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March 29, 2010

Planning Commission discusses zoning matrix, Jefferson School rezoning

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, March 29, 2010

The Charlottesville Planning Commission continued revising the city's residential zoning matrix during a work session on Tuesday. The matrix serves as a guide for what land uses are allowed in each of the city's zoning districts. During this work session, the Commission discussed how the matrix currently handles private clubs, adult day-cares, and bed and breakfasts.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100323-CPC-Work-Session

Planning Manager Missy Creasy said the Commission would likely continue working through the three matrices for at least a year. She said the Commission was making swift progress through the residential matrix, but that going through the commercial and industrial matrices may be more time-consuming.

20100323-CPC-Work-Session 
Commissioner Genevieve Keller, who was not present at a February work session, said she was concerned about the possibility of treating adult day care centers as if they were similar facilities for children.

"I'm sort of concerned about the effects on a neighborhood because I think there are certain trappings that go along with adult day care that may not be present in child care, such as ramping," Keller said. She said such facilities may generate additional traffic and was concerned this could de-stabilize neighborhoods.

Commissioners also discussed whether youth hostels were allowed in the city. One apparently has opened up in the Belmont neighborhood.

“I think it would be a desirable use in Charlottesville,” Keller said. “I think it’s something that is missing from our mix.”

Creasy said hostels weren’t prohibited, but that planners were uncertain how they fit into the zoning ordinance.

The Commission will next take up the matrix during its next meeting on April 12.  That session will be held on a Monday rather than the usual Tuesday due the city’s observance of Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday.

Jefferson School partnership seeking a rezoning

The firm hired to oversee  redevelopment of Charlottesville’s Jefferson School will ask the city to have the property rezoned to allow for restaurants to be opened on the site. Planning Manager Missy Creasy told the Planning Commission they could expect to see an application from Stonehaus at some point in the future.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2007, City Council approved a purchase agreement that allowed a private partnership to redevelop the school as a community center. The city’s Carver Recreation Center will continue to operate at the site, and a new African-American cultural heritage center will be established.

"Beyond those two anchors, [the partnership] is looking to fill that space with a number of other tenants as well," City Planner Nick Rogers said. One of those potential tenants wants to operate a small cafe, but that use is not permitted under the existing zoning.

Some commissioners were concerned that a rezoning could lead to the building being torn down in favor of a taller building. Rogers said the applicant will likely apply for B-2 zoning which would allow for the restaurant to be opened, but would not allow for increased height.

One Commissioner thought a slightly different zoning classification would be appropriate.

"I would encourage staff to look at the potential for guiding the applicant towards seeking mixed-use classification because it seems like in many ways a mixture of use on that property is a good fit for the city," said Commissioner Dan Rosensweig.

The building's listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not protect it from being demolished.  Commissioner Bill Emory said designating the site as an “individually protected property” at the local level would permanently prevent that from happening.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Missy Creasy introduces the item for the Jefferson School
  • 03:30 - City Planner Nick Rogers describes reasons for the rezoning
  • 13:15 - Rogers answers a question about whether downtown zoning would be appropriate
  • 20:40 - Discussion of whether the building is protected from being demolished
  • 22:08 - Discussion moves to residential zoning matrix
  • 26:00 - Rogers relates concerns of Chamber of Commerce about revision of matrix
  • 27:00 - Rogers describes presentation to Housing Advisory Committee
  • 30:45 - Commissioner Jon Santoski asks how the Fry's Spring Beach Club might be affected
  • 39:40 – Creasy says reviewing all of the matrices could take some time
  • 41:30 – Commissioner Genevieve Keller expresses concern about adult day cares
  • 53:30 – Commissioner Rosensweig addresses comments made at Housing Advisory Committee
  • 58:30 – Discussion moves to bed and breakfasts
  • 1:02:20 – Keller asks how youth hostels would be treated in the zoning matrix 
  • 1:08:00 – Discussion turns to how an April workshop to discuss the matrix will be handled
  • 1:17:00 – Status report on all of the Commission’s various projects

March 26, 2010

MPO discusses U.S. 29 study, Biscuit Run funding

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday,  March 26, 2010

At their meeting on March 24, 2010, the MPO Policy Board discussed how the proposed Berkmar Drive extension might affect traffic patterns in northern Albemarle County, the possibility of a bike commuter trail to connect Charlottesville and northern parts of the county, and the ongoing revision of a study designed to develop a master plan for all of U.S. 29 throughout Virginia.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100324-MPO-Policy-Board

MPO Director raises questions about U.S. 29 Corridor Study

A subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is continuing work on a study of the entire U.S. 29 corridor from the North Carolina border to Gainesville. The ultimate goal of the study, which is referred to in CTB documents as a ‘blueprint,’, is to create a master plan for the road. The Parsons Transportation Group was hired by the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct the study.

20091007-BOS-Center-State
This map depicts an alternative for a new road passing through eastern Albemarle County. This was not included as part of the draft. Click through for a larger image (.PDF) (Source: VDOT)

When a draft was unveiled last fall, it included three concepts for projects that were later removed at the request of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. These were an extension of Leonard Sandridge Road using right of way purchased by VDOT for the western bypass, an elevated highway connecting U.S. 250 with U.S. 29 at Hydraulic Road, as well as a new road to connect Culpeper to I-64 along the Route 15 corridor in eastern Albemarle.The study, minus these projects, was submitted to the Commonwealth Transportation Board last fall. In December, the CTB passed a resolution which was critical of the way in which the study was developed. The subcommittee was appointed to evaluate the way in which the study was conducted.

On Wednesday, MPO executive director Stephen Williams told the MPO Policy Board that he had heard the three projects might be put back in the study, which the CTB instructed the subcommittee to revise with a target completion date of July 1.  

