  “I would suggest that a more accurate measure of compassion is not how much money we are spending, but how successful we are at moving people out of poverty.”

Norris asked for more specifics on how other communities have been successful reducing poverty as opposed to comparisons of per capita costs alone.

Norris and O’Connell said there would be a future work session for Council and staff to more fully evaluate the study’s key recommendations.  O’Connell is expected to spend 90 days reviewing the report in order to bring back recommendations to Council.

Brian Wheeler

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:38 – Introduction by City Manager Gary O’Connell
  • 05:15 -- Brad Hammer, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia, begins PowerPoint presentation
  • 08:55 – Hammer describes goal of study
  • 12:15 – Hammer begins discussion of comparative per-capita data and focuses on the results for the police department and social services
  • 15:55 – Hammer addresses financial management matters
  • 20:27 – Hammer addresses sharing or consolidating of services with City schools and Albemarle County
  • 45:46 – Mayor Norris opens the discussion to questions from Council
  • 47:28 – Comments and questions from Councilor David Brown
  • 56:00 – Comments and questions from Councilor Holly Edwards
  • 59:10 – Comments and questions from Mayor Norris
  • 1:04:13 – Councilor Satyendra Huja asks why it will take staff 90 days to review the report and make recommendations

Experts on transfer of development rights programs identify success factors

A new study has been published in the Journal of the American Planning Association on Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs around the county. Rick Pruetz and Noah Standridge, two veteran TDR consultants and planning practitioners, ranked the top 20 programs in terms of their success in preserving land, drawing from a pool of 191 TDR programs that have been implemented across the nation. Each of these is matched up with a list of potential success factors that have been recommended by experts in the academic literature. Finally, these suggested success factors are prioritized in value, depending on how often they show up in the most successful programs.

While the idea of TDR may be fairly new to the Charlottesville-Albemarle community, the concept has been in practice for about 40 years. The rate of success has varied widely between communities. Pruetz’s and Standridge’s evaluation of the factors that differentiate the successful programs from those that have not been able to meet their stated goals could help local leaders determine whether Charlottesville-Albemarle has the right conditions and aspirations for a successful TDR program.

20080808-cows  
A Rural Area of Albemarle County

Here is the top ten list of success factors from the study:

  1. Enough demand in the receiving area for bonuses. Whether in the form of extra density or other perks, developers have to truly want the bonuses that a purchase of development rights would confer.
  2. The receiving area is customized to the community. The receiving area must have adequate infrastructure, political backing, and a clear designation. Ideally, the receiving area would be in a city or urban fringe, although a few communities that face urban pressures against development have created new town centers as receiving areas.
  3. Strict sending area development regulations. “Strict regulations” are defined as prohibitions of densities greater than one unit per five acres, but some of the most successful programs have much stricter prohibitions than this. [Note: Albemarle County’s Rural Areas zoning ordinance currently allows one single-family residential unit for twenty-one acres in most cases.]
  4. Few or no alternatives to TDR for achieving additional development. There is less demand for TDR in communities where developers believe they can receive a waiver to regulations without having to purchase development rights.
  5. Market incentives: transfer ratios and conversion factors. The most successful programs have carefully matched the values of development rights in the selling area with the values they would be sold for in the receiving area. This is done by setting a favorable ratio for trading, so that each development right sold would be worth multiple rights to the buyer.
  6. Ensuring that Developers will be able to use TDR. Many successful communities have rewritten zoning laws to allow by-right development with TDR, rather than making the buyer go through what could be a lengthy and expensive approval process. This drives demand by giving developers more certainty their projects can be completed on schedule.
  7. Strong Public Support for Preservation. The most successful programs are in counties that already have publicly-funded land preservation measures in place, such as outright purchases of development rights.  [Note: Albemarle County has an Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program.]
  8. Simplicity.  Programs that are easier to understand and implement find more support and participation.
  9. TDR Promotion and facilitation. Citizens have to be well informed and regularly updated about the TDR program. This is usually accomplished with a high-quality website and an initial promotional push.
  10. A TDR Bank. While only four of the top twenty communities established official TDR banks, these four programs have been remarkably successful. A TDR bank is an officially designated intermediary between buyers and sellers. It serves to facilitate trades, stabilized prices, and ensure continuous market activity.  [Note: Albemarle County has enabling legislation that would allow for the banking of development rights.]

Transfer_development_rights   
Image from King County, Washington

Applying the success factors to the Charlottesville-Albemarle context

Pruetz and Standridge emphasize that not all ten of these traits are necessary to run a successful program. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland does not have a TDR bank and does not promise developers can use TDR by-right, yet they have managed to conserve an average of 1,851 acres per year since the inception of the program in 1980. Another highly successful program, New Jersey Pinelands, scores quite low on simplicity points. All of these factors reinforce each other in complex ways, and the diversity of individual characteristics of each community make any simplistic formula for success impossible.

