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January 30, 2010

Yancey industrial proposal questioned by Crozet citizens

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, January 30, 2010

A spirited crowd of Crozet residents was on hand at a public forum Thursday to challenge the notion that western Albemarle is a prime location for expanded industrial development. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has asked for consideration of a new light industrial business park in the Crozet Master Plan’s first five-year update.

Yancey-logs“We’ve been waiting for this meeting and don’t know if the Board of Supervisors has already made a preliminary decision or not,” said Meg West, a Crozet resident for over 25 years who is opposed to the new park. “We’re hoping they will listen to us.”

In early January, the Board of Supervisors approved a pro-business action plan that identified the Yancey Mills area as one location for expanded industrial zoning. That directive coincides with a request from the Yancey family to expand the county’s designated growth area for a new business park.

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Download 20100128-CrozetForum

The Yancey Lumber Company sits on 36 acres along U.S. 250 that represents about 32 percent of all the heavy industrial zoned land in the county. The family also owns 148 surrounding rural acres, some of which has been in the family since 1878. It is this land, which borders Interstate 64 and Western Albemarle High School, on which Will Yancey is proposing a new light industrial business park.

Yancey-mills
Area of proposed business park
While the Crozet Master Plan will not come before the Board of Supervisors until later this summer, supervisors will hear a report from staff on Wednesday detailing the county’s inventory of industrial land. The report claims that while the Comprehensive Plan designates an adequate amount of land for industrial use, there is an inadequate amount land zoned and ready for that activity.

Several of Thursday’s attendees shared their disagreement with conclusions in the report.

“Part of the reason why we don’t have enough light industrial land is because it gets very easily converted to commercial,” Crozet resident Lucy Goeke said. She pointed to a table in the report that lists more than 160 acres rezoned from industrial to other uses in the past five years.

Yancey said many potential business owners have told him his family’s land would be an ideal location for them to locate because of its close access to I-64.

“What we’re trying to do is create a discrete employment center with no retail component,” Yancey said. “We would be happy to proffer away any kind of highway commercial use that’s associated with U.S. 29.”

20100128-Marshall Mike Marshall
That was not enough for Mike Marshall, chairman of the Crozet Community Advisory Council. He suggested county officials begin their search for more industrial land at interstate interchanges closer to Charlottesville. He said the Yancey proposal would siphon away investment from parts of Crozet already zoned for industrial and commercial uses.

“We can’t get building to happen in downtown Crozet,” Marshall said. “We’ve got vacant parcels next to the post office. All through downtown there is vacant land.”

In late 2008, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to include consideration of the Yancey proposal as part of the Crozet Master Plan despite a lack of support from the county Planning Commission. When it was reviewed, staff and commissioners pointed out that the business park was inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, affected the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir’s watershed and might compete with downtown Crozet.

However, a section of the inventory report recommends studying the potential of opening up the rural area near interchanges to certain uses, such as contractors’ storage yards. County planner David Benish said this category of uses would be less intensive than what would be allowed under the Yancey proposal.

Many in the community were skeptical.

“It’s like you’re taking a baby-step towards light industrial rather a full step,” Marshall said.

When asked by Benish if the crowd wanted staff to continue refining this concept, the majority shouted out a loud “no!”

In the interest of fairness, Marshall also asked the crowd if anyone approved of the concept.

20100128-Tolson-Seegers CCAC member Tim Tolson argues with Waynesboro businessman Dave Seegers, who had suggested Yancey Mills would be his choice to build new industry
One “yes” came from Wendell Gibson, a building contractor who lives in Ivy. He said it made more sense to have truck traffic concentrated near the interstate, rather than along residential roads such as portions of Route 240.

After members of the crowd booed his comments, Gibson questioned their commitment to business.

“We’re losing tax dollars to other counties because we will not sit here as a community and realize that we have to grow,” Gibson said.

Despite Yancey’s willingness to give up commercial uses, Marshall said he could not support the proposal.

“We don’t have any confidence that in a couple of years [the land] won’t be flipped to another use,” Marshall said. “We have an issue developing our existing infrastructure, our existing commercial area and our existing downtown. When those are full, it’s a different question.”

Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller District) said by his count about 90 percent of the crowd appeared to be against the Yancey proposal.

“A lot of people don’t trust government and they don’t trust developers to do what they say they will,” Snow said in an interview.

Snow said he was keeping an open mind over the Yancey proposal because there is still time before supervisors weigh in directly. He said he was personally considering the argument that some industrial uses might be more appropriate in Yancey’s business park rather than on Route 240 near downtown in Crozet.