Jim Utterback, the administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper District, said he had not heard that information. Utterback, a member of the CTB subcommittee, said the resolution instructed VDOT to improve the way in which this and future corridor studies are conducted, but did not specifically ask for the three projects to be recommended.

“There has been no decision about that that I’m aware of,” Utterback told the MPO Policy Board.  In a follow-up e-mail sent two days after the MPO meeting, Utterback confirmed his understanding to local officials.

“These projects have not been put back in as recommendations and there is no intention to do such,” wrote Utterback.

Butch Davies, the representative of VDOT’s Culpeper District on the CTB, said in an interview that he also was unaware of any efforts to reinstitute the three projects.

“I’ve been to every meeting and played an active role with it,” Davies said. “The resolution adopted by the CTB does not include the adoption of the [projects].”

Davies said CTB members were concerned that the study became too bogged down on individual projects, and said that made it hard for any consensus to be reached.

“You can’t put in a dramatic interchange proposal without having local government vet it [first],” Davies said. He said several of the eliminated proposals went against the comprehensive plans put in place by jurisdictions, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Davies said many of the study’s recommendations involve finding a way to limit the number of intersections along the corridor in order to protect it as a transportation asset.

Charlie Rasnick, a retired VDOT engineer, is working with Parsons on the study. He said in an interview that the final report would honor the input from local elected officials.

“Once we got comments back from the public it was little of value to keep those recommendations in,” Rasnick said.

The subcommittee met earlier this month, and will next meet on April 7, 2010 in VDOT’s Warrenton office.  The CTB has requested the full report to be ready for their review by July 1.

Federal funding request for 29/H/250 improvements

Representative Tom Perriello (D-Ivy) has informed the MPO that he has made a request for $517,000 in funding  to pay for design work for additional lanes at the interchange that connects U.S. 29 with the U.S. 250 Bypass. If granted, the money would go to assist the City of Charlottesville with design work for the project, a key step towards actual construction of a long-planned second lane on the ramp that connects southbound U.S. 29 with westbound U.S. 250.

MPO Director Williams mistakenly told the MPO that the money had been appropriated, but that will not happen until Congress takes up the federal budget later this year.

“His staff told me that he views this as a very high priority project for his district, and one that will really serve the needs of his constituents all the way throughout his district down into Lynchburg and Danville,” Williams said.

Perriello made several other requests this year, including $4 million for the Battelle Corporation to develop a new interface for detecting biological threats on the battlefield. Battelle has a presence in the University of Virginia’s Research Park in northern Albemarle.  

Perriello also requested $1.5 million for the Jefferson School restoration and redevelopment project, $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity’s redevelopment of the Sunrise Trailer park, $2.2 million for Crozet’s downtown streetscape project and $720,000 for construction of a bridge to carry bikes and pedestrian over the north-south railroad line that bisects McIntire Park. Perriello also requested $1 million towards the extension of the runway at the Charlottesville-Albemarle airport.

Jessica Barba, a spokeswoman for Perriello, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that 17 of the congressman’s 48 appropriation requests in FY2010 were ultimately funded. She said decisions would be made by Congress by early May.

Federal government clears up source of Biscuit Run funding

In January, Williams sent a letter to the then-Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer requesting information about why the MPO was not consulted when Virginia acquired the Biscuit Run property as a new state park. Nearly half of the $9.8 million price was financed using federal transportation dollars.

Virginia’s new transportation secretary, Sean Connaughton, wrote Williams to say that the money did not actually come from a funding pool from which the MPO needed to be consulted. The MPO is required by law to sign off on most federal funds granted to localities and the state for transportation purposes.

“The funds allocated to the Biscuit Run project were not Transportation Enhancement Funds but Equity Bonus Funds, which are statewide discretionary funds,” wrote Sean Connaughton in a letter dated February 8, 2010. That pool of money is not subject to the MPO’s jurisdiction.

The three paragraph letter says former Governor Tim Kaine directed Virginia Department of Transportation officials to work with the Department of Conservation and Recreation on a solution that would allow Virginia to buy the land to create a new park.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow last February, Williams explained how equity bonus funds work.

“Every state on an annual basis gets an allocation of formula funds,” Williams said. This money goes to pay for maintenance of road surfaces and bridges. “At the end of the year, if a state has not used up their entire allocation of funding, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) takes back the money.”

Then each state competes for a share of the additional money.

“My understanding is that Virginia got funds [and then] decided to spend the money for Biscuit Run,” Williams said.  

The MPO voted to authorize a letter which invited the Secretary to meet with the MPO to discuss transportation projects in Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Board members express skepticism over Berkmar Drive computer simulation

The MPO’s new transportation planner has used computer models to depict how traffic patterns would be affected by the construction of new roads. One of his first tasks, according to Williams, was to model how driver behavior would change if the proposed Berkmar Drive extension and a new bridge over the South Fork Rivanna River are built.

Download Download Williams' presentation of Berkmar traffic model

However, members of the MPO Policy Board did not think his first effort used correct information, and thus generated incorrect results.

For instance, existing conditions used to set a baseline for the model described Earlysville Road as having a level of service (LOS) of D. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) describes such conditions as “approaching unstable flow.”

20100324-MPO (left to right) JAUNT Director Donna Shaunesey, Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, City Councilor Satyendra Huja, Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney Thomas

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said that did not meet with his experience.“I drive on that road frequently and I’ve never stopped that I can recall on the road,” Rooker said. He added he never stops now that there is a roundabout at the intersection of Earlysville and Dickerson Roads.

City Councilor Kristin Szakos questioned the current population figures used in one section of northern Albemarle County, saying they were too low. 

Rooker made the point that he wanted a model to serve as a tool to determine if a road such as Berkmar Drive should be built, especially if it means changing the land use of the property along the way.

