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August 31, 2009

Our Water. Our Future. Fourth issue of Charlottesville Tomorrow's new publication now available

Our Water. Our Future. Issue No. 4 Our Water. Our Future.  That's the title of Charlottesville Tomorrow's new six-part online publication on the state of our local water supply.  Subscribers to our e-mail alerts will be notified when each issue is published. 

I am pleased to announce that the fourth issue is now available.

We welcome your feedback and participation.  I hope you will take advantage of the ability to comment on the content and even contribute your own insights to the detailed articles linked throughout “Our Water Our Future.” 

Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow

August 30, 2009

Developers successfully lobby water authority to delay rate increases

By Brian Wheeler & Tarpley Ashworth
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Albemarle County Service Authority voted 5-1 at their meeting on August 20, 2009 to raise fees for connections to the County’s water and sewer systems, but responded to developers’ concerns at the meeting by adopting fees much lower than the average 42% increase originally proposed. The compromise will break the fee adjustments into two phases, with a maximum 15% increase effective on September 1, 2009 and the remaining increases postponed until March 1, 2010.

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The ACSA currently charges connection fees to help pay for continued maintenance and upgrades of its infrastructure. The current “system development fee” is $1,037 for a new water connection and $1,532 for a new sewer connection.  After review of a rate study by the Municipal & Financial Services Group (MSFG), ACSA staff had recommended the Board approve a 58% increase for water connections to $1,640 and a 30% increase for sewer connections to $1,995.

Additionally, the ACSA levies a capacity charge on behalf of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) of $2,095 for each water connection and $2,425 for each sewer connection. ACSA staff asked the Board to approve increases in this area of 78% for water to $3,725 and 11% for sewer to $2,680. 

20090820-ACSA-SamCraig
Local developer Sam Craig speaks at the ACSA public hearing

When the rates were first advertised for a public hearing held in June 2009, not a single community member offered comments to the ACSA Board of Directors.  In response to the MSFG rate study and advertising requirements for some fee changes, the ACSA decided to hold another public hearing in August and have the new rates go into effect September 1st instead of July 1st when the new fiscal year began  

At this public hearing, members of the development community showed up in force to share their frustration with the timing and scale of the fee increases.  

“I don’t feel like these rates have been effectively communicated,” said Andy McGinty of Coleway Development. McGinty, who acknowledged he missed the June public hearing, is developing the 206-unit Arden Place project near Fashion Square Mall.

McGinty described how the rates that applied to his apartments (1/2 of a connection fee) had gone from $2,400 per unit to more than $5,000 per unit over the past fourteen months.  He said he expected growth to pay for growth, but that the development community needed more warning to properly finance their projects.

“Once I’ve started a project, I can’t have such an essential capital cost component change [in] mid-stream,” McGinty said. He said it was too late to return to his investors to ask for more capital to cover the fees proposed by the ACSA.  

McGinty’s project is currently under review by the Albemarle County Planning Commission.  He said a 15% increase was the most he could absorb in a year and that the “rate shock” being proposed would impact housing starts.  He was one of several developers who shared plans for building housing that would generate about 400 new “equivalent residential connections” in Albemarle that would be immediately impacted by the new rates.  

The ACSA budget for all of 2009-2010 is based on only 170 new water connections.  In the six months leading up to the new fiscal year, only 109 building permits were issued in Albemarle’s designated growth areas (January to June 2009).

McGinty, along with other developers, suggested the ACSA implement a pre-payment option which would allow developers to pay connection fees years in advance when they can lock in the costs. Another idea proposed by developers was to enact a mandatory notice period of twelve months before rates change.

Neil Williamson, Executive Director of the Free Enterprise Forum, said many developments come in over budget because of rate hikes enacted while a project is reviewed by Albemarle County.

However, ACSA Board member John Martin (White Hall) said the utility’s budget could become unbalanced if the entire increase was not approved as proposed. ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern estimated that the Authority would lose approximately $480,000 if the full increase was not enacted, which would require some proposed infrastructure projects to be scaled back.

20090820-ACSA-Colbaugh After some discussion, Board member Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) proposed the compromise to adopt an average connection fee increase of 13% effective September 1, 2009, with the rest of the proposed increase going into effect on March 1, 2010. He also proposed during the interim that board members and ACSA staff analyze the specifics of a pre-payment program.

Board member Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller) agreed with Colbaugh’s proposal out of concern for developers during the economic slump. She agreed that any budget shortfall caused by the adjusted rates would have to be offset by reserve funding.

“We don’t know how much revenue we are going to lose by voting [yes on this proposal],” said Martin before the vote. “I would be very reluctant to vote favorably on this without knowing what the budget implications are going to be for this fiscal year. We spend months and months and months developing this budget. We argued, talked, and scrimped, and we’ve got a budget… This is real. This to me is extremely important.”

“Today we have more people opposing any issue that has ever come before the board since I’ve been here, for the past eight years,” said Board member Clarence Roberts (Rivanna) after the public hearing. Roberts suggested that the ACSA board hold workshops with the authority’s staff and local developers in the future to review further rate increases.  Colbaugh’s proposal passed the board by a 5-1 vote with only Martin dissenting.

After the meeting, McGinty told Charlottesville Tomorrow that he thought the ACSA has reached a reasonable decision.

“I would look forward to taking advantage of a pre-purchase option,” McGinty said. “We have done that in Spotsylvania County.”

Charlottesville Tomorrow asked Colbaugh if he had come to the meeting with the compromise proposal in mind.  . He said the idea came to him during the public hearing.

