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March 31, 2009

Madison Cummings announces campaign for Board of Supervisors

20050305.Cummings
File Photo: Madison Cummings in March 2005

North Garden resident Madison Cummings (D) has announced he is seeking election to the Samuel Miller seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  Incumbent Supervisor, Sally Thomas (I), is expected to announce in April that she is retiring from the Board at the end of 2009.  Cummings told Charlottesville Tomorrow that he would hold a formal campaign launch in mid-April after any announcement by Thomas.

According to Albemarle County Democratic party Chairman, Fred Hudson, County Democrats have scheduled a caucus for Monday, May 11th to select their candidates for the Board of Supervisors.  According to Hudson, only the Samuel Miller District is expected to have a contested nomination at this time. 

Cummings joins John Lowry, who is already a declared candidate for the Samuel Miller seat, though Lowry has not indicated if he will run as an independent or as a party candidate.  Cummings is currently the County Democratic Party’s Chairman for the Samuel Miller District.  The Jack Jouett and Rio District seats will also be on the November 2009 ballot. 

In 1997, Cummings was the first elected member of the Albemarle County School Board to represent the Samuel Miller District.  He served two terms on the School Board during 1994-2001 and served as its Vice Chairman.  Sally Thomas appointed Cummings to the School Board in 1994, before it became an elected body. 

Asked about his reason for running for elected office again, Cummings told Charlottesville Tomorrow he was running for “a whole host of reasons.” 

“I love Albemarle.  I think it is a great place.  We have a lot of great things going on and I don’t want to see us go backwards.  Education and social service issues are very important to me, but so are public safety matters.  I want to see us keep making progress and going forward,” said Cummings.

Cummings turns sixty-six in June and he is currently a part-time pharmacist at the University of Virginia Medical Center.  He retired from his full-time work in that same position in 2004.  He moved to the area in 1970, is married to Pat Cummings, and has children and grand-children living in the community.

See Charlottesville Tomorrow's Election Watch page for complete coverage of the County's 2009 elections.

Brian Wheeler

March 27, 2009

Accessory dwelling units in Charlottesville may see more restrictions

Accessory
An Accessory Dwelling Unit in North Downtown

The construction of a new three-story external accessory unit on the corner of Lexington and Poplar St. has provoked City planners to take a closer look at the current City ordinance which governs their construction. Accessory dwelling units (ADU) are housing units built either inside an existing house or on the same lot. Their use was permitted in 1993 as a way to encourage homeownership while still allowing for a certain degree of residential density.

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The Charlottesville Planning Commission will decide on a proposed change in the zoning ordinance that would increase restrictions on ADUs in the City. During a February 24, 2009 work session, the Commissioners discussed the new proposal and sought a consensus on future ADU regulations. This discussion is closely related to the larger issue of residential density in the city.

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Commissioners discussed ADU restrictions at their February 24, 2009 work session

The proposed ordinance adds to existing restrictions for new external accessory units a maximum gross floor area of 40% of the primary dwelling or 900 sq. ft., whichever is less, and a 25 ft. maximum height. There would also be stricter setback limitations. Units will have to be set a minimum of either 5 feet or 10 feet away from the property line, depending on the height of the unit.

City planners see many advantages to ADUs. They can allow elderly residents to age in place by moving into an accessory, and renting out their primary dwelling. ADUs contribute to housing affordability, by allowing owners to supplement their mortgages with rental income.

“When done at the appropriate scale, ADUs can allow for a doubling in density without affecting the existing characteristics of the neighborhood,” wrote Melissa Celii of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services in a memo to the Planning Commission.

The challenge has been allowing the use of ADUs without adversely impacting the neighborhood. Planning staff have had to address complaints from neighbors when specific ADUs are considered too intrusive. The Commission focused on one example in particular that is currently being built on Poplar Street. The modernist accessory building technically does not exceed the height of the primary building, but many consider it to be out of character with the neighborhood. The new design standards seem to have been written with this case in mind.

Some Commissioners thought the Poplar case might be a red herring. To frame the law according to the most extreme cases could have an unnecessary chilling effect on the use of ADUs in general.

Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said, “staff has talked numerous times about how we want to encourage accessory apartments, and if that is one of our goals further restrictions on the size of accessory apartments seems contrary to encouraging that.”

Rosensweig, who lives in close proximity to the questionable ADU, thought the design seemed to him more objectionable than the size itself. He pointed out that another street-facing primary house in that lot would not be inappropriate. Commissioners Michael Osteen and Jason Pearson agreed that a subdivision of the lot would not be problematic in this case.

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Image courtesy of the NDS
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Image courtesy of the NDS

Osteen sees the logic of limiting the size of ADUs at some point, but he called into question the current limitation of two persons per unit.

“I could easily see a couple in there that, the day they bring home a baby from the hospital, they are in violation,” Osteen said. Staff, perhaps jokingly, concurred that, according to the language of the current ordinance, this family would have to be “booted out.”

The city began registering ADUs in 2003, and there are currently 45 total according to City records, split fairly evenly between internal and external units. However, planning staff estimates that there are at least 300 in existence. Many are falling beneath the radar, and there are no good records on potential violations. Enforcement of the ordinance has been occurring in response to complaints from neighbors.

