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April 30, 2011

Link between traffic congestion, population growth debated

DailyProgressThe head of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission defends driving as a valid transportation choice, despite concerns from area environmental groups that the nation relies too much on automobiles.

“People do not drive because they want to,” said Steven Williams, executive director of the TJPDC. “They have needs and to meet those needs they have to move from one place to another in some fashion.”

The group Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population invited Williams to speak Thursday as part of a forum to discuss if an increase in the region’s population is responsible for traffic congestion.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110428-ASAP-Forum

 

 “Managing the local population should be considered an essential part of managing transportation in this part of Central Virginia,” said David Shreve, an economic historian who serves on ASAP’s board.

“We think [it] is an essential tool to manage existing bottlenecks or [prevent] potential bottlenecks,” Shreve added.

20110428-PANEL
Left to right: Daniel Bowman, Cynthia Neff, Randy Salzman, Steve Williams, and David Shreve

According to the U.S. Census, the combined population of Albemarle and Charlottesville increased from 124,285 in 2000 to 142,445 in 2010. That translates into an average annual growth rate of 1.37 percent, a figure Williams said was slow compared to other areas of the United States.

Williams acknowledged that traffic is a problem on U.S. 29, but said projects such as the extension of Hillsdale Drive would help alleviate problems by offering motorists more choices.

“I would challenge the assertion that we are either growing or moving towards gridlock,” Williams said. “Gridlock is a function of capacity and if we don’t build roads, we are inevitably going to end up in gridlock simply because we’re not keeping up.”

Other panelists and audience members did not see it that way.

Transportation activist Randy Salzman said some cities in Australia have reduced automobile trips by using a special program called TravelSmart that advises motorists on how to use other forms of transportation.

“All they literally do is build a community around the fact that you can get around other ways besides your personal vehicle,” Salzman said. “We can change behavior.”

Williams, whose organization offers car-ride matching services, said most Americans choose to drive because it is cheaper and more convenient. He said many people are willing to make long commutes if it means their housing is more affordable.

“Before you can influence future policy, you have to face up to that fact,” Williams said.

The American Community Survey, conducted from 2005 to 2009, shows that 59 percent of Charlottesville residents drive by themselves to work, as well as 77 percent of Albemarle workers.

Charlottesville resident Scott Beyer said one solution would be to increase residential densities within city limits so more homes would be close to the University of Virginia and other employers.

“If we upzone existing neighborhoods, it takes away a lot of the density that gets pushed out into the suburbs,” Beyer said.

Shreve said he felt cities were efficient ways of organizing people, but not every area should become a city.

“There have to be places in this world that are different,” Shreve said. “If the people in this community decide that this place is just a little bit different than New York … then we can’t be on that same track and there’s a limit to what you can do.”

Cynthia Neff, an ASAP board member who ran against Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, in 2009, said the community needed to find a way to get developers to build more infrastructure. She said relying on developers to pay for transportation improvements through voluntary proffers has not been effective.

“The truth is there is no developer that is going to widen U.S. 29,” Neff said. “If we don’t have the money to do infrastructure … we shouldn’t approve the development.”

John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club said non-motorists risk their lives to get around, especially on the U.S. 29 corridor.

“I see families with strollers running across U.S. 29 because there are no crosswalks,” Cruickshank said.

Williams said the Metropolitan Planning Organization has done much to ensure that bike lanes and sidewalks are included in plans for new roads, but transportation funding is a challenge.

“Even just building sidewalks, which seems like a relatively low-cost [project], is extremely difficult in today’s fiscal climate,” Williams said.

April 28, 2011

New Ragged Mountain dam set for fall construction

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Construction of a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir could get under way in mid-October, now that the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority is set to achieve a major milestone in the dam’s development.

Last November, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation ordered the RWSA to submit final plans by the end of April for a solution to address structural issues at the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam.