“People in the audience drove us to be as considerate as we can be,” Colbaugh said. “Public feedback made a difference.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

 01:00 – Staff report from ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern
11:16 – ACSA Chair Don Wagner indicates concern for eliminating local facility charge
12:01 – Colbaugh clarifies that eliminated local facility charge increases system development charge
13:50 – Wagner asks question about how local facility charge affects on-site credits?
14:10 – Palmer asks to clarify what the exact increase is in system development charge16:07 – X asks question about how ACSA can affect changes to RWSA fees
16:25 – Fern says RWSA can vote not to implement new charge
18:48 – Wagner asks to talk about new projects proposed through FY 2018
19:11 – Fern says expansion and maintenance account for most costs
21: 14 – Public comment from area builder Sam Craig who calls fee increases a - “regressive tax
24:28 – Colbaugh wants to know about if allowing builders to prepay connection fees will help
26:55 – Public comments from local developer Andy McGinty,
37:15 – Public comment from civil engineer Scott Collins who says he has projects in County which will bring 413 new units in next year
42:27 – Public comment from local developer Rip Cathcart
46:28 – Public comment from local developer David Hilliard
48:17 – Public comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
51:04 – Public comment from local developer Wendell Wood
1:00:51- Public comment from Jay Willer Executive Vice President of Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association
1:03:03 – Public comment from local developer Wendell Gibson
1:04:05 – Public comment from local developer Carter Hilliard
1:06:03 – Public hearing closed; matter goes before ACSA board members
1:06:06 – Clarence Roberts suggests workshop between staff and developers for the purpose of reviewing rate increases- wants impact statement
1:09:00 – John Martin points out that budget this year is 93.8% of last year’s budget- wants to know what budget impacts are of not raising the rates
1:10:15 – Fern says $480,130 would be lost in budget if new rates were not adopted (left rates the same)- we would have to eliminate projects from the CIP
1:12:52 – Colbaugh makes compromise motion
1:17:30 – Martin wants to know budget implications of proposal
1:19:02 – Gary Fern says he can’t answer what the implications are right since he needs to analyze the specific proposal’s effect
1:19:15 – Wagner says that change would come out of reserves
1:19:59 – Colbaugh says that it is a possibility that the number of connections could increase, especially with new prepayment system
1:21:21 – Wagner calls budget reconciliation process a “housekeeping” item
1:21:31 – Martin thinks that this is not housekeeping at all- wants to know budget implications before he votes on Colbaugh’s motion- says that budget was hashed out over a long period
1:22:14 – Carter says many new home sales are “lower end”- says ACSA can’t help developers cut through red tape of regulation- Colbaugh’s motion is “temporary help”- supports Colbaugh’s motion
1:26:16 – Martin says budget would lose less than $480,000 under Colbaugh’s motion since rates are increasing
1:27:27 – Palmer says she sympathizes with developers, but ACSA has to cover costs
1:31:50 – vote on Colbaugh’s motion; resolution passed 5-1 with Martin dissenting
1:35:01 – Wagner takes roll call vote since rate changes require roll call vote
1:36:28 – Martin clarifies that the board will not know whether they are losing or gaining revenue with vote
1:38:17 – Colbaugh moves that his motion is adopted; roll call vote is same before, 5-1 years, with Martin dissenting 

August 29, 2009

Botanical garden supporters see future in McIntire Park

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, August 29, 2009

A local landscape architect who has worked on several high-profile projects in Charlottesville says botanical gardens remind people of the connections between plants and humans.

“[Botanical gardens] become more and more important as people become detached from the land,” said Warren Byrd of the firm Nelson, Byrd & Woltz. He is currently working on a landscape plan for Montalto for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. 

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090828-Botanical-Garden 

20090828-Byrd-Flamini
Warren Byrd (left) and Helen Flamini (right)
Helen Flamini, executive director of the non-profit McIntire Botanical Garden, invited Byrd to speak about the benefits of such facilities in order to boost her project’s chances of being considered as part of the future of McIntire Park. A master plan for the eastern side of the park will be developed when the full design of the Meadowcreek Parkway and its interchange with U.S. Route 250 is complete.

The controversial roadway is planned to be built along the eastern edge of the park, though the exact date for construction remains to be determined as the project goes through the federal regulatory process. Flamini said of the 68 acres on the east side of the park, 25 will be used for the parkway, leaving 40 acres for a botanical garden to occupy.

Flamini said the west side of the park is already programmed for recreational activities, leaving an opening for a more passive experience. Referring to the many “Save McIntire Park” signs that are posted around Charlottesville, Flamini said the botanical garden would preserve and enhance the area’s natural beauty.

“We want it to be for future generations who will come time and time again to be awed by the beauty and experience of the breath-taking garden that will be open to everyone,” Flamini said.  

One of the people who attended Byrd’s talk was Jim Moore of the Save McIntire Golf Committee, a citizen group supporting the existing McIntire Park Municipal Golf Course. He said he is not against botanical gardens, but feels McIntire Park is an inappropriate location. Moore also wants more specifics on what Flamini wants to build.

“It’s difficult to really comment on the garden when they haven’t presented a plan,” Moore said.  He said his group would continue to advocate for the preservation of the golf course, which he said makes a profit for the city.

In his presentation, Byrd said he wished the garden could co-exist with the golf course, but said such a design would be an “enormous challenge.” Though he told the audience he was neutral about the future of the course, he said McIntire Park would be a good location for a botanical garden. For example, replacing the course’s grassy fairways with wildflowers and other plans would create habitats for wildlife.

Byrd said the ultimate goal is to educate people about the relationships between plants and humans. For instance, an on-site café could use ingredients harvested from the garden.

In general, Byrd said the garden would help improve the park systems of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“The best of our great cities have these connected park systems that include public gardens,” Byrd said. The park is only one mile away from Charlottesville’s downtown mall.

Byrd said he is not connected to McIntire Botanical Garden in any way, but did admit his firm would like to win the contract to design and build the facility. He estimated a design would cost as much as $250,000 but said actual construction could cost many millions of dollars.  