The discussion will be continued in a future Planning Commission public hearing, at which point the commissioners will make a decision about whether to recommend the proposed changes or not.

Daniel Nairn

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Staff presentation on current state of accessory dwelling units
  • 03:35 – 50 registered units, and an estimate of 300 in existence
  • 04:30 – Compatibility with tax assessor’s database is difficult
  • 06:40 – Asking REATORS to provide data on non-conforming uses
  • 10:35 – Different regulations for interior and exterior units
  • 12:00 – Rosensweig questions limiting gross square footage
  • 16:30 – Consideration of a particular case on Poplar Street
  • 31:40 – Keller suggests performance standards rather than footprint standards
  • 34:00 – Creasy explains how wave of accessory apartments is just starting
  • 34:50 – Emory supports proposed ordinance change
  • 37:35 – Farruggio also supports the proposed ordinance change with concerns
  • 39:25 – Rosensweig, Pearson sees restrictions as contrary to encouraging accessories
  • 46:20 – Osteen questions the two-person limitation
  • 51:35 – Pearson questions whether 900 sq. ft. is a good limitation
  • 54:30 – Lewis questions the marketability of these units
  • 58:20 – The purpose of the ordinance is to allow density without impact
  • 1:03:50 – Pearson connects to question of residential density in general
  • 1:05:35 – Lewis brings up possibility of more subjectivity in code
  • 1:22:30 – Osteen brings up the possibility of converting garage units
  • 1:28:50 – What is the accessory is built first?
  • 1:30:05 – Pursuing a consensus during the work session
  • 1:33:20 – Keller asks about new height limits
  • 1:37:50 – More discussion on design review, with topography

MPO asks transit working group to recommend next steps on RTA

Mpo-wide

At their meeting on March 25, 2009, the MPO Policy Board learned more about a proposed phone survey to determine the public’s attitudes towards transit and decided to reconvene the Regional Transit Authority working group to recommend next steps in the pursuit of a joint transit authority for Charlottesville-Albemarle.

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In their recently completed session, the General Assembly passed legislation to allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to consolidate the governance of the existing Charlottesville Transit System (CTS). However, a second bill to allow City and County residents to vote in a referendum on a sales tax increase to pay for the RTA failed to make it out of the House Finance Committee.

That leaves a big question to be answered. Without new sources of funding, is it worth it for the two communities to form the RTA at this time? Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) had requested the MPO discuss the issue at the March meeting. He suggested reconvening the RTA working group that was created following the joint Board-Council meeting in August 2008 when both bodies decided to pursue the RTA. Before that happens, though, both the Board of Supervisors and the Councilors need to decide for sure if they want to take that step.

20090325-Slutzky
Albemarle County Supervisor and MPO Chairman David Slutzky

“The first thing that group needs to really address is the practicality of creating the [RTA] without a dedicated funding source that is better than what we currently have,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). He asked that CTS Director be present for those meetings so he could discuss the logistics of transferring CTS assets and employees to the RTA’s control. Rooker also asked for a timeline that showed all of the steps that would need to be taken to form the RTA. Slutzky said that he wanted to use the meeting to discuss the potential of seeking other funding options for the RTA.

The MPO also heard details of a telephone survey that will be conducted in April to gauge how citizens feel about transit and the possibility of increasing service through the RTA. This follows on the heels of an on-board rider survey conducted by the Charlottesville Transit Service in March. Over 3,000 passengers filled out paper questionnaires, and the data will be combined with the results of the telephone survey.

The Richmond-based Southeastern Institute of Research will be coordinating the project. Other initiatives to get public opinion include an effort to reach out to seniors,hourly U.Va employees, and the general public through an online survey. Recommendations collected from the responses will be presented at a public workshop to be held on May 2.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - MPO Meeting convenes, beginning with public comment from Jerry Deily on light rail
  • 02:45 - Public comment from Neil Williamson about the reliability of telephone surveys on transit
  • 05:30 - Public hearing on MPO’s Public Participation Plan
  • 14:00 – Public hearing on Draft FY10 United Planning and Work Program (UPWP)
  • 17:30 – Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely suggesting better way to organize studies to better achieve stimulus funding
  • 21:30 – Approval of minutes from February 2009 meeting
  • 22:30 – Discussion of Regional Transit Authority assessment toolkit
  • 32:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro said the survey was fairly long
  • 36:00 – Supervisor David Slutzky wonders if the phone survey will include a disclaimer that it is being funded by the MPO
  • 39:30 – JAUNT Representative wonders if cycling should be added as a mode of transportation
  • 41:00 – Comments from Southeastern Institute for Research representative Anna McIntosh
  • 44:30 – Discussion of next steps for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 54:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro asks MPO to include Jefferson School on its list for possible of getting Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA) funds to pay for historic preservation
  • 59:00 –MPO Program Coordinator Ann Whitham updates MPO on UNJAM 2035
  • 1:00:00 – Public comment from Jerry Deily about how to merge CTS personnel into RTA if it is formed
  • 1:01:00 – Public comment from Jeanne Chase of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association regarding any plans to assist her community with traffic problems

City Council discusses capital budget; Planning Commission's call to cut Meadowcreek Parkway funding is omitted

City-wide

How much will the City of Charlottesville spend on capital projects in the next five years? Less than in previous years, according to City Manager Gary O’Connell. During a March 24, 2009 work session with City Council, O’Connell said the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five years has been reduced by about $25 million compared to last year.

