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January 31, 2011

Landowners concerned about dumping of D.C. sewage in Albemarle

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 31, 2011

On Jan. 12, trucks carrying sewage from Washington’s main wastewater treatment plant arrived at Agnes Fotta’s farm on Reas Ford Road, less than half a mile from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

20110131-Sludge-application2
Sludge being applied on a field in Campbell County (Daily Progress file photo)

They began spraying treated human waste, also known as biosolids or sludge, as a way to both fertilize land and dispose of the waste.

Since 2001, Recyc Systems of Culpeper has held a permit to apply the material on land in Albemarle County. Last October, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit modification allowing the firm to apply sludge to an additional 590 acres, bringing the total in Albemarle to 6,438 acres.

No money is exchanged between the landowner and Recyc Systems. Recyc is paid by the wastewater treatment plant to haul the material away, and the landowner benefits by getting free fertilizer.
Some county landowners are growing concerned about the use of biosolids and the growth of its application.

“Sewage sludge was previously dumped in the ocean but this practice was banned in 1988,” said Earlysville resident Vincent Lytle. “Now that same sludge is being dumped in our backyards.”

Lytle first learned about sludge when he received a notification from the DEQ about the permit modification that was sent to the Loftlands Glen Homeowners’ Association. He contends biosolids are filled with heavy metals, pathogens and pharmaceutical waste.

He is seeking a public forum to evaluate whether the practice is safe.

However, Lytle was told a public hearing was not needed because DEQ rules only require one if the permit holder seeks to double the amount of land.

At least one member of the Board of Supervisors is concerned about the issue.

“We’re starting to see more and more problems with biosolids being directly delivered onto the fields,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “It’s starting to creep up against neighborhoods now and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

An industry spokesman defends the practice as environmentally sound.

“We hear those concerns expressed and they are legitimate, but they have been addressed in research and in the regulatory process,” said Ned Beecher, executive director of the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association.

Beecher acknowledged that heavy metals are present in biosolids, but only in trace amounts that pose no threat if applications are controlled.

“Research continues but the risk is not considered to be significant,” Beecher said.

Officials with Recyc Systems declined a request for an interview, but the company’s website claims the practice is safe.

“The good news about biosolids is that they are totally recyclable,” states the website. “Because they are organic, they can (and should) be returned to the earth as fertilizer for plants. … Field research has shown that biosolid nutrients work better than chemical fertilizers for plants, and increase crop yields.”

In a section on safety, Recyc’s website points to a 1992 EPA study that claimed there had been no documentation of biosolids causing illness or disease.

But since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted more research to better understand the chemical composition of treated human waste.

In January 2009, the EPA released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. Research is ongoing, but not fast enough, according to one critic of sludge.

“What has not been determined is what the safe limit is for the contaminants in the environment,” said Ed Kondis, a retired landowner from Fauquier County who became involved in the campaign to stop sludge after he learned a nearby farmer had agreed to accept it.

Kondis said the government’s approach has been to approve permits before demonstrating that the application of sludge is safe. Instead, he said they should have sought to do no harm.

“There have been no scientific studies done that prove it is safe for public health,” Kondis said.
In 2007, the General Assembly commissioned an expert panel to review the application of biosolids to see if they are safe and if they affect property values.

“The panel uncovered no evidence or literature verifying a causal link between biosolids and illness, recognizing current gaps in the science and knowledge surrounding this issue,” states the executive summary.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-and-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts.”

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority takes no position on the practice, according to Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick. He said the RWSA pays McGill Environmental Systems $43 per ton shipped to their facility in Waverly.

Until recently, biosolids were regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, but the General Assembly handed the approval process to the Department of Environmental Quality in 2007.

“I would say that biosolids are probably the most regulated organic material, tighter than fertilizer and animal residuals,” said Gary Flory, water compliance officer for the DEQ’s Shenandoah Valley office, and the man responsible for granting the permit.

Download Download DEQ's October 2010 permit modification for Recyc Systems in Albemarle County

The terms of the permit require Recyc to notify localities 100 days before application.

The firm must notify the DEQ 14 days before application, but Flory said it often happens that they are notified on the day of application.

The permit restricts what agricultural activities can occur on the land after application. For instance, livestock are not allowed to graze for 30 days after application to ensure that any pathogens that are present will have died.

To be granted a permit, operators must develop a plan to ensure nitrogen and phosphorous do not enter the watershed and buffer zones must be established.

Flory said Recyc Systems has never been cited for improperly discharging sludge in Albemarle.

“We have a field presence to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Flory said. “We do some inspections to make sure they’re flagging the buffers so you don’t have impact to groundwater.”

However, he said Recyc is currently being cited for two applications of sludge that occurred before the 100-day notification period to the county was up. Neither was on Fotta’s land.

Recyc’s permit has an expiration date of June 30, 2019, but Flory said it can be revoked “if there is a change in the science or current knowledge.”

