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February 26, 2010

County Executive unveils Albemarle’s $293.8 million budget for FY2011

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 26, 2010

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker has unveiled a budget for FY2011 that is 3.4% less than the current year, and 11.9% less than that for FY2009. The proposed budget of $293.8 million is based on a 74.2 cent tax rate, though lower property assessments translate into a projected $1.9 million reduction in revenue from property taxes.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100225-BOS-Budget

“The budget confronts the difficult realities of reshaping our organization while attempting to establish reasonable expectations for local government services in a time of significantly reduced revenues,” Tucker told the Board at a briefing on Thursday. “Balancing this budget creates very difficult choices that will change the nature of our service levels and funding support in fundamental ways.”

20100225-Budget-Chart1
Revenues from all sources are down. Real estate tax revenues will decrease because property values have declined by 3.18%. Sales tax revenues are down 11.4%, or $1.4 million. There have also been decreases in both state funding and personal property tax.

Tucker has proposed an operating budget of $266.5 million, a capital budget of $8 million, and $18.5 million in revenue sharing funds for the City of Charlottesville. Tucker also suggests an $800,000 shortfall contingency fund in case revenues are lower than expected.

The various cuts continue a restructuring that Tucker says the county has been working towards since the economic downturn began in 2007. With a total of 78 positions either frozen or eliminated since 2007, Albemarle will have as many local government employees as it did in 2002.

Among those 78 positions are 5 police officers. The County has a goal of having 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents, but the actual ratio is closer to 1.2 according to Bryan Elliot, the county’s assistant county executive for community services.

“This action is translating into increased response times for both urban and rural parts of the county to priority-one calls,” Elliot said.

At least one position has been unfrozen. Deputy County Executive Tom Foley said a “business auditor” will be restored in order to track down unpaid taxes. The move is one recommendation from a efficiency study conducted last year by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally, a building inspector will be reassigned to staff the county’s new land use revalidation program.

Affordable housing initiatives will be reduced with the County saving $190,000 by eliminating its down payment assistance program. A housing counselor position has also been cut, and rental subsidies for the Wood’s Edge apartment complex will be phased out.

However, some expenditures had to be increased due to state mandates and other cost increases, including a $203,450 increase in funding for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Last year, the SPCA argued that both Charlottesville and Albemarle were not paying their fair share to the agency, which is the region’s official animal shelter. The county will also pay an additional $426,000 in employee health and dental benefits.

Other highlights:

  • Funding for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library will be reduced by 5%, but Tucker said the county would not support the closing of branches in Scottsville or Crozet.
  • Zoning complaints that are not directly related to health and safety will receive a lesser priority from county staff.
  • The County will no longer be a member of several organizations, such as the Virginia Municipal League, the Alliance of Innovation and the Virginia Institute for Government. County will continue to be member of economic development agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce and Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development.
  • County will no longer help fund “bulk waste amnesty days” held by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, saving $22,000.
  • Funding for local community development agencies will be reduced between 5% and 10%, including the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, StreamWatch, and the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.
  • The County will no longer pursue environmental complaints but will forward them on to federal and state officials.
  • Efforts to calm traffic in neighborhoods will not be made, as there is no longer a county transportation planner.
  • Funding for ACE program will continue for at least one more year, with a one-time $350,000 transfer from transportation balance in the CIP. No more general revenue funding will be used.
  • Funding for implementing master plans has been eliminated, meaning no further sidewalks or streetscapes for at least the next five years.

Supervisors had little comment after the briefing. Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) called the budget “sobering news.” Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he needed to time to reflect before he could make a comment.

Members of the public can weigh in with their thoughts on the proposed budget at a public hearing to be held next Wednesday at 6:00 PM in Lane Auditorium. After that, the Board will hold a series of work sessions to amend Tucker’s proposed budget before its adoption in early April.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Briefing on the budget from County Executive Bob Tucker
  • 10:10 – Tucker describes the goals that helped shape the budget
  • 12:15 – Tucker discusses highlights in the budget
  • 14:30 – Tucker addresses 5% funding cut for library
  • 18:30 – Tucker describes how tax rate will affect tax bills, with most resident seeing a decrease
  • 21:15 – Deputy County Executive Tom Foley describes how community development services will be affected
  • 35:35 – Foley directly address discusses service impacts in community development
  • 39:05 – Assistant County Executive Bryan Elliot outlines reductions to community services
  • 45:45 – Elliot discusses how affordable housing initiatives are affected by budget
  • 50:00 – Elliot addresses how parks and spending on cultural events will be affected
  • 53:15 – Elliot describes reduction in funding for Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
  • 56:45 – Tucker wraps up the briefing on the budget
  • 1:02:30 – Tucker outlines next steps in the budget process


 

February 25, 2010

Engineering firm: South Fork to Ragged Mountain pipeline is feasible

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 25, 2010

20100225-Pipeline-Map
Engineers with a Lynchburg-based firm have stated that a planned pipeline to connect the South Fork and Ragged Mountain reservoirs is feasible and that the $63 million cost estimate for the project is “reasonable.”