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As the work session began, Councilors first got an update on some revisions that have been made to the budget.  After being prompted by Councilor David Brown to make sure the revenue assumptions were calculated correctly, Beauregard and her staff reduced the City’s projected budget by over $163,000 due to reduced property assessments and the downturn in the economy. That reduction would have been higher, but the budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly restored some state funding that Beauregard had anticipated would be cut.

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Budget Director Leslie Beauregard

The trends are really scary,” Beauregard said. “We just don’t know where these are going and we don’t know if these have hit bottom.” Beauregard showed Council how expenditures have been reduced to accommodate the decrease.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM REDUCTIONS

Council next turned their attention to the CIP. The total projected CIP budget for FY2010 is over $16.3 million, and anticipates a bond issue of nearly $11.4 million. The rest of the CIP money will come from the transfer from the general fund as well as contribution from Albemarle County for joint projects such as CATEC and the Levy Building. Initiatives to be completed through the CIP are divided into bondable and non-bondable projects. 

Councilor David Brown expressed frustration about not having enough information about what projects would not be completed due to the reduction in the CIP. He was concerned that the City’s aging infrastructure issues would not be addressed. City Manager Gary O’Connell said that some projects would likely be delayed for a year, and that many projects have been completed. In particular, he singled out the HVAC replacement to City schools and buildings.

Council spent some time discussing one project that isn’t slated to begin until at least FY2014. Councilor Brown also asked if the $490,000 expenditure budgeted for the"Central Library renovations" in that year would be the City’s only contribution. Beauregard said the total project is expected to cost between $15 and $20 million, and O’Connell said the City’s projected funds for FY2014 are meant to be for architectural and engineering work. Both the City and the County have pushed the project back one year. Later in the meeting, Brown encouraged the City and the County to not defer maintenance projects at the library, out of a concern the library’s condition would worsen, raising the ultimate renovation costs. 

Councilor Satyendra Huja asked what the libraries’ plans are, and Beauregard said she felt that the library wanted to stay in its building on Market Street. O’Connell said that he thought it was too early to know for sure what would happen. Council agreed to have JRML Executive Director John Halliday appear before them in the near future for an update.

Another bondable project is the Ivy Road/Fontaine Area fire station, which is budgeted at $9.2 million over the next five years. Beauregard said the project has also been pushed back a year.

Mayor Dave Norris asked why there is no funding shown for the Old Lynchburg Road project in the coming year. Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said the plans will not be ready in time for construction to start in the upcoming fiscal year.

Satyendra Huja asked what the current status of project to place utilities underground. The FY2010 CIP contains $100,000 for the project which is to be matched by private developers. Tolbert said the next phase will involve placing utilities lines on Water Street between the Jefferson Theater and the Live Arts building.

MEADOWCREEK PARKWAY

Non-bondable projects include items such as sidewalk repair, bridge maintenance, highway inspection, as well as a $450,000 match the City must pay to get state funding for its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway (the City’s portion is referred to as McIntire Road Extended). Mayor Norris asked why Council had not been given recommendations from the Planning Commission to reallocate that money to parkland acquisition. Norris participated in the Planning Commission's December 2008 discussion. Beauregard said she never received anything in writing from the Planning Commission.

“If they had something in writing, I would have included it in the material,” Beauregard said. Councilor Huja asked why planning staff couldn’t have relayed the message, but Beauregard said she couldn’t answer for that department.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Planning Commission Chairman Jason Pearson said Beauregard was present when the Commission passed its motion to recommend that the City's capital budget exclude funding for the two components of the Meadowcreek Parkway and instead allocate increased funding to sidewalks and park acquisition.

"If in fact Council did not receive any information about our recommendations, then I will forward them directly to Council via e-mail," Pearson said. "I think it's the responsibility of staff to make sure [Commission recommendations] are conveyed."

COUNCIL DECIDES TO SPEND $178,000 ON BIKE LANES, PARKS AND TREES

Budget staff had provided a line item of $177,906 for “non bondable contingency” projects for Council to program during the work session. Councilor Huja commented that he would like to add $50,000 in additional funding for urban tree preservation and planting. Currently the proposed CIP for FY2010 shows a line item of $106,090.  Mayor Norris and Councilor Julian Taliaferro said they would support adding more. Norris said that he wanted to use $100,000 to fund parkland acquisition, and he got the support of at least two other Councilors.

Councilor Brown asked what further opportunities there might be to develop more bike lanes. Public Works Director Judy Mueller said that the City has already installed all of the bike lanes it can where the lane marker has to be simply painted. Brown said a lot of cyclists wanted to see improvements on Emmet Street between University Avenue and Barracks Road Shopping Center. Tolbert said the only way to accomplish that would be to take off one lane of traffic in each direction. He said City Trails Planner Chris Gensic has been looking for ways to build an off-road trail with limited success so far. Councilor Huja said that the City needed a program to expand bike lanes to bring it in line with what other university communities have achieved. Huja requested funding to turn his vision into reality.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to make [bikes] a mode of transportation unless people feel safe to ride them,” Huja said. Brown said he already felt safe cycling in Charlottesville, but that he’s been doing so ever since he was a student at the University of Virginia. He said inexperienced cyclists could use a little more protection.