It is unclear what, if anything, the county can do to regulate the practice.

“The county has limited authority related to the land application of sewage sludge under state law,” said Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner in an e-mail to Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who asked for the information in response to a request from Lytle.

In Blanton v. Amelia County, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local zoning regulations banning the practice are pre-empted by state law, according to Kamptner.

“DEQ finds out about a planned application of sewage sludge the day before a land application will occur and if it can free up an inspector, it does so,” Kamptner said.

Sludge has not yet been applied to Lytle’s neighbor’s land, and he remains concerned about the possibility of his family’s health being affected after it is.

“Why should I be subjected to the risk that my neighbors are willing to take?” Lytle asked.
Mallek sounds the same note.

20110131-Sludge-application
Daily Progress file photo showing sludge being applied in Albemarle County

“The unknowns in the biosolids are what alarms me,” Mallek said. “I predict that in another decade a decision will be made that these are not healthy behaviors and we should stop.”

However, Beecher said he does not think alternatives to using sludge as fertilizer are as attractive.

“The other options are to incinerate or put it in a landfill, both of which do not take advantage of the nutrients,” Beecher said. “However, it should be done with the understanding of the community.”

He said the benefits of returning organic material to soil outweighed the risks.

“Our soils have been depleted of organic matter,” Beecher said. “Nutrients provide additional support for better plant growth than can be attained with commercial fertilizer.”

City tuning zoning code to help keep music playing

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 31, 2011

When the City Council directed the Planning Commission to review how the city defines “music halls” in its zoning code, the action caused a stir among members of Charlottesville’s music community.

“Music and art on a core level are not to be considered a for-profit venture,” said Sam Bush, a local musician who operates a small venue called the Garage near Lee Park.

A staff memo that accompanied the directive said the Garage would receive a cease-and-desist letter because music events there were not in compliance with zoning. That prompted Bush to appear with several others to tell the council that the city was overstepping its bounds to shut down music.

Download Download staff report from Jim Tolbert

“That’s absolutely the furthest thing from the truth,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services. “We are not regulating music. It’s about whether a business is appropriate in a particular location.”

The city’s zoning code allows “incidental” music in all restaurants, meaning it must be non-amplified and played only while food is being served. If tables and chairs are moved to clear way for dancing, the venue is technically a “music hall,” according to the code. That requires the owner to pay $1,500 for a special-use permit, but the use is not allowed in all of the city’s commercial zoning districts.

Peter Castiglione of Maya, a restaurant on West Main, told the council he was disconcerted because he had to apply for a permit.

“We do offer live music three nights a week and I can honestly say that live music enriches the culture and the atmosphere of our business,” Castiglione said. “I believe that dining and live music culture is something you find in all the great cities.”

The issue came up after the now-defunct Bel Rio restaurant consistently violated the zoning code and angered some Belmont residents with late-night music. The owner, Jim Baldi, vanished amid allegations of fraud and embezzlement and is now a fugitive.

Staff developed a matrix of all existing restaurants in Charlottesville listing which ones offered live music. They found several that are not in compliance because they lack a permit.

“We have two options,” Tolbert said. “One is to pursue action for them for being in noncompliance, or we can amend the ordinance to get them in compliance. We chose the latter.”

Possible changes to the code could include the creation of a “provisional use permit,” which would not be as expensive. Another would be adding music halls as an allowed use in more zoning districts.

Allison Ruffner was one of many Belmont residents who called on the city to shut down music events at Bel Rio because they were disruptive and affected their quality of life. Ruffner supports the review.

“I am hoping what is going to come out of this is a more professional approach,” Ruffner told the council. “If people want to [have music], they’re going to have to make a commitment to this.”

One result of the review so far has been a re-evaluation of the Garage.

“We took another look at that, and after all the comments, it doesn’t meet the definition of a restaurant and music,” Tolbert said. “It is just a building where people play music.”

Jacob Wolf, a local promoter and writer for the music and arts blog Nailgun, said he is hopeful something positive will result from the review.

“I’m optimistic that the mayor and the council members will think about establishing some common sense zoning regulations,” Wolf said. “I think it requires the community to continue to apply pressure to get the zoning passed that we want.”

Wolf and others have been meeting with Tolbert to better understand the process so they can provide feedback on the code changes. The Planning Commission is expected to take up the matter at its meeting in March.

January 30, 2011

State kicks off Biscuit Run State Park planning effort as deal remains under scrutiny

DailyProgress

20110130-BiscuitRunSP

Related Biscuit Run Stories:

Biscuit Run state park could open in 2014 - 7/27/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition - 1/8/2010, By Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Biscuit Run bought by Virginia to create new state park in Albemarle - 12/31/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Windfall for Biscuit Run developer? Tax credits could become cash - 12/28/2009
By Bryan McKenzie and Brandon Shulleeta, The Daily Progress

Biscuit Run may become state park - 12/9/2009
By Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Early ideas are being discussed that could help shape the future Biscuit Run State Park in Albemarle County.