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) paid Wiley Wilson $25,000 to review the concept, which is a major component of the 50-year community water supply plan adopted by Albemarle County and Charlottesville in 2006. City Council asked for the review last year in response to concerns from city residents who argued the idea is not practical and would be too expensive.

“We don’t see any show-stoppers,” said Tom Fitzgerald, a vice president at Wiley Wilson and project manager for the review. On Tuesday, Fitzgerald encouraged the RWSA’s Board of Directors to continue pursuing the project.

One prominent critic of the water supply plan was not satisfied by the study. Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch called the report a “regurgitation” of the original concept developed by Gannett Fleming.

“The study is about $1,000 of engineering and $24,000 worth of marketing,” Lynch said in an interview.

The project would create a new water supply intake at the South Fork Reservoir, as well as several pump stations to move up to 25 million gallons a day (MGD) of water uphill along the pipeline at a speed of three feet per second. 

The new pipeline would be able to transfer water in both directions, though the normal operating procedure would be to fill an expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Today that Ragged Mountain is filled via the Sugar Hollow Reservoir using a 13-mile pipeline that the RWSA says needs to be retired or replaced.  The Sugar Hollow Pipeline has diverted water from the Moormans River since 1927, even before the completion of the Sugar Hollow Dam in 1947.

20100225-Wilson-Chart Click for larger image
The $63 million pipeline project would also include a treatment facility that would remove sediment from water with drawn from South Fork before it is pumped to Ragged Mountain. Sedimentation has been a perennial problem for the South Fork Reservoir since it was built in 1966.

The pipeline concept had previously been endorsed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers when they issued permits for the community water supply plan in 2008.  Further permits from the Virginia Department of Health will be required for the pretreatment facility.

Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd, a member of the RWSA Board, said he thought the study validated the original concept.

“My interpretation is that [Wiley Wilson] thinks Gannett Fleming did a good job in coming up with their original estimate,” Boyd said.

By incorporating design adjustments and accounting for inflation, Wiley Wilson said their revised cost estimate of $63 million was $367,500 less than the cost projected in 2006.

Lynch, who voted for the plan in 2006 when he was on City Council,  said he thinks the report drastically underestimates the cost of acquiring easements for the approximately 9-mile route of the pipeline.

The 2006 cost estimate included $407,000 for land acquisition, but the Wiley Wilson report raised that figure to $1.325 million. The study estimates at least 80 easements will have to be acquired for the pipeline. The increase is due to an acknowledgement that the western bypass of U.S. 29 is not likely to be built.

“If they think they’re going to get a 40-foot right of way for a million, clearly there was no real examination,” said Lynch who also warned that the cost of acquiring property for the pipeline could sky-rocket.

He said if RWSA does build the pipeline, it should begin plotting out a route as soon as possible. However, Lynch said his preference would be to continue using the gravity-fed pipeline from Sugar Hollow.

The Wiley Wilson study is the latest of several that re-examine the various aspects of the community water supply plan. The first phase of the dredging feasibility study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir has just been published on the RWSA’s website, though a new cost estimate for dredging will not be completed until May.

The 2006 plan envisions a new dam at Ragged Mountain, built downstream of the 1908 dam, that would raise the reservoir pool by 45 feet.  Schnabel Engineering is in the process of designing that dam, with the revised cost estimates also expected to be ready in May.  Meanwhile, the City has asked engineering firms to bid on their own proposal to study whether the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam, built in 1908, can be repaired or raised by just 13 feet.

February 22, 2010

City, County and UVA considering application for ultrafast Google fiber

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, February 22, 2010

Google wants to build a faster internet, and local officials are making the case that the search engine company should do so here.

Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia are considering making a joint application for a pilot program that would install fiber-optic cable allowing for broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than what the community currently enjoys.

According to Chris Engel, the city’s assistant director of economic development, Google is asking for communities to apply to its “Fiber for Communities” program as a way to experiment with different ways to install the infrastructure.