Schnabel Engineering has updated us and they will meet that deadline,” the RWSA’s executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr., said Tuesday.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110426-RWSA

Inundation
Image depicting expanded reservoir (Source: RWSA

In February, Charlottesville and Albemarle County reached consensus on a plan to build a new dam in two phases. The first phase will raise the existing reservoir by 30 feet with a new earthen dam built downstream.

A second phase would raise the dam and the reservoir by an additional 12 feet, but a consensus has not been reached on what conditions would trigger further expansion.

Cost estimates for the construction and design for the first phase of the dam range from $18.3 million to $22.3 million, according to Chris Webster, an engineer with Schnabel.

A request to modify a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality in February 2008 has also been made to accommodate for the earthen dam approach. Frederick said the RWSA expects to put the project to bid in the summer and to start construction in the fall.

Despite the compromise, city and county officials still continue to debate whether other components associated with the dam should be phased.

Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd asked if new trails at the natural area would accommodate a full reservoir rise of 42 feet.

“We don’t want to build them twice,” Boyd said. “I don’t want to have to pay a second time.”

20110426-Frederick
Tom Frederick points out the shoreline of the expanded reservoir

Frederick said that would be up to the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department and the Ivy Creek Foundation to determine. The foundation maintains the trails and the natural area surrounding the reservoir.

“They have agreed that [new trails] should be above the 42-foot position but in a few areas where the gap is wide, they may deviate from that slightly,” Frederick said.

However, City Councilor David Brown said he wants replacement trails to fit the site, even if some of them may be inundated if the dam is raised in the future.

The issue also arose when the board discussed a proposal to pay Schnabel Engineering $208,000 to produce a final design for protections to Interstate 64. The western edge of the expanded reservoir will bring the water into direct contact with the highway’s embankment.

Both Boyd and the Albemarle County Service Authority’s executive director, Gary O’Connell, said they wanted the design to take the full height of the reservoir into account.

“It just seems like it is one more thing we have to do when we come back to do the 12 feet,” O’Connell said.

However, Brown pointed out that the council’s insistence on an initial rise of 30 feet was based on a hope that a full expansion of the reservoir would not be required.

“I don’t think this should be treated any differently than how we treat the dam itself,” Brown said. “City Council and a lot of city residents would take issue with saying ‘when’ we come back. I think it’s an ‘if’ question.”

The RWSA board voted to support protections for only a 30-foot pool rise at this time.

However, the board decided Tuesday to implement all of the mitigation steps required for the full reservoir expansion in one phase at a cost of $3.3 million.

That will involve the creation of 4 acres of wetlands in the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood, as well as tree planting and stream restoration along Buck Mountain Creek in Albemarle.

The next milestone for the dam will be the unveiling of a proposed agreement to determine how the costs for the new dam and other parts of the water supply plan will be split between the city and county. Frederick said he hoped that would be available for public review by May 11.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that the public boards want some time to address this issue and invite public comment,” Frederick said.

However, both O’Connell and the city’s public works director said they would need at least until the end of May before a draft proposal would be ready for the public.

While not directly part of the community water supply plan, the board also voted to pay HDR Engineering just over $18,000 to write a request for proposals for maintenance dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. The RFP will come before the RWSA board for review in June before being made available to potential bidders.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 01:00 - Executive director's report from Tom Frederick
  • 11:30 - Frederick begins to address water issues
  • 18:20 - Public comment from Allison Ewing
  • 22:00 - Public comment from Chris Hayes
  • 26:00 - Public comment from John Sykes of State Farm s
  • 30:15 - Public comment from Fran Lawrence
  • 33:20 - Public comment from Bill Emory
  • 35:30 - Public comment from Robin Haynes
  • 38:45 - Public comment from Rich Collins
  • 40:52 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch
  • 44:11 - Public comment from Rebecca Quinn
  • 48:20 - Public comment from Dede Smith
  • 50:45 - Public comment from Bob Fenwick
  • 51:30 - Public comment from Liz Palmer
  • 55:15 - Responses to public comment from Tom Frederick
  • 1:13:15 - Consideration of consent agenda
  • 1:30:12 - Discussion of I-64 embankments
  • 1:44:00 - Discussion of location for further study of Rivanna pump station
  • 2:00:00 - Presentation by Chris Webster of Schnabel Engineering on Ragged Mountain design

Large turnout for kickoff of local planning effort

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 28, 2011
 
A large crowd of community members, both new and old, gathered at the Albemarle County Office Building on Wednesday to participate in the launch of the Livable Communities Planning Project.