At the same time, state officials are reviewing the series of transactions that took the property from a one-time proposal for a massive housing development to a sale of property to the state and subsequent tax credits for the developers.

“The Biscuit Run matter is being reviewed by appropriate parties,” said Brian Gottstein, director of communication for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. “I cannot say any more than that without potentially compromising an investigation.”

The Biscuit Run property in Albemarle was sold to the state for $9.8 million in December 2009 by Forest Lodge LLC, a company that had paid $46.2 million to acquire the land for development.

In 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for developer Hunter Craig that would have allowed the construction of up to 3,100 homes on the property. Craig is also founder and vice chairman of Virginia National Bank and a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.

However, the poor economy prompted the landowners to work with the state on a deal that involved selling the land below market value in exchange for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. However, the $87.7 million land appraisal that was the initial basis for the tax credits continues to be negotiated between Craig and the state.

“The appraisal value of the Biscuit Run property has to be agreed upon,” Craig said in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. “We are currently in negotiations.”

Craig was asked to confirm whether the December 2009 appraisal by Patricia O’Grady Filer, which valued the property prior to sale at $87.7 million, any charitable gifts claimed from the transaction, or any land conservation tax credits were being investigated by state or federal officials.

“We are not aware of any state or federal investigation in relationship to any of the above,” Craig said. “Having a state park in the Charlottesville area has been a goal of the Virginia Outdoors Plan since 1966. With the donation by Forest Lodge LLC … the Department of Conservation and Recreation is able to fulfill that long-term goal, one that will be a great public asset.”
 
Park master planning
 
Planning for the future park moved forward last week when a new advisory committee tasked with developing a master plan was briefed by a delegation from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Joe Elton, the state parks director, said the 27-member committee would meet four times in 2011 to develop the plans for Biscuit Run’s almost 1,200 acres. There will also be two public input sessions.

“Generally speaking it takes about a year to get through the planning process,” Elton said. “We are one of the few states that actually require a comprehensive master plan before we develop anything on the site.”

Danette Poole, the DCR’s planning division director, said she would be working with the community to develop the park’s master plan, including an inventory of natural and cultural resources.

“I am really thrilled to see the turnout tonight,” Poole said at last week’s meeting. “So many of you have interests that are varied and really reflect the community. … All of you have vision and ideas about what Biscuit Run should be … and this process is going to pull that together and hopefully create something unified that’s going to be really great for the community.”

In addition to the committee members, the audience included numerous Albemarle County staff, local officials and area residents, the latter representing interests including bicycling, horses and nature preservation. The largest contingent of residents, however, included four advocating for accommodation of music and dancing in the park’s plans.

“I don’t remember the last time dancing was brought up in an advisory committee meeting,” Elton said. “That’s not to say there aren’t things that can happen within a state park that are complementary. I think dancing, for example, [could be accommodated] if we have pavilions in the park.”

When Biscuit Run was slated to become the county’s largest residential development, Albemarle was anticipating receiving numerous proffers related to trails, greenways, and a district park.

Craig also promised a “championship field,” which he valued at $330,000, to support area lacrosse and soccer activities. DCR officials said fields were unlikely to be included in the plan.

“Generally we don’t get into ballfields so much because those types of recreational facilities are provided by the localities,” Poole said in an interview. “Fields are typically not put in state parks.”

Elton noted after the meeting that Biscuit Run presented attractive opportunities for people to come to the park without driving their vehicles.

“When you think about this place, and its proximity to the urban center and to people that live and work in Charlottesville who could walk or bicycle to this park, it gives it a dimension that we don’t have in our rural parks,” Elton said. “In terms of the numbers of people that could access the park without the use of an automobile, well in this day and age with the high cost of gasoline, I think that’s highly attractive.”
 
Breeden’s ‘donut hole’
 
One Albemarle County resident currently has no trouble accessing the park.

Elizabeth Breeden, whose family sold the land to Hunter Craig’s investment group in 2005, now finds her home’s 36-acre parcel surrounded on all sides by state land.

“I received a parcel when the dust settled [on the sale] … but it still has zoning by right for 100 units [of housing],” Breeden said. “I am stuck between trying to get the state park or the county to make a plan that will tell me what I might be facing when I seek to subdivide the property.”

Breeden said she is open to swapping her “donut hole” for other property on the park’s perimeter. However, Elton said negotiations can’t happen until the General Assembly passes legislation to allow the transfer. Del. Watkins Abbitt, I-Appomattox, is sponsoring legislation (HB2167) to facilitate the discussions.

“Most people at face value would recognize that eliminating the ‘donut hole’ makes the planning process easier,” Elton said.