20090324-Tolbert
NDS Director Jim Tolbert

Tolbert said the City might likely employ a strategy of routing bike traffic on other roads, similar to what will be done with the Old Lynchburg Road project. In that case, bike traffic will be routed on to Monte Vista Avenue, rather than spend the money to widen Old Lynchburg Road to accommodate bike lanes. Council decided to go ahead and add a $25,000 line item from the non-bondable contingency fund to pay for bike lane construction for FY2010.

Councilor Brown wanted to know if it were possible to save money for large capital projects in the future, such as the Central Library renovations. O’Connell said that the City is reducing its budget in part by reducing the CIP by about $25 million over the next five years. O’Connell said the City spent more on large capital projects when times were better, pointing to the consolidation of the City’s indoor pools. He said he would compile a list of all the CIP projects that have been completed in the past five years.

“If we’re spending half a million dollars less in facilities capital projects than we proposed last year, what is it we’re not doing?” Brown asked of Judy Mueller. She responded that central office renovations for the City’s schools has been cut, and funding for a renovation of Buford Middle School has been reduced. Paving of Charlottesville High School’s parking lot will be deferred for one year.

“There was no major project that was cut out that we said we wouldn’t do,” Mueller said. “It’s a matter of saying we may have to delay things.” She said she would send Brown a detailed list of what other projects will be deferred.

While the Council did not agree last November with a staff recommendation to institute a stormwater utility fee, they did approve the spending of $600,000 for “citywide stormwater initiatives” in each of the next three years, with $100,000 proposed in both FY13 and FY14. Council will revisit the idea of instituting a fee sometime in FY13 if they want to continue the program.

NEW FUNDING INITIATIVES

Council discussed how they would like to spend the $250,000 set aside for Council Priority Initiatives. They approved of a plan to use at least $112,000 of that money for workforce development programs. The remaining funds will be programmed during the next Council work session on April 2, 2009
In addition, Beauregard also said staff was recommending spending on three new initiatives: $85,373 would be spent to expand the City’s Youth Internship Program; $63,000 to provide free bus rides to participants of the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW) program; and $60,000 on the proposed Community Dialogue on Race.  Councilor Huja expressed concern about the latter project. O’Connell said he would be bringing something more detailed before Council in the near future.

COUNCIL DEBATES CREATION OF A PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT ANALYST

One of the recommendations of the City’s recently completed efficiency study was for the City to create a new “Performance Management Analyst” position to coordinate all of the City’s efforts to save money through streamlining. The position, which is initially set at a base salary, of $60,000, would involve developing the City’s efficiency policy.

Councilors were not enthusiastic about the idea. Councilor Brown asked what other communities had such a position, and wondered what would actually be measured. Beauregard said each department will have to develop a mission and vision statements, along with outcomes, goals and objectives. Performance would be measured differently by each department.

Councilor Taliaferro said he assumed that the intent of the position would be to try to achieve more than $60,000 worth of cost savings each year to balance the cost of hiring the person. Beauregard said her staff is currently asking many questions about how to improve performance, but the new position would enable someone to look more deeply into how City government functions.

Mayor Norris asked if it would be better to use the available funding to train department heads in state-of-the-art performance techniques. O’Connell said the efficiency study showed that the existing City government structure does not have the “horsepower” to provide analysis that can lead to results.
Brown said the idea sounds like a good one, but that he was not convinced adding a new position to the payroll would be the best way to achieve the goal of increasing efficiency. Councilors and O’Connell went back and forth for several minutes before deferring a decision on the position to a future work session.