However, there are some examples that relate to Charlottesville-Albemarle’s particular situation. Now that the City of Charlottesville has expressed an interest in TDR, the example of Boulder County, Colorado may prove illuminating. Their program, which began in 1989, has preserved 5,900 acres of land, and an expanded version was just ratified in the summer of 2008.  Boulder County has entered into intergovernmental agreements with six different incorporated towns in the county in order to find acceptable receiving areas for development rights.  The contracts give the cities the authority to set the receiving area within their boundaries, and they clarify the exact terms of a trade of development rights between the city and county.

King County, Washington, the TDR program with the best record in the country, also extends across political boundaries. There is potential for confusion, however, because each city government has its own policy of which development rights it is willing to accept. A municipal government, for instance, may only want to protect land within its own watershed. In 1998, The City of Seattle, located in King County, used TDR to allow developers to increase the number of stories on new buildings in a target neighborhood. Each additional story was priced at $120,000. Half of the cost went to purchasing three development rights from the county, and the other half was used for infrastructure improvements to the immediate vicinity of the development. Other creative arrangements between the two jurisdictions have been used since this initiative.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) has said that in his own research he was not able to find any well-functioning TDR program that did not also include a down-zoning. The Pruetz and Standridge study confirm this finding. All of the top 12 TDR programs included strict land use controls on the sending area. Montgomery County down-zoned to 1 dwelling unit per 25 acres, a number they considered to be the minimum amount of land for a for a viable working farm. Boulder County has a base density of 1 dwelling unit per 35 acres, while King County maintains a more modest 1 dwelling unit per 5 acres limit. The researchers identified development restrictions like this as just short of essential for a TDR system to function. Many of the 191 programs with more permissive land use showed no TDR transactions at all.

Albemarle County’s Rural Areas zoning ordinance allows development of 1 single-family residence per 21 acres in most cases. The findings of Pruetz and Sandridge would already classify Albemarle’s rural development restrictions as “strict.” When the TDR concept was originally proposed by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) in 2006, he suggested Albemarle’s rural areas be down-zoned to one dwelling unit per 50 acres.

TDRdiscussion 
An August TDR stakeholder meeting at the Weldon Cooper Center

During the recent meetings on TDR facilitated by the Weldon-Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, stakeholders wrestled with the acceptability and practicality of further downzoning rural Albemarle.  Some rural property owners felt such a change, like the one approved in Albemarle’s “Great Rezoning” of 1980, would be a violation of their property rights.  By their fourth meeting, that key tenet of Slutzky’s TDR proposal was off the table.  At the time, the group discussed how large land parcels in Albemarle (over 50 acres) might best be protected with voluntary conservation easements. 

The most essential success factor, according the study, is whether enough development demand exists in the receiving area to prime the pumps of the market. This question may be especially pertinent in the current slow housing market.  King County had a thriving TDR trade until the housing bubble burst within the last two years, and since then there has been very little market activity. If developers are even hesitant to build to allowable standards, they are all the more unlikely to want to purchase the right to exceed those standards. Nevertheless, King County officials intend to simply wait out the slow economic climate and keep the TDR apparatus in place for the anticipated recovery. In many cases, TDR is intended as a long-term strategy that may have to weather the inevitable vicissitudes of the housing market.

Participants in the TDR stakeholder meetings also spent a considerable amount of time discussing what the exact constitution of the receiving area should be. Supervisor Slutzky’s original proposal suggested a 1% increase in the County’s designated growth area, but this proposal was abandoned during the stakeholder discussions. Many in the environmental community were resistant to growth area expansion, while others favored opening more of Albemarle’s rural area to development. The group eventually formed a consensus around setting the receiving area as the current designated growth area of the County and, if the City would agree, portions of Charlottesville.

Pruetz and Sandridge found a significant amount of variety in successful receiving areas, so they were hesitant to delineate specific Best Practices to follow. The criteria they did establish were that there had to be adequate infrastructure, or plans to extend the infrastructure necessary to accommodate higher density. There could not be any confusion about the boundaries, and the selected area should not draw political controversy. All of these factors have already figured heavily in the Albemarle-Charlottesville discussions.

While there are many models of good TDR programs to measure against, it is equally important to take account of the numerous TDR attempts that have incurred unnecessary costs, inspired needless controversy, or simply just faded away. Pruetz and Sandridge prove to be a helpful guide through the complex landscape of TDR policies around the country, another voice to add to the careful and inclusive conversation currently underway in the Albemarle-Charlottesville community.

Daniel Nairn