Breeden emphasized that she wants a solution that is in the best interests of all Albemarle residents.

“I want the ability to sit down and discuss the best land use practice, and the only way to do that is to have the opportunity to swap the land, that’s what is allowed by the legislation,” Breeden said.
 
Schedule and funding
 
The state is committed to finalizing the Biscuit Run master plan by the end of 2011. Left undetermined is when that plan would have necessary state funding to be implemented. Elton said it would take an infusion of funding like the bond referendums of 1992 and 2002.

“The natural cycle would be to look at this in 2012,” Elton said, noting it has been almost 10 years since the last bond referendum for state park acquisition and development. “After we acquire land and the community becomes aware of the potential, of what’s out there for them, and what we’ve found is that people are far less patient today, and there is usually pressure to get things moving sooner rather than later.”

The next meeting of the master plan advisory committee will be March 7. The first public input opportunity will be June 6.

January 28, 2011

Forest Lakes residents grill Boyd on Hollymead growth area expansion

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 28, 2011

More than 100 residents of the Forest Lakes community packed Hollymead Elementary School on Thursday night to hear Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd explain the details of a proposed expansion of the county’s development area.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110127-Boyd-TownHall

  20110127-Boyd-Wide-Shot
Supervisor Ken Boyd fields questions at a forum on the proposed expansion of Hollymead's growth a

 

The majority of speakers expressed opposition to a 140-acre expansion south of Hollymead Town Center on land owned by developer Wendell Wood.

“My fear is that this is going to get approved with no infrastructure improvements and we’re going to watch U.S. 29 come to a standstill,” said Cynthia Neff, a former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates.

The expansion will be considered Wednesday, when the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a vote on the Places29 Master Plan.

In November, residents thought the idea was dead after Boyd announced at a public hearing that he would not support it following a petition from Forest Lakes residents opposed to the additional development.

“We all want that infrastructure to occur, but we want it done in a way different from the way it’s happened in the past,” said Scott Elliff, a member of the board of directors of the Forest Lakes Community Association. “The way it always happens is that the growth occurs first, and then the infrastructure.”

However, lingering concerns over how to find funding for infrastructure projects called for in the Places29 project prompted Boyd to reconsider the idea a month later. As examples, he listed the extension of Berkmar Drive and improvements to Ashwood Boulevard’s interchange with U.S. 29.

“There’s zero money for any of these projects,” Boyd said. He said the county is not likely to raise property taxes to raise funds given the economic downturn.

Boyd said Wood told him that he could currently choose by-right to build housing developments or gas stations on the land. That would not only deprive the county an opportunity to get investment through proffers, but it would also lead to uncontrolled growth.

“We could be looking at four or five new entrances on U.S. 29,” Boyd said.

  20110127-map-watcher
A Forest Lakes resident inspects the proposed expansion area

However, Neff pointed out that Wood proffered around $12 million in improvements when Hollymead Town Center was rezoned, and that the new expansion area is one-fifth of the size of that development. That would mean a rezoning of the proposed expansion area would only yield a fifth of the proffers.

“The projects you’re talking about cost $84 million,” Neff said. “Getting a couple of million dollars is not going to solve this.”

Elliff said the improvements to Ashwood Boulevard should be done regardless of the expansion of the growth area.

“Of course you have to be creative in this environment, but we would not trade getting that improvement in on U.S. 29 for having another Hollymead Town Center across the street from us,” Elliff said.

Boyd said the Comprehensive Plan change was the only way to bring the developer to the table to describe what infrastructure improvements they would make in exchange for the rezoning.

“When we go into zoning, we ask for all sort of [experts] to come forward and tell us what the impacts of the development will be,” Boyd said. “I don’t know any time when we haven’t done most of all of those things.”

Elliff said a change to the Comprehensive Plan to allow for retail development there would be one of only two steps required for the development to occur.

“If we don’t want it, why would be possibly open the first gate?”

Steve Ashby said that if Boyd does vote for the expansion, he encouraged Wood to contribute toward a regional bus service.

“I know there’s no money for it but if we’re going to be expanding the growth area we need to be looking at other ways to get around,” Ashby said.

Boyd said he would think very hard about the comments he received before making a decision about how he would vote.
 