Currently the land is designated in Albemarle’s rural area, but developer Wendell Wood has offered to pay for a portion of the road, but only if land he owns along the route is brought into the growth area.

“If you do nothing and you don’t expand the growth area over there, what happens with traffic?” Rooker asked. “What’s the gain for the investment, I want to find out. The cost of the bridge is probably $30 million.”

Williams said he would work with his staff to factor that into the next version of the model. But he also said that from a regional perspective, the model is designed to address traffic congestion on U.S. 29.  

"As 29 becomes more congested like we have in the no-build scenario here, traffic pushes off of 29 to surrounding roads and actually causes traffic and safety issues on Earlysville Road [and] Proffit Road,” Williams said.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center asked if the traffic model took into account that commercial land uses tend to generate large amounts of traffic.

Williams said the model factors in a 120,000 square foot “big-box” store located just north of the proposed Berkmar Bridge.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas asked if paving Rio Mils Road had been modeled to see if that might alleviate congestion. Williams said that scenario was not modeled because it not in the county’s transportation plans.

County Planner David Benish said significant terrain issues would prevent that road from being upgraded simply by adding asphalt. Rio Mills is one of only two roads in the development area that are unpaved.  

Williams said his staff will continue revising the model in response to feedback from elected officials.

Also at this meeting, the Policy Board members voted to join the new Virginia Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations. However, some members did express concern that joining might take away from time spent dealing on local issues.  

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Meeting opened by Chair Satyendra Huja
  • 01:15 - Public comment from Peter Kleeman, who requested public forum on Meadowcreek Parkway
  • 03:20 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of Free Enterprise Forum, against Kleeman's request
  • 04:20 - Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker says opportunities for public comment on parkway have been numerous
  • 06:00 - MPO adopts minutes for January meeting
  • 06:30 - Discussion of proposed Northtown commuter trail
  • 10:30 - Discussion of Rep. Perriello's request for funding to pay for
  • 13:30 - Discussion of MPO's work plan and subsequent funding,
  • 14:45 - City Councilor Kristin Szakos requests work to build ridership on area transit
  • 16:45 - Rooker calls for work to make sure areas around transit stops are safe for pedestrians
  • 17:45 - Huja asks for more trails to be built linking city and county
  • 18:45 - County planner David Benish says Parks Director Dan Mahon is not working on trails much at the moment
  • 20:15 - Huja calls for more work to be done for cyclists and pedestrians, not so much on roads
  • 21:10 - Williams updates MPO on potential of joining Virginia Association of MPOs
  • 28:30 - Williams updates MPO on funding for Biscuit Run
  • 30:30 - Williams presents results of modeling study of the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive
  • 36:00 - Rooker expresses concern about LOS given for Earlysville Road
  • 39:00 - VDOT Engineer Chuck Proctor explains LOS
  • 41:00 - Williams explains how the model projects several potential scenarios
  • 45:30 - Williams describes the proposed alignments that were modeled
  • 48:30 - Szakos asks why model shows traffic as increasing on U.S. 29 if Berkmar Drive is extended
  • 55:15 - Rooker describes what he wants a model to achieve
  • 1:00:00 - UVA Senior Land Use Officer Julia Monteith asks
  • 1:14:20 - Rooker questions 2035 numbers for one section of the road
  • 1:26:30 - Monteith asks why the extension and the bridge were modeled, and what will be done with results
  • 1:27:30 - Williams describes why the Transportation Improvement Program is being adjusted for changes in McIntire Road interchange funding
  • 1:29:00 - Williams describes how the recently concluded General Assembly session affected transportation policy in Virginia
  • 1:31:00 - Williams begins discussion of U.S. 29 Corridor Study
  • 1:34:00 - Jim Utterback questions Williams' assertion that eliminated projects may be reinserted
  • 1:44:30 - JAUNT director Donna Shaunnesy gives a report on her agency
  • 1:45:30 - Nancy Ahrens of CAT gives a report on her agency
  • 1:47:00 - Update from Julia Monteith on UVA
  • 1:48:00 - Szakos discusses efforts to ban extra-long tractor trailers from U.S. highways
  • 1:49:00 - Williams talks about new coalition of federal agencies to plan for sustainability at a regional level
  • 1:50:30 - Public comment from Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center

Presentation by Steve Pence on the history of the Rivanna River

Steve Pence is co-founder of the Rivanna Conservation Society.  On March 24, 2010, Pence gave a presentation at CitySpace on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall on the history of the Rivanna River as part of the society’s Year of the Rivanna celebration.

A resident of Fluvanna County, Steve joined together with other conservationists to help create the framework for the organization that today we know as RCS.  Steve is a professional forester who recently retired from Virginia’s Department of Forestry.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced both a podcast and a slideshow (with audio) of this presentation.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast:Download 20100324-RCS-Pence

20100324-pence
Steve Pence, co-founder of the Rivanna Conservation Society

March 25, 2010

City-County effort to form regional transit authority shelved amid Albemarle’s budget woes

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Albemarle County’s decision to build their budget on maintaining last year’s tax rate has led to the shelving of efforts to form a regional transit authority (RTA) with the City of Charlottesville. 

Supervisor Dennis Rooker delivered that assessment to a meeting held Wednesday of the work group that has been planning the authority’s formation over the past two years.

“I started out this process being a strong supporter of an RTA….It makes sense for the community to have an RTA that is jointly operated by the city and county,” said Rooker.  “Given the County’s current budget, the tax rates it has adopted, I don’t see us being a reliable partner in this in the next year or two, or three.”

20100324-RTA1

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Listen using player above or download the podcast:Download 20100324-RTA

Local officials decided in February 2008 to pursue the formation of a joint authority that would assume operation of the city’s bus system, allow the county to participate in the governance of the authority, and significantly expand public transit to more locations in Albemarle’s urban areas. 