Funded by an almost $1 million federal grant, the effort is being coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The three-year project will contribute to updates of Charlottesville’s and the county’s comprehensive and transportation plans.

“I am thrilled people are coming out to ask questions and provide input,” said Summer Frederick, the TJPDC’s project manager. “This is a process-driven project, but the process is only as good as the input we get.”

The city, county and the University of Virginia are all working together on the “livable communities” effort under the rubric “many plans, one community.”

20110427-Davis-Aaron
Albemarle County resident Aaron Davis

Surrounded by informative displays and numerous local government staff and officials ready to answer questions, county resident Aaron Davis filled out a feedback form and stuffed it in the comment box.

“If you live in an area, you need to learn about it,” Davis said. “With land development, transportation, housing and jobs, you need to know what is going on in the community.”

Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s director of neighborhood development, said he was pleased that the city’s Comprehensive Plan would be updated in a cooperative process.

“The biggest thing is the opportunity to work with the county and the university,” Tolbert said. “To look at how we grow and how we protect the assets that we have.”

Jefferson Area Tea Party member Charles Battig reviewed the materials at the open house and said he was interested to see the term “sustainability” had been replaced with “livability.”

“What happened to ‘sustainability?’” Battig asked. “Did it become a dirty word? It makes sense to get everyone involved, but the question is to what degree this is driven by different visions of what a sustainable or livable community might be?”

“It never works when you try and plan a perfect community,” Battig added. “Cities that are vibrant evolve over time and they are not necessarily planned communities.”

Dave Hurst moved with his family to the city last month from Salt Lake City. A transportation planner, Hurst said he was motivated to learn what his new community had in mind for the future.

“What is the plan?” Hurst asked. “I have seen some [transportation] issues already and I’d like to see what they are planning to do.”

Hurst said primary roads could only be widened so far before too many lanes of traffic would became a barrier to mobility for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists trying to get across.

“A unified front is a great way to go,” Hurst added. “Jurisdictional lines aren’t drawn on the ground and coordination is key to implementing a plan.”

20110427-livable-panels1
Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, has been a critic of Albemarle’s recent planning efforts such as Places29, a master plan for the U.S. 29 north designated growth area. Williamson said that six-year planning effort was fundamentally flawed, overly complex and too ambitious.

“The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned at the potential of adding one more layer of bureaucracy with the TJPDC,” Williamson said about the structure of the initiative. “Coordination of comprehensive planning is a good idea, but outsourcing comprehensive planning fails to recognize the different objectives the two localities have.”

“The water supply discussion clearly demonstrated the difference in goals, objectives and strategies,” Williamson added. “This is not to suggest one set of objectives is better than the other, but they are different.”

20110427-livable-panels2 Opposing viewpoints on the 50-year community water supply plan have been a key issue that has divided the local environmental community since 2007. On Tuesday, seven environmental groups joined to sign a letter addressed to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and the TJPDC to present a “united stand on the importance of environmental goals in planning for a sustainable future for [the] community.”

Thomas Olivier, chairman of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, signed the letter along with representatives from the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, the Rivanna Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy and the League of Women Voters.

Download Download letter from local environmental groups

The groups have pledged to be very involved in the update of the comprehensive plans and the long-range transportation plan.

“Comprehensive plans are fundamental planning documents,” Olivier said in an interview. “They deal with environmental protection and sustainability and these are critical issues for our community. … In most ways we are in fact one community.”

Frederick said she welcomed the diverse points of view expressed at the open house.

“The more people that are involved, the better,” Frederick said. “Part of the process is discussion, and that’s not necessarily everyone in the room agreeing. … Seeing an idea, a neighborhood, or a community issue through a different lens is how you get to an effective solution.”

Further information is available at the initiative’s website http://1-community.org/.

20110427-livable-group

April 27, 2011

Site selected for study for sewer pump station

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Charlottesville and Albemarle County representatives on the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority have compromised on a location to be further studied to accommodate a new sewage pump station.

The RWSA board voted 4-1 Tuesday to spend $122,000 to evaluate a site on the agency’s property in Albemarle County downstream from the existing Rivanna pump station, which is in the Woolen Mills neighborhood and next to the city’s Riverview Park.

20110426-RWSA
City Councilor David Brown and RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney

The move likely stops further consideration of a plan to rebuild the station in place, a concept that does not have the support of the city.

“It is overwhelming to the neighborhood and it is overwhelming to the adjacent park,” said City Councilor David Brown, who sits on the RWSA board.

The plant is being replaced in order to accommodate a peak wet weather flow of 53 million gallons. The current pump station can only handle 25 million gallons, leading to sewage overflows following heavy storms.

A consent order from the Department of Environmental Quality requires the RWSA to select an alternative by the end of the year as part of a comprehensive plan to stop raw sewage from being released into state waterways.

Download Download RWSA Consent Order

Four options have been presented to the community.

The downstream site, referred to as Option C, would move the station onto property owned by the RWSA and has a preliminary cost estimate of $37 million.

Option A would replace the existing station in place and is estimated to cost $25 million.

Option D would build the station across the river on parcels in Albemarle County — some of the land is owned by State Farm Insurance and some is owned by the county — and is estimated to cost $34 million.

At the March meeting of the RWSA board, some Woolen Mills residents argued that building the station across the river would not affect anyone. A representative from State Farm was on hand Tuesday to dispute that claim.

“We feel Option D could hurt the economy and reduce the employment opportunities at State Farm,” John Sykes said.

Sykes said the firm is planning to eventually put a parking lot to accommodate future employees in the area near where the pump station would be located.

“We also feel that putting a sewage pumping station next to a major employer does send a disturbing signal about how receptive the community is to the [role] companies like State Farm play,” Sykes added.

Woolen Mills resident Fran Lawrence agreed with Sykes that the pump station could be a noxious neighbor, and asked for further consideration of Option C even if some residents would be temporarily inconvenienced by construction.

“Once you dig and put it in the ground, and the pumping station is on the RWSA’s property, then it’s completely out of the neighborhood and it’s completely [away from] State Farm,” Lawrence said.

The arguments were enough to sway Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd’s vote, who had previously supported further examination of both Options A and D.

“I have listened to both State Farm and I’ve listened to the people from Woolen Mills,” Boyd said. “Given public input and given [further] thought, I wonder if we ought to maybe study Option C as the preferred option.”

The executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority, Gary O’Connell, voted against the motion because his board had directed him to pursue an option that would build the new facility at the existing site.

“Taking what appears up front to be the most cost-effective solution off the table just seems like we’re heading ourselves into the most expensive cost,” O’Connell said.

City Manager Maurice Jones, whose vote is contingent on council consensus, said he could not support Option C without knowing where the full council stood on the issue.

The City Council had expressed a preference for the site across the river.

“I don’t work for council,” Brown quipped. He said he wanted to vote for Option C given the deadline imposed by the DEQ to move the project forward.

Jones and the city’s public works director, Judy Mueller, abstained from the vote.

“I appreciate that we’re having this discussion,” Jones said. “It’s great that the county and city are talking about a compromise.”

April 26, 2011

City’s portion of Meadow Creek Parkway set for construction this summer

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Construction on the city’s long-planned section of the Meadow Creek Parkway will begin this summer, even though legal and regulatory hurdles remain for its interchange with the U.S. 250 bypass.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation does not need the interchange project to be finalized before construction gets under way on McIntire Road Extended,” said VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter in an email.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board officially awarded a $3.37 million contract last Wednesday to Key Construction of Clarksville to build the road, which will travel through the eastern side of the city’s McIntire Park.

Dp-graphic-parkway
Source: Daily Progress

In February 2010, VDOT announced the company had submitted the lowest bid. However, a contract could not be awarded until several parties agreed on what steps would be taken to mitigate the impacts the road would have on McIntire Park and other surrounding historic resources.

That process resulted in a signed memorandum of agreement between the city, VDOT and state and federal historic preservation agencies.

Negotiations were overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must issue a permit because a waterway known as Schenk’s Branch will be affected by the road’s construction.

“[Key Construction] met all the requirements back in 2010, and they agreed to honor their bid price,” Hatter said. “What happens now is that we’re waiting for receipt of the permit and once we get the permit, we give a notice to proceed to the contractor.”

Hatter said construction could begin 30 to 45 days after the permit is issued. That should happen within a few weeks, according to Kathy Perdue, the corps official responsible for completing the review.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can and should, upon final review, issue its final required permit for construction of the project within a short period of time,” said Tim Hulbert, executive director of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The pieces are in place now or are about to be in place.”

However, legal action is still pending against the interchange. It has been designed to carry the 250 Bypass over the extension of McIntire Road, which would carry traffic through the park and connect to the portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway already built in Albemarle.

In February, the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration claiming the agency violated federal law when it issued a finding that the interchange would have no significant impact on the environment.

The coalition’s legal brief claimed there were valid alternatives to using parkland that were not given full consideration. The group also claimed the parkway and the interchange were illegally segmented into three projects to evade greater federal scrutiny.

The FHWA has officially denied the allegations in a legal response, and Judge Norman K. Moon will decide the case in federal court later this year.

Download Download the Coalition's lawsuit against the FHWA

Download Download FHWA's response to Coalition lawsuit report

Coalition member Peter Kleeman said the group is also considering legal action to stop construction of the road, in addition to the ongoing suit against the interchange.

“We are consulting our attorney and we are determining when we have our best opportunity to file, or whether our best strategy is file for an injunction,” Kleeman said.

“Our belief is that building McIntire Road Extended would be inappropriate and potentially wasteful without a resolution on the interchange,” he added.

Meanwhile, the city is conducting further tests this week as part of the final design for the interchange. Sections of the U.S. 250 Bypass will be restricted to one lane this week as crews from the firm Total Depth Drilling dig holes in the ground to determine its structural integrity.

“Survey boring is being done to make sure that there aren’t obstacles to doing something of that magnitude,” said city spokesman Ric Barrick.

The City Council voted 3-2 in December 2009 to approve the design for the interchange, giving engineering firm RK&K direction to complete its work.

Barrick said the council might need to approve condemnation of land in order for the project to proceed.

He added the city hopes to advertise the interchange project for construction by the end of the year. A federal earmark of $27 million will be used to pay for the project, though no final cost estimate has been made public.

However, if for some reason the interchange is not built, Barrick said, the council would need to vote to approve an at-grade intersection with the 250 Bypass. One of the conditions of the council’s 2006 vote to proceed with the parkway was that a grade-separated interchange be built.

Kleeman said there are too many unanswered questions and that he believed City Council had given them an explicit opportunity to pursue legal action until all of the issues are resolved.

“It is our belief with council that they would allow us to go through the legal process,” Kleeman said. "We believe this resolution should take place before any earth is overturned in McIntire Park.”

The portion of the parkway that travels through Albemarle County is still being completed, though it was briefly open to traffic last fall as workers re-routed a portion of East Rio Road.
 

Three-year regional planning effort to launch on Wednesday

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Despite challenges facing some regional projects like the water supply and the Meadow Creek Parkway, Charlottesville, Albemarle, and University of Virginia will launch a three-year planning effort Wednesday under the rubric “many plans, one community.”

20110421-Williams
Stephen W. Williams, Executive Director, TJPDC

Coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the primary objective of the “Livability Partnership” is to inform simultaneous updates of the city and county comprehensive and transportation plans.

“This is another example of where the city and Albemarle County are using a shared vision and are working together to make life for the residents in our community even better,” Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said in a prepared statement.

Last October TJPDC received a $999,000 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to prepare a regional “sustainability implementation plan.”

“This may well be the biggest and most collaborative planning project that’s ever been attempted here in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area,” said Stephen W. Williams, TJPDC’s executive director at a briefing last week.


Listen to the Livability Partnership project briefing at the Planning and Coordination Council, Technical Advisory Committee (PACC-Tech) meeting held April 21, 2011.  Use the player above or download the podcast:
Download 20110421-PACC-Tech-Livability

20110421-Cilimberg
Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning, Albemarle County

According to Wayne Cilimberg, Albemarle’s director of planning, the county’s last full comprehensive plan update was in 1989. Numerous chapters have been updated and added in the years since, most recently the Places29 master plan for the growth area along U.S. 29 North.

“We decided a year and a half ago that we were going to do a complete comprehensive plan review,” Cilimberg said in an interview. “[TJPDC] is providing assistance for some elements of the comprehensive plan that we will then have to take through our process. We want to figure out the common elements with the city of Charlottesville that we need to look at as a community.”

According to the draft consortium agreement, five major products will be produced as part of the partnership. These include:

  • A performance measurement system,
  • a common land-use and transportation map,
  • identification of specific “livability strategies,”
  • recommendations for changes to local regulations, and
  • a plan for voluntary changes by the public and organizations to improve livability in the community.

Carole Thorpe, chairwoman of the Jefferson Area Tea Party, said her group was encouraging citizens to attend the project’s kick-off event on Wednesday.

“The Tea Party has concerns, and while I can’t speak for everybody in our group, I know a lot of what goes into this [involves] property rights and extensive government regulations,” said Thorpe in an interview. “What’s suggested today becomes a regulation tomorrow. That is a concern of the Tea Party.”

Thorpe said that the Tea Party also has concerns about a sustainability agenda she says is being pushed by organizations outside the community. At a Tea Party forum last month, both the city and county were criticized for their membership in ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability.

“Is sustainability really what it appears to be?” asked Thorpe. “On the surface, we are not opposed to clean air and water, but when we get into ICLEI and [the United Nations] Agenda 21, that has nothing to do with local government and has a lot to do with a global influence.”

While the HUD grant’s project description references “sustainability,” Williams said the joint planning effort now emphasizes a focus on “livability.”

“We have made a specific choice to try and move our terminology for this grant from ‘sustainability’ to ‘livability,’” said Williams. “Our observation has been in the last few years that sustainability has lost some of the meaning it had … . It has been diluted.”

“We feel like this project is focusing on a broader selection of issues related to the community,” added Williams. “We are dealing not only with environmental issues, we are dealing with transportation, housing, neighborhood and community issues, and the economy.”

In the audience at last week’s briefing, former Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas urged a regional technical advisory committee to consider retaining a focus on sustainability. Thomas was directly involved in the drafting and approval of the community’s 1998 Sustainability Accords, a document the HUD grant is expected to help move towards implementation.

“I can assure you we spent years if not months thinking about the term ‘sustainability,’” said Thomas. “The concept of sustainability that really stretched our minds, and that I am worried is being lost here, is the aspect of the future. It was not livability, which is how we can make our community better for people here today.”

Williams responded that there was no intent to lose a focus on the community’s future.

Wednesday’s kick-off event is an informal opportunity for the public to review a series of informational posters and to provide written comments.

“This is an introduction to the updates for the comprehensive plans and the long-range transportation plan,” said Williams in an interview. “We are hoping people will come and give us input on their concerns and provide general input about where the community is going.”

“It’s an opportunity to get in and learn a little bit about what we have been doing in past plans that gets us where we are right now,” said Cilimberg. “Part of this is a little bit of history and how we have evolved to where we are as a community in our planning processes.”

The event will be held at the Albemarle County Office Building on Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. outside Lane Auditorium. Further information is available at the initiative’s website http://1-community.org/.

Third independent joins race for Charlottesville City Council

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A member of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia has announced he will run as an independent candidate for Charlottesville City Council.

“I’m in this to win, and it’s a long shot, but I think I can do it,” said Brandon Collins in an interview Monday. “We live in a really messed up world and we’ve got to start changing things now or we’re pretty much doomed.”

Brandon-collins
Image courtesy of Brandon Collins

Collins, 37, is a lifelong resident of Charlottesville and a graduate of Charlottesville High School. He is a board member of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and a co-founder of the Cville Workers Action Network.

Collins is a musician who works at the Blue Moon Diner and as a caretaker of a person with cerebral palsy.

In recent weeks, Collins has appeared before the council to oppose the Meadow Creek Parkway, to call for dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and to ask that the city distance itself from the emerging presence of the defense sector in the region.

“You can resist the war here in local government by taking a look at the massive amount of contractors we have here in Charlottesville, seeing what role the city plays with those folks, and eliminating that role altogether,” Collins said at the council’s April 18 meeting.  

One way to do that, Collins said, would be to prevent defense contractors and the military from participating in city-sponsored job fairs.

Collins’ platform would double the amount of funding for affordable housing programs and expand full public transit service to Sundays and to add late night service.

But Collins said he was still considering how the city could raise more revenue to pay for his suggested programs.

“Raising taxes might harm the working class and poor folks,” Collins said.  However, he said increasing tax rates for businesses would be an option.

Collins said he would like to pass a law requiring both public and private employers to pay a “living wage,” but acknowledged the General Assembly would need to give the city authority to do so.

“We can say we want a living wage for everyone in Charlottesville, but we can’t legally do that,” Collins said. He added that one possible suggestion would be to deny certain permits to companies that don’t offer a living wage.

Collins said he thinks Charlottesville is ready to elect a Socialist to its City Council, and that his party can’t grow until its ideas are on the table.

“There are plenty of progressives who support some of the things we talk about, and they may not be Socialists, but they’re willing to listen,” Collins said. “The Democratic Party might be scared of being labeled [Socialist], but for the most part progressive people and working-class voters are supportive.”

He said he is still collecting signatures and hopes to file his first paperwork with Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta by the end of the week.

Collins is the third independent to announce his candidacy, joining Scott Bandy and Bob Fenwick.

Three seats on the council are up for grabs this November, including those of councilors David Brown and Holly Edwards, who have announced they will not seek re-election.

Two Democrats, incumbent Satyendra Huja and challenger James Halfaday, have announced their intention to seek their party’s nomination at an August 20 unassembled caucus. Councilors Dave Norris and Kristin Szakos aren’t up for re-election until 2013.

 

April 24, 2011

Panelists discuss community’s energy future from a local, state, and international perspective

20110420-Chamber-energy By Jason Ha & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, April 24, 2011

What are the local benefits of energy efficiency?  What is the future of energy use in Virginia and the world?

These were among the questions discussed during a luncheon on energy-related issues hosted last week by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce at Glenmore Country Club

Delegate David Toscano (D-57) moderated a panel including Cynthia Adams, the executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program, Michael Roman, with ExxonMobil, and Mark Webb, with Dominion.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110420-Chamber-Energy

Adams described LEAP’s goal of helping create a “sustainable energy future” for Charlottesville-Albemarle.  She also provided an overview of some benefits of implementing residential and commercial energy efficiency measures.

“Energy efficiency means doing more and doing better with less,” said Adams. “Energy efficiency is generally the least expensive, most benign, most deployable, and yet the least visible, least understood, most neglected way to provide energy.”

Adams said LEAP’s programs were aimed at eliminating obstacles to improved energy efficiency for both homeowners and businesses, and that the resulting financial savings would provide local jobs and economic development.

“The more money that stays in the pocketbooks of building owners, the more money that can be spent in the local community,” Adams said.

During his presentation, Michael Roman shared ExxonMobil’s energy outlook and noted that developing countries like China have growing energy needs. 

“One of the things we know is that there is a lot of developing demand throughout the world,” said Roman.  “We know with certainly that there is a direct link between economic growth and energy demand.”