20090828-Lonnie-Murrary
Lonnie Murray
Another group is also working to build a botanical garden in Charlottesville. Lonnie Murray of the non-profit Charlottesville Botanical Garden told Flamini that he would be willing to merge with Flamini’s group.  He said his group is primarily interested in preserving the area’s rare species before they are lost.

“We’re facing a real crisis situation,” Murray said. He added that he would want a botanical garden to have a research component as well.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Introduction from Helen Flamini, President of McIntire Botanical Garden
  • 11:15 - Presentation by landscape architect Warren Byrd
  • 36:00 - Comments from Lonnie Murray of Charlottesville Botanical Garden
  • 41:15 - Comments from Rich Collins of Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park
  • 43:30 - Comments from a local entomologist
  • 48:30 - Flamini discusses her upbringing near Brooklyn Botanical Garden
  • 50:30 - Question about what wildlife Byrd would like to see attracted to the park if not deer
  • 52:30 - Question about role volunteers will play in botanical garden
  • 59:20 - Flamini discusses how education will be targeted at children
  • 1:00:30 - Comments from Sallie Brown
  • 1:02:30 - Question about what the next step is for Flamini and her group

August 28, 2009

Charlottesville Planning Commission considers ways to improve tree canopy initiative

By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, August 28, 2009

Although the City has already surpassed its goal of having a tree canopy of 40%, the Charlottesville Planning Commission continues to debate ways to build upon that goal and further protect the City’s trees. Commissioners discussed the issue at a work session on August 25, 2009.

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20090825PCWorkSession The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation created an Urban Forest Management Plan to help achieve the 40% goal, a key objective called for in the City’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The tree canopy initiative was one of seven priorities outlined during City Council’s retreat in September 2008. In April 2009, Mayor Dave Norris presented a “Proposal for a Greener Charlottesville” in order to increase the City’s tree canopy from 32% to 40% coverage.

However, Park and Trail Planner Chris Gensic revealed to Council on June 15, 2009, that analysis of aerial photographs of the City indicated that the tree canopy was already at 46%, but that not all neighborhoods and areas of the City were consistent.

Since then, City staff have further analyzed data on the City’s tree canopy coverage to zero in on specific neighborhoods and entrance corridors where the percentage could be increased. Staff investigated each neighborhood and compared them against American Forestry Standards for urban, suburban, and central business district areas. Staff provided the Planning Commission with maps showing tree canopy coverage based on areas such as schools, parks, and watersheds. For instance, Preston Avenue and West Main Street are particular areas where the canopy could be increased.

Staff has also been working with city arborist, Tim Hughes, to develop a “best management practice” manual for preserving and protecting trees during construction.

Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden said the next step will involve determining areas where trees should be planted and noted that staff have looked at models from around the country to develop a manual for design standards.

Commissioner Bill Emory, who serves on the Urban Forest Management Plan committee, expressed concern that executing a tree canopy initiative of this magnitude may lead to an unfavorable outcome. He said the City commissioned a street tree plan in 1975, but it was never implemented. Emory emphasized the value of using tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and incorporating input from the community to make the urban forest management plan one that will work for the next twenty years.

In moving forward with the tree canopy initiative, Commissioners agreed that discrepancies among statistical figures will need to be addressed in order to determine the most effective planting locations. For example, within the Hydraulic Road entrance corridor, the percentage of canopy coverage seemed questionably high for an area composed mostly of pavement. There was also uncertainty as to whether calculations for other parcels within the City included street trees in the percentages generated. Once these figures are verified, the City will have a better picture of the areas of most concern and can carry on to the next step of the initiative.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

01:00 – Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden provides status update on tree canopy initiative
03:23 – Jason Pearson welcomes new Planning Commission members John Santoski and Kurt Keesecker
06:28 – Planning Manager Missy Creasy begins Planning Commission introductions
10:24 – Jason Pearson discusses work plan priorities
11:35 – Ebony Walden continues overview of tree canopy initiative
12:24 – Bill Emory provides comment
19:40 – Jason Pearson poses process-level questions to staff
20:03 – Ebony Walden responds to question
23:32 – Dan Rosensweig expresses concern over statistical numbers generated by staff
24:29 – Ebony Walden responds
24:45 – Planning staff member Nick Rogers provides comment
27:30 – Michael Osteen provides comment
29:48 – Jason Pearson provides comment
33:25 – Genevieve Keller poses question over examining projections on health of tree canopy
34:23 – Ebony Walden responds
35:20 – Bill Emory provides final comment

Schedule for new daily train service unlikely to change

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, August 28, 2009

When a three-year pilot project for a new daily train from Lynchburg to Washington D.C. was approved by state officials earlier this year, area rail activists celebrated. But when the departure schedule for the Amtrak train was announced in March, supporters quickly grew concerned that its long-term viability was already at risk.

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20090827-Perriello
Rep. Tom Perriello (D-5)
Meredith Richards, Chairman of the Piedmont Rail Coalition, and Congressman Tom Perriello (D-5th) convened a regional summit on Thursday to discuss service improvements and whether Amtrak should be lobbied further for an earlier departure time.

The train was originally scheduled to leave Lynchburg at 5:05 a.m. and arrive at D.C.’s Union Station at 8:40 a.m. At the time, Amtrak officials said such a service would be targeted towards business travelers.

“The Lynchburg departure at 7:43 a.m. and Washington arrival at 11:20 a.m. will effectively eliminate day travel for business purposes,” wrote Perriello in a letter to Amtrak’s CEO. “The adopted schedule provides no means to demonstrate that there may be a substantial, untapped market in the US29 corridor.”

Perriello told participants at Thursday’s meeting that, in response to his letter, Amtrak said its customers along the corridor were more interested in consistent and reliable access to New York, Philadelphia and other cities in the northeast.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has invested $43 million in infrastructure upgrades along the corridor, and will spend $10.6 million to subsidize the project over the next three years. Ridership is projected to be between 51,200 and 59,000 passengers annually.