Until this month, the major funding obstacles for the transit authority had been largely at the state level.  While legislation was approved in 2009 by the Virginia General Assembly to allow the formation of the RTA, another bill that would have allowed a voter referendum on a local sales tax increase to fund transit was unsuccessful.

“We’ve got no money in the budget for our own capital [projects].  We’ve got no operating room for additional expense right now,” said Rooker describing what has now become a local funding challenge.  “I don’t want people to waste their time doing something that…we can’t implement in the next year.”

The county’s proposed FY 2011 budget recommends paying Charlottesville about $648,000 for bus service in Albemarle, a slight decrease from the prior year.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas, another County representative on the work group, said the current economic climate was not conducive to increased funding of transit.

“We just don’t have the money to put into it right now,” said Thomas.  “Of course we would like to come up with a couple hundred thousand dollars, in a windfall of some sort that we could put into it, but right now it wouldn’t be fair for us to commit to [the City].”

Thomas was in the conservative coalition of Supervisors who voted last week to advertise a tax rate of 74.2 cents, the same rate as last year.  Rooker voted against the proposal and advocated for adding two cents to the tax rate to generate funding for capital projects.

“There is no point in forming [an RTA] if it cannot be financed,” said City Councilor Satyendra Huja after the meeting. “The services are not provided for free.  I am hoping in a few years things will be better.”

The county budget proposal is about $10 million less than the current fiscal year and includes a level of cuts to most departments and services.

In recent years, Charlottesville has seen increased ridership on its Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) system.  In FY 2009, CAT set a ridership record with over 2 million passenger boardings.

20100324-RTA-Norris
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris
However, the county’s budget woes have made the addition of new bus routes difficult even within the current transit system.

At a City Council meeting last month, Mayor Dave Norris said he was reluctant to support new bus routes in Albemarle that would serve the area around Monticello High School and the Mill Creek neighborhood if the county was not in a position to provide funding.

“If the only way that we can increase service in the county is by decreasing service in the city, I don’t see us being able to defend that publicly in the City,” Norris said.

“When we started, we thought we would obtain a legislative funding mechanism for transportation in the area and devote a significant portion of that to transit,” said Rooker. 

“Now we don’t have that and what we are looking at is the best way to use our individual resources to provide the service that people want in the community,” said Rooker.  “I am afraid that until we are in a position to increase significantly the level of current funding, it doesn’t make sense to pursue this.”

Planners propose commuter bike trail from Rivanna Station military base to downtown Charlottesville

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 25, 2010


Area planners are developing plans for a commuter bike trail to connect the heart of Charlottesville with northern Albemarle County, and elements of the proposed route are already under construction.

“The goal is to provide a connection for both bicyclists and pedestrians that would extend all the way from downtown out to the area where the [National Ground Intelligence Center] is,” said Stephen Williams, executive of the director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

MPO staff are currently working with city and county planners on possible alignments for the trail, which would span between 10 and 15 miles according to MPO planner Sarah Eissler.

The trail would take on many different forms along the way, according to Williams. In some sections, the route would simply consist of bike lanes on existing streets. In other areas, the trail would take the form of a path completely separated from vehicles.

20100324-Williams Steve Williams
Williams said planners will need to make sure they can deliver a continuous trail from one end to the other.

“If you have just a little gap, it cuts down on the usability of the entire thing,” Williams said.

Williams said the project is only in the preliminary planning stages, so it is too early to come up with a cost estimate.

“Once we have the plan in place, it will be built in sections as we’re able to find funding,” Williams said.  He told the MPO Policy Board Wednesday that these types of trails are typically built in segments, such as the portion currently being built in Albemarle.

“The trail is an element of the Meadowcreek Parkway project and is being built now, by the same contractor at the same time the road is being built,” said Lou Hatter, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

North of the Meadowcreek Parkway, the route might follow a new trail being built as part of the Belvedere development off of Rio Road. From there, Williams said it could run along the South Fork Rivanna River and pass underneath the existing U.S. 29 bridge.

Some sections of the trail will depend on the future of other transportation projects. For instance, Williams said the alignment could follow the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive on the Western side of U.S. Route 29. That project, which would depend on contributions from private developers, is also currently in the conceptual stage.

In the City of Charlottesville, the commuter route would likely follow a proposed extension of the Schenk’s Greenway from the McIntire Recycling Center to Preston Avenue. That project, which is being administered by Albemarle County because it owns the property on which the new segment would be built, could get under way in a couple of years. If the county does not have funding to build it, the city could step in.

“The city has offered to build that section if the county funding dries up since it will effectively serve mostly City residents,” said city trails planner Chris Gensic. 

Williams expects to be able to release a map showing a potential alignment later on this spring. After that, the item will go before the public for review, most likely before the MPO Policy Board.

March 24, 2010

RWSA proposes lower water rates in FY2011; City sewer rates to rise

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, March 23, 2010

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors has passed a resolution that would lower the wholesale rate for water sold to the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but increases the rate charged to the city for sewage treatment.

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The rates are part of a proposed $21.8 million operating budget for the next fiscal year, the second year in a row there has been a decrease in the overall budget.

20100323-RWSA-Chart Click for a larger image
The RWSA bases its budget and rates on the amount of water and wastewater “flows” reported by each jurisdiction. Officials project Charlottesville will use 54 percent of the RWSA’s water next year, and that the Albemarle County Service Authority will use 46 percent. The city is expected to use 57 percent of the RWSA’s sewer capacity, with the county using 43 percent.The city of Charlottesville would be charged $2.438 per 1,000 gallons of water, a decrease of just under 1 percent. The Albemarle County Service Authority would be charged $3.305 per 1,000 gallons, a decrease of 0.49 percent.