Council will next consider the budget at a work session on Thursday, April 2 at which funding for outside agencies will be considered.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Mayor Dave Norris calls the meeting to order
  • 01:30 - Budget Manager Leslie Beauregard describes the agenda
  • 05:40 - Councilor Taliaferro asks a question about the formula that determines school funding
  • 06:00 - Beauregard moves discussion to the CIP 
  • 08:15 - Councilor David Brown asks for a comparison of this year's bond issue to previous years
  • 09:45 - Beauregard begins discussing bondable projects
  • 10:45 - Brown asks for details on what will not be done because of the reductions to the CIP budget
  • 15:30 - Brown asks about the $490,000 expenditure for the Central Library renovation project anticipated in FY2014
  • 19:20 - Beauregard discusses transportation and access projects in the CIP
  • 21:15 - Mayor Dave Norris asks why there are no funds for the Old Lynchburg Road improvements project
  • 22:10 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks about undergrounding utilities
  • 24:00 - Beauregard discusses parks and recreation projects, including $5.7 million for Smith Pool replacement
  • 24:30 - Discussion turns to non-bondable projects in the CIP, including sidewalk repair
  • 26:30 - Huja calls for an additional $50,000 for urban tree planting
  • 27:00 - Brown asks if sidewalk projects keep up with demand, with report by Jim Tolbert
  • 31:30 - Huja calls for City to condemn property to ensure consistent sidewalks throughout City
  • 33:30 - Mayor Norris asks why Council was not shown the recommendations from the Planning Commission
  • 38:00 - Brown asks what the implications are for decreasing the amount of money for city wide traffic improvements from $200,000 to $150,000
  • 39:45 - Tolbert updates Council on the pedestrian signals that are being installed downtown
  • 41:40 - Discussion of $2 million in spending for "citywide stormwater initiatives"
  • 42:30 - Discussion on $5 million for the Charlottesville Housing Fund and $625,000 for the Home Energy Conservation Grant
  • 46:45 - Discussion of bike lanes
  • 57:30 - Brown asks if Council should be saving for large projects
  • 1:03:45 - Huja says that the budget should reflect the City Council's values
  • 1:05:00 - Brown asks Mueller how capital project for facilities development will be reduced
  • 1:12:00 - Brown points out that the school system's CIP is overseen by a committee, but that there's no process for prioritizing replacements in City buildings
  • 1:13:15 - Huja asks about the future of the existing CTS yard
  • 1:15:00 - Brown expresses concern about not funding anything to do with the library
  • 1:17:45 - Beauregard recaps the requests for additional funds she heard uttered by Council
  • 1:18:30 - Councilor Taliaferro asks what role stimulus money can play
  • 1:19:15 - Work session shifts to a discussion of new funding initiatives
  • 1:23:30 - Norris asks if Councilors are okay with spending money from
  • 1:27:10 - Huja says he has concerns about spending $50,000 for Community Dialogue on Race
  • 1:33:00 - Beauregard moves discussion to whether or not to create a new Performance Management Analyst position
  • 1:49:30 - Councilor Holly Edwards offers her views on the position
  • 1:52:00 - Beauregard describes what will happen next with the budget process
  • 1:53:30 - Comments from Jim Moore with the Charlottesville Taxpayer Association
  • 1:59:10 – Comments from Colette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association

March 26, 2009

Brian Wheeler on WINA's "Charlottesville--Right Now!"

Brian Wheeler, the Executive Director of Charlottesville Tomorrow, joins Coy Barefoot on WINA's "Charlottesville--Right Now!" each and every Tuesday at 5:00 PM to talk about the latest in growth and development in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. This week on the show:

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download from the Charlottesville Podcasting Network

March 24, 2009

RWSA Board authorizes landscaping plan in path of Meadowcreek Interceptor

At their meeting on March 23, 2009, the Board of Directors for the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority authorized the spending of up to $52,000 to develop a landscaping plan for the Meadowcreek sewer interceptor project and received an update on the expert panel reviewing the Ragged Mountain dam design.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090323-RWSA

The Board’s most significant action at the meeting was to amend the design for the Meadowcreek Interceptor project to allow for the creation of a conceptual landscaping plan. The project involves the complete replacement of a sewer trunk line that was originally installed in the 1950’s. Since then, the right of way has not been maintained. Parts of the easement through the Greenbrier, St. Charles and Locust Grove neighborhoods are now forested, and the RWSA has been negotiating new easements with property owners to enhance the Authority’s ability to maintain the easement and upgrade the sewer line.  The 14-month construction project is expected to commence in August 2009.

Many residents whose property will be impacted requested that the RWSA add landscaping features in order to make the easements more pleasing to the eye. The Board authorized the spending of up to $52,295 to develop the plan with the input of property owners.

20090323-Whitaker
Chief Engineer Jennifer Whitaker explains the project to the RWSA Board

Individual property owners will get to choose the landscaping that will be installed on their property, according to RWSA Chief Engineer Jennifer Whitaker. In response to a question from RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney, Whitaker said that the landscaping according to the conceptual plan will cost “in the neighborhood of $150,000.”

In other news:

•    The Independent Technical Review Team authorized at the meeting of the four Boards on March 3, 2009 is now known as the Ragged Mountain Expert Panel. The group met in Charlottesville the following week and are expected to have a preliminary report for the public by the end of this month.
“I understand from talking to panel members that the meetings were very productive and insightful,” Frederick said.

•    Frederick said his staff is also working to prepare a draft RFP for a dredging feasibility study. The preparation anticipates a request from the City of Charlottesville to undertake such a study. Frederick said the RFP will not be released until the RWSA Board gives its approval.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Call to order from Mike Gaffney, Chair of the RWSA Board of Directors
  • 02:00 - RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick makes his annual report
  • 06:10 - Public comment from Rich Collins about "definitional disagreements" regarding terms such as "safe yield" and "dam safety"
  • 08:45 - Public comment from Betty Mooney on pipeline, and the need to spend $57 million on the Moores Creek WWTP upgrades
  • 12:00 - Consent agenda discussion
  • 13:00 - RWSA Chief Engineer Jennifer Whitaker describes the landscaping
  • 18:50 - Meeting adjourned

March 23, 2009

Chesapeake Bay expert urges slower growth for Albemarle County

Hortonweb
Source: Salisbury University

For their annual membership meeting on March 19, 2009, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) asked journalist and professor Tom Horton to give an address. Horton is a writer from Salisbury, Maryland, whose work often deals with the impact that population growth has on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

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For the last several decades, the Chesapeake Bay Authority has tried various strategies to restore the health of the bay by reducing the per person ecological footprint of residents within the watershed. However, as Horton sees it, this initiative has been a failure. Environmental goals have not been met, and he believes the reason for this poor record has been the general unwillingness to address population growth in the region.