Richards said there is no chance to revisit the schedule before it launches in October because there are not enough rail slots in the corridor. She said another issue is a bottleneck in Northern Virginia that restricts the amount of train traffic.

Steve Walker, a member of the Culpeper Board of Supervisors, said he felt the best way to make the new route successful is to embrace Amtrak’s strategy of targeting the train for tourists.

“We’d like to see this as more of a commuter line, but that’s not what they want,” Walker said.

Rex Hammond, the Chairman of the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, said continued efforts to alter the schedule would send the wrong message to Amtrak.

"We have to agree to emphasize the positive elements of the schedule,” Hammond said. “This new service will not serve everyone to the extent they'd like to be served."

Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky said the train could reach its annual ridership goal of 59,000 with the tourism-friendly schedule, but that it could far surpass that amount if it provided a better option for defense contractors and other companies whose employees routinely do business in DC.

“I’m really worried that getting to DC at noon will put people back in their cars,” Slutzky said.

Schedule
Source: Meredith Richards
Another potential source of riders for the train are employees of the Charlottesville area’s growing defense sector around the Rivanna Station military base and the National Ground Intelligence Center. Eric Keathley, Senior Project Manager for defense contractor Batelle, said the defense sector of Charlottesville’s economy is going to grow, and that it could grow more quickly if there were other transportation options.

"If there was a reliable early train option to go up to DC, that's something we would try to capitalize on,” Keathley said.

Perriello said that while he still continues to hope for an earlier schedule, he has come to accept that the service will proceed as planned for now.

"If this is the schedule we got, let's do it and make the most of it,” Perriello said to the group.

The new passenger train service is expected to begin on October 1, 2009. Reservations can already be made via Amtrak’s website. A round-trip ticket on the new train is currently priced at $44 for a round-trip service to Union Station from Charlottesville.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Presentation from Meredith Richards of the Piedmont Rail Coalition
  • 39:40 - Regional roundtable discussion convened by Bob DeMauri, former TJPED Chair
  • 41:30 - Comments from Jim Charapich of the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce
  • 43:40 - Comments from Chris Snider, Culpeper Town Council
  • 45:20 - Comments from Steve Walker, Culpeper County Board of Supervisors
  • 48:20 - Comments from Jeff Walker, Rappahannock-Rapidan Planning District Commission
  • 51:06 - Comments from Rex Hammond, President and CEO of Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • 58:34 - Comments from Gary Christie, Executive Director of Region 2000
  • 1:00:00 - Comments from David Slutzky, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • 1:04:30 - Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris asks if schedule can be revisited
  • 1:07:00 - Meredith Richards says work needs to be done to clear up Northern Virginia bottleneck
  • 1:09:15 - Comments from Colette Sheehy, Vice President of Management and Budget at UVA
  • 1:11:00 - Comments from Mike Knight, Program Manager for BRAC for Defense Intelligence Agency
  • 1:15:25 - Tim Hulbert of Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce discusses growing intelligence
  • 1:16:25 - Eric Keathley of government services contractor Batelle
  • 1:22:30 - Hulbert comments on Chamber survey on rail passenger demand
  • 1:23:50 - Mayor Dave Norris says Charlottesville's West Main Corridor could benefit
  • 1:27:20 - Hammond warns against Amtrak boosting fares if route becomes popular
  • 1:28:50 - Comments from Allison Baer of Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • 1:33:30 - Comments from Steven Williams, Executive Director of Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
  • 1:34:30 - Richards introduces Representative Tom Perriello (D-5)
  • 1:36:00 - Comments from Representative Perriello (D-5)
  • 1:39:45 - Hammond says asking Amtrak to change schedule sends mixed-message
  • 1:41:00 - Slutzky agrees with Hammond about unified message, but makes pitch for business travelers
  • 1:43:45 - Richards asks Perriello about possibility of federal funding for rail expansion
  • 1:47:40 - Perriello responds to question about marketing strategies and collecting data
  • 1:49:45 - Perriello responds to question about fixing the bottleneck in northern Virginia
  • 1:50:45 - Perriello responds to question about he might possibly be able to change schedule
  • 1:53:00 - Perriello details his letter to Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman

August 26, 2009

Price for dredging feasibility studies more than double the expected amount

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A series of dredging feasibility studies which would determine the logistics and costs of restoring the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to its original capacity could themselves cost as much as $700,000. That’s more than the Rivanna Water Sewer Authority had expected to pay, but Board members appeared to reach consensus at their August 25, 2009 meeting that they are prepared to pay more to get additional data. However, the Board postponed a final decision on whether to retain HDR Consulting.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090825-RWSA

On August 5, 2009, an RWSA committee announced the selection of HDR Consulting as its recommended finalist to conduct a series of surveys as defined in the scope of work agreed to by the City Council, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the RWSA. RWSA staff began negotiating with HDR to determine a work schedule and fees. The goal had been to complete that process by the RWSA Board’s August meeting.

20090825-Frederick
Tom Frederick
However, HDR twice asked for additional time to complete both their proposal as well as the cost estimate for their services. RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick told the RWSA Board at the August meeting that he had received HDR’s full proposal that afternoon. He said he had not taken a look at the full proposal, and so could not offer a recommendation. Frederick did reveal that the initial cost estimate to conduct the studies was “close to $700,000.” He said he would try to negotiate a lower cost for the studies, but said he wanted to make sure the community got the information it had asked for.

City Public Works Director Judy Mueller said staff needed to have the opportunity to negotiate the price.

“Speaking for the City, we need the opportunity to take a look at those parts of the study that will be paid for by the City and have the City Council look at those numbers,” Mueller said.