It is not yet known whether the lower rates will automatically translate into direct savings for consumers. Judy Mueller, the city’s public works director, said in an interview that the city’s rates won’t be set until the City Council adopts its operating budget for next year.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the RWSA’s executive director, said he cannot recall a time during his tenure when the RWSA has been able to lower any of its rates.

Download Download the proposed RWSA budget for FY2011

However, while the rate charged to the ACSA for sewer flows will also decrease, the rate for Charlottesville’s utilities division will increase by 3.38 percent.

Frederick said the proposed increase is linked to a formula established when the RWSA was formed in the 1970s. Each community shares a burden of the debt incurred by the RWSA for capital projects. This year, the RWSA will spend about a half million less on servicing debt for completed projects to enhance sewage treatment.

“We had some debt on the wastewater side that was retired,” Frederick said. “For debt service, the county is billed twice as high as the county … When the debt is retired, the county gets a bigger break.”

New regulations go into effect in January requiring the RWSA to reduce the amount of nutrients that are discharged into the Rivanna River, and hence the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The RWSA will spend more money on additional chemicals to accomplish this goal until the new Moore’s Creek facility is completed at the end of 2012.

20100323-Frederick RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick
Despite that cost increase, as well as a rise in the cost of insurance premiums for RWSA employees, the proposed budget is 1 percent smaller than the current fiscal year. Savings were gained by eliminating two positions. An environmental safety officer position is currently vacant, and a clerk position will become redundant when a new septage receiving station opens later this year.RWSA employees will also receive no pay increase, keeping in line with both the city and the county.

A new Capital Improvement Program budget was not released Tuesday. Frederick told the board during the meeting that he wanted to wait until several studies related to the community water supply plan are completed later this spring. That will provide the community with revised cost estimates for a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, as well as the cost of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“We plan later this year as decisions are made to put out a new capital improvement plan,” Frederick said.

The RWSA Board of Directors will take action on the budget at its meeting in May, following a public hearing.

March 22, 2010

Council discusses transit, future of Crow pool, solid waste, and bike lanes at budget work session

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, March 22, 2010

City Council reviewed the details of the city’s $33.85 million capital improvement program (CIP) budget during a work session last week. Council made several revisions to the budget related to the city’s transportation infrastructure, its inventory of parkland and the number of affordable living choices within city limits.

Highlights from the work session:

  • Council opted not to spend $110,000 to increase service on three Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) routes.
  • Mayor Dave Norris called for an additional $400,000 to be spent on affordable housing initiatives.
  • Council agreed to dedicate $50,000 to expanding the network of bike lanes, despite suggestions by staff that doing so could be much more expensive.
  • $200,000 will not be spent to make repairs to the downtown mall near the Omni.
  • Council remained open to a proposal to allow the YMCA to rent Crow Pool at full cost, extending its operational life until a new facility is built in McIntire Park.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100317-CC-Work-Session

Transit service increases deferred; Huja pushes for bus route for Greenbrier neighborhood

Download Download the entire proposed FY2011 budget (PDF)

Download Download the proposed FY2011 Capital Improvement Program budget (PDF)

Download Download memo from Bill Watterson regarding possible changes to Route 9 (PDF)

In February, CAT Director Bill Watterson proposed several changes to bus routes in order to increase service. One of them involved spending an additional $110,000 to operate three routes (3, 4 & 6) on a twice-hourly basis.

Councilor David Brown said he did not want to expand service at this time.

“I would not mind taking this amount of money and adding it to our [economic] downturn fund,” Brown said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she supported Watterson’s proposal because it would be a relatively affordable way to increase the attractiveness of riding the bus. However, Norris said he sided with Brown about holding off on expanding service right now, and Council agreed with his suggestion to set aside the funds.

Councilor Satyendra Huja had also previously requested that staff create a route to serve Charlottesville’s northern neighborhoods.

“Is it fair not to have the transit system in the northern part of town?” Huja asked. He said the demographics of the Greenbrier neighborhood would add more “choice” riders to the system, referring to people who can afford to drive but might not if they had an option to take transit.

Watterson studied three possible ways  to alter Route 9 in order to accomplish Huja’s goal, but said none of them would work because the route could not be completed in under an hour.

Another proposal to alter Route 1 to serve Mill Creek and the Tandem School in the county is also unlikely to happen because some Councilors expressed concern Albemarle County would not provide funding.

“I got a pretty clear indication Council was not enthusiastic about that one,” Watterson said.

New life for Crow Pool?

Major decisions about the future of the city’s aquatic facilities have been made in the past few years. A previous Council agreed to close the Crow indoor pool at Walker Upper Elementary School and use the savings to build a new Smith pool at Buford Middle School. At the same time, the City agreed to contribute to the capital costs for a new Piedmont Family YMCA in part because the city would no longer have to pay for the ongoing operational costs at Crow.

Crow Pool had been expected to close this fall as the new Smith pool comes online. However, Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly said the YMCA is interested in renting the pool until their new facility is ready.

Currently, the YMCA rents the pool for 24 hours a week at a discounted fee. Under this proposal, the YMCA would begin paying the full cost of operating the pool.

“It would be best for us if they had their own building,” Daly said.  He estimated the YMCA will have their plans finished by June. Construction is expected to take at least 18 months.

City Manager Gary O’Connell said a decision was not necessary from Council until Smith opens in September.

Future uncertain for City payment to keep McIntire Recycling Center open

In June, the City’s contract with the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority will expire. The proposed budget anticipates that it will not be renewed, potentially saving the city $248,928 in “solid waste disposal fees.” 

However, that means that the City’s continued participation in the McIntire Recycling Center is in question. All city residents have the option to recycle items in curbside bins, though that service does not include disposal of batteries, electronics, and other hazardous materials.