“The blind-spot is our allegiance to perpetual economic growth and to encouraging and ever expanding a human population of consumers to support it,” Horton said.

Horton said the solution is for government bodies, local, state and federal, to enact strict immigration and growth controls. He would like to see the U.S. reduce the number of immigrants allowed to cross the border, and he praises counties that have successfully limited growth with carefully crafted zoning ordinances.

He provided the example of Calvert County, Maryland that used a Transfer of Development Rights program to slow growth from the Washington metro region. Horton conceded that the policies functionally shifted growth to neighboring counties, but he responded, “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Beyond the benefits to the local ecosystem, Horton said there would be several other advantages to slowing population growth in Albemarle County. Crime rates would be lower, because there would be fewer young people. There would be more freedom, because sparsely populated communities typically require less regulation. Infrastructure costs will be reduced, and less money would have to be spent mitigating the impacts on global warming.

Furthermore, Horton said there would be financial potential in stopping growth.

“Generally, its useful to look at per capita prosperity as opposed to gross numbers,” Horton said, “In other words, you can have a huge increase in the property tax base, but if its accompanied by a lot more people, and a lot more expenditures to accommodate those people, where are you at? I think it’s more useful to look at what you have done for individuals.”

ASAP director Jack Marshall concluded the meeting by praising Horton. “I don’t think ASAP in it’s seven years has ever had a speaker from outside who has been as compatible with what we’re saying and doing as Tom Horton,” Marshall said.

ASAP is currently in the first stage of a study to measure the ecological carrying capacity of Albemarle County and Charlottesville.  The results of the study, which was funded in part by both local governments, are expected later this year.

Daniel Nairn

Citizens and officials discuss Meadowcreek sewer interceptor

Interceptor
Click for a larger map of the interceptor's alignment

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is about to ask for bids for the Meadowcreek Interceptor, a new 36” sewer line that will follow Meadow Creek west to east through the City of Charlottesville as part of a pipe network leading to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The project has raised the concern of some City residents who feel that the project is unnecessary. The newly-formed Alliance of Neighborhoods held a community forum to discuss the project on March 17, 2009 at the Woolen Mills Chapel.

“We carefully chose this location because we’re right on the Albemarle-City line and we wanted a neutral space,” said Bruce Odell, the Alliance’s Secretary and moderator for the forum. 

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Tom Frederick, RWSA’s Executive Director since 2004 said he was “somewhat ashamed” that the organization had not done enough to maintain the health of all of the various interceptors in the system. In wastewater terminology, an “interceptor” is a major transmission line by which sewage is carried to the wastewater treatment plant.

Frederick said the existing Meadowcreek Interceptor, which was placed into services in the 1950’s, needs to be replaced and can carry up to five times its normal capacity after storms, which pushes the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to its capacity. Frederick claimed a new pipeline would be more environmentally friendly in part because it will allow less stormwater to get into the RWSA’s wastewater system.

The firm Greeley and Hansen has been retained to study the entire interceptor system, with an eye towards replacing Meadowcreek first. Frederick said that the plans have evolved over the past year to accommodate the concerns of property owners along the interceptor’s right of way. The work will also be done in conjunction with a project to restore Meadow Creek.

“We want to build [the replacement] in the friendliest way we can possibly can,” Frederick said. “Working with adjoining landowners, working with City parks and other facilities to make the landscaping as pleasant and pleasing as possible.”

Former City Council candidate Linda Seaman is a resident of the Greenbrier neighborhood who has represented her community in its negotiations with the RWSA. She first heard about the project when she learned of the efforts to restore Meadow Creek. When she looked at a map of the restoration, she noticed a red line that showed where the Interceptor was due to be replaced. After doing some research, Seaman helped her neighborhood association arrange a meeting of the parties involved in both projects to find out more.

“It became very evident that this was a big project and that it involved a number of City neighborhoods and some County neighborhoods,” Seaman said. In order to navigate the numerous government agencies involved (City, County, ACSA and RWSA), Seaman requested that a project team be set up to help citizens influence the project.

“We have talked with [the RWSA] a couple of times about making sure that their approach is gentle, because we’re talking about people’s property, and in many cases that property is very close to their houses,” Seaman said. She said not all of the issues have yet been resolved, and she’s particularly concerned about the relationship her neighborhood will develop with the contractor that is ultimately selected for the project.

Lauren Hildebrand, the City’s Utilities Director, described that the City and County’s role in the process is to look after the collector lines that feed into the interceptors. She said the City’s sewer lines are not designed to accommodate stormwater.