A decision on the Yancey proposal will come later this year as the Crozet Master Plan is updated by the Board of Supervisors.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Mike Marshall of the Crozet Community Advisory Council describes the three items on the meeting's agenda
  • 04:00 - David Benish of Albemarle County Community Development explains the light inventory report
  • 04:38 - Benish updates audience on the Crozet Master Plan
  • 05:30 - Benish explains why the light industrial inventory was commissioned by the Board
  • 10:00 - Benish explains how the light industrial inventory was conducted
  • 14:30 - Benish relates the County's light industrial strengths and weaknesses
  • 17:50 - Benish explains the recommendations of the LI report
  • 23:00 - Question about the lumber yard and whether it will be considered industrial
  • 24:00 - Question from audience about whether the Yancey Mills interchange could end up being commercial
  • 25:00 - Question about whether lawnmower and tractor repair would be allowed
  • 25:45 - Comment from Crozet resident Lucy Goeke about how LI land is easily switched to commercial
  • 28:45 - Marshall begins questioning Benish about the report
  • 34:45 - Benish describes how southern urban master plan could be an opportunity to find more LI land
  • 41:20 - Marshall questions the demand for additional light industrial land
  • 44:00 - Goeke argues that light industrial land at Yancey Mills will be too expensive for that use
  • 44:30 - Planning Commissioner Duane Zobrist asks for the name of one business that did not locate here because of lack of land
  • 45:00 - Business Development Coordinator Susan Stimart explains how Albemarle County is losing businesses to other counties
  • 47:15 - Comments from Sarah Henley
  • 48:15 - Comments from William Schrader of the CCAC
  • 50:45 - Benish leads discussion of whether other industrial land can be found within Crozet growth area
  • 53:00 - Benish takes audience through the Crozet Master Plan
  • 57:40 - Marshall explains some of the possibilities for rezoning the Barnes lumber yard
  • 1:02:45 - Marshall explains why the Acme property is currently unavailable 
  • 1:07:00 - Audience member asks if Acme property could be converted to commercial
  • 1:18:40 - Will Yancey presents details about his proposal
  • 1:29:45 - Woman in the audience questions the notion there isn't enough light industrial land
  • 1:34:25 - Marshall compares size of proposal to Fashion Square Mall
  • 1:35:35 - Comments on the Yancey proposal from William Schrader
  • 1:38:00 - Schrader asks Yancey to describe exactly what he wants to see happen on his property
  • 1:39:45 - Crozet resident Mary Gallo recalls a BOS meeting where SOCA was denied an SUP for fields in rural area
  • 1:42:00 - Goeke reads aloud the 8 unfavorable factors why County staff recommended against proposal in late 2008
  • 1:44:00 - Benish summarizes why staff had recommended against further study of the Yancey Mills proposal
  • 1:48:00 - More details on the recommendation for the interstate interchange concept
  • 1:51:15 - Comments from Wendell Gibson, building contractor, sparks debate about the land
  • 1:54:45 - Benish attempts to finish up his presentation
  • 1:58:15 - Comment from Crozet resident Trina English who said Crozet Master Plan appears to not have any meaning

January 29, 2010

Future of water supply plan debated at Chamber luncheon

Our Water Our Future - Slides & Google Earth Video
from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

The slides and Google Earth movie on our community water supply shared by Brian Wheeler [Note: Google Earth movie starts around 13th minute].  See more of Charlottesville in 3-D in Google Earth.
By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 29, 2010

How much water does Charlottesville and Albemarle County need to withstand the next severe drought and support a growing population? Are there alternatives to the 50-year community water supply plan adopted in 2006?  What will it cost the ratepayers?  When will it be implemented? 

Those are just a few questions explored during a community issues luncheon held by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce on January 28, 2010.  The panel was moderated by Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum.  Panelists included Brian Wheeler with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, and Thomas Frederick, Executive Director of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA).

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100128-Chamber-Forum

Wheeler provided an overview of how the adopted water supply plan was crafted, and explained some of the reasons why it has come under question. As part of his presentation, Wheeler showed a Google Earth video that provided a virtual fly-over of the three reservoirs operated by RWSA.  The visualization included 3-D models built in Google Earth [see examples] and also depicted different scenarios for expansion at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, as well as how water is moved from the watershed to your tap.

“Charlottesville Tomorrow, which formed in 2005, has been focused on the community water supply plan ever since,” Wheeler said. “We don’t have a specific position on any of these elements… Our job is to give you the best information possible.”

20100128-Water-panel Tom Frederick and Brian Wheeler listen as Mayor Dave Norris makes his presentation

During his presentation, Mayor Norris explained why City Council has been questioning some of the fundamental assumptions of the 2006 plan. He pointed out that three out of the five City Councilors who voted for the plan then have since reconsidered their vote.

“We in government need to be willing to respond to new information that may arise and be willing to modify our plans accordingly,” Norris said. Only one sitting member of Council, David Brown, actually voted on the plan.

Norris said he supports the existing plan’s framework, but said there are fundamental assumptions that he wants to revisit. He said the plan does not take into account how increased water conservation could reduce the community’s projected demand. Additionally, he said it overestimates the cost of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir while underestimating the cost of a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Council has asked for several additional new reports, including a feasibility study to determine a new cost estimate for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to its original capacity.

“We owe it to our citizens to make sure a decision [on the community water supply] is based on the best information possible,” Norris said.

Tom Frederick, who has lead the RWSA since 2004, used his time to give context on how the adopted supply plan came to be after nearly thirty years of development. He described many of the alternatives that were discarded, including reasons why expanding the Ragged Mountain Reservoir was chosen over dredging.

Frederick also described the challenges that have come up, including a growing dissatisfaction with Gannett Fleming, the initial consultant hired by the RWSA to put together the 2006 plan. He said the RWSA chose in September 2008 to go on a “fresh path” by hiring new consultants and producing new studies.

“We certainly respect the right of folks to offer alternatives and we are actually studying some additional ideas right now,” he said. “However we choose to go, I hope it’s something that we can come to some consensus [on],” Frederick said.