 “The City and the County need to make a decision whether or not to keep the McIntire Recycling Center open,” Mueller said. “We don’t know what the cost of keeping [the center] open.”

Council made no decision at this work session, but is expected to take up the matter at another work session in April.

Council discusses other items in CIP

The capital improvement program for FY2011 is $33.85 million, more than double for that of the current fiscal year. The increase is almost entirely due to a $16.5 million payment from the federal government to pay for a portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway interchange

Budget Director Leslie Beauregard said the rest of the capital improvement program is beginning to slow down, in part because of the reductions in revenue.

“Our strategy over time has been when the times are good, we put the money to one-time use, and now we know that those one-time funds have dried up,” Beauregard said. 

The city is expecting to raise $6.9 million through a bond issue later this year. That number will increase to $16.86 million in FY2012 in order to pay for a new fire station on Fontaine Road.   

Councilors had the option to eliminate items from the CIP, and they made several decisions.

Councilor Huja questioned spending $200,000 on repairs to the downtown mall near the Omni. Szakos also said the city might be able to defer spending for another year. Norris also agreed it was not a high priority for this year.

The capital budget for FY2011 does not include funding for a $3 million project to add sidewalks, bike lanes and drainage improvements for Old Lynchburg Road. City Manager Gary O”Connell said the project has been delayed in part because the project is not fully designed. A contribution of $500,000 is expected in FY2012 and design work will continue.

“There’s an impression in the community that this project is just going to start,” O’Connell said. “It’s never been planned to do that. We have to wait until the money catches up.”

The city had expected to eventually receive a million dollars for the project from a proffer from Albemarle County’s rezoning of the Biscuit Run property. The funding was lost when that land was acquired by the Commonwealth to create a new state park.

Council commits additional funds to build more bike lanes

In February, Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert told Council that there are very few opportunities to create additional bike lanes in Charlottesville without removing on-street parking or widening roads.

At the work session, Councilor Huja expressed his dissatisfaction.

“There are gaps in the network, and I think they need to be dealt with,” Huja said.

Tolbert said he would be bringing a proposal to Council this summer that would address the possibility of removing on-street parking and widening roads to increase the network of bike lanes.

Brown, an avid cyclist, said one road on which he would like to see bike lanes is Emmett Street, but he acknowledged doing so would cost money.

“There might be a plan that could accomplish [adding bike lanes] but it’s not a $25,000 project,” Brown said. The current year’s capital budget set aside that amount for “bicycle infrastructure” and the money was used in part to develop special signals to allow cyclists to trigger traffic lights.

Huja suggested putting aside money now in order to pay for those projects in the future.

“Symbolically, I think it is important to set aside some money to show our intent that we’re going to do something,” Huja said.

Council agreed to take $50,000 from a line item for “traffic improvements” to dedicate for additional bike lanes.

Council may spend more money on parkland acquisition

The proposed capital budget sets aside $250,000 to acquire more land for parks, an increase from the $100,000 set aside for this year.

The figure for this year may go higher because of the possibility of acquiring an athletic field and because of other opportunities being suggested by parks director Daly.

The City is currently negotiating to purchase Davis Field, a rectangular field off of Park Street, but the $250,000 set aside in the proposed budget might not cover the acquisition costs. Daly said he had a solution, but did not want to discuss it in open session.

“While the $250,000 is great, my counsel to Council would be that there are a lot of potential acquisition opportunities out there that enhance connectivity and do a lot of forest protection, and it may not be advisable to spend all of the funding in one location,” Daly said.

When Norris asked if Council should increase the amount set aside to buy parks, Daly said he could not talk about it without going into a closed session.

Mayor Norris seeks increase in funding for affordable housing

The City dedicated $1 million in the current capital budget for the Charlottesville Housing Fund. Next year, Mayor Norris wants to increase that amount to $1.4 million. He said both the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee endorsed the increase.

“I’d like to see us go on record as endorsing that dollar figure, however it comes together,” Norris said.

Council held a brief discussion of where the funding would come from to pay for the increase, but did not reach a consensus at this meeting.