While not an official recommendation, Frederick said that he could justify paying the full cost requested by HDR.

“Given the magnitude of all the things requested in the current scope, given the high visibility of this project, and the need for a lot of public information and public processing, we’re never going to get this study down anywhere close to the figure that some people had in their head from Gahagan and Bryant,” Frederick said.

Dredging firm Gahagan and Bryant, which was invited to the community by the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, had suggested in May 2008 that it could perform the studies for around $275,000. The selection committee, however, did not rank that company’s official proposal very highly

At the March 3, 2009 meeting of the four Boards, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said he thought conducting the dredging feasibility study would give the community information it needed about whether dredging could be an affordable option. At the time, he said the estimates for a full restorative dredging have ranged from $31 million to $225 million.

“Do we not owe it to our ratepayers and our taxpayers to at least explore the feasibility of that option and figure out if that changes the water supply equation?” Norris asked in March. “I want to nail that number down and I don’t think it’s going to cost us $300,000 to nail that number down.”

20090825-RWSABoard
Left to right: City Councilor Holly Edwards, RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney, Albemarle County Supervisor Sally Thomas, and County Executive Bob Tucker
Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller), one of two newly appointed elected officials to the RWSA Board, said she could imagine that the bathymetric study of the reservoir was one of the more expensive components of the studies.  Frederick said each of the nine proposals submitted by various firms contained different levels of detail for the bathymetric study. He said HDR was ranked highly by the selection committee in part because of the level of detail they said they could offer.

“But the thing we have to realize is that more detail means more money,” Frederick said.

RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney said it was clear that the extra detail was required. He said the community needed an accurate estimate of what full restorative dredging would cost, and that would only come with a “thorough bathymetric study.” Gaffney said the RWSA could not deviate from the scope of work adopted by the City and County.

Frederick said the RWSA would try to get the price reduced without also reducing the scope of work. Mueller said City Council should weigh in on what level of detail it wanted.

Frederick will continue to negotiate with HDR to get the price reduced, and may call a special meeting of the RWSA before its next scheduled meeting to brief members on his progress. If not, the matter will next be discussed at the September 22, 2009 meeting.

RWSA approach to public comments continues to evolve

At the conclusion of the RWSA’s July meeting, City Councilor Holly Edwards asked the RWSA Board to consider a more consistent policy for responding to public comment. Partially in response, Frederick used his written executive director’s report to respond to the four public comments given to the Board last month. This approach is somewhat new, and prompted discussion among RWSA Board members about whether it was appropriate. 

This month there were only two comments from the public. Dede Smith with the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan wanted clarification on federal and state requirements for creating a water supply plan. 

“It is certainly my understanding that the state-required water plan is not the same as the water plans as we call them that have been adopted,” Smith said. She wanted to know how the RWSA was preparing to create a water supply plan required by the Department of Environmental Quality by 2011.

Frederick said that the U.S. Clean Water Act, which created the requirement that localities seeking to expand or alter their water supply, requires communities to explain to the Army Corps of Engineers and state regulators how they will meet demand in such a way to ensure that the waters of the United States are not negatively effected. He said the legislation does not say what communities need to call the description of how those needs will be implemented.

“We as a community chose to call it ‘the community water supply plan’ and that was not one person’s idea but was a collective community idea,” Frederick said. He said that during the period when the RWSA was preparing its permit applications, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring all localities in Virginia to submit a plan. He said the RWSA is required to submit this state water plan by 2011, a deadline he said he intended to meet.

“That plan does not in any way negate the work that was done for the federal and state permits,” Frederick said, adding that the permits had been granted by both DEQ and the Corps.

The second public comment came from Hawes Spencer, editor and publisher of The Hook. He asked when the $25,000 conceptual study of the proposed South Fork pipeline would be ready. The study was requested by City Council as part of their call for more information on the details on how the community water supply plan was evolving. Frederick responded that he had previously announced a target date of December 2009 for the completion of study at the previous RWSA meeting.

At the conclusion of the August meeting, Edwards passed around guidelines used by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to guide public comments before that body. In part, guidelines compel CRHA officials to respond to questions asked during public comment in writing within 7 days. Gaffney said that he felt 30 days was a more appropriate timetable. County Executive Bob Tucker said he liked how Frederick responded immediately after each public comment period was ended. 

“I think it would be helpful for those in the public, if they know what their question is going to be, to give Tom [Frederick] a heads-up before the meeting so he might give an answer at the meeting,” Tucker said.

Other water supply plan news:

The RWSA has received two submissions from firms who want to be considered to perform the redesign of the proposed dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Interviews with Hazen & Sawyer and Schnabel Engineering were conducted on August 20, 2009. Frederick said a recommendation on a finalist will come before the RWSA at is September meeting.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
  • 01:00 – Meeting called to order by RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney with review of minutes
  • 01:40 – Executive Director Tom Frederick responds to public comment in his monthly report
  • 05:00 – Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan asks for clarification of required water plans
  • 06:45 – Hawes Spencer of the Hook asks for status update on South Fork pipeline study
  • 08:50 – Frederick responds to comments from Smith and Spencer
  • 14:30 – RWSA Board member and Supervisor Sally Thomas recommends change to formatting of finance reports
  • 15:30 – Thomas asks for details on certain ongoing projects, including Stillhouse Pump Station replacement
  • 16:30 – RWSA Water and Wastewater Director Bob Wichser updates Thomas on Stillhouse Pump Station
  • 17:20 – RWSA Board adopts consent agenda
  • 17:30 – Discussion begins for HDR Proposal for dredging feasibility study
  • 28:30 – Wichser updates Board on how herbicides are not an issue for the RWSA treatment plants
  • 31:30 – RWSA Board considers whether to endorse grant proposal for private “ecosystems services” project
  • 41:30 – Councilor Holly Edwards offers advice on how to respond to public comment

August 25, 2009

Council votes to spend $2.1 million from economic development fund to jumpstart Hillsdale Drive

20090817CCWatts

By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Charlottesville City Council has voted to transfer $2.1 million from the City’s strategic investment reserve to the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority (CEDA) in order to begin construction of the first phase of Hillsdale Drive Extended. The management of the project’s funds will be handled by CEDA. Costs beyond that limit must be covered by the developer of the new Whole Foods, slated to be constructed at the corner of Hydraulic Road and the future Hillsdale Drive.  The developer of the new Whole Foods, Meadowbrook Creek LLC, has agreed to construct the first phase of Hillsdale Drive.