“It would be unlimited bandwidth beyond comprehension at this moment,” Engel said. “It may in fact attract individuals with ideas to come here and start companies. It could also attract some existing companies from elsewhere – ones who need this type of access.”

City Council discussed the idea last Tuesday night and directed staff to work with county and university officials to make the application. Councilors cited the success last year when the city and county successfully received a $500,000 grant from the Southeastern Energy Alliance last year.

“I looked through what Google was requiring in terms of a response and a lot of it had to do with what your existing infrastructure is, what your laws are,” said Councilor David Brown. “I think they want a place where they can go in and not have a lot of regulatory obstacles."

One potential obstacle against the community is that neither the city or county own the electrical infrastructure. Engel said Google will likely favor a place where it can get easements relatively easily.
Engel will work with the county’s information technology department and UVA’s vice president of research to gather information. The deadline for the application is March 26.

Anyone interested in nominating this community can do so independent of government efforts. Residents and community groups are being asked to submit information. Google’s survey asks questions about upload times, service frequency and costs. 

“They’ll somehow combine those responses with the official governmental application,” Engel said.

John Feminella, a principal consultant with Distilled Brilliance, said the benefits could be faster service delivered at a comparable cost. He said the creative community will benefit if Google does decide to experiment here.

“For those people, being able to share and collaborate more effectively can only be a good thing and stimulate more creativity,” Feminella said.
 

February 19, 2010

City considering neighborhood advocate position

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 19, 2010

Charlottesville City Council decided Tuesday to study the creation of a “neighborhood advocate” position to facilitate neighborhood outreach efforts and to educate city residents about local government decisions. The concept was raised  by Councilors Dave Norris and Kristin Szakos  during last year’s City Council campaign.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100216-CC-Advocate

20100216-CC-Tolbert

Jim Tolbert addresses City Council

“The role [would be] to strengthen the voice and participation of neighborhoods in decisions that affect their lives,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services. “The duties of this type of position would include coordination of activities with neighborhoods, maintaining neighborhood contacts, keeping neighborhood websites up to date… anything for informing the neighborhoods,” Tolbert said during a report to Council on Tuesday night.

Assistant City Manager Maurice Jones, who succeeds current City Manager Gary O’Connell on an interim basis in April, said the neighborhood advocate would help revive dormant neighborhood associations.

“In order to really invigorate a number of our neighborhood associations, more focus needs to be put on the associations on a regular basis,” Jones said. “We see this person thinking about neighborhoods on a daily basis… being out front on very important issues here in the city.”

Download Download staff report on the neighborhood advocate position

However, representatives of some neighborhoods were surprised by the presence of the report on Council’s agenda.

Peter Hedlund of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association said in a written statement that his group was reserving judgment on the position until more details were available.

“We appreciate that the City Council is considering ways to strengthen the relationship between the city and the neighborhoods,” Hedlund wrote. “However adding another layer of bureaucracy and another salary is not the way to accomplish this.”

Colette Hall, the president of the North Downtown Residents’ Association, questioned whether it was worthwhile to pay someone between $50,000 and $75,000 for the position.

Jack Brown, president of the Alliance of Neighborhoods, said neighborhood associations draw attention to major issues such as traffic congestion, poor infrastructure, and a lack of coordination between Charlottesville and Albemarle.

 “Vibrant grass-roots organizations in the neighborhoods could really help the city in creating policies that are effective and address real needs,” Brown said in an interview. He praised the  Fry’s Spring and Johnson Village associations for pushing the city to prepare a traffic management plan for when a bridge on Jefferson Park Avenue Extended is closed later this year.

Brown has several suggestions for improvement, including requiring City Councilors to attend neighborhood meetings on a regular basis, as well as greater efforts to obtain neighborhood input while major capital projects such as the Meadowcreek Interceptor project are designed and developed.

What role will the new city manager play?

Councilor David Brown said this position would be especially useful as the city’s population grows, but said it might be better to create the position once a new city manager is chosen to replace the departing O’Connell.

“I will bet that [valuing the] involvement of neighborhoods is going to be a part of [that job] description, and so I’d like for whoever the city manager is to come in feeling like this is a position they get to help shape,” Councilor Brown said.

But Szakos said she heard a lot of people during the campaign who liked the idea, and she wanted neighborhoods to work with staff to make the proposed position a reality.

 “I would love to see us go forward because I think yes, the city manager should have a piece in this, but I think that it’s the community that’s already here that [knows] what the needs are,” Szakos said. She also said she wanted to reach out to people who are not actually members of their neighborhood association.