The next step in the ongoing community discussion is a public meeting to be held on the results of the first phase of the dredging feasibility study. That event will be scheduled shortly, according to Frederick.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Introduction from Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 02:30 - Overview from Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow
  • 22:20 - Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris explains why he wants second opinion on aspects of the plan
  • 34:05 – RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick gives his perspective
  • 47:45 - Question 1 (to Frederick): “Is the Western Bypass really still included as a part of the community water supply plan [to convey the South Fork pipeline], even if the road is nearly dead?”
  • 50:10 - Question 2 (to Norris): “Your plan provides significantly less water storage. Please speak to how this may reduce our flexibility to attract new business over the next 50 years?”
  • 51:44 - Question 3 (to Wheeler): “Has the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir ever been dredging and if not, is there any reason that you know of why it hasn’t?”
  • 53:30 - Question 4 (to Frederick): “The state water planning law requires that you update your demand numbers with decade by decade projections. When are you planning to do that?”
  • 55:15 - Question 5 (to all): “Everyone who gets a water bill is wondering ‘what is it going to mean for me as a business, as an individual? What is this going to cost the rate payer?”
  • 56:00 - Question 6 (to Norris): “Are you confident that the 1908 dam is safe enough to retain and expand by adding 13 feet?”

January 28, 2010

Our Water. Our Future. Sixth and final issue of Charlottesville Tomorrow's water publication now available

Owof-cover6a Our Water Our Future. That's the title of Charlottesville Tomorrow's six-part online publication on the state of our local water supply.  

I am pleased to announce that the sixth and final 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

Our Water Our Future - The Exhibit
 
Throughout March, the community is invited to explore Our Water Our Future, a unique exhibit on the Charlottesville-Albemarle community water supply being displayed at the Charlottesville Community Design Center.  Charlottesville Tomorrow will share its independent analysis and history of our long-term water supply plans in an engaging and interactive exhibit.

SAVE THE DATE FOR THE FIRST FRIDAY'S OPENING RECEPTION
Friday, March 5th from 5:30-7:30 PM [details]
Presentation beginning at 6:00 PM
Charlottesville Community Design Center
100 5th St. NE near the Pavilion on the Downtown Mall

201001-OWOF-postcard

Charlottesville City Manager Gary O'Connell to lead Albemarle's water authority

Oconnell By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Charlottesville City Manager, Gary O'Connell, has been named the next Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA).  He will succeed Gary Fern, whose last day at the county water authority is February 26, 2010. O'Connell is a 28-year resident of the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100128-ACSA-O'Connell-Named

ACSA Chairman, Clarence Roberts, said his Board of Directors reviewed 30 applications from 10 states.  O'Connell was one of 5 finalists interviewed for the position.  In an interview, Roberts said O'Connell is well prepared to manage the numerous water and sewer projects underway in Albemarle's urban areas.

As ACSA's new leader, O'Connell will also remain on the Board of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) which is overseeing the implementation of the 50-year community water supply plan approved in 2006.  Now his direction, however, will be provided by the ACSA board which is appointed by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  As City Manager, Charlottesville City Council provided O'Connell direction on water matters before the RWSA.

O'Connell will start his new position effective May 1, 2010 and receive a base salary of $125,000.

Stay tuned for complete coverage of this developing story by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Chair Clarence Roberts calls meeting to order and describes extent of search
  • 02:50 - Vice Chair John Martin announces the selection of the executive director's search
  • 06:30 - Charlottesville Tomorrow's interview with Clarence Roberts

RWSA’s Frederick calls for investment in repairing sewer infrastructure

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is calling upon his organization and Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials to redouble efforts to protect the community’s sewer lines from storm water. 

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100126-RWSA-Summary

“Sewer systems in ‘built-out’ communities must provide adequate capacity for wet weather orf face unhealthy streams as a result,” wrote Tom Frederick in a staff report for the RWSA’s January meeting.
According to Frederick, the community’s aging sewer pipelines contain many leaks which allows storm water infiltration. The additional amounts of water place more of a burden on the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

20100126-RWSA-Chart This chart from the January report on the RWSA's finances shows how urban wastewater flows significantly increased between October and December of 2009
In October, the RWSA reported that wastewater flows were 10% greater than what had been expected with an average flow of 9.55 million gallons a day (MGD). Two months later, that number had risen to nearly 16 MGD, a dramatic increase due to wetter weather. Frederick said the increase shows that the RWSA, Charlottesville and Albemarle must all budget money to plug the leaks. 

“Wastewater costs in the future are going to have to continue to increase as we deal with an infrastructure that has been over a number of years deferred in maintenance and needs significant attention,” Frederick said.

The RWSA’s top priority for replacement of its own infrastructure is the Meadowcreek sewer interceptor, which will get underway later this year at a cost of $19.2 million. Frederick said there is only one property remaining on which an easement is required. The pipeline will be increased in size from 24” to 36” both to accommodate wet-weather flows and future growth.

When that project is complete, the RWSA’s next priority is to replace the Schenk’s Branch interceptor. After that, Frederick said decisions would need to be made about other RWSA pipelines.

“The exact method of repair [in these areas] will depend upon some roadway decisions that need to be made as well,” Frederick said. “I don’t think that this effort will be without a lot of hard work and the necessary expenditures of important funds.”

Lauren Hildebrand, Charlottesville's utilities director, said the city will spend $26.5 million over the next five years to upsize the majority's of the 165 miles of sewer pipes within city limits. She said the work needed to be done in order to  comply with increased scrutiny from federal and state regulators. 

"It's more of a focus [from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality] now than it ever was," Hildebrand said.

The Albemarle County Service Authority is spending $2.2 million this year to address infiltration in a portion of the 245 miles of sewer pipes in its system, according to outgoing executive director Gary Fern.