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:30 - Supervisor Ken Boyd makes his opening remarks
  • 16:00 - Comments from Cynthia Neff
  • 19:30 - Responses from Ken Boyd to Neff's comments
  • 21:30 - Comments from Steve Ashby 
  • 22:45 - Jane Williamson asks Boyd if he can see any end to population growth in Albemarle
  • 24:40 - Comments from Mike Warlick about a recent rezoning requested by Wendell Wood
  • 27:00 - Another person comments about proffers for Hollymead Town Center
  • 28:45 - Comments from Kirk Bowers about stopping growth
  • 33:30 - Comments of Scott Elliff of the Forest Lakes Community Association
  • 35:45 - Boyd said he will not support a single entrance for the new development at Ashwood Boulevard
  • 38:45 - Elliff explains why he is opposed to a comprehensive plan change now
  • 40:30 - Comments from Joyce Ross about another rezoning
  • 42:50 - Comments from Lyn Holt in favor of the growth area expansion
  • 45:00 - Comments from John Chavan in favor of the growth area expansion
  • 48:30 - Comments from Jennifer McEwan questioning need for expansion
  • 54:30 - Comments from a woman in opposition to the expansion
  • 58:00 - Comments from Jim Grimes questioning the effectiveness of proffers
  • 01:00:15 - Boyd claims rules are stricter now on controlling erosion
  • 01:01:00 - Comments from Chris Hapgood on continuing siltation of Forest Lakes' bodies of water
  • 01:02:00 - Grimes asks Boyd how he will vote; he defers to the end of the meeting
  • 01:02:30 - Comments from a man who says form of development needs to be worked on
  • 01:06:20 - Comments from Phil Merrill
  • 01:11:00 - Comments from Lisa Harrison who says land should stay rural
  • 01:14:20 - Comments from Key West resident Dennis Roethlisberger
  • 01:18:00 - Comments from Jenny Patterson
  • 01:19:20 - Comments from unidentified woman
  • 01:24:00 - Comments from Forest Lakes resident Ted Miller
  • 01:27:00 - Comments from Jimmy Dean
  • 01:29:30 - Additional comment from Kirk Bowers
  • 01:31:00 - Comments from Jack Marshall of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
  • 01:32:00 - Comments from Steve Ashby about lack of pedestrian improvements in northern growth area
  • 01:33:30 - Boyd explains why he is against a local tax increase to pay for transportation improvements
  • 01:34:00 - Comments from Forest Lakes resident Bob Daniels
  • 01:37:10 - Comment from an unidentified man
  • 01:38:30 - Boyd explains why he supports putting the western bypass back on the table
  • 01:41:30 - Forest Lakes South resident Mark Davis asks Boyd
  • 01:44:00 - Forest Lakes resident Derek Duval
  • 01:46:10 - Boyd says he will not announce how he will vote until Wednesday   
  • 01:49:30 - Comment from the public

January 27, 2011

JPA bridge replacement funded by money from Belmont Bridge project

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
January 27, 2011

The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a contract to replace a bridge on Jefferson Park Avenue Extended only after Charlottesville’s City Council agreed to transfer money from the Belmont Bridge project.

“The lowest bid that came back was $1.2 million over the budgeted amount for the [JPA] project,” City Manager Maurice Jones said at a recent council meeting. “VDOT [came] back to us and asked us to find the money somewhere else to help pay for it.”

R.R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Lexington, Ky., was awarded the bid and will construct the bridge at a cost of $5.8 million. VDOT said in a press release that the project is to be completed by March 30, 2012. Construction of a temporary pedestrian bridge will occur first.

Jones offered the council two options to fund the cost over-run. Councilors could choose to transfer funds from an account for the Belmont Bridge replacement, or they could take the money from the Capital Improvement Program’s contingency fund. Jones recommended the first option because it would free up state funding.

“Once the JPA bridge is out of the way, the Belmont Bridge will become the No. 1 bridge project for us in the eyes of VDOT,” Jones said. That would make it more likely to receive funding from a special VDOT “revenue-sharing” fund that provides a dollar-to-dollar match of local money.

The cost estimate for the Belmont replacement is $9.2 million, according to Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s transportation planner. Currently, the city has saved $5.3 million towards the project, but regular funding is not expected from VDOT until at least the year 2018.

Many construction projects have had bids come back under the cost estimate, but that is not the case with the JPA bridge replacement. When councilors asked why, Jim Tolbert, director of Neighborhood Development Services, responded that the over-run is the result of requests by Norfolk Southern, whose railroad JPA Extended crosses.

“The railroad put in a lot of things that they required to happen that were last minute and not factored into the construction estimates,” Tolbert said.

Norfolk Southern has no obligation to the project.

“They look at it like it is their railroad and we’re messing with it,” Tolbert said. “It’s VDOT’s responsibility to accommodate them.”

Councilor David Brown was initially skeptical of the move but ended up voting for it.

“I don’t want someone to misinterpret that we’re not taking seriously the need to replace the Belmont Bridge,” Brown said.

JPA Extended is a major entrance corridor for the University of Virginia. The city has created a plan to manage the traffic when the bridge is closed.

“Interstate 64 should be used as the official detour,” said Jeanette Janiczek, a transportation planner for the city. She added that Shamrock Road will not be part of the official plan.

The current bridge was built before 1932 and has deteriorated over time. It has a posted 10-ton weight limit, which means that fire trucks and other emergency equipment cannot cross it. The replacement will be 67 feet wide and will include dedicated bike lanes and safer sidewalks.