Next steps

Council will be on hand for a budget forum this Wednesday night at CitySpace. The public is invited to ask questions of Council and budget staff. The next budget work session  will be held on Wednesday, March 31. The second public hearing on the budget will be on April 5 in City Council chambers. Council will adopt the budget at a special meeting on April 12.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Mayor Dave Norris opens the discussion
  • 03:00 - Councilor David Brown asks about state revenues
  • 06:15 - Councilor Satyendra Huja agrees with Brown's request to put more money into "rainy day fund"
  • 10:40 – City Budget Director Leslie Beauregard explains the line item for Council priorities
  • 14:00 - Beauregard explains how more money will be spent on three Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) routes
  • 17:30 - CAT Director Bill Watterson explains evolution of Route 9
  • 21:20 - Councilor Kristen Szakos asks if there's a way to only stop at high school at certain times
  • 26:30 - Brown asks for philosophy behind increasing frequency on certain routes
  • 29:30 - Norris asks about proposal to serve Mill Creek / Tandem School
  • 37:40 - Beauregard details memo from City Parks Director Brian Daly regarding funding for aquatic centers
  • 40:00 - Daly describes how he is projecting additional for aquatic facilities once new Smith Pool opens
  • 55:30 - Daly describes how his department is seeking ways to increase revenues to recover expenses
  • 1:01:00 - Conversation turns to reductions in RSWA /landfill
  • 1:06:30 - Beauregard discusses potential reductions possible if City drops out of recycling at McIntire
  • 1:15:00 - Discussion turns to capital improvement program
  • 1:20:30 - Norris asks about federal and state funding for interchange
  • 1:21:00 - Brown asks about the future of the Levy Building, which is currently vacant
  • 1:22:20 - Conversation turns to revenues that go into the CIP
  • 1:22:45 - Brown asks why debt issue for FY2012 is expected to double
  • 1:24:40 - Beauregard explains why Market Street parking garage needs "serious repairs"
  • 1:29:00 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks about spending $200,000 to renovate Mall near the Omni
  • 1:31:00 - Councilors ask questions about how sidewalk and street repair is being financed
  • 1:34:30 - O'Connell describes why the Old Lynchburg Road project has been delayed by a year
  • 1:36:30 - Discussion begins on Washington Park bathhouse improvements
  • 1:38:30 - Discussion of $800,000 in funding over 5 years for McIntire Park renovations beginning in FY2012
  • 1:40:20 - Discussion of funding for the Meadowcreek Parkway interchange
  • 1:42:00 - Huja asks why $200,000 is being planned for improvements in the Belmont corridor
  • 1:44:00 - Huja asks for more bike lanes, prompting philosophical discussion
  • 1:48:00 - Norris asks for information on the Planning Commission's CIP recommendations
  • 1:52:00 - Discussion of Planning Commission's request for a Building Endangement Fund
  • 1:54:00 - Discussion of purchase of Davis Field, but further discussion of whether enough money is in budget
  • 1:55:20 - Daly says he has a solution, but does not want to discuss it in open session
  • 1:57:00 - Discussion of stormwater initiatives
  • 2:00:40 - Brown expresses concern about the source of funding for stormwater initiatives
  • 2:08:30 - Discussion switches to Charlottesville Housing Fund and Mayor Norris' request to increase it
  • 2:15:00 - Public comment from Colette Hall

March 19, 2010

County water authority expands capital budget while board looks to trim operations

DailyProgress
By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, March 19, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority has unveiled a proposed $35 million budget for next fiscal year, a 14.8% increase over the current year. The bulk of the additional expenditures are related to capital improvement projects for the County’s public sewer facilities.

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New revenues in the budget include further increases in connection fees paid by developers for access to ACSA’s water and sewer lines. However, there are no proposed rate increases for the authority’s residential and commercial customers.

Download Download ACSA's proposed budget for FY2011

The FY 2011 budget, which includes both operational and capital expenses, allocates $13.1 million for sewer-related projects next year. A key project is a new pump station to replace the aging Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant in northern Albemarle County. Debt for that project will be repaid with the proceeds of a special rate district.

While most of the new spending in the budget is related to building and maintaining infrastructure, the Board of Directors was mostly concerned with finding ways to reduce the authority’s operational costs.  The operational budget is proposed to increase by 3%.

20100318-Martin John Martin
“The [Albemarle County] Board of Supervisors is making drastic cuts and they’re not increasing [their] tax rate,” said ACSA Board member John Martin. “It seems to me that we’re obligated to do the same thing.”

As examples, Martin pointed to a request for two new positions in the ACSA’s information technology section. He also said the authority should reduce its budget by only covering training required for employees that need to be certified to operate equipment. Martin also suggested following the county’s example by freezing existing positions if staff determines the new positions are necessary.

 “We’re part of government and it seems to me we need to discuss whether or not we’re going to conform our budget policy-wise to what the county’s doing,” Martin said.

Other members of the board agreed with Martin that the operational budget needed to be re-examined.

“I would be hard pressed to vote for a budget that exceeds this year’s budget,” said Richard Carter. “However you cut it, I don’t know.”

The developers who will be asked to provide more of the revenues currently pay four separate fees to connect to the system. Water connection fees will increase by 8%, and sewer fees will increase by 3%.

When all four fees are added up, the cost of connecting a typical new home to the system will increase from a current total of $10,040 to $10,505. The budget projects collecting $2.3 million from fees in the coming year, based on an estimate that 206 new “equivalent residential connections” will be made.

Last year, the ACSA raised water connection fees by 58% and sewer connection fees by 30%.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local business advocacy group, said he was glad to see smaller increases, but said the fees could be a challenge for some home builders.

“The development community continues to be challenged by increases in monopolies such as the ACSA,” Williamson said.

A full presentation of the FY 2011 budget will be given by staff to the Board during a work session on April 1. A public hearing will be held at the Board’s regular meeting on April 15.

March 18, 2010

Albemarle Supervisors set tax rate for advertisement and commit to funding YMCA

20100317-Boyd
Albemarle County Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

On March 17, 2010, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors held their fourth work session related to the FY 2011 budget.  During this meeting, the Board reiterated its commitment to provide $2.03 million to the Piedmont Family YMCA for construction of its new facility in McIntire Park, received an update on school funding, reviewed proposed additions to the budget, and discussed capital funding needs. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board voted 4-2 to advertise a real estate property tax rate of 74.2 cents for the 2010 calendar year (Boyd, Dorrier, Snow & Thomas in favor; Mallek & Rooker against).

Having set the maximum tax rate, the County budget will proceed to a public hearing on March 31st.  The Board is expected to adopt a final budget and tax rate at their meeting on April 7th.