“Since it costs money to pump and treat water which enters the sanitary sewer system, it is a waste of money to handle relatively clean stormwater,” Fern said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “In addition, the stormwater uses capacity in the sanitary sewer needed for wastewater.  If a sanitary sewer’s capacity is filled with clean stormwater, then wastewater overflows the system at manholes potentially damaging the environment.”

Water plan critics question lack of capital budget, oversight for dredging study

During the meeting’s public comment period, former City Councilor Kevin Lynch questioned why the RWSA has not presented a capital improvement budget (CIP) since 2008. He asked for a draft CIP budget to be produced by March.

“There’s some serious work that has to be done to figure out who is going to pay for [infrastructure upgrade] and what it means for rates,” Lynch said. “The last time I heard any discussion of what [the water supply plan] would mean for rates was back in 2006.”

On the topic of the CIP, Frederick responded that the RWSA is waiting for the results of the various water supply plan studies currently underway before developing an updated capital budget.    

“There has been a consensus of this board that we obtain cost estimates from the consultants doing current studies and develop a CIP from those cost estimates rather than pull numbers virtually out of the sky,” Frederick said. “[Getting the] appropriate answers does take time.”

Frederick said the studies will come to a conclusion by June, and that the RWSA will develop a capital program based on those estimates and decisions made by the four boards with jurisdiction over the water supply.

On the topic of rates, Frederick said in an interview that the RWSA has raised its wholesale rates for the past years to reflect increased utility and production costs, as well as to pay for capital projects.

“The authority is dealing with a number of issues in trying to make improvements to deferred infrastructure,” Frederick said.

Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan asked for clarification on how the City’s interests would be represented in the dredging feasibility study for the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. She reminded the RWSA Board that City Council requested that two citizens who helped select HDR Engineering continue to play a role in the oversight of the study.

“I don’t think it’s the same for them to just receive [the same information] we’re receiving,” Mooney said. “Their role is to be overseeing what the consultants are doing, to be in touch much more on the ground with that work.”

Frederick asked the RWSA Board for direction on how to proceed with this issue. Should there be a full steering committee, or should the two citizens be given access to the consultant?

Mayor Dave Norris told the RWSA Board that Council didn’t see a need for a steering committee, and would simply like Frederick to meet with the two citizen representatives, Russell Perry and Rebecca Quinn, to find out how they would like to be involved.

“I don’t think we need to make it any more complicated than that,” Norris said. Frederick said he would reach out to the pair.

The first public meeting on the dredging feasibility study will be held in late February or early March. However, Frederick said the RWSA website would be updated with each report as it is produced.

“As our consultant completes each of the nine tasks in his contract, there will be a written report summarizing his findings, and those reports will be posted to the website,” Frederick said.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Meeting called to order by Mike Gaffney, Chair of the RWSA
  • 02:06 - Frederick begins his monthly report with a discussion of replacing the sewer lines
  • 07:40 - Frederick updates the board on the Meadowcreek Interceptor
  • 09:00 - Frederick gives update on North Fork water line break
  • 12:30 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch criticizing lack of progress in progress reports, lack of a CIP
  • 18:20 - Public comment from Betty Mooney regarding representation on the dredging feasibility study
  • 21:30 - Public comment from Liz Palmer asking for a change in the way the RWSA calculates it rates
  • 24:00 - Frederick discusses public comments from November and December RWSA meetings
  • 28:00 - Frederick responds to Lynch's comments regarding lack of a CIP
  • 30:30 - Frederick responds to Mooney's comments about citizen oversight of dredging consultant HDR

January 26, 2010

Future of transit depends on cost allocation and new sources of funding

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A plan to create a regional transit authority (RTA) will remain on hold while Charlottesville and Albemarle officials research how much money a combined transit service would cost and the share each locality would contribute. That was the general consensus of a Monday meeting between city and county staff and elected officials on whether the authority should even be formed.

“We can use this time period to continue to assess exactly what the costs would be,” said Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100125-RTA-Update

In February 2008, city and county officials agreed to pursue an RTA as a way of expanding the capacity of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS). Six months later they created the working group to work through the logistics of creating the joint authority.

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation that gave Albemarle and Charlottesville permission to form the RTA, but a companion bill to allow for a voter referendum on a dedicated sales tax to fund its operations was defeated. Despite losing that potential source of revenue, officials opted in November 2009 to continue planning for the RTA.

20100125-RTA The RTA working group met for the first time this year
“We unanimously voted that from a standpoint of providing transit services in the community it would be better to operate with an RTA,” said Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “The question is whether or not we can get there from a financial standpoint.”

Under the existing system, Albemarle pays part of the cost of operating routes within its borders. Last year, the county paid $678,000 for routes that serve Pantops, Southwood Mobile Home and U.S. 29 according to CTS Director Bill Watterson.

Rooker said that system works for the county’s current needs, but it cannot afford any capital costs for the foreseeable future.

One question is how much Albemarle would have to pay the city for a share of CTS’ assets. City Councilor Satyendra Huja said he would want Charlottesville to be compensated for the transfer of buses and other equipment to the RTA. However, Mayor Norris said he didn’t want to “gouge the county” over this issue.

“As long as the transit service provided to the city is sustained or increased, I don’t see any need for us to make money off of the transfer of the assets because in the long run it’s going to save us money by not having to solely maintain those assets,” Norris said.