A series of meetings to kick off planning for the Belmont Bridge replacement was scheduled to continue tonight with a neighborhood meeting in the CitySpace meeting room in the Market Street Parking Garage.

MPO begins rewriting long-range transportation plan

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 27, 2011

The organization that coordinates transportation policy for the region has begun the process of developing a new long-range plan. But members of the group’s Policy Board seemed more concerned Wednesday with finding ways to fund projects that have been in the planning stage for decades.

“We’ve got five or six projects that are really pressing and at the top of our agendas,” said Duane Snow, the newest member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Snow, an Albemarle County supervisor, wanted to know the status of plans to widen U.S. 29 near Forest Lakes and to extend Berkmar Drive to Airport Road. Both are called for in Albemarle’s Places29 Master Plan.

However, Snow was told none of those projects is even close to construction because all are in the conceptual stage.

“To be ready to go, you have to have gotten through all of the steps in the development process, which is arduous,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, which oversees the MPO.

20110126-MPO-Shot
(left to right)City Councilor Kristin Szakos, Supervisor Rodney Thomas, James Utterback of VDOT

“We’ve got a number of projects in the design phase,” said James Utterback, the administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District. “But typically we don’t move projects forward if we don’t have a funding stream.”

For instance, the widening of U.S. 29 is not on VDOT’s six-year plan for primary road projects because there is no money to pay for it. The current draft of the Places29 plan only calls for design work to be performed in the first five years of the plan, which is slated to be adopted later this year.

Design work for Hillsdale Drive Extended, another of the projects called for in the Places29 plan, is about two-thirds complete, according to Jeanette Janiczek, Charlottesville transportation planner.

However, its construction will depend on right-of-way being donated by property owners.

A project to build a second on-ramp for the U.S. 250 Bypass from U.S. 29 received a setback when a Congressional earmark to fund final design of the project was not included in the federal budget.

As for Berkmar, there is no clear source of funding for Albemarle’s secondary road projects. The state has drastically reduced allocations from $5.15 million in 2004 to $325,000 this fiscal year.

For many years, the county has applied its secondary road funding to three projects. Its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway is to be completed next year, and improvements to Jarman’s Gap Road and Georgetown Road likely will be advertised for construction this year.  Jarman's Gap Road has already been advertised and bids are expected to be reviewed in February.

Federal policy requires each MPO to adopt a long-range plan to show that future transportation needs will be met. The last plan, known as the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan, was adopted in May 2009 

The next one is required to be completed by May 2014.

The next plan will be put together with an increased awareness of building “sustainability” into the transportation network, meaning there will be an emphasis on finding ways to get people out of their cars. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission was recently awarded a $999,000 grant by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to help coordinate planning among localities.

“Both Charlottesville and Albemarle will be updating their comprehensive plans at the same time,” Williams said. The grant will pay for additional planning staff to coordinate efforts.

Albemarle Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas welcomed the possibility of joint planning.

“We need more interconnectivity to make the area more of one community,” said Thomas, who will become chairman of the MPO in March.

January 26, 2011

Housing the Future: Reinventing Where We Age - Special podcast

20110124-Regnier
Victor Regnier

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On January 24, 2011 the Charlottesville Community Design Center hosted a presentation and panel discussion entitled Housing the Future: Reinventing Where we Age.  Part of the community’s Livable for a Lifetime initiative, the featured speaker was Victor Regnier, a teacher, researcher and architect at the University of Southern California.  He is one of the nation’s leading experts on aging. 

Local panelists included Nisha Botchwey, John Quale, Matthew Trowbridge, and Stephen Thomas. The panel was moderated by Gordon Walker, Executive Director of the Jefferson Area Board for Aging.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110124-CCDC-Aging

January 25, 2011

Water authority gives direction on final design of new Ragged Mountain Dam

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
 
The board of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority voted Tuesday to have Schnabel Engineering continue its final design work on a new earthen dam for the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The action authorized an initial pool height increase of 30 feet, but stopped short of specifying the final height of the dam itself.

While the decision allows Schnabel to complete its design work, numerous issues remain unresolved between Albemarle and Charlottesville as the localities seek to jointly implement a 50-year water plan.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110125-RWSA

20110125-Frederick
Thomas L. Frederick, Jr., Executive Director
Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris voted against the motion, while City Manager Maurice Jones and Judith Mueller, the city’s director of public works, voted in favor of the project. The work is being paid for by the Albemarle County Service Authority.

“Our City Council hasn’t decided which dam they’re comfortable with just yet,” Jones said. “They voted for a 30-foot dam.”

Jones took his direction from the majority on the City Council, which voted 3-2 last week to pursue a 30-foot height increase for the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Norris voted against that resolution as he continues to support a reservoir that is only 13 feet taller.