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Council’s vote came during their meeting on August 17, 2009. According to Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville’s Director of Economic Development, there is a potential gain for the City to develop the land across from Whole Foods, which he said would expand the City’s tax base.

The funding will go to cover right-of-way, utility easements, final design and construction of the first segment. Approval of this funding will allow for construction of this first phase to begin immediately with a project completion date in 2010.

Watts said the City is expecting the investment to be paid back in six years through increased sales taxes, though he noted the payback time could be quicker if potential development is carried out surrounding the site. The Hillsdale Drive project has already received design funding from the state, and this $2.1 million will be used  specifically on other improvements needed on Hydraulic Road such as upgraded turn signals and enhanced turn lanes.

However, the construction of the rest of Hillsdale Drive Extended will depend on the community finding additional transportation funds. There will be no state funds available for the project until at least FY2015. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that right of way purchase will cost at least $18.6 million and construction will cost around $8.8 million.

August 23, 2009

Population study finds environmental degradation after area reaches population of 200,000; Current build-out population estimated at 400,000 people

200908-ASAP-cover By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, August 23, 2009

A final report on local population and the environment, funded in part by both Charlottesville and Albemarle local governments, was released last week by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP).  The Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $25,000 for the scientific aspects of the study, and the City of Charlottesville paid $11,000. Additional funding came from ASAP members as well as a $50,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The report, the first product of ASAP’s Optimal Sustainable Population Size Project, is entitled “Estimating Impacts of Population Growth on Ecosystem Services for the Community of Albemarle County and Charlottesville, VA.”  The report’s principal researcher was Dr. Claire Jantz, an assistant professor at Shippensburg University.

Download Download report

Charlottesville Tomorrow invited Jack Marshall, ASAP’s President, in for an interview to discuss the report’s findings.

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JACK MARSHALL INTERVIEW

Note: Remarks have been summarized and are not necessarily direct quotes. The podcast includes the entire interview audio.

TIMES CORRESPOND TO AUDIO PODCAST

00:27 – Introduction by Brian Wheeler, Executive Director, Charlottesville Tomorrow

01:05 – WHEELER: What is the major finding of this research?

01:14 – MARSHALL: Report is intended to help us understand how we define an optimal population.  First phase of research is to help identify biological carrying capacity of the Charlottesville-Albemarle community.  Report shows that as growth occurs, two things happen together:  1) good things like fields and forests disappear; and 2) bad things occur like impervious surfaces and pollution.  Continued growth will so impair ecosystem services that our community will not be locally sustainable.  Smart growth approaches (e.g. having designated growth areas) are necessary, but they are not sufficient.  Growth will ultimately spill out into rural areas.  Researchers are saying that we have to think about how big we want to be.  Do we want to cap growth before we reach these ecological danger points?

04:56 - WHEELER: Why did you do this research and can you tell us about the research team?

05:04 – MARSHALL: First, the research team was led by Dr. Claire Jantz , an assistant professor at Shippensburg University.  She is a specialist in land use change modeling.  We asked her to do this because as housing developments eat away at our environment, something has to give.  Our ecological system is not just a pretty face, they provide benefits of immense value to humans that we tend to take for granted and they are essential for sustainability of an area.  If they get degraded, the community is in trouble, and we wanted to see if local growth had a local impact on our very own ecosystem services.

07:35 - WHEELER: Why don’t you tell us about the methodology.

07:42 – MARSHALL:  For purposes of this research, WHEN growth occurs is not relevant.  First step was to project WHERE the growth will occur.  The City and County were divided into eight sub-areas and various growth levels were evaluated in a computer model.  Current zoning and historical development patterns were incorporated in the model.  Hypothetically, each area is developed to a certain build-out number, and then continued growth spills out into the rural area.  The population number at which no more development could occur in the computer model was found to be 400,000 people.  We have about 135,000 people today.  This build-out population estimate of 400,000 is pretty close to research done by a different methodology 5-7 years ago by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC).  Next major issue was to assess impact to ecosystem services with population growth using computer software called CITYGreen.

13:06 - WHEELER: You mentioned a couple population numbers, let’s review those again—135,000 people today, build-out population of 400,000.  Were you surprised that matched the TJPDC’s findings?

13:45 – MARSHALL: The fact that it coincides with the TJPDC build-out number pleases but doesn’t surprise us.

14:04 – WHEELER: What optimal sustainable population did this research indicate was a good fit?

14:18 – MARSHALL: You are pushing me to give you specific numbers, but all this research does is show what happens to certain ecosystem services as population increases.  At 125% population increase, which is about 280,000 people, roughly twice what we have now, there is in this model a degradation of ecosystem services, but contained primarily within the designated growth areas.  As growth continues, it spills out into the rural areas, and that’s when we see a whole different level of impact.  This report goes into detail about those impacts on ecosystem services.

16:18 - WHEELER: Let me read a quote from the report and you can react to it:

“If the community wishes to maintain ecosystem services across the study area, a population of roughly 200,000 or less should be maintained, with that growth being focused in the growth areas. If it is acceptable to sacrifice services in the developing areas, a population up to roughly 300,000 could be accommodated.”

Is 200,000 to 300,000 the population range that ASAP was looking for?

17:05 – MARSHALL: You are trying to get me to indicate a number or a range that ASAP wants to defend.  At this point we are not prepared to come out with specific numbers.  This is the first phase of the study focusing on biological carrying capacity.  Once we have the whole range of studies completed this fall, then we will be more inclined to come out with specific numbers.

18:52 - WHEELER: Let’s talk about the population trends.  She identified 200,000 as a population not to go beyond to avoid damaging ecosystem services.  How soon do you think we will reach 200,000 people?

19:20 – MARSHALL: City population is pretty stable, but County has been growing at 2.1% a year for the last 30-40 years.  At that rate, we double our population every 33 years.  Normally I would say you could extrapolate that, but we have slowed growth because of the global economic downturn.  There is no question that temporarily we are growing slower.  I am afraid that might lull our community into a false sense that we have licked the growth problem when in fact it will roar back as soon as people want to buy houses again. 

If we were to continue growing at 2.1%, I think that a population of 200,000 might occur in about the year 2040.

20:32 - WHEELER: You mentioned that there is additional information you want to get in front of local government, and that you want to gather public feedback about their reactions.  What do you think are some of the policy implications that local officials will have to wrestle with?

20:52 – MARSHALL: We think the community should be debating three issues.

  1. Can our community population grow endlessly or should we cap growth at some optimal sustainable size, short of a size that would be determined either by accident or by the preferences of the folks who make a profit from growth and who are concerned much more with short term gain than the long term community good.  Do we want to grow endlessly, essentially until we get to this 400,000 number?
  2. If we want to cap growth at some point, what is that right size?
  3. What fair and legal mechanisms might be put in place to achieve this population size goal?

Just because we don’t have satisfactory answers to the second two questions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to answer the first question.  We may not find answers to the second two questions unless we take the first question pretty seriously.  If we decide to avoid growing to the point where our ecosystems are destroyed, our quality of life changes, our taxes are jacked up….If we say we don’t want that, then I have a feeling that this very progressive, well educated, thoughtful community, can come up with the mechanisms, with the number (or range) at which to stop, and the mechanisms to do it.

22:43 - WHEELER: Some of ASAP’s critics over the years have said that you do want to identify a cap on population in this community.  Is that a goal of ASAP?

22:55 – MARSHALL: Yes.  Of course it’s a goal.  It should to be a goal for the whole community.  And we are leading the charge.  We don’t pretend to know what it is yet.  That’s the second question that I just raised of the three.

We have a definitive answer to the first question.  Should we continue to grow endlessly or identify an optimal sustainable size?  The answer to that, ASAP argues, is [that we identify an optimal population size].  The second question is, what is that right size?  We don’t at this point know, and that is one reasons we launched these research projects to help us identify it.

24:11 – WHEELER: Has any other community in the country done this?

24:15 – MARSHALL: In the press release, we say it is a groundbreaking study.  No other community in the United States is undertaking this kind of research to get a sense of its biological carrying capacity. 

25:08 – WHEELER: Why do you think that is?

25:10 – MARSHALL: This is an idea whose time has come.  More and more communities are recognizing that smart growth, while good, ain’t enough and that we’ve got to go beyond it and that communities need to identify the point at which they want to stop.  Our children’s children’s children will be irate if we don’t deal with this growth problem.  We will have failed future generations if we don’t deal with local as well as global population growth. 

25:54 – WHEELER: Some of the policy implications we might think about in this community include potentially downzoning rural areas, downzoning growth areas, water supply… are there others that you think about?

25:10 – MARSHALL:  Yes there are, but first let me go back to water supply.  ASAP believes that we should not be using water supply as a limit to growth.  What our community should do is define an optimal population size and then provide the water for that population.  But we shouldn’t limit growth by limiting water.  

Yes there are other [policy] mechanisms.  Conservation easements, the County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program, and we should look more seriously at the transfer of development rights.  But until we take the need to cap growth more seriously, we are going to dither about transfer of development rights, as happened in a series of contentious debates

27:40 – WHEELER: I want to go back to water and you clarified that it was not the position of ASAP to use the water supply debate happening in the community as a way to limit growth, or that you would build a water plan that resulted in limiting growth.  We talked about the trend in population, and if the current trend continues, by 2040 we will have 200,000 people.  That is a number your research says maintains ecosystems.  Supporters of the current water supply plan, who are trying to plan for a fifty-year time horizon, might look at this research and say we know 200,000 people now is a sustainable population number, should we plan to have enough water for at least that many people during the next fifty years. 

28:44 – MARSHALL:  You are trying to push me into a corner I don’t want to be pushed into, but yes that may well be one of the implications.  I have a feeling all sides of this water plan debate will find something in here to glom on to.  If the community makes a firm decision that we will make every effort to stop growth at 200,000, then yes our water supply should be aimed at that, and our schools, and our roads, and the whole infrastructure and we don’t have to build for a population of 300,000.  I think it would solve a lot of problems.  It would help decision makers make more wise decisions about how much commercial growth we need, for example, to me the needs of 200,000 people.

29:57 – WHEELER: I laid out one argument that supporters of the water supply plan might take out of this report.  Thinking about those concerned about growth, and there seem to be a growing number of people in the community, when they talk about the water supply plan, saying they don’t want to support growth in Albemarle County.  Is there something in this report or in ASAP’s position about this research that you think, some people that might say even 200,000 people is too many, how might you reconcile the research with some of those views in the community?

30:41 – MARSHALL:  This is the first of what we hope will be a whole raft of studies and its purpose is not to provide unequivocal answers to the kinds of questions you are asking, but to start to provide some facts where before we’ve had only had opinions about growth.  We need to know what growth means.  What will it cost us environmentally, fiscally?  What does it mean for the quality of life, for the character of our community? 

I know I have friends who think we are already overpopulated, that the 135,000 we have now is far too many.  I have other friends who think that 400,000 is nifty, and maybe even more.  A lot of it is going to be subjective opinion, but that should be informed by facts about the impacts of more or fewer people here.

32:00 – WHEELER: Where do you go next with this research?

32:04 – MARSHALL:  We have four other interesting studies in this first phase to help us understand the biological carrying capacity.  The other really big one is a look at our community’s ecological footprint.  Other studies will look at the impacts of population growth on groundwater resources, air quality, and stream health.  After we give these reports to the Board of Supervisors, we will launch into a second phase that looks at the socioeconomic issues in helping us better understand what the growth means for quality of life and our taxes.

34:13 – WHEELER: When do you expect the first phase to be done and the second phase to start?

34:19 – MARSHALL:  In the next few weeks.  All the remaining reports are in the works and we expect them to appear within weeks, and we will as soon as we can after that launch the second phase.  Simultaneously with the second phase we will have an outreach community dialogue… and we will be working with the Institute for Environmental Negotiation to take the results of these studies into the community.

Daily Progress & Charlottesville Tomorrow form partnership

Ct-dailyprogress

By The Daily Progress & Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow have formed a partnership to share news content.

Under the agreement, news articles written by Charlottesville Tomorrow staff members will appear in the print edition of The Daily Progress.

Charlottesville Tomorrow is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that produces news coverage of land-use, growth and transportation issues in Albemarle County and Charlottesville.

Cvillepedia2009 Its articles and audio podcasts are distributed primarily through the CvilleTomorrow.org Web site, but also through e-mail and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and a new community wiki known as cvillepedia.org. Charlottesville Tomorrow also publishes local election voter guides, which are mailed to residents.

Daily Progress Managing Editor McGregor McCance said the newspaper’s readers will benefit by having more local content about these specific issues, which complements coverage provided by the paper’s reporters and editors.

“In the media business and all businesses, I think companies are looking for strong partners to help both sides get better,” he said. “After four years of reading their content, we know it’s accurate, fair and balanced.”

Signup Charlottesville Tomorrow was founded in September 2005. It’s funded entirely by private donations and governed by a board of directors.

“The Daily Progress is really thinking creatively about how to deliver more in-depth news to its readers,” said Brian Wheeler, executive director of Charlottesville Tomorrow. “This is one of the first such media partnerships in the United States between a local daily paper and a local non-profit, both deeply committed to bearing witness to the work of our government and to delivering that reporting and analysis broadly to the public.”

The agreement does not include any payment between the newspaper and Charlottesville Tomorrow for content or promotional material.

View this announcement and comments on DailyProgress.com

August 21, 2009

Charlottesville City Council weighs in on proposed stormwater regulations

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Charlottesville City Council has offered its support of proposed amendments to the stormwater management program overseen by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The changes would require certain localities, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County, to develop and implement their own programs to ensure that runoff from new developments is contained or mitigated. The goal is to reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the Chesapeake Bay.

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Stormwater A two-month public comment period ends this week. The DCR acknowledges in a presentation on its website that the regulations will likely be amended due to the concerns of several localities. If adopted, localities would have until October 2011 to implement the mandated programs.

The plan would require localities to review every new development to see how it would contain stormwater. Developers would need to submit a stormwater management plan that tracks every possible way rainwater could leave the property both during construction and upon completion. The developer would also be required to pay a fee in exchange for a permit. If a developer is in violation of the permit, penalties could be as high as $25,000 a day. Localities that fail to implement a program to DCR’s satisfaction would be subject to similar fines levied by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Given the many different types of developments that could be built across Virginia, the regulations provide for ways to mitigate the effects of stormwater using a series of best management practices. Developments that utilize such techniques as green roofs, rainwater barrels and permeable pavement would get credit for cleansing stormwater of pollutants. Developments that cannot meet the state’s requirements to reduce pollutants can negotiate with other land-owners to create improvements off-site so that the locality’s total pollutant load is reduced.

On August 17, 2009, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, Jim Tolbert, sought Councils’ input on a letter he drafted on their behalf to DCR. He said staff has spent a considerable time researching the potential effects of the change on development in Charlottesville.

“We’ve looked at them and feel like from the City of Charlottesville’s standpoint, we need to be supportive of these,” Tolbert said. “We feel like they are part of the state’s green initiative, and they are well-thought out.”

However, Tolbert said the City does have some concerns that they would like addressed before the state regulations go into effect. For example, Tolbert wants more guidance on how a program to allow for offsets in other parts of a locality would be implemented, especially in urban communities like Charlottesville that do not have much open space.

Tolbert also said he is concerned the currently proposed regulations would apply to developments that the City has already approved, but which have not been built. He also suggested that DCR consider reducing the costs to developers by allowing tax credits for the implementation of best practices.

Tolbert said relatively few new developments in Charlottesville would be affected by the program, which only applies to projects that exceed one acre in size. He said of the 45 site plans approved by Council in the past year, only six would have been subject to the new regulations. He warned that the regulations would make development of the Water Street parking lots problematic because the site’s current condition is 100% impervious surface.

Council voted 5-0 to adopt the letter.

Albemarle County’s reaction has been a little less welcoming. Tolbert’s counterpart in Albemarle County, Community Development Director Mark Graham, told the Board of Supervisors in May that the regulations would discourage dense development in the County’s designated growth areas because of the potential of large stormwater fees.

On August 5, 2009, Supervisors voted 6-0 to pass a resolution expressing its concern over the proposed regulations. The resolution expresses the concern that County staff does not have the resources to conduct the necessary inspections. The resolution also outlines the County’s view that the proposed regulations would be in conflict with Virginia law that requires comprehensive plans to include urban development areas, a practice Albemarle County has had in place since the 1971 Comprehensive Plan.