“I do think that there is a higher priority right now -- hiring the right city manager,” said Jack Brown. “If that person takes neighborhoods seriously, then matters will improve -- with or without the new neighborhood advocate.”

City staff will now work with neighborhoods over the next three months to get their input before returning to Council with more details in the spring.

County water authority will not change connection fee policy

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 18, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors has let stand a policy that requires developers to only pay connection fees once they have a building permit in hand. Some developers had argued they should be allowed to pre-pay the fees before a scheduled rate increase takes effect on March 1.

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When the budget for the current fiscal year was passed, connection fees were increased to help the ACSA finance ongoing maintenance and new construction.

“We’re constantly replacing facilities, spending $18 million this year,” said board member Jim Colbaugh. “Those new facilities become part of our infrastructure.”

However, some developers argued the increases were too much to absorb in one year and could stop development during the economic downturn. In response, the ACSA decided in August to split the increase into two increments with 15 percent effective last September and the rest taking effect on March 1.

Since then, two developers with projects in the planning stages have asked the ACSA if they would accept a prepayment of the fees at the current level, even though building permits might not be issued until later in 2010.

Developer David Hilliard is building an assisted living facility in Crozet. When he began the project in January 2008, the cost of connecting 126 units to public water and sewer was less than $200,000. However, delays in securing financing have pushed the project back. If he can obtain building permits before March 1, he’ll pay $581,000. If not, he’ll have to pay $724,000.

Andrew McGinty of Coleway Development is building a 212-unit apartment complex near Fashion Square mall called Arden Place. McGinty had argued the length of time it was taking for Albemarle County to approve the project meant he would be forced to pay the higher fee.

However, staff has repeatedly stated they do not recommend changing the policy because it would interfere with the “first-come, first-served” strategy shared by the ACSA, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and the city of Charlottesville. That policy is in place to prevent large developers from buying up all potential connections long before homes are occupied.

Download Download staff report on connection fee pre-payments

The decision to break the fee increase into two phases has cost the authority nearly $178,000 in deferred connection fees, according to ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern.

Developers had also asked for a delay of the second increase, but the board was not receptive.

“Whatever date we choose it will be inconvenient,” said board member Richard Carter. “We did move it one time to help developers, but if we keep doing it, we’re never going to get this done.”

County officials worked with both developers to allow them to apply for building permits even though final site plans had not yet been approved.

Neither McGinty nor Hilliard was present at Thursday’s meeting. Breeden said McGinty has demonstrated he will receive building permits in time and will pay the authority $876,000 in connection fees for 212 units.

Efforts to reach Hilliard were not successful, but he has not yet demonstrated to the ACSA that he has obtained building permits, according to Breeden.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum had previously spoken out against the rate increases, but said Thursday that the authority had done the right thing by splitting the increase.

“I think that the ACSA board recognizes the importance of predictability of costs for developers,” Williamson said.

A further connection fee increase is likely to go into effect on July 1, according to Jim Colbaugh. The board will begin discussing a new budget in March.

In other news, the board voted to create a special rate district to pay for a new regional pump station to increase sewer capacity in northern Albemarle County. The ACSA will raise money through a bond to pay for the $12.25 million project upfront, and developers who build within the district will pay an additional fee to recoup the cost. Construction is expected to be completed by December 2011.

February 18, 2010

Council approves RFP for dam study

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 18, 2010
 

Charlottesville will invite engineering firms to submit proposals to study whether the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam, built in 1908, can be safely raised 13 feet, despite the concerns of one City Councilor that the information may not be required for the community water plan.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100216-CC-Dam

Councilor David Brown said Tuesday he would prefer to wait on the study which could cost as much as $200,000 until the results of an ongoing dredging feasibility study for the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir are available.

“I think it’s an awful lot of money to be spending,” Brown said.

City Council is paying over $300,000 for a separate dredging study, which is expected to provide a cost estimate for removing sediment from the South Fork Rivanna Rreservoir.

However, City Manager Gary O’Connell said issuing a request for proposals now would allow Council to proceed if it decides dredging would be a cost-effective way of increasing the water supply. If Council waits until summer to issue the RFP, information would not come back until 2011 because of the time it takes to award a bid.

“I don’t think you have anything to lose by going through this,” O’Connell said. “Some parts of this [study] you’re going to need absolutely in the decision process.”

The idea of raising the existing dam has been championed by Mayor Dave Norris, who claims a smaller dam could provide enough water to meet the community’s projected needs over the next fifty years if combined with dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. 