Figure1
During his presentation, Frederick said this chart depicts how the current pipe does not meet the wet-weather capacity (Source: RWSA)

“When water gets into the sewers, it takes up unnecessary capacity,” Hildebrand said. That can lead to sewage overflowing into streams. She said the City is doing a lot of rehabilitation to its sewer lines.
Gary Fern, Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA), said the new interceptor will be less resistant to intrusion by roots. The existing pipe is subject to blockage at times because roots have dented the pipe in some sections.

The forum was a chance for citizens to ask questions of these officials. Odell started with one of the questions that has been raised by critics of the interceptor project such as former City Councilor Kevin Lynch. Odell asked if the interceptor was only being replaced to support growth in the County, particularly at the proposed Albemarle Place development. If the pipe is being replaced for County growth, shouldn’t the sewage be pumped through Albemarle County?

Frederick responded that much of the extra capacity designed into the new Meadowcreek Interceptor is designed to handle wet-weather flows. He said that gravity-fed sewage lines last longer, use less energy and easier to maintain then systems that use electricity to pump sewage uphill. Gravity pipes follow the natural topography of the land, and Meadow Creek just happens to flow through Charlottesville’s City limits. 

Just as the City and County transportation network is interconnected, so too are the water and sewer systems, which is one reason they are managed by a joint authority in the RWSA.  In fact, Moores Creek WTP, near Woolen Mills, is the community’s primary wastewater treatment plant and it even treats the sewage from the Crozet area of Albemarle County.

Odell followed up with a question to Fern about how much of the extra capacity would be used to support undeveloped land in the County, as opposed to land in the City which he said was largely built out.
“The additional flow that will come from Albemarle Place, while it is going to be somewhat significant, is not the driving force for the overall project,” Fern said. “There’s not that much growth to warrant doing this entire project for it.”

In response to a question about how the cost of the interceptor would be shared, Lauren Hildebrand said she and Fern are trying to establish how the existing pipeline’s use is currently being split to determine who will pay for the additional capacity. Based on that, a cost-share allocation will be factored to accommodate growth in both communities. She pointed out that the University of Virginia is a City customer, and its growth must be absorbed by Charlottesville. Hildebrand also said the City is encouraging infill development and will need additional capacity in the future.

Jack Brown of the Alliance of Neighborhoods wanted to know when the project would get started, and if the entire route of the interceptor will be clear-cut right away. Frederick said the goal is to award a contract by June with construction to begin in August.

“It’s a 14 month project, and they will not be in every neighborhood at every time,” Frederick said. The contractor will have some leeway on how the project will be rolled out, but the contract will contain language that encourages each section to be completed as quickly as possible to reduce the inconvenience to property owners along the right of way. The contractor will be required to maintain a website on which a construction schedule must be posted.

Another person asked what would happen to individual trees that homeowners wished to preserve. Frederick said the contractor has the right to work within the RWSA’s easement, but exceptions could be made.

“If somebody has a tree that they want saved, we’ll look at it,” Frederick said. “But we do have to assess them critically from the standpoint if they’re likely to die, or if they’re going to be in the way of safe and quick and prompt activity, we may not always be able to [save the tree.]” Frederick added that the cost of the project goes up depending on how many trees need to be saved.

Jack Brown asked a question on the minds of many residents: What time of day can homeowners expect work to start? Melissa Simpson with the RWSA said the contract would restrict work from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. After some in the crowd expressed concern about that time, Fern said that most contractors would still only work from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM to save on over-time costs. Brown said that many in the community were frustrated because authority over the project is spread over so many governmental agencies.

Frederick said community forums such as this were a good way to get the input from citizens well before work on the project actually starts.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Bruce Odell, Secretary of the Alliance of Neighborhoods, introduces the panel
  • 05:40 - RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick describes the project
  • 15:30 - Linda Seaman describes her involvement in the project
  • 23:15 - Lauren Hildebrand of the City's Utility Department describes the City's involvement
  • 28:15 - Gary Fern of the Albemarle County Service Authority
  • 32:00 - Bruce Odell asks why a pump system through Albemarle County isn't being suggested
  • 35:40 - Odell asks a follow-up question on Albemarle Place
  • 37:30 - City Planning Commissioner Bill Emory asks if a sewage basin could be built in Greenbrier Park.
  • 42:50 - Another question about Albemarle Place
  • 45:00 - Follow-up question about the cost-share arrangement between the City and the County
  • 47:20 - Question from Jack Brown about when the project will start
  • 49:45 - Odell asks if efforts will be made to protect specimen trees along the right of way
  • 54:20 - Colette Hall asks a question about how many County neighborhoods drain into the interceptor, and a question about how the stream restoration project fits in
  • 1:03:20 - Resident of the St. Charles Court neighborhood thanks RWSA for working with her to improve the project
  • 1:04:30 - Emory asks for statistics about how infiltration is really affecting the system
  • 1:08:00 - Jack Brown asks what time of day work will commence
    1:12:00 - Question about the struggle citizens have to ask the right questions about projects\

March 20, 2009

County planners question commitment to infrastructure for Rivanna master plan

On March 17, 2009 the Albemarle County Planning Commission received an update on the Village of Rivanna Master Plan. The Village of Rivanna is one of the County’s designated growth areas and the location of the Glenmore development on Route 250 East.  Staff made recommendations regarding the land use and transportation plan for the Village based on input that was received at several public workshops held with the citizens of the Village between July 2007 and November 2008.