Left unresolved by the RWSA’s action Tuesday is whether the City Council will ultimately approve an earthen dam, whether the dam will be built in phases, and if so, what would trigger construction to store an additional 12 feet of water. A 42-foot height increase is called for in the 2006 community water supply plan.

The city has its own engineering firm, Black & Veatch, which has put forward a conceptual design for a concrete extension of the existing 1908 dam. Meanwhile, the earthen dam’s final engineering is now 60 percent completed.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, who sits on the RWSA board, was unable to attend last week’s joint meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the City Council.

“I was hoping all the things would get fleshed out and on the table about what we need to make a decision,” Boyd said. “Every bit of additional information that we receive is just reinforcing that we have made the right decision for this.”

County leaders favor a new, earthen dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir and a new pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to fill the bigger pool. City leaders prefer a smaller dam, which they say will provide adequate water and stimulate both conservation efforts and a dredging project at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Schnabel’s representatives told the RWSA board Tuesday that the earthen dam could be phased, but that 99 percent of the cost of the full-height dam would be spent on the first 30-foot increase. Building the second phase would result in a final cost that is 108 percent of doing the project all at once, an additional $1.45 million to $1.77 million.

In addition, Schnabel said that because most of the water is at the top of the reservoir, where it is widest, the first phase would provide only 60 percent of the water storage that the full-height dam would provide.

Jones suggested the City Council sit through a presentation by Schnabel.

“I think it would make sense for us to have Schnabel come and present to council because this is new information,” Jones said. “We were working off of previous estimates that were $5 million to $8 million more than they are today.”

“I’m having trouble understanding why City Council can’t get their arms around this and go ahead and make a decision and let’s move forward,” Boyd said.

Richard Lloyd
, with Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, urged the RWSA to take its time making a decision and to evaluate the concrete dam proposed by Black & Veatch.

“There’s no hurry here,” Lloyd said. “We’ve been told that the costs are going up, ever escalating, but in fact the costs are going down.”

Liz Palmer, a member of the ACSA board, urged the RWSA to support the full-height dam.

“Building the full-height dam does not negate dredging, it does not negate conservation,” Palmer said. “As we make decisions on how to move forward, this community should not be short-sighted. … Realizing the entire storage in the 2006 plan will give us better flexibility.”

In other business, the RWSA board unanimously agreed to seek bids for dredging by using what is known as the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002. Officials said a PPEA approach, while more complex, would allow more flexibility by bidders on their approach to dredging the South Fork.

At its February meeting, the RWSA will approve specific PPEA guidelines and dredging objectives. Officials also made clear that dredging was to be undertaken as a separate permit independent of the state and federal permits needed for the water supply.

Workshop to identify public-private strategies for “green” energy

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
 
Charlottesville, Albemarle and the University of Virginia are gearing up for a public workshop Wednesday that will focus on the community’s energy future, specifically “green” energy, carbon emission reductions and preparing for global climate change.

Local leaders, from government, environmental groups and the business community, plan to work together to develop a climate action plan. They say achieving local greenhouse gas emission reduction goals is going to require many changes in behavior.

Kristel Riddervold is environmental administrator for the city.

“This is about energy and the ways in which we can improve the health, the efficiency, the cost savings and in the long term, the community’s ability to adapt and change and be prepared for both expected and unexpected influences,” Riddervold said.

The public is invited to participate in the workshop, titled “Carbon, Our Energy Future, and You,” which is being held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building.

“This is a way for us to ultimately check the pulse of our community,” Riddervold said. “We want to know who is interested, their questions, and how we can productively move forward.”

Featured speakers will include Andrea Larson, from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, and William A. Edgerton, a local architect, philanthropist and former member of the Albemarle Planning Commission.

“[Larson] will bring a very, very insightful presentation about the business of sustainability and the business of efficiency and how that can really help the community grow and prosper,” Riddervold said.

Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the Local Climate Action Planning Process steering committee, the group holding the workshop.

“Efficiency is a critically important business value,” Hulbert said. “We have been pretty steadfast that the way to do this is to point out the economic advantages, and to the extent possible use incentives and partnerships, as opposed to the hammer of regulation.”

Local governments in both Charlottesville and Albemarle made public commitments when they signed on to national climate change declarations. Charlottesville signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in July 2006 and Albemarle signed the U.S. Cool Counties Stabilization Declaration in December 2007.

As a “Cool County,” Albemarle has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, an average annual reduction of 2 percent. The steering committee is focused on engaging the public to identify specific strategies for achieving these goals in the public and private sector.

“In order to [reach these goals], we need to be talking about thousands of homes that need to be more efficient, about thousands of acres of mature healthy forest, because of the import role that green space and landscapes play,” Riddervold said. “We are in a really good place to start thinking proactively as a community about what we could do. Let’s not wait 10 years until the problem gets bigger.”

More information about the initiative and the workshop is available online at www.charlottesville.org/agreencity.

January 23, 2011

Open space in Redfields development considered for growth area expansion

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 23, 2011
 
Residents in the Redfields neighborhood off Sunset Avenue Extended fear their community may soon become the next battleground in the debate over the expansion of Albemarle County’s designated growth areas.

Local developer Gaylon Beights has petitioned the county to allow him to develop a 58-acre site as a new phase of Redfields. Some neighbors say they were promised that the land, located in Albemarle’s rural area, would be preserved as open space and they want the county to put the brakes on the planning for the 138-home rezoning.

20110123-Redfields Beights is president of Redfields Development Corp. and the Beights Corp. that is developing Old Trail Village in Crozet.

“Our plan is to develop the property … and finish Redfields in the same architectural styling and products that already exist there,” Beights said in an interview. “We are not building condominiums or apartments. It will be attached, one- to 1 1/2-story garage and front entry housing that is really attractive. We may have a few townhouses, but they will be of the same architecture and quality.”

Barry Condron moved to Redfields in 1997. When the neighborhood was approved seven years earlier, the undeveloped land adjoining Condron’s backyard was designated as open space.

“When we moved in there was a nature trail already built, the brochure had the nature trail marked. It all looked pretty official to me,” Condron said. “A Realtor walked the trail with me, and we ended up buying a house adjacent to the trail. They were marketing it as a natural area.”

Beights insists that he has always been up front about his interest in expanding the neighborhood. Redfields was originally approved in 1990 for 656 homes on 266 acres. According to the recent rezoning request, 441 lots have been developed and the request now before Albemarle is to allow a “non-material and minor amendment to [complete] the planned residential development.”

Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County, moved to Redfields in 2004.

“Obviously people wouldn’t be as upset about it if it was ‘non-material,’” Linville said. “In considering whether or not to effectively grant someone a growth area expansion, and to undo an open space requirement that the neighborhood has come to rely on, the Board of Supervisors ought to be very careful.”

Linville said he is concerned that open space would be sacrificed to allow Beights to build homes that should have been built in the other sections of the neighborhood.

“For marketing reasons they chose to build 441 homes that were single-family within the neighborhood,” Linville said. “They probably also ran into other constraints, like topographical challenges, but for marketing and business reasons they chose not to build all the homes they could have.”

Said Beights: “If I lived there, I would want to understand that as open space too. It is 58 acres of immensely valuable property, and we have the right to develop it if the county approves it, and we have had the right to ask for the rezoning dating back to the original [approval].”

“You can’t control what Realtors tell people,” he added. “We have never suggested this is perpetual open space.”
 
Frustrations grow
 
Neighbors said they have been frustrated at the inconsistency between the developer’s current plans and his old marketing materials, which show the land as an undeveloped section with trails. Further, the written record of county meeting minutes is a mixed bag acknowledging both the developer’s future growth plans and an expressed interest in keeping the rural land as open space.

Condron is concerned the county is about to set a bad precedent.

“It shouldn’t be this tough for ordinary citizens to have to try and figure this out,” Condron said. “We feel duped. It is dismaying to see the county considering giving them more leeway.”

Kristina Parker, a Redfields resident since 2004 and a past president of the homeowners association, says she wants the county to consider the request not in isolation but as part of an upcoming review of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

“Since I have been here there have always been rumblings that that tract of land might be developed,” Parker said. “But if there is going to be any modification of the growth zone it should be part of a look at the entire Comprehensive Plan.”

That was also the conclusion of the Albemarle Planning Commission at its Nov. 30 meeting. By a vote of 4-2, the commission directed staff to take up what was then a Comprehensive Plan amendment and study it in the spring.

Dissatisfied with the outcome and anxious to move forward, Beights filed a rezoning request in December, something that he can guarantee will be heard by the supervisors, if desired.
 
An awkward position?
 
Claudette Grant is a senior planner with Albemarle County. She said the rezoning request puts the county in an awkward position.

“Staff are in the process of reviewing their request,” Grant said. “I don’t know if the applicant is ready to go to a public hearing, but if they wanted to go straight to a public hearing and not address staff comments, it could happen as early as March.”

“The Comprehensive Plan designates this as in the rural area, which is not normally where you would see the level of development that they are proposing,” she added. “On the one hand, the board said in 1990 that the developer could seek a rezoning, but on the other hand we expect a change to the Comprehensive Plan to initiate that.”

The PEC’s Linville said he concedes that developer has a right to ask for the expansion and that the Board of Supervisors can legally take action on the matter, but he questions whether that would be in the county’s best interest.

“Beights and [Percy] Montague built a great neighborhood with wonderful open space amenities that have a big impact on quality of life and home values. To change that now would reduce the quality of life for all residents in that area and have an impact on home values,” Linville wrote in an e-mail. “The [board] needs to look at the total impact to the community in making this decision, and not at the proprietary interests of an individual landowner.”