Rooker also said the County would have to establish how much it would contribute towards ongoing operating costs.

“If 80 percent of the service is in the city, and 20 percent is in the county, we wouldn’t [want to] pay half the operating cost,” Rooker said.

Charlottesville Public Works Director Judy Mueller said the city currently pays around $400,000 a year on human resources and other administrative services on behalf of CTS. She said Albemarle would need to pick up a share of this cost if an RTA was formed.

The group reached consensus that RTA staff would likely remain as employees of Charlottesville.

The topic of future funding was also broached at the meeting, with no firm decisions made about a direction.

Norris suggested reaching out to new Governor Bob McDonnell to find out if he might support a local funding option in the 2011 General Assembly.

 “I don’t suppose it could hurt to be proactive about that and see if they have any ideas for us,” Norris said.

Rooker said legislation to provide a local taxing option died in part because no other community championed the cause.  Richmond and Fredericksburg were both contemplating forming an RTA, but neither proceeded for various reasons.

The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority was authorized by the General Assembly in 2006 and was created from assets owned by James City County. No money exchanged hands when the authority was formed.

"We just show our investors what they're getting for their dollar and we fortunately have good ridership," said Director of Planning and Development Richard Drumwright in an interview. "But we've had real difficulty increasing the contributions from localities due to economic times."

Drumwright said his organization did not pursue a local taxation option because of what he called "the political reality" that the state legislature will not approve tax increases at this time.

The RTA working group will next meet at the end of March. In the meantime, city and county officials will work with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to establish a firm figure for how much it would cost to operate the RTA.

January 24, 2010

MPO director questions use of transportation funds to pay for Biscuit Run

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 24, 2010

The director of the area’s regional transportation planning body wants state officials to explain why nearly half of the $9.8 million used to purchase the Biscuit Run property for a new 1,200 acre state park came from federal transportation funds.

Stephen-williams CAPTION
Stephen Williams, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has sent a letter expressing his concerns to Pierce Homer, the Secretary of Transportation under former Governor Tim Kaine. While Williams stated he has no opinion on whether the state should have purchased the land, he points out two-thirds of the Biscuit Run property is within the boundaries of the MPO’s jurisdiction.

Download Download William's letter to former Secretary Pierce Homer

“Federal regulations require that when the state spends federal transportation funds, they are required to get approval from the MPO policy board as well as the CTB before the money can be spent,” Williams said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. In this case, the procedure was not followed.

The manner by which transportation projects are both planned and funded is codified by federal law as well as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the MPO and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Download MOU between MPO, VDOT and federal government

The state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run was financed in part with $4.8 million in funds classified as “transportation enhancement” (TE) funds. According to the MOU, the MPO is to be notified by the state before this money is used.

 “The MPO was never informed of this proposed use of federal transportation funds and the funds were committed and expended without the approval of the MPO Policy Board,” Williams wrote in the letter. “Due to the fact that the adopted procedures were not followed by VDOT, the public was denied its right to be involved and comment on this use of federal transportation funds.”

Ordinarily, federal, state and local authorities jointly determine what projects should receive funding, and then these projects are to be placed on a document called the constrained long-range plan (CLRP).

Locally, that plan  is known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UNJAM 2035) and it was updated as recently as last summer.  Since the identified projects can’t exceed available funding, officials spent last spring debating what projects could be removed from the CLRP in order to balance its budget.

Next, the MPO and VDOT officials collaborate on a document called the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) which lists all active projects that are currently receiving funding from state or federal sources. Any amendment to an item on the TIP must pass through the MPO with at least one public hearing. Only projects on the CLRP and TIP are eligible to receive federal funds.

Mike Estes is the director of the transportation enhancement program. He says he is withholding comment until VDOT can formulate an official response to William’s letter.

Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) is a member of the MPO Policy Board. He said the use of money comes at a time when the state has dramatically cut funding for secondary funds for projects.

"It's especially ironic in light of the fact that by purchasing [Biscuit Run], the state has purchased property [that] eliminates millions of dollars of transportation improvements that would have been done as part of the development of the property,” Rooker said.

While many of the transportation proffers for Biscuit Run were intended to mitigate future development of up to 3,100 new homes, like support for public transportation, other proffers were for off-site improvements that some observers thinks are still needed today.  Some of those funds were even going to be invested in transportation projects neighboring Charlottesville. 

Jim Tolbert, the head of Neighborhood Development Services, said that Charlottesville was counting on the developer’s contribution of $1.55 million towards sidewalk and drainage improvements along Old Lynchburg Road.

“It was roughly half the construction costs and the contribution was related to what we perceived as increased traffic coming from the Biscuit Run,” said Tolbert in an interview.  “This changes the traffic numbers, and the absence of the proffer potentially changes the budget for the project.”

Another Biscuit Run proffer included funding up to $13 million in capital improvements identified by Albemarle County.  One suggestion in the proffer agreement included support for the construction of the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector.

While embracing the idea of a new state park, Fry’s Spring neighborhood advocate Jeanne Chase said local governments and the university should not back away from their commitments to improve roads connecting the city, county, and Fontaine Research Park.

“In my personal opinion, the state park is a marvelous idea,” said Chase in an interview.  “I couple that with the fact that the Fontaine Avenue-Sunset Connector is as important as it has ever been because of all the other development that was allowed to occur south of Azalea Park [in the county].” 

Chase said that any change in plans or schedule for the improvements to Old Lynchburg Road, where she resides in the city, would be “totally unacceptable.”