In January, Council chose to conduct the study itself rather than have it performed by Schnabel Engineering. Schnabel was hired last fall by the RWSA to design a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  The new dam was approved as a concept in the 2006 community water supply plan and would raise the water pool by 45 feet inundating 180 acres of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. Council felt having Schnabel perform both tasks would be a conflict of interest.

The request was amended by Council to require the winning firm to examine what steps need to be taken to simply repair the dam to satisfy state regulators. The dam is currently operating under a conditional certificate from the Department of Conservation and Recreation because of concerns raised in a 1978 inspection about the stability of an earthen buttress added in 1934 and the dam’s insufficient spillway capacity.

“If it’s not feasible to raise the dam by 13 feet and it is feasible to repair the dam, we’ll also have that investigated,” said Lauren Hildebrand, the city’s utilities director. 

Bids will be received through the end of March.

A series of other studies regarding the community water supply plan will be completed this spring. Next week, the RWSA Board of Directors will hear reports on the feasibility of a concept to connect the South Fork and Ragged Mountain Reservoirs via a new pipeline. In early March, HDR engineering will hold a public meeting to explain the results of the first phase of the dredging study.

Download Download City's RFP to study expansion of dam

February 16, 2010

Council set to take action on land purchase for single room affordable housing project

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

City Council will vote tonight on whether to spend $1.55 million to purchase land on 4th Street that will be used for a 60-unit single room occupancy (SRO) facility.  The vote comes despite the fact that details on financing both the capital and operating costs are not yet secured.

Council will also hold the first of two readings on an agreement to lease the property for $10 a year. The lease will more than likely be signed by Richmond-based Virginia Supportive Housing, which will operate the facility.

“There’s nobody else in Virginia that builds and manages SROs for a living,” said Mayor Dave Norris.

The way for the SRO has been cleared over the past year. The city’s zoning ordinance was amended to allow for such a facility, and the Planning Commission  has approved a special use permit. The existing building, which is owned by Region 10, will be torn down to make way for the new structure.

Of the 60 rooms, 30 are being designated for rental to people who make less than 60% of the area median income. These tenants will pay the full cost of rent. 

The other rooms will be set aside for those with much lower incomes, and are specifically targeted at the homeless. These tenants will pay at least $50 a month, with the difference being made up by federal Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers that can be dedicated to the project.  Virginia Supportive Housing cannot directly ask HUD for vouchers.

The current plan, according to Norris, is for the city to ask the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority for 21 vouchers, and Albemarle County’s Office of Housing for 9 vouchers. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates 800 Section 8 vouchers between the city and county.

However, both jurisdictions are currently using as many vouchers as they can fund for their own programs. Ron White, Albemarle County’s housing director, said his agency can currently only pay for 375 of the 429 it has been allocated by HUD. White said whether the county can donate some of its vouchers to the SRO project will depend on additional funding. The Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss the matter on March 3.
     
At City Council’s first meeting in February, Councilor David Brown asked officials with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority if they would contribute any vouchers to the project.

CRHA Executive Director Randy Bickers said vouchers are a “precious commodity” and that he was not sure he could commit to the project. CRHA can issue up to 371 housing choice vouchers, but only has enough funding to issue 270.

“Right now if we were to give the SRO vouchers with our level of funding, we’d have to take vouchers away from somebody,” Bickers said. 

Norris said he did not want to take away vouchers from anyone whose living arrangement is currently supported by them. However, he said there is a case to be made for using vouchers to support the SRO project.

“What the various voucher holders in the region will see is that this is a housing type that works well for a certain category of clients - single adults with limited financial means,” Norris said.

The issue will come back before the CHRA’s Board of Commissioners at their meeting on February 22.

Norris said he remains ‘guardedly optimistic’ that the vouchers can be secured.  If they are not, VSH may have a hard time securing tax credits from the Virginia Housing and Development Authority (VHDA) that would be used to finance construction. 

“The worst case scenario is that we don’t get the tax credits until next year,” Norris said.

February 12, 2010

Damaged tree on Paton Street sparks discussion of tree protection

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 12, 2010

The fate of a damaged oak tree in the city’s Fifeville neighborhood depends on a decision to be made by Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services (NDS). Tolbert will have the final say on a site plan amendment that would permit a developer to not only remove the tree, but also expand the size of a building to be built on the property.

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In October 2006, the Charlottesville Planning Commission approved a rezoning that allowed Habitat for Humanity to build up to 21 housing units in the city’s Fifeville Neighborhood. One of the conditions of the rezoning was that the oak tree be saved along with several others. Grading on the Paton Street site got underway at the beginning of the year.

Around the same time, Habitat came back to NDS to discuss a potential request to expand the footprint of the building by four feet.  City Planner Ebony Walden told Habitat that the bigger building might cause the structure to come within the “drip line” of the protected oak, which could damage the tree.

Walden said before she could amend the site plan, she needed to have the city arborist and the Habitat’s arborist do a preliminary investigation. When urban forester Tim Hughes arrived, he found damage had already occurred.

 “In my opinion, the grading has compromised the health of the trees,” wrote arborist Tim Hughes in a January 12, 2010 e-mail to Walden. “The Critical Root Zone needs to be protected from all construction activity –especially grading and root excavation- in order to protect trees on construction sites.”

20100112-tree Developer and Albemarle County Planning Commissioner Don Franco discusses the site plan with City Planning Commissioners Bill Emory and Michael Osteen
Developer Don Franco, who also sits on the Albemarle County Planning Commission, recently joined the project’s design team. He said he also visited the Paton Street site in early January and acknowledged the damage that had been caused.“When I walked out on site, the first thing I saw was a clump of trees that were all ivy-colored and not very healthy looking,” Franco said. “I see that we have been working within the drip lines. I saw exposed roots and other things you don’t want to have happen.”

The tree is not dead, but it is damaged, according to Hughes. In an interview, he said it could take up to eight years for a tree damaged by construction to die.

The topic came up at the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s pre-meeting in January, which is conducted off –camera in an NDS conference room. Planning Manager Missy Creasy said a discussion was held so Commissioners could provide guidance to Habitat to determine if they wanted to formally submit a site plan amendment. No additional units would be created with the larger building. Instead, each unit would be slightly larger.

Franco asked what would happen if the tree did in fact die. Deputy City Attorney Rich Harris said that would require an amendment to the conditions put in place with the rezoning, which would require a submission to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert.

“If he determines it is a minor change, he can approve [the change] administratively,” Harris said. “If not, then this can be brought to City Council to amend [the PUD].”

In their comments, Commissioners expressed outrage and concern that the site plan was not sufficient to protect the tree.

 
Tree-protection-slide The City's tree protection manual describes how trees should be protected during construction (Click to enlarge)
“It frustrates me tremendously that…the applicant followed the site plan, and the site plan gave them license to take actions that damaged the trees sufficiently so they could die,” said Chairman Jason Pearson.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said she wanted trees to have more protection as the Commission considers other site plans in the future.

 “What are we going to do next time to make sure this doesn’t happen?” Keller asked. “ Are we going to have very clear cut penalties for what happens if a tree dies?”

Keller asked if there was any process for requiring the developer to mitigate the loss of the oak tree. Walden said the city’s tree protection manual requires a damaged tree to be replaced by enough trees to address the loss in the tree canopy. Thus, Walden said a 48” caliper tree would need to be replaced with at least 16 3” caliper trees.

Harris recommended that the applicant submit an application for a minor site plan amendment specifying requested changes as well as how the loss of the tree would be mitigated.

Commissioner Bill Emory said City Council should have the opportunity to weigh in, given that Council approved the rezoning with a specific condition to protect the tree.

However, the matter is now before NDS Director Jim Tolbert, who said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow that he has not yet seen the amendment request.

February 10, 2010

Natural Heritage chair delivers annual report, pawpaw pie

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The pawpaw tree, with its tear-drop leaves and edible berries, is one of Albemarle’s natural treasures. The chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee (NHC) recently presented a pawpaw custard pie to the Board of Supervisors in order to demonstrate why his group’s mission is crucial.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100203-BOS-NHC

"Pawpaws are a fruit that grow along our rivers and since colonial times, people along the Rivanna and the James would serve pawpaw custard at inns and lock-houses,” Murray said at the last week’s meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

Murray said because the delicacy is no longer sold in grocery stores, many people do not know that it even exists. He said this is one example of how urban and suburban residents can lose sight of the benefits of preserving the rural countryside.

20100203-Murray Lonnie Murray
“One of the primary goals of this committee is to help identify the natural resources in the county that help make us unique and work with landowners and policy makers to find ways to preserve those resources,” Murray said.

In the past year, the committee has provided input into a new county ordinance on weeds, evaluated the effect wind turbines could have on wildlife, and has worked with the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) Committee on a new ranking system that prioritizes properties with rare and unique species.

The NHC is also seeking new ways to engage the public. At last year’s Earth Week, the group asked people to report wildflowers and other flora and fauna on their property.  The NHC is recruiting volunteers to work with Albemarle’s Parks and Recreation Department to analyze the 600 acres that make up the future Byrom Park in the northwestern corner of the county.

“In the coming year, we feel the skills we’ve developed will be very useful as we continue to provide input on the comprehensive plan,” Murray said. He said in these tough economic times, the county should call upon the expertise of NHC Committee members during planning in order to maximize proffered green space.

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she appreciated the work of the NHC, and very much enjoyed the slice of pie she was given.

“It had the consistency of pumpkin pie and was very fruity,” Mallek said in an interview. She said she also wanted the NHC to help work on the master plan for the future Biscuit Run state park.

February 09, 2010

County defers decision on zoning fees for a second time

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For the second time in three months, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has deferred consideration of a proposal to increase zoning fees charged for land use applications and home business operations

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100203-BOS-Fees


20100203-BOS2 Supervisors Duane Snow, Ann Mallek and Dennis Rooker
Supervisors opposed to the increases said they first wanted more information on how the department’s review process can be made more efficient.  Supervisors supporting the changes said the fees were justified and would allow Albemarle to recover, on average, just 30% of the costs incurred by the County.  The Planning Commission had originally advertised fees that would recover 75% of the costs.

The amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance last came before the board in December after a review process of its own that lasted over two years. Even though the proposal was not altered since the initial deferral, two new Supervisors who criticized the fee increases during the campaign have since joined the Board.

New Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) promised in an October 2009 campaign event that, if elected, he would oppose any increase in zoning fees.  At the time, Snow instead called for a new economic development plan to improve the county’s fiscal condition.

The second new Supervisor, Rodney Thomas (Rio), began his line of questioning regarding the fees by reading several questions he received via e-mail from Jay Willer of the Blue Ridge Home Builder’s Association.  The questions included:

  • “Do County procedures take longer than necessary because they are too complex?
  • Are staff reviews more time consuming than necessary because their guidelines are too confusing or contradictory?
  • Are authorities clouded by too many layers of review or lack of clear direction?
  • Is there a culture of leadership that encourages staff to diligently resolve conflicts or find e-mails?
  • What are the County’s obligations to provide the most efficient services possible?
  • Have they been adequately met?
  • What portion of the County’s review is for the benefit of the community at large and not just for the internal issues of the project itself?
  • What benefits and therefore value accrue to the county and its residents from the rezoned conditions?
  • Does the increased density relieve growth and infrastructure pressure elsewhere?
  • Is this a more valuable use of the land than the original zoning had in mind?
  • Are the county requirements and costs fair to the project itself?
  • Is the County as aggressive about cost recovery from recipients of other county services as the county is on the building community?”

20100203-Fee-Sheet These fee increases were not approved by the Board of Supervisors. Click to enlarge.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said many of those questions have been answered during the current review of the fees. He also said streamlining efforts implemented a few years ago in the community development department have resulted in annual savings of $500,000 including an online application system.

Rooker said the Board had three criteria in mind when it directed staff to begin this current review of fees in 2007. First, fees should recover a “significant part” of the cost of a project’s review. Second, fees in Albemarle should be comparable to those in neighboring localities. Finally, fees should be reviewed and updated every two years to reflect inflation and other cost increases.

The fees have not been updated in nearly 20 years, and there is currently no automatic method of raising them on a regular basis. Rooker also said it was time for the county to recover more of its costs from developers.

“If you’d had Biscuit Run in Greene County, [the rezoning process] would have cost the applicant $84,000,” Rooker said. Instead Forest Lodge LLC paid Albemarle a total of $1,570 for a process that cost the county over $200,000 according to Rooker.  He also pointed out that under the proposed fees, Forest Lodge would have paid $35,000.

Snow said the county should consider itself in a partnership with developers, but the county should not dictate all of the terms.
   
“In the economic times that we’re involved in, we need to work together and maybe come up with something more reasonable,” Snow said. While he acknowledged some fees needed to be increased, Snow said fees and cash proffers result in more expensive houses.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) passed out a spreadsheet that calculated costs based on salary positions and the time required for each task. Based on his figures, the proposed rates were too high. For instance, he questioned whether it should really take 67 hours of staff time to approve a permit allowing someone to operate a business out of their home. He also asked whether it should take 1,048 hours of staff time to review a rezoning of a parcel larger than 50 acres.

Rooker said the county could save money by choosing to reduce the amount of public participation required for rezonings and special use permits. He said one way to shorten the process would be to simply deny more applications that don’t fit in with the county’s expectations. 

“We generally work with applicants to go through a process where the needs of the community are dealt with and the applicant gets his project approved,” Rooker said.

County Attorney Larry Davis said it was his experience that resubmissions and deferrals add inefficiencies to the system and extends the time and cost of review.

“[The new] fee system by design is trying to get people to focus in on the work they submit to be responsive to the ordinance and for staff to be responsive as well early in the process so there are not multiple resubmissions,” Davis said.

Snow countered that staff would have no similar incentive to reduce their scrutiny. Boyd also placed the blame of inefficiencies on staff. Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) said many of the reviews went on “ad infinitum” at a cost to the developer.

Mark Graham, director of the Department of Community Development, said the fees are set at a rate to recover about 30% of the cost of applications. He also said in the past year, his department has provided comments back to applicants within 45 days on 100% of initial rezoning and special use permit applications.

“We’ve looked at all this and we certainly are more than willing to look at it again, but I think we’ve found that we do a pretty good job on most of these things,” Graham said.

Members of the public were invited to weigh in on the topic.

Jack Marshall of the group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population said development needed to be carefully overseen. He called for applicants to pay for 100% of the cost of review.

“A request for a subdivision is a special interest initiative proposed by an entity hoping for a private benefit,” Marshall said. “The need for community oversight is created by the developers’ actions. The cost should be their responsibility, and not us taxpayers.”

20100203-Lowry Former Supervisor candidate John Lowry
Former candidate for the Board of Supervisors, John Lowry, said he supported the increase in fees.

"In government, there is no free lunch," Lowry said. "The economics of fees is not a gift to anyone. It is a cost that needs to be paid."

Jay Willer of the Blue Ridge Homebuilder's Association said he hoped the community development process could be streamlined in order to save costs for both the County and developers. 

Rooker made a motion to pass the same ordinance under consideration in December. He said the issue had already been studied for two years.

“After a long-winding road, including many adjustments and including outside expertise, I think we met the three criteria the Board established two years ago,” Rooker said.But only Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) joined Rooker in support of the motion, which was defeated 2-4.

Davis asked the Board if they intended to vote to deny the zoning ordinance change, or send it back for further review.  Rooker initially said he did not want any more money or time on the issue if it was just going to be defeated again.

“We have spent a fortune getting to where we are today,” Rooker said. “This Board today decided these cost should be borne by the taxpayer rather than applicants.”

Boyd took exception to Rooker’s characterization, and said he was not happy with the numbers put in front of the Board. Boyd said he wanted more study of the efficiency of  staff.

“I would like to see a report back from staff indicating why it takes 67 hours to do a [home occupation B permit] and why that’s necessary,” Boyd said. “And I’d like to see that for each of these.”

Supervisors voted to defer the matter until staff comes back with further information.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Public comment from John Lowry in favor of expanding the fees per staff recommendations
  • 04:15 - Public comment from Jay Willer in the Blue Ridge Homebuilder's Association
  • 05:23 - Chair Ann Mallek opens up the discussion and says she will accept comments from the public
  • 05:45 - Mark Graham reviews the reasons for the fee increases
  • 13:40 - Supervisor Rodney Thomas reads from questions received from Jay Willer
  • 15:30 - Supervisor Dennis Rooker responds to Willer's questions
  • 21:45 - Supervisor Duane Snow calls for implementing fee increases on a more gradual basis
  • 24:45 - Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier calls for fewer projects to go before Architectural Review Board
  • 26:45 - Snow, a former ARB member, defends the ARB
  • 28:50 - Supervisor Ken Boyd discusses ways to streamline community development review process
  • 34:30 - County Attorney Larry Davis explains what information was given to author of efficiency study
  • 40:30 - Boyd suggests switching to a system where fees are based on "time and materials" rather than a simple fee
  • 46:50 - Snow says he can't support the rate of increase
  • 51:00 - Public comment from Jack Marshall of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
  • 54:15 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 57:00 - Public comment from Jay Willer
  • 59:00 - Rooker makes a motion to pass the ordinance
  • 1:03:00 - Snow explains his vote against Rooker's motion
  • 1:06:00 - County Attorney Larry Davis said re-submissions and deferrals
  • 1:11:30 - Boyd asks for a vote on the motion, which is defeated 2-4
  • 1:18:00 - Deputy County Executive Tom Foley describes how staff is trying to be responsive
  • 1:21:40 - Motion to defer passes