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TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 00:01:36 - Supervisor Rodney Thomas (Rio) reads motion certifying closed meeting.  A topic in the closed meeting was the contract to provide $2.03 in funding to the Piedmont Family YMCA.  Three Supervisors had expressed interest in reconsidering those funds at a work session earlier in the week.
  • 00:02:12 - Statement by Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett), on behalf of the board, reiterating the County's support for providing $2.03 million in capital funding for the construction of the YMCA facility.
  • 00:02:52 - County Executive Bob Tucker introduces budget work session
  • 00:03:15 - Ron Price, Chairman of the Albemarle County School Board, updates the board on the state budget's impact on the school's budget.
  • 00:35:00 - Richard Wiggans, Albemarle County Director of Finance, provides update on the general fund revenues from the state. The state budget provides and additional $350,000 to local gov (excluding schools).
  • 00:38:00 - Tucker informs the board that a 76.2 cent tax rate covers budget additions proposed by Supervisors w/ 2 cents dedicated for capital needs.
  • 00:40:00 - Supervisors ask questions about Family Support Workers and Bright Stars Program.
  • 00:44:30 - Supervisor Ken Boyd expresses concerns about "picking out winners and losers" in the course of the board's discussion as to whether anything should be added back to Tucker's budget.
  • 00:45:35 - Albemarle Supervisors begin reviewing list of 10 proposed additions to budget totaling about $440,000. The board has made no reductions to Tucker's budget.
  • 01:06:35 - Supervisors discussing restoration of $158,657 to level fund regional library system. Boyd has suggested in 2 previous meetings withdrawing from Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (JMRL) system.
  • 01:07:13 - Clark Draper, Scottsville Town Administrator, speaks in support of Scottsville Library and Scottsville Community Center.
  • 01:13:15 - Boyd says he will support library funding and asks for consideration of regional library system in the board's June 2010 strategic planning mtg.
  • 01:15:45 - Tim Tolson, JMRL Trustee, says if libraries are level-funded he will recommend other methods for closing a remaining $85,000 budget deficit without resorting to cutting of hours at Scottsville and Crozet branches.  Albemarle Supervisors reach consensus to level fund regional library system w/ $158,657 addition to Tucker's budget.
  • 01:23:20 - Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) says she supports adding 2 cents to Albemarle's 74.2 cent tax rate to generate additional $3.073 million for capital budget.
  • 01:24:05 - Mallek raises issue of capital funding reduction for Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad (liquidating prior years' allocations in capital budget).
  • 01:28:15 - Supervisors reviewing pros and cons of tax rate adjustments and Albemarle's capital needs.
  • 01:31:14 - Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) says he wants to represent people who have e-mailed him asking that Albemarle's tax rate not be raised
  • 01:31:57 - Rooker advocates for tax rate increase from 74.2, but below 'equalized rate' in order to support capital funding
  • 01:33:42 - Boyd encourages board to hold the line on tax rate and make tough decisions like those being made by business sector
  • 01:36:40 - Boyd makes motion to advertise real estate property tax rate of 74.2 cents (2009 rate) for calendar year 2010.
  • 01:37:20 - Rooker says he has never seen a County budget that has not invested in capital needs
  • 01:39:30 - Mallek says most of her constituents have said they can pay same as they paid last year (i.e. equalized rate)
  • 01:40:47 - Rooker says community should 'keep taxes about the same' (i.e. not a tax cut as provided by 74.2 rate) and have a 'modest capital budget instead of no capital budget.'
  • 01:43:35 - Boyd says, 'The times demand that we give taxpayers a break.'
  • 01:44:52 - Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) says the public will see we are making 'wise investments at the local level.'
  • 01:45:35 - Albemarle Supervisors vote 4-2 (Rooker & Mallek against) to advertise 74.2 cent real estate property tax rate (current rate)

County planners endorse loosening of restrictions on Albemarle wineries

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

The Albemarle Planning Commission has endorsed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance that will give local farm wineries more opportunities to sell their products and hold special events. 

“These are amendments that will… provide wineries as well as the public a clearer understanding of what is allowed,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s planning director.

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In 2007, the General Assembly passed legislation that limited the ability of localities to regulate activities at wineries in order to promote economic development. For the past two years, county staff have been working with local grape growers to amend the ordinance and bring it in line with Virginia law.

Albemarle currently restricts the amount of people who are allowed to attend special events held at wineries to no more than 150 people. Wineries need to apply for a special use permit if attendance is expected to exceed that amount. Additionally, these special events can only be held 12 times a year.

The ordinance change would raise the by-right attendance figure to 200, with permits being required for events that exceed that amount.  Further, there would no longer be a limit to the number of special events that can be held.

Full-fledged restaurants will still be prohibited at farm wineries, but the ordinance clears the way for wineries to operate kitchens to provide finger-foods, appetizers and soups.

Chad Zakaib, general manager of Jefferson Vineyards, thanked county staff for working hard to understand the needs of local winemakers.

“It is not an easy business, but it will be made less challenging by virtue of the clarity that this ordinance will provide,” Zakaib said during the commission’s public hearing on Tuesday.

Planning Commission Chairman Tom Loach said additional visitors to wineries would mean additional cars in the rural areas. He pointed out that parking at the planned Byrom Park in northern Albemarle County was reduced to less than 50 spaces in order to satisfy the concerns of its neighbors.

“We have a 400 acre park with [room for] adequate parking but we’re only allowing 37 parking spaces,” Loach said. “Yet, there could be a winery next door to it and that would allow 100 plus cars.”

Planning Commissioner Duane Zobrist said he understood Loach’s concern, but that the county’s hands were tied.

“I think the problem is that the state legislature has mandated that we give these wineries an awful lot of breadth,” Zobrist said. 

Cilimberg said the commission could further amend the ordinance to include parking requirements for events that require a special use permit.

Wineries will still have to work with the Virginia Department of Transportation to ensure that entrances to the wineries are adequate. Department of Health officials must check to make sure kitchens are sanitary.

The item will go before the Board of Supervisors at their first meeting in May, according to Cilimberg.

Annette Boyd, marketing coordinator for the Virginia Wine Council, said most wineries in the Commonwealth are family-run. While she estimates that the industry had close to $70 million in sales last year, promoting agribusiness can achieve a more important environmental goal.

“Wineries provide for land preservation,” Boyd said in an interview. “If it was just about the money, farmers could make more money by building condominiums.”