Williams has invited state transportation officials to explain the funding matter  at the MPO’s meeting this Wednesday. However, Governor Bob McDonnell’s appointee for Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, has not yet been confirmed by the General Assembly, so it is unclear if there will be a representative designated to attend.

January 22, 2010

Service authority refuses to help fund study of dam extension

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 22, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority will not help pay for the Charlottesville City Council’s plan to study raising the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam by 13 feet, the authority’s Board of Directors announced Thursday.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100121-ACSA-Dam-Study

20100121-Hilton Marvin Hilton
New board member Marvin Hilton (Samuel Miller) said it was an unwise idea to build on top of a dam that is already 100 years old.

“If you’re talking about 50 years to a hundred years hence, it would seem a little off the deep edge to consider a 13-foot raising right now,” Hilton said. He added that the community ought to pursue one water plan, rather than considering multiple options.

The City Council on Tuesday decided to get an independent cost estimate for expanding the existing dam, built around 1908, by 13 feet as part of an alternative water supply option. That plan would also involve increased conservation and dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to restore its original capacity.

Some councilors had asked whether the service authority would be interested in helping fund such a study. Authority Executive Director Gary W. Fern had previously indicated that the board would not pay for any portion of the study.

During the authority’s meeting Thursday, Fern sought input from his board.
Member Jim Colbaugh said if the feasibility study under way indicates that dredging should be pursued, then perhaps the authority might consider the extension of the existing dam.

“I think it’s appropriate not to pursue right now with the 13-foot dam study, but I don’t think we should pound on the table and say absolutely never ever,” Colbaugh said.

John Martin, vice chairman of the authority’s board, was adamant that the board should not consider revising the water supply plan, and that any dredging of the South Fork should be done only for aesthetic or recreational uses.

“We took the position that the dredging feasibility study was not needed because we have a water supply plan, and ultimately we compromised and agreed to pay for some of the costs of the study,” Martin said. He said the community cannot afford to both dredge the reservoir and implement the adopted plan.

New board member David Thomas said he wasn’t opposed to dredging if necessary in the short-term, but that he was opposed to the study of the dam expansion.

Colbaugh said he was open to the possibility of dredging the South Fork.

“Dredging is an operational necessity to any water body being used as a water supply,” Colbaugh said. “At some level you have to preserve the reservoir that you have.”

Martin countered that the South Fork Rivanna Stewardship Task Force concluded last year that dredging was not necessary to continue using the reservoir as a water supply resource.

“A huge amount of flow would continue through that area and the dam would stay there and there would always be an area for water intake in and around the dam, even if you did no dredging at all,” Martin said.

The service authority board also agreed that it wanted to make sure it was represented on any steering committee that might be established at the city’s request to oversee the ongoing studies being conducted and that might recommend potential alternatives to the approved plan.

The existing plan calls for the replacement of a dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir with a higher, more stable structure, with water piped in from the South Fork reservoir. The plan was originally estimated to cost $142.8 million, but officials are revising estimates because problematic fractured bedrock was found last year at the site of the planned Ragged Mountain dam.

In other business Thursday, service authority members unanimously elected Clarence Roberts to serve as board chairman. Martin was elected as vice chairman on a 3-2 vote, with Colbaugh and Richard Carter dissenting. Colbaugh also had been nominated for the vice chairman position.

January 21, 2010

City to hire own firm to investigate 13-foot extension of Ragged Mountain Dam

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 21, 2010

The City of Charlottesville will seek proposals to hire a new firm to determine a cost estimate for raising the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam by 13 feet as part of an amended community water supply plan. That was one of several decisions made by City Council on Tuesday following a briefing by the director of the Rivanna Water Sewer Authority (RWSA).

Tom Frederick had suggested that the City agree to pay Schnabel Engineering to perform that work, but City Council agreed with citizens who argued that hiring that company would be a conflict of interest.

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20100119-Norris-Frederick Mayor Norris asks RWSA executive director Tom Frederick a question
Frederick was on hand to report on the progress of the many studies put into action following November 2008 and March 2009 meetings of the four boards with jurisdiction over the water supply.

Council also agreed to expand the dredging feasibility study currently underway to include work that will analyze whether the material brought up from the reservoir floor can be used commercially. The firm conducting the study, HDR Engineering, said it would not be able to deliver an accurate cost estimate for restorative dredging without that information. If the material has no commercial value, more land would be needed in order to store it. Though they took no formal vote, Council agreed to spend up to $24,932 on this aspect of the study.

Council also appointed Mayor Dave Norris to serve as the City’s representative on the RWSA, replacing Councilor Holly Edwards.

Frederick updates Council on studies to revise or amend water supply plan

The RWSA is currently administering five studies related to revisiting the fifty-year water supply plan that was unanimously adopted by the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in June 2006. A combination of citizen concerns and increased cost estimates for the plan’s components has kept the debate alive, resulting in these additional studies.

In May 2009, Council agreed to pick up the cost of these studies  after the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) declined to pay for anything that did not pertain to the existing plan.
Frederick said these five studies will all be completed by this summer, allowing for the community to either proceed with the plan that has received federal and state permits or to proceed with a modified plan.