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The draft Master Plan includes an area of slightly higher residential density, about three dwelling units per acre, to the west of the Village Center and a housing density of two units per acre for the rest of the Village. The Commission asked staff if these densities are high enough to achieve the desired density for the County’s growth plan. 

“If we’ve been counting on more density in this area, and we don’t provide that in long term plans then that’s going to put more pressure on other areas,” said Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett).

The Master Plan for the Village includes the expectation that 300 to 400 new dwelling units could be built in the future.  Currently there are 750 dwelling units in the Village of Rivanna, with another 650 units that have been approved but not yet built.  County staff has set a target of 2,100 dwelling units for total build-out.

There is an expectation that the Village could grow in population by up to 1,000 people in the future which would lead to increased pressure on water and sewer facilities and increased road traffic.  While water infrastructure is in place that could be extended to new development in the Village, “significantly more investment” in Glenmore’s wastewater treatment facility would be required to meet the demands of the larger population, according to the staff report.   Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) suggested that requirement would hamper the full build out of the community.


The Commission also discussed whether the entire Village would be served by public water and sewer even though it includes an area that will only contain two dwelling units per acre.   “Two seems awful low to supply sewer and water… that’s a significant cost to the rate payers,” said Loach.

Based on expectations for transportation that were set through the public workshops, planning staff recommended several changes to the area’s transportation network.  These changes include:

  • Expansion of Route 250 to four lanes from Glenmore Way to the Interstate 64 Interchange at Shadwell
    Map 
    Proposed roundabout from Eastern Sub Area Study
  • Add points of access to the Village at Hacktown Road and Breezy Hill Lane
  • Replace the proposed traffic signal at Glenmore Way (funded by a developer  proffer) with a roundabout on Route 250
  • Provide a pedestrian crossing over Carroll Creek to connect Running Deer Drive to the Village Center and other pedestrian connections to residential developments

Planning Commission Chair Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) asked the Commission if they had comments about the proposed improvements to 250.  The Commissioners expressed that they thought the proposed improvements were acceptable but questioned how they would be funded.

“[Route 250 is] going to continue to be a problem until there is money to fix it,” said Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville).

Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use officer at the University of Virginia and ex officio member of the Commission, suggested using stronger language about the pedestrian improvements and bicycle improvements that will be part of the Master Plan.  She suggested the development should be designed as transit ready.

“The language is crisper about vehicular improvements, I would like the language regarding pedestrian improvements to be comparable,” Monteith said.

During public comment, residents of the area expressed concern about their wells drying up and issues with connecting new and existing homes to the nearest water line. 

Cindy Burton of Running Deer Road
Cindy Burton of Running Deer Road addresses the Commission
“In order to access that line we’d have to knock down our trees and our buffer, the day may come when I have to do that.  We’re working off two wells now,” said Cindy Burton of Running Deer Road.

Glenmore resident Neil Means said that according to the Eastern Albemarle Sub-Area Study, which identified the area’s transportation issues, even with the expansion of Route 250 to four lanes it would still be inadequate to meet the needs of the Village if full build-out were achieved.

“Nobody has any idea how to connect the Village of Rivanna to Charlottesville with roads of adequate carrying capacity,” Means said.

In response to the public comment, Commissioner Loach questioned why the Commission would encourage development if there are no funds to carry out the infrastructure improvements. He asked staff for more information regarding how they would tie the funding and implementation of the new infrastructure capacity to new developments. 

“If we’re going to make the quality of life decrease for the current residents, why do it?”  Loach said.

The Village of Rivanna master plan will come back at a future meeting for further review by the Commission before being scheduled for a public hearing later in 2009.

Fania Gordon

Charlottesville Democrats set May 9 date to select two candidates for City Council

Voter-registration The Charlottesville Democratic Party will hold an “unassembled caucus,” changing the way it selects its candidates for City Council and other races. Voters will have ten hours to stop by Burley Middle School on Saturday, May 9, 2009 to nominate two candidates for Council as well as candidates for City Sheriff, Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue and Commonwealth’s Attorney.  In the past, the party has held a nominating convention or mass meeting requiring voters to sign-in, listen to candidate speeches, then vote and remain until all ballots have been counted and the candidate selections finalized.

The polls will be open from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  In addition, there will be two periods in which voters can cast absentee ballots. Voting is open to any registered voter in Charlottesville who is willing to sign a “certification” that pledges support of “the principles of the Democratic Party”  according to a press release from the party. The pledge goes on to require primary voters to not support any candidate who is not a Democrat in the general election.

There are three declared candidates in the race. Incumbents Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro have announced their plans for re-election. Newcomer Kristin Szakos has also launched her campaign for the nomination. Anyone else interested in running as a Democrat for City Council has until March 27, 2009 to file with the City registrar’s office.  City Republicans have not yet scheduled a nominating caucus and no Republican candidates have entered the race.  Independent candidates have until June 9th to submit candidate paperwork and petition signatures.

See Charlottesville Tomorrow's Election Watch page for complete coverage of the City's 2009 elections for City Council.

Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler