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October 27, 2010

League of Women Voters explains support for water plan

Lwv-panel

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The League of Women Voters of Charlottesville/Albemarle held a forum Tuesday to explain how they reached the decision to support the water supply plan adopted in 2006 by City Council and the Board of Supervisors.

The event was part of the League’s Treva Cromwell series, named after the woman who served as chair of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority during 1979-1986.

“[Cromwell] and others recognized the need for water supply planning because it was anticipated that the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, built in 1966, would have inadequate water storage by 2050,” said Lois Rochester, a past president of the League.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101026-LWV-Forum

The League’s Natural Resources Committee long been involved in local water supply and watershed issues. Rochester said that in the 1980’s, the group supported a plan to build a new reservoir in the Buck Mountain area. However, that alternative was later dropped in part because federal regulators were concerned about the presence of the endangered Jamesriver spineymussel.

“They looked unfavorably on new reservoirs if other alternatives could be found,” Rochester said.

League member Liz Palmer (also a current member of the Albemarle County Service Authority board) explained at the forum that after the Buck Mountain decision, the RWSA restarted the process of identifying new water supply storage options. One proposal was to pump water via a new pipeline from the James River at Scottsville.

In 2005, the League joined an informal coalition called Drink Local Water to promote an alternative plan featuring a larger reservoir at Ragged Mountain and a new supply pipeline  from South Fork. That option had the environmental benefit of returning natural streamflows to the Moormans River where water has been withdrawn since 1925 to supply Ragged Mountain.

City and county governments adopted that plan over the James River pipeline in June 2006, and it received federal and state permits in 2008.

However, a different City Council voted in September to amend the plan to add restorative dredging and to build a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir in phases. Doing so would require existing permits to be amended.

“DEQ’s bottom line is that any modification to permits would have to go through a full public  notice and comment process again,” said former Mayor Kay Slaughter, who recently retired from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “And if they considered it a new project, you might have to restart the process.”

Slaughter said she only appeared at the League’s forum to explain the regulatory framework and not to weigh in on the plan. In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, she expressed continued support for the 2006 plan, but said it was up to city and county elected officials to come to an agreement.

“The city and county has worked together for years on [water supply planning] and I’m for finding the common ground and not exacerbating the conflict on either side,” Slaughter said.  “I do think it is distressing that we’re still dealing with re-deciding these things. There’s always new information and I do agree that you need to adjust plan. But this is something that we need to decide on and move ahead.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:30 - Introduction from LWV Vice President Sue Friedman
  • 17:40 - Liz Palmer discusses how the LWV worked on the adopted 2006 plan
  • 27:00 - Bill Kittrell of the Nature Conservancy explains in-stream flows
  • 37:45 - Kay Slaughter explains the regulations around permiting of water plans
  • 50:00 - Sally Thomas updates the League on next steps

Former water official calls for shut down of Ragged Mountain Reservoir for safety reasons

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

20101026.Martin
Former ACSA board member John Martin

A former board member of Albemarle County’s water authority is calling for state officials to shut down the Ragged Mountain Reservoir for safety reasons if Charlottesville and Albemarle do not quickly agree to a water plan.

As a result, another state agency is being asked to resolve the community’s water supply debate.

John Martin resigned last month from the Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors, saying he intended to “vigorously defend” the 50-year community water supply plan. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation calling for some dam operating permits to be revoked, a tactic he hopes will renew the city’s support for the water plan originally approved in 2006.

Download Download Martin's letter to DCR

Listen Listen to the meeting podcast

“The behavior of this community with respect to the differences on the water supply plan are both unfortunate and inexcusable,” Martin told board members of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority at their meeting Tuesday. “There is no reason … why DCR should be further patient with us to get our act together and delay needed safety improvements at the Ragged Mountain reservoirs which are endangering lives.”

Later in the meeting, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said he favored asking the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to come to Charlottesville and facilitate a final compromise between “squabbling children.” Norris specifically wants the DEQ to provide feedback on a compromise water plan adopted by the City Council but opposed by Albemarle County.

“How do we get Rivanna, i.e. all of us, on the same page, and it may not be possible, about the best path forward?” Norris asked. “So that we can address these dam safety issues, so that we can address the water supply … and not squabble about this for many more months or years to come.”

In response to Martin’s comments, Betty Mooney, representing Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, called for the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam to be repaired immediately. Mooney opposes the 2006 water plan, which calls for a new, taller dam to be built all at once.

“I would say go ahead now, finally, and just do the repair, you’ve got the money,” Mooney said. “The only thing you need to do now is repair that [dam’s] spillway and it makes sense to do it.”

Martin’s letter asks that the renewal of the dams’ operating permits be denied when they are heard by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 18.

The permits have been renewed on a regular basis since 1978, when state officials first identified safety concerns in the dams’ designs. The current permits are set to expire November 30.

In an interview, Martin said he hoped the city would see that “the state holds some cards too” in the water dispute, because without the permits Ragged Mountain would have to be removed from service for the urban water supply.

“The only way to protect the dam is to get the water out of it,” Martin said. “The next 23 days are critically important. Nobody wants to see our reservoir drained.”

The RWSA received a six-month extension on the permits last May after receiving an update on the water plan’s implementation schedule. Thomas L. Frederick, the RWSA’s executive director, said Tuesday that planning for a new dam was tracking about a month behind the schedule he shared with state officials.

The City Council has since voted to pursue an alternative water plan, which seeks phased construction of a new dam. Without agreement on a final dam design, the remainder of the water plan is at risk of falling further behind schedule.

Martin’s letter is addressed to Steve Snell, a state dam safety engineer. Snell recently informed RWSA staff that he was concerned to hear city officials had concluded the existing dam was safe.

“[Officials] have repeatedly stated that the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam is inadequate, with the Federal Government judging the dam ‘seriously inadequate,’” Snell wrote in an e-mail to the RWSA in July. “ In no circumstances should this be interpreted as indicating that the dam is ‘safe’. I feel it would be incorrect for RWSA, as stewards of the dam, to represent the dam as ‘safe’ in any communication to its Board or to the public.”

Gary O’Connell, the ACSA’s executive director, asked Frederick if he had ever heard of a dam permit not getting renewed.

“It’s always hard to put yourself in the mind of other board members, especially when you have a changing governor and changes in people who are on [the Soil and Water Conservation Board],” Frederick responded. “Obviously we have gone to them requesting extensions several times and they have granted each of our requests to date.”

“If they deny the extension, it puts us in a very difficult position,” Norris said. “The easiest and quickest way to resolve the matter … is to go in and fix the spillway, and spend millions of dollars to do that, which I think all of us would agree would be a really unfortunate outcome because it hinders our ability to proceed with any other options.”

The next meeting of the RWSA board is scheduled for Nov. 23.

October 24, 2010

Debate continues on costs and approach for long term water supply plan

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has stockpiled $7.1 million in anticipation of financing a 50-year water supply plan for the region.

Because of the cash on hand, RWSA officials predict wholesale water rates won’t go up in Albemarle or Charlottesville in the immediate future because of the initial water-plan projects, but what happens down the road remains unknown.

The reason: Too many variables on the plan still need to be resolved, including:

20070913-RWSA-debt
Slide from a September 2007 RWSA presentation outlining debt financing implications for three phasing scenarios of 2006 water supply plan.  Since implementation has been delayed, $7.1 million in reserves have accumulated.

Lonnie Wood, director of finance and administration for the RWSA, said the reserve fund has climbed to $7.1 million because of the delays in the water plan’s implementation.

“Other projects have been taken out of the capital budget or pushed into future years,” said Wood in an interview.

While Wood waits for direction on a specific water plan, his financial forecasts show future borrowing will be lessened, and that he says is good news for his two customers, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the City of Charlottesville.

“We will use more cash up front, than was anticipated in 2007,” said Wood. “That makes the need for debt service lower which means we can keep the water rate steady or reduce it a little bit.”

Dede Smith, a representative of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, has encouraged the public to look at the long-term economics of both the costs of the water plan and what she predicts will be decreased water usage.

“Its deceptive for them to lead people on that this plan is not going to raise water rates,” said Smith in an interview. “It is going to raise rates, and people better hold on to their seats.”

The 50-year plan was originally approved by City Council and county supervisors in 2006. The estimated $142 million plan included building a taller dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir, a new pipeline from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mountain and associated support infrastructure.

Since 2006, the water plan has turned into one of the most contentious public policy debates in regional history.

COMPETING APPROACHES

The 2006 water plan continues to have the backing of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, a point driven home by a decision to insert a two-page flyer in the mailing of this month’s personal property tax bills.

Supervisors said in the statement that they wanted “to speak directly to county citizens about the factual and objective reasons why our support for the Plan remains firm.”

Meanwhile, in September City Council endorsed a revised water plan that they say includes most of what the county wants.  The city’s wants the Ragged Mountain dam to be built in phases, as water is needed, as opposed to building it all at once.  It also includes dredging to restore water storage capacity at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

With the city’s compromise proposal on the table, the flyer from the board of supervisors provoked a strong reaction from Councilor Kristin Szakos.

“Do you intend that Charlottesville City Council should just walk away from our negotiations on the water plan?” asked Szakos in an e-mail published by NBC29. “That certainly seems to be the intent of your proposed flyer, which is neither factual nor objective.  It draws lines in the sand before any final agreement has been reached.”

WHICH PLAN IS MOST COST EFFECTIVE?

The competing plans now have in common a new water supply pipeline that will pump water from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir up to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  That pipeline’s most recent cost estimate is about $62.9 million.  The aging Sugar Hollow Pipeline will be retired restoring natural stream flows to the Moorman’s River which has had water diverted from it since 1925.

The water plans also share a commitment to upgrading the water treatment plants and related pipelines.  The RWSA estimates those projects have a cost of about $39 million.

Thus about $102 million in projects have already received the backing of both localities.  The lingering debate focuses on the approach to creating new water supply storage capacity. 

The earthen dam preferred by the county has a high-end cost estimate of about $40.7 million which brings the capital cost of the entire 2006 water plan to about $142.6 million.

City officials say the up-front costs of the water plan can be limited while waiting to see how much water the community needs in future decades.  County officials say the long-term costs could be even greater if construction on a plan doesn’t begin soon. 

Faulconer Construction built the community’s previous two dams at Sugar Hollow (1947) and South Fork (1966).  Vince Derr, who retired earlier this year as Faulconer’s Executive Vice President, said in an interview that the construction market is currently very favorable.

“This is a good climate for the construction customer, and not a good climate for construction companies,” said Derr.  “Prices are very low, and probably as good a bargain as someone could get in the foreseeable future.”

The costs of the city’s approach to a phased dam and dredging are both unknown.  The city hired Black & Veatch to evaluate building on top of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam, but that firm’s preliminary cost estimates didn’t take into account the cost of phasing.  Further, their recommendations are now going to be reviewed by an outside panel of dam experts in late November.

City and county officials have agreed to put out a request for proposals for more specific pricing on dredging, but as a separate project from the water plan.  City council wants a commitment to dredging to keep the initial dam at Ragged Mountain as small as possible.

FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTIES

Smith, who said she does not personally support the city’s compromise plan, observed that the cost sharing arrangement for the water plan remains to be negotiated.  She said the cost allocation could negatively impact the ratepayers, particularly in Albemarle.

“There are many other influences on the bills too, like wastewater repairs,” added Smith.  “We need to understand how this whole plan will impact our rates and ask ourselves if we can afford it.”

Wood said his five-year forecast is based on the 2003 cost sharing agreement and he acknowledged that the costs in future years for the water supply was a different matter which would be impacted by a variety of factors. 

For example, Wood said the costs of dredging, added to the construction of a new dam, could be a factor leading to water rates increases.

“If you are going to pay cash [for dredging]…then you are taking cash that would go to debt service and spending it on operational needs,” said Wood.  “You can’t build [the water plan] and do dredging, without having more revenue.”

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris disagrees and says the city’s water plan, because it includes a less costly dam initially, will actually save the community money.

“If you are talking about a $40 million outlay [for the dam], plus dredging, there would certainly be greater costs,” said Norris in an interview.  “I am talking about something much more modest.”

Norris says that he estimates the first phase of the Ragged Mountain Dam can be built for about $14 million and that dredging can be done on a pay as you go basis with cash for about $22 million.

“When you factor in the long term interest, I estimate you would save about $25 million,” said Norris.

When city council voted on a water plan in late September, councilor Dave Brown observed there were some financial uncertainties to the city’s approach.

“If [the opponents of the larger dam at Ragged Mountain] are right and we do a great job conserving [water], then we will have dredged some and conserved a lot and made the dam a little higher and saved money,” said Brown.  “If the people are wrong, we will have spent more money, but we will have the ability to make the dam bigger.”

City and county officials plan to send a letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality explaining the city’s proposal and seeking feedback as to whether it would receive the support of the regulators.

“If I were DEQ I would say, ‘I am tired of dealing with this,’” said Norris.  “They just want to see the city and county on the same page.” 

Norris said he remains optimistic that a compromise is close and the community will soon have a fifty-year water plan ready for implementation.

October 22, 2010

Fire station slopes waiver prompts requests for Pantops community room

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 22, 2010

Fire-station-map
 

The last two fire stations built by Albemarle County feature training rooms that can be used by community groups for meetings. Now, one planning commissioner is calling for a planned Pantops station to include one as well.

“If we are building a public building, let’s make it for multiple uses,” said commissioner Cal Morris during a public hearing on a critical slopes waiver required for the new station.

The station is to be built on land donated to the county by the Worrell Land & Development Company, the developers of Peter Jefferson Place. The conditions of the donation specify that the facility is to be sited at the location of an existing maintenance shed. The Planning Commission endorsed the location for the station in September 2009.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101019-APC-Pantops

The slopes waiver application asked for permission to disturb less than a quarter of an acre to allow for construction of a one story 9,889 square foot building. However, the public hearing and commission discussion focused on the possibility of adding community space, and not the particulars of the requested slopes disturbance.

Dick Jennings, the chair of the Pantops Community Advisory Council, said the Pantops community does not have its share of county resources.

“There are no schools… there are no churches within the development area boundaries, there are no police stations,” Jennings said. “We on the Pantops council would like to be able to enhance the quality of life on Pantops and start a conversation about how to strengthen the quality of the community.”

The county fire chief said he did not think the Pantops station was an appropriate location for a community space.

“This particular station, just because of the constraints of the site and the owner’s desire to move it back as far as possible really limited our opportunity to add any additional community space or other amenities to this station,” said Dan Eggleston. He suggested the community ask Martha Jefferson Hospital if there is any community space on their new campus.

The plan is for the station to initially open in the spring of 2013 with six full-time crewmembers.  There will be one engine with volunteers staffing the station on nights and weekends, according to Eggleston. As currently designed, there are only 12 parking spaces on the site. The long-term goal is to add a second engine and an ambulance.

Ron Lilley with the county’s office of facilities development said the building’s footprint was reduced due to budget cuts, leaving no room for community space. The plan is currently to spend $3 million on the building.

He said the county has not discussed the possibility of two stories with Worrell, but a memorandum of understanding between the county and Worrell restrict the use to fire-rescue only.

“They have a real sensitivity to maintaining an open space field to that parcel as much as possible,” Lilley said.

Download Download Memorandum of Understanding between Worrell and Albemarle

After a unanimous vote approving the waiver request, Morris asked Lilley and Eggleston to approach the Worrell group and specifically ask if they would accept a two story building.

“There are ways of doing this,” Morris said.

David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said the planned Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Park also offered opportunities for community meeting spaces.


ACSA will fund earthen dam design

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 22, 2010


The Albemarle County Service Authority has agreed to pay for the final design work on a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

The water authority will pay up to $869,000 to Schnabel Engineering to produce a final design, which will be completed by April.

The city of Charlottesville has not agreed to construction of a new full-height earthen dam. The City Council prefers the dam to be built in phases in conjunction with dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101021-ACSA-Water

 

 

20101021-Webster-Frederick
RWSA executive director Tom Frederick (right) was on hand to answer questions, as was Chris Webster of Schnabel Engineering (background)

At the September meeting of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, city and county officials could not agree on whether to continue paying Schnabel for design work, given the uncertainties about the approach. Mayor Dave Norris suggested that the ACSA pay for the work, given that the city has paid for studies on dredging and the feasibility of repairing and expanding the existing dam at Ragged Mountain.

ACSA’s executive director, Gary O’Connell, said he needed a vote from his board before he could commit the funds.

“There is the risk of the work being authorized and funded, but no agreement to build,” O’Connell said.

“This seems to me to have the potential to save us millions of dollars,” O’Connell added, saying that money spent now to continue design work would allow the RWSA to take advantage of a competitive bidding environment if a decision is made to build a new dam.

In comparison, the winning bid for the North Fork Regional Pump Station, one of the ACSA’s own capital projects, came in at $4.9 million, below the estimate of $6.12 million.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction and I thought it was a positive motion for the mayor to suggest this,” said ACSA board Chairman Clarence Roberts.

With respect to whether Schnabel designs a dam that can be built all at once, or in phases, engineer Chris Webster said work will first be done on the dam’s foundation, as well as a drainage tunnel to convey water through the dam to avoid seepage. After that, blueprints for the dam itself will be designed, requiring a decision on its ultimate height within three months.

ACSA board Vice Chairwoman Liz Palmer said she is opposed to phasing the dam.

“To build the base of the dam in order to phase in the future, we would be paying basically 99 percent of what we would if we just built the dam all the way,” Palmer said.

20101021-Colbaugh
Jim Colbaugh

ACSA board member Jim Colbaugh said he would accept limiting the size of the reservoir by not filling it up with water all the way, but wanted to avoid building the dam in a piecemeal fashion.

“It just doesn’t sound right in my mind; it would be terrible to do that,” Colbaugh said. “I just hope we can move forward in six months with actual construction.”

Colbaugh said he could support paying for the rest of the design work because the city has established a precedent of paying for the study of water supply alternatives.

“The city has spent a half-million on their own,” Colbaugh said. “I feel comfortable recognizing the work the city has done, and I feel comfortable moving forward on the next six months of dam design.”

On Tuesday, the RWSA will discuss how to proceed with the city’s wish to issue a request for proposals to dredge the South Fork. One decision that came out of a September meeting of the four boards was to follow a recommendation from HDR Engineering to pursue a first phase of dredging separate from the water supply plan.

However, Norris has indicated he would like the RWSA to pursue a much broader course of action.
O’Connell sought direction from his board on how to represent them in that discussion.

Palmer said the ACSA should only support the first phase and should indicate an unwillingness to go further.

“We’ve already said that Rivanna has paid for its five-year capital improvement program without raising wholesale rates,” Palmer said. “If we start adding other things in there … we’re concerned that there will be more price involved and it will interfere with the 50-year plan.”

However, Colbaugh said he would be OK with seeking more information

“It’s just more information that we have, and why not get it?” Colbaugh asked. “Get the RFP, have it focused on phase 1 and provide alternatives for the full dredging and see what someone comes up with.”

ACSA member Dave Thomas made a motion directing O’Connell to express the ACSA’s support for phase 1 dredging and its support for the possibility of further dredging. However, Thomas made clear in his motion that the ACSA takes no position yet on whether further dredging is “feasible, economical, or desirable.”

The motion passed 3-2 with both Palmer and Richard Carter voting against.

October 21, 2010

Businesses benefitting from faster sign reviews in Albemarle

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Businesses applying to install signs in Albemarle County are seeing a 70 percent reduction in total review time, down from 77 days in 2008 to 23 days in 2010. That’s a key finding in this year’s review of the county’s sign ordinances, according to Ron Higgins, Albemarle’s zoning chief.

“We are making improvements … and we think we can do better than that,” Higgins said at a Planning Commission work session Tuesday.

What do you think?
Subscribe to get the poll results on Monday

Commissioners said they were pleased with the initial results and the feedback received at two roundtables with local stakeholders. They asked staff to continue to focus on process improvements rather than relaxing Albemarle’s sign standards.

“I’d rather see you drill down and work on process so that your main goal is customer service,” Commissioner Tom Loach said.

“I agree with that wholeheartedly,” Commissioner Duane Zobrist said. “Let’s use the ordinance to simplify the process, but let’s not mess up norms that we’ve established over a long period of time in the county.”

The review of sign ordinances was triggered by a plan approved at the Board of Supervisors’ first meeting in January. The primary focus of the action plan, prepared by Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, was to make increasing economic development “the top fiscal priority for Albemarle County.”

The county’s sign regulations were highlighted as an example of unfriendly business practices during last year’s supervisor elections. Tom Slonaker, owner of the Forest Lakes Arby’s, lost a court case against the county last October after he was fined for displaying signs without appropriate permits.

Boyd’s plan called for Albemarle to re-examine sign regulations “to ensure they do not overly restrict economic vitality of area businesses” while “maintaining quality aesthetic values.”

Tuesday’s work session allowed the commission to discuss staff’s preliminary recommendations. Public hearings for a zoning text amendment that would introduce further process and regulatory changes will be held in early 2011.

According to Higgins, the data now show that faster reviews of sign applications are happening even though the county has fewer staff members handling about the same number of applications.

“There is a lot of coaching that’s gone on,” Higgins said. “We try and help someone understand the process and what they need to give us. The biggest obstacle to getting a sign approved fast is giving us what we need to look at.”

“One thing that has been evident in the discussions with various stakeholders is the perception that the process takes too much time and effort on the applicant’s part,” Higgins wrote in the staff report. “We have not heard a large outcry about the standards themselves.”

Representatives of area environmental groups, who favor stringent sign ordinances, urged the commission to focus on process improvements, as the large majority of the business leaders providing feedback supported Albemarle’s standards.

“To me this reminds me of the old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” said Morgan Butler, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“The statement suggests that there is no clear need for ordinance changes to allow more signs, to allow bigger signs, to allow higher signs,” Butler said. “Yet some of the proposed changes … are a bit surprising, because that’s what they would allow.”

Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, said he thought the county’s review was heading in a positive direction.

“A business-friendly environment is one that welcomes well-regulated signs, but also welcomes signs,” Williamson said. “I think the discussion has been good, and I think that much of what is going on is moving favorably and I’m appreciative of the process.”

Activists share lessons on making cycling safer

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 21, 2010

 

20101020-Panel-Norris
Dave Norris introduces the delegation from Harrisonburg

A Harrisonburg group offered suggestions Wednesday night on how Charlottesville might become a more bike-friendly community.

Mayor Dave Norris and the group Bike Charlottesville invited members of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition to share what they learned during a March visit to Davis, Calif.

“Tonight is about learning new ideas and building best practices so we can go up another level,” Norris said.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101020-Bike-Charlottesville

Davis is one of only three places in the nation to attain a “platinum” rating as a “bicycle friendly community” from the League of American Bicyclists. The League gave Charlottesville a “bronze” rating in 2003, a level it has maintained ever since.

Like Charlottesville, Davis is a university town of 10 square miles. In 1960, the city’s population was under 10,000 but is now estimated to be around 65,000.

“They were able to build their community with bikes in mind,” said Thanh Dang, who works in Harrisonburg’s public works department.

A key feature in Davis has been the creation of publicly owned greenbelts, which are linear parks with shared-use paths. These provide bike and pedestrian connections between major centers in the community. In 2001, Davis required new developments to set aside at least 10 percent of their land for greenbelts.

“Now that’s helping developers coordinate with the city to make connectivity,” said Thomas Jenkins, who went on the trip. “They’ve done it really well.”

Davis has planned its neighborhoods around these greenbelts, and charges impact fees to help pay for them. The city employs a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator who reviews development proposals to recommend improvements to make them more bike-friendly.

“They’re required to put the paths in, and then the city maintains them afterward. They have a plan from the ground up to put these pieces together,” said Tom Benevento of the New Community Project.

In one example of how far Davis has gone to build its network, the city purchased a house and demolished it specifically to convert the land into a greenway. The city does not have school buses because children have safe routes to school.

In addition to the greenbelts, Davis has more than 48 miles of on-street bike lanes, grade-separated intersections and separate traffic signals for bikes. Most major roads in Davis are wide enough for two cyclists to ride next to each other, in part because they were designed with bike lanes.

However, panelists acknowledged that both Harrisonburg and Charlottesville are older communities with older road networks than require different solutions.

“Because of all the retrofitting we have to do, we can’t use the same space,” said Lara Mack of the New Community Project.

Harrisonburg adopted its first bicycle plan in 1994, but didn’t actually fund bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure until 2005. In 2007, Harrisonburg city staff began working with citizen groups to come up with new ideas and the trip to Davis was an extension of this new energy, according to coalition members.

“One of the things we were surprised to see in Davis was the full-circle dynamic between citizens and city staff,” Jenkins said. “It was so neat to see them experiment.”

Charlottesville traffic engineer Jeannie Alexander said she was interested in learning first-hand about other experiences.

“My sense of the community is that we’re interested in pursuing more bicycle and pedestrian amenities,” Alexander said. “What that’s going to look like is to be determined.”

Charlottesville trail planner Chris Gensic said it is likely the city will climb at least one level when the League of American Bicyclists does a reevaluation.

“There are a number of major trail projects close to construction,” Gensic said. “They include the [U.S.] 250 Bypass trail, the coal tower trail from Meade Avenue to the Pavilion and the Meadow Creek trail from the new Whole Foods to Pen Park … I don’t think we’ll leap to platinum right away, but within 10 years it is possible.”

October 19, 2010

ASAP slideshow on Optimal Sustainable Population Size project

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On October 18, 2010, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population provided Charlottesville City Council with an update on their Optimal Sustainable Population Size research project, funded in part by the city and Albemarle County.

Charlottesville Tomorrow previewed this report in an article on October 18, 2010.

ASAP: Area must stabilize or reduce its population

Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population wants the Charlottesville area to become a model for the rest of the country when it comes to planning how to live within its means. Jack Marshall, ASAP’s president, says a fundamental change in thinking could lead to a stabilized or even reduced local population. Other local leaders think the group’s approach to limiting population growth is unrealistic.

“We must, if we care about having a sustainable community for our grandchildren, we must consume less and simultaneously we must stabilize our population size or even reduce the population size of our community,” Marshall said.

ASAP’s research is available on the organization’s website at www.ASAPnow.org.

This post includes an audio podcast as well as a complete slideshow of ASAP's presentation.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101018-ASAP-OSPS

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20101018-ASAP-slide
Click to view a narrated slideshow of the ASAP presentation and
listen to the discussion by Charlottesville City Council

Albemarle zoning official named to Charlottesville planning commission

By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Charlottesville Tomorrow

An Albemarle County code enforcement officer has been named as the newest member of the Charlottesville Planning Commission. Lisa D. Green is a Belmont resident and one of six people interviewed by City Council to replace Bill Emory on the Commission.

“I believe I have a civic duty as a home owner and a resident of Charlottesville to have a vested interest in growth and development of my community,” Green wrote in her application to serve on the commission.

Green, a Tennessee native, moved to Charlottesville from Alexandria in June of 2001. She currently works for Albemarle County’s Department of Community Development.

Green said she was attracted to Charlottesville because it has the amenities of a big city but also a slower pace of life. She bought her house in Belmont shortly before the restaurant Mas opened up on Hinton Avenue. In April 2009, Green urged the planning commission to deny expansion of the neighborhood commercial corridor zoning district to allow a property owner to open another restaurant on the street.

“[Belmont] has definitely become more of a focal point of the city,” Green said. “It’s nice to be able to live and walk and be able to grab coffee or have dinner. But as with anyth0069ng, too much of anything is sometimes not the best for you.”

Green’s appointment comes at time when some in the community are questioning whether the strategy of growing more densely is wise. She said she is aware of the tension.

 “The challenge we have is to maintain our rich history and also change with the times and keep up with new technology and the new way of planning so that we can maintain that world class city status because that’s what we all strive for,” Green said “What people love about Charlottesville is that it is small.”

In 1992, Green graduated from Muscle Shoals Community College in northern Alabama with an associate’s degree in drafting and design technology. She has been a member of the Virginia Association of Zoning Officials, the Virginia Citizens Planning Association, the Virginia Board of Zoning Appeals, and the Virginia Zoning Officials Education Committee.

Closer to home, Green has served on the Belmont Neighborhood Association and has been a member of the Charlottesville Trail Running Club, the Charlottesville Bike Club, and the Albemarle County Wellness Committee.

 “Lisa impressed us with her breadth of experience with planning and zoning issues, her commitment to community engagement, her neighborhood advocacy work, and her understanding and appreciation for Charlottesville's diversity of populations and needs,” said Mayor Dave Norris in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Green calls herself an outdoors person, and said transportation issues are important to determining Charlottesville’s future character.

“The time has changed now where the focus is not necessarily on cars, but how our environment is changing,” she said.

Green’s first meeting will be a work session next Tuesday that begins at 5:00 in the Neighborhood Development Services’ conference room in City Hall.

October 18, 2010

Supervisors adopt Crozet master plan update

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, October 18, 2010

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved an update of the Crozet Master Plan.  The amendments to the twenty-year plan lower the ultimate population potential and seek to focus the community’s growth into three distinct areas.

 “The master plan continues to emphasize redevelopment of downtown,” said David Benish, Albemarle’s chief of planning at a public hearing last Wednesday. “Changes to the plan put greater emphasis on the three centers that have emerged, which is the Clover Lawn area, the Old Trail area and downtown.”

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101012-BOS-Crozet-Plan

20101013-BOS-Crozet-LandUseMap
Higher resolution images are available on Albemarle County's website

The plan’s first five-year update was adopted after two years of review from residents and the Crozet Community Advisory Council, a county-sanctioned body of citizens. The plan now envisions a Crozet population growing from 5,500 today to 12,000 by 2030, with an ultimate build-out of 18,000 at some time in the future. The previous plan was estimated to accommodate over 24,000 residents.

 

Three property owners along Crozet Avenue requested to have their land designated as mixed-use, rather than remain as transitional in nature. That would have allowed for the possibility of dense residential development or commercial buildings to be built adjacent to single-family homes.

“Over the past four years, I have received a total of 17 inquiries about the property I own to be used as some sort of business, but due to the present situation, not one of these offers could go forward,” said Tom Oakley, one of the property owners.

CCAC members said dense uses outside of the core downtown are not appropriate at this time. 
“The discussion and arguments and input that we had about what happens with those three pieces of property were gut-wrenching,” said CCAC member William Schrader.  “We felt like we needed to protect the homeowners of that area.”

However, the property owners’ request was championed by Supervisor Ken Boyd.

“I just have this very strong feeling for people’s personal property rights,” Boyd said. “People should be able to with their property what they want to do so long as it’s not… going to hurt a neighborhood.”

Before a motion was taken, Boyd asked supervisors if they would support changing the use to reflect the three property owners’ wishes. Supervisor Rodney Thomas said he was sympathetic to the landowners’ request, but Supervisor Ann Mallek disagreed.

“Is their right to do that more important than the rights of the landowners around them?” Mallek asked.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker pointed out to Boyd and Thomas that Crozet is within Mallek’s district.

“We ought to give some deference to the person whose district this master planning is taking place in, and who has attended all the meetings,” Rooker said. “I’m not prepared to second-guess that.” 
Boyd and Thomas eventually agreed, and the landowners’ requests were not granted in this revision of the plan.

Two requests to expand the Crozet growth area were considered as part of the revision, but the plan now states that expansion is not desired at this time.

“All new buildings for office, retail, and industrial uses should be located within the existing Community of Crozet,” reads the plan. “This Master Plan update recommends that the Rural Areas outside of the Community of Crozet remain rural, including the stretch of Route 250 West between the Development Area boundary and the interstate interchange.” 

2010-Yancey

Boyd said this language was prejudicial against a comprehensive plan amendment filed by the Yancey family to bring 184 acres into the development area. The Yancey’s plan to build an industrial park between U.S. 250 and I-64 did not get an up or down vote as part of the plan’s revision.

 “I don’t want to put anything into the record that says we’re not going to do this or that we’re discouraging anything that I personally want to look at later,” Boyd said. “Some members of this board want to look at [Yancey Mills] as a possibility and I’ve said all along that I don’t think that Crozet can dictate policy for the entire county.”

The other expansion request came from Celeste Ploumis, who sought a reclassification of her property at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 240 to allow for a garden center. Members of the CCAC were opposed to both requests because of the potential for adding to traffic congestion on the highway.

 “If you look at Crozet and you want to avoid sprawl mistakes, you realize that Route 250 functions as a bypass around where the intended density will go, which is in downtown,” said Mike Marshall, chairman of the CCAC.  “The master plan envisions a traditional downtown and gets around the problem we had in Albemarle in the 80’s and 90’s of not having a bypass around 29 by keeping 250 undeveloped.”

The plan also envisions a larger core downtown, with the site of the Barnes Lumber Yard reclassified as mixed use. That site may pave the way for a pedestrian mall in Crozet.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Staff report from David Benish
  • 05:30 - Question from Supervisor Boyd regarding fate of three requests for property's density to be increased
  • 14:00 - Boyd calls attention to language in the plan that restricts development along Route 250 in rural area
  • 17:45 - Boyd asks a question about the CIP
  • 24:30 - Public comment from Paul Grady in favor of Yancey Mills project
  • 28:00 - Public comment from Celeste Ploumis requesting her property be added to growth area
  • 31:45 - Public comment from Aden Ray requesting Ploumis property be added to growth area
  • 33:30 - Public comment from Mike Marshall of the Crozet Community Advisory Council
  • 37:00 - Public comment from Tom Oakley in favor of having his property converted to mixed use
  • 38:15 - Public comment from Meg Holden in defense of the master planning process
  • 41:00 - Public comment from Tom Murray, realtor for Ploumis
  • 42:50 - Public comment from Katurah Royell to discuss Barnes lumber yard
  • 45:45 - Public comment from Barbara Westbrook, formerly of the CCAC in support of the plan
  • 47:30 - Public comment from Tim Tolson of the CCAC in support of the plan
  • 49:20 - Public comment from Lucy Goeke of the CCAC in support of the plan
  • 50:30 - Public comment from Jenny Martin requesting her property be converted to mixed use
  • 55:15 - Public comment from Mary Gallo of the CCAC
  • 58:00 - Public comment from Richard Martin requesting his property be converted to mixed use
  • 1:01:30 - Public comment from Jo Higgins
  • 1:04:30 - Follow-up comment from Tom Murray, realtor for Ploumis
  • 1:05:30 - Public comment from William Schrader of the CCAC
  • 1:07:30 - Discussion returns to the Board of Supervisors, with question from Rodney Thomas
  • 1:10:00 - Boyd asks if Crozet would support mixed use designation for three properties if it brought jobs