The studies are:

  1. New design for the new Ragged Mountain Dam: Schnabel Engineering was hired in September 2009 to design the dam after previous designer Gannett Fleming was fired after the cost estimate for its design close to tripled. Council agreed at Monday’s meeting to allow test 20-foot deep trenches to be built near the site of the dam to allow Schnabel to collect more information. A new cost estimate is expected by May.
  2. Dredging feasibility study: HDR Engineering has begun work on the first phase of this study, which includes a bathymetric survey, and an assessment of whether wetlands have formed due to siltation. A public meeting to discuss how this work is proceeding will be held in either late February or early March. The second phase, which will examine potential dewatering and storage sites for the dredged material, begins after the public meeting.
  3. Conceptual pipeline design review: Wiley and Wilson has been hired to review proposal in the water supply plan to construct a pipeline to transfer water from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. A report will be delivered to the RWSA at their February meeting.
  4. Review of three pipeline concepts: RWSA will produce a report listing the potential advantages and disadvantages of three potential pipeline alternatives bringing water from different sources. This includes the proposed new South Fork pipeline, repairing the existing pipeline (built in 1927) that carries water from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, and a new pipeline to the James River. The latter two options were previously eliminated from the water plan in 2006.  This report will be presented to the RWSA.
  5. Study of I-64 embankment: Evaluating the impact of inundating the I-64 embankment near the Ragged Mountain Reservoir if a new 112’ foot dam is built at Ragged Mountain.  The firm Volkert Inc. was hired by the RWSA in November with a cost estimate for a strengthened embankment due in May

Council asked for guidance on additional studies

20090404-SFRR

The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966

The first question was whether to proceed with a beneficial re-use study that would determine the commercial value of dredged material recovered from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Frederick reminded Council they had declined that portion of the study in October 2009 .

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not understand why the ACSA was refusing to pay for an equal share of the dredging feasibility study.

“In our mind, it’s for the benefit of the whole water plan, not just for the City of Charlottesville,” Huja said.
Councilor David Brown said he agreed with Huja’s sentiment, but reminded him that the county’s representation had a different philosophy.

“Their point of view would be that they don’t think the studies are necessary, and so why should they pay for them?” Brown related. “Our point of view is that they are necessary so we want to see them done. But their point of view is based on the fact that at one point in time we agreed we had a plan we all supported. City Council has become interested in looking deeper into whether it’s the best plan. I think other boards have not been convinced of that.”

During the negotiations over who would pay for the dredging feasibility study, the ACSA agreed to consider to paying the City back if the additional surveys resulted in a cheaper plan for the urban water supply. In November, the ACSA discussed the possibility of contributing to the beneficial reuse study, and could take the matter up again at their meeting Thursday.

Norris said he was the Councilor who had asked to have the beneficial reuse study removed from the study to save costs, but was willing to reconsider.

“If HDR strongly feels the beneficial reuse needs to be done and we can get the ACSA to help pay some of those costs, I’ll willing to have that reintegrated into the study,” Norris said.

Council opts to independently examine 13-foot expansion of Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

The second question Frederick asked was whether the RWSA should hire Schnabel to develop a cost estimate for adding 13 feet to the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam (built circa 1908) instead of building a new dam that would raise the water level by 45 feet. He said Schnabel has proposed to do the work in two phases.

According to Frederick, the first phase, which would cost $188,000, would be a feasibility study to see if this could be done and would produce a “ballpark” estimate. Frederick said a second phase consisting of preliminary engineering would generate a more accurate cost estimate for this alternative. He also cautioned that this alternative might not fit within the framework of the federal and state permits allowing the adopted plan to proceed.

The Albemarle County Service Authority has said it would not contribute to a study of expanding the existing dam, according to Frederick.

 “This is our property, it’s our dam, and we’re the only ones advocating for the exploration of this potential alternative,” Norris said. “If we want to see that alternative fleshed out, someone will have to pay for it. In the long run, this could conceivably save tens of millions of dollars.”

Frederick said the other alternative was for the City to hire its own firm to conduct that study. He cautioned that if Council took that route, the results would likely not come back until the end of this year and not concurrent with the other water supply studies now on-going.

At the beginning of the meeting, Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said the City should not allow the same firm hired by RWSA to design the new dam to also conduct the develop a cost estimate of adding 13 feet to the existing dam.

“One of the mistakes [in developing the water supply plan] was hiring the same company to study dredging that studied building the dam when they then got the contract to build the dam, “ Mooney said. “I’m concerned we’re going to make the same mistake again.”

Norris was receptive to Mooney’s concern.

“I think it would behoove all of us to look at getting an objective third-party to conduct this study whose motives and processes cannot be questioned because there is a stake in the outcome,” Norris said. He proposed managing the project in-house with City staff.

Councilor David Brown agreed and said the City might benefit by delaying the start of a study of the 13-foot extension until the dredging study, already underway, was completed.

“[Let’s] get some sense of the dredging feasibility study results before we commit to spending a lot of money on this study just to make sure that there are no big holes in dredging as an option,” Brown said.

The “Norris Plan,” first put forward as a water supply alternative by Dave Norris in February 2009, involves securing enough water storage to supply the community during the next fifty years through a combination of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, conservation, and increasing the existing Ragged Mountain Dam height by 13 feet.

Councilors Holly Edwards and Kristin Szakos agreed to support the study of the 1908 dam. Council then directed City Public Works Director Judy Mueller to begin the procurement process to secure an independent firm, other than Schnabel, to evaluate adding 13 feet to the existing Ragged Mountain Dam. 

Councilor Huja requested that Norris ask the entire RWSA Board if they would support paying for the study of the 13-foot alternative. The RWSA next meets on Tuesday, January 26.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 4:49 - Public comment from Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 8:00 - Public comment from former City Council candidate Bob Fenwick
  • 11:30 - Quarterly report from Tom Frederick of the RWSA
  • 12:50 - Frederick updates progress of new design for proposed new Ragged Mountain Dam
  • 14:30 - Frederick addresses the dredging feasibility study
  • 16:45 - Frederick addresses possibility of steering committee
  • 21:00 - Frederick addresses I-64 embankment study
  • 22:38 - Frederick asks first question of Council - should there be a beneficial re-use study?
  • 25:45 - Frederick asks if RWSA should hire Schnabel to provide cost estimate to expand existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam by 13 feet
  • 30:00 - Frederick discusses possibility of controlling costs by phasing the construction of the new dam
  • 32:10 - Mayor Dave Norris points out that existing permits can be amended
  • 33:10 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks why ACSA does not want to pay for bulk of dredging study
  • 38:30 - Norris raises concern about Schnabel being asked to do two different projects at once
  • 45:00 - Council discusses whether to pursue beneficial reuse study
  • 47:00 - City Manager O'Connell asks Council if they would support application to disturb soil near dam

January 17, 2010

County planners to debate whether Albemarle has enough industrial land

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 17, 2010

Landscaper Scott Watkins was told by Albemarle officials in February 2005 that the landscaping business he had operated for more than twenty years was in violation of county zoning because its headquarters and storage yard was located in the rural area off of Route 20.

Five years later, Watkins is still working with community development officials to move his company into the development area.

“The process is like crawling through forty miles of barbed wire because there are so many pieces to it,” Watkins said. He estimates he’s spent nearly half a million dollars to stay in Albemarle County.

After much research, Watkins found property on Route 250 near Crozet that could be rezoned. In March 2008, the Board of Supervisors granted him the rezoning, but he is still working to meet the requirements detailed in his site plan.

Watkins’ story is one of many that has prompted some members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to back an “action plan” of steps designed to make the county more business friendly. Among the proposals in the plan, adopted earlier this month, is the call for an expedited review of a report on the availability of light industrial land.

That report, initiated well before last November’s elections, will be presented to the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday night. Susan Stimart, the county’s business development facilitator, analyzed real-estate records and conducted interviews with business owners to produce a “snapshot” of available industrial land.

“Staff concludes there is a shortage of high-quality, vacant industrial land compared with existing users’ stated demands, workforce projections and comparable supply in other jurisdictions,” Stimart writes in the report.

Download Download Susan Stimart's assessment of light-industrial land in Albemarle County

One of the conclusions is that there are currently less than 200 acres of available vacant land in Albemarle zoned for “light industrial” uses such as research and development, printing, and light manufacturing.  

20100117-map1 Stimart's report includes maps showing where vacant industrial land remains in Albemarle County
However, the report also indicates the true figure is closer to 100 acres because some of the land is in the rural area and because other properties are undergoing environmental remediation. One such location is the former Acme Visible Records complex in Crozet, which sits on 52 acres, but is scheduled for six more years of environmental clean-up.

Another conclusion is that the County’s comprehensive plan has over 900 acres of land designated for “industrial service” but which is currently zoned for other purposes. With the plan and the zoning out of accord, a company looking to locate here or expand would have to would have to go through the county’s rezoning process.

In general, the report recommends the county take several steps to increase the amount of land available for industrial use. Using employment statistics extrapolated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Stimart estimates the county will need between 184 and 500 additional acres of land zoned for industrial uses by 2018 in order to meet future employment needs.

Recommended steps include bringing zoning into conformance with the comprehensive plan, allowing for more uses (such as storage yards) on land zoned for light-industrial, and using the upcoming master planning process for the county’s southern development area to designate new areas for industrial use.

Mike Harvey, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, said whether the County has enough land or not, the issue is whether individual parcels are large enough to attract industrial development. He said many companies evaluate localities first through Internet-based research.

20100117-map2 The report shows that the majority of vacant land designated in the comprehensive plan for industrial service tends to be in the Places29 area
“Sometimes you don’t make the cut because you don’t have the basic property,” Harvey said. One Albemarle landowner has offered to increase the county’s inventory by expanding the designated growth area. Will Yancey has introduced a comprehensive plan amendment that asks for 184 acres of mostly rural land near his family’s Yancey Lumber Company to be moved into the growth area, specifically to create a light industrial business park.

“I think the report clearly states what we’ve known anecdotally for some time,” Yancey said. “There is an inadequate amount of land zoned for industrial uses in the county.” He added that his land is close to I-64, has access to water and sewer, and contains at least 50 acres of developable land.

Jeff Werner with the Piedmont Environmental Council said the county has squandered much of the land that had been zoned light industrial. During the residential and retail boom of the last decade, many properties that had been zoned for light industrial use were rezoned to make way for new developments such as Albemarle Place and Hollymead Town Center.

Werner specifically pointed to the March 2008 rezoning of 88 acres off of Fifth Street Extended to make way for a new shopping center.

“I don’t recall anyone from the development community raising any concerns about that,” Werner said

“Given that the county has been willing to rezone light industrial lands for retail, I see no need to expand the growth area.”

Harvey said that, in Albemarle, the problem is often companies that grow here but can’t expand because land is either too expensive or unavailable. For his part, Watkins said he wanted to make sure he could stay in Albemarle because most of his clients are located here.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission will receive and discuss the report at their meeting Tuesday evening at 6:00 PM at the County Office Building.