Roman said that to balance the supply and demand for energy would require new technology and behavioral changes in the developed world. 

“Efficiency is extremely important to getting us to a supply demand balance,” Roman said.

Roman concluded by saying that ExxonMobil was committed to providing “safe, reliable, [and] environmentally sound access to fuels.” 

“We think we need more domestic access in resources, it’s something that’s sorely missing,” Roman said.  “It’s having an impact obviously in the marketplace…particularly with a lot of the volatility and uncertainty in the rest of the world.”

Dominion’s Mark Webb described the energy challenges in Virginia.  Webb said there is a projected gap of  4,500 megawatts of electricity that will be needed by 2021.

“We can buy power or build new power plants, and the other [approach] is demand-side management which is both conservation and efficiency,” Webb said.  “The efficiency angle is very important because it is not just what we do but it’s also what customers do.”

Webb described Virginia’s target for utilities to generate fifteen percent of its energy from renewables by 2025.  Wind and solar power are the largest sources, but, unlike coal and nuclear, they cannot provide power 24 hours a day.  

According to Webb, off-shore wind has great potential, but it is also very expensive, needs more testing, and has to be implemented in concert with other ocean users.

“Off-shore wind is… potentially the greatest renewable resource Virginia has,” Webb said.  “I say potentially, because while the wind is there off-shore and Virginia has the coastline, there are a lot of competing uses for the ocean space from the naval operations, to the satellite launch facilities…to shipping in Hampton Roads.”

Webb also talked about Dominion’s initiative to build “smart grid” cities.  Charlottesville and Albemarle are part of a Dominion pilot project that allows a smart electrical grid to communicate with special residential power meters.

“It is essentially the convergence of energy technology and information technology,” Webb said.  “It is adding intelligence to the grid at every step of the way, and ultimately inside your home.” 

“It will be up to consumers to put things in their home that will communicate with these smart meters…that will allow you to use energy, and your appliances to use energy more efficiently and more wisely, and you will elect how you intend to do it,” Webb said.

Webb also commented on the uncertain impact electric vehicles would have on the energy grid.  While in limited use today, Webb said Dominion expected more mainstream use in 2012-2013 and that Charlottesville was likely to be an early adopter. 

“The key for us is to make sure that people…charge at night,” said Webb.  “At night we have more energy than we need.  If we can encourage people to charge at night versus the daytime, we can accommodate up to 10% penetration of the entire vehicle market with very limited need for additional new power.”

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

10:54 – Cynthia Adams, Local Energy Alliance Program
20:57 -- Michael Roman, ExxonMobil Corporation
32:55 -- Mark Webb, Dominion

 

April 22, 2011

Albemarle holds monthly water-sewer rates steady; Connection fees to increase

DailyProgressFor the second year in a row, the Albemarle County Service Authority will not raise monthly water and sewer rates for its customers.

“We wanted to remain mindful of the area’s continued economic distress,” said Lisa Breeden, finance director for the ACSA.

However, fees paid by developers to connect to the system are being raised 6 percent overall in order to support further investment in the system.

20110421-ACSA
CAPTION

“As the community grows, and as development increases, we will see a continuing reliance on new connection fees paying for the growth,” wrote executive director Gary O’Connell in his summary for the ACSA’s proposed $30.4 million budget for fiscal year 2012.

The budget also includes a $10.6 million capital improvement program.

Projects range from water main replacements for the Key West subdivision ($335,000) and Buckingham Circle neighborhood ($530,000) to the extension of a water main on Hardware Street in Scottsville ($392,800). The biggest project in the capital improvement program is $5.6 million for ongoing construction of the North Fork sewer pump station serving the development area along U.S. 29 North.

The capital budget is supported in part from a bond sale of nearly $5.9 million as well as an anticipated $3 million in one-time connection fees. That figure is based on a projected 260 new water connections and 255 new sewer connections.

The ACSA charges developers two separate fees to recoup the cost of building the existing water and sewer system. The system development fee covers the ACSA’s infrastructure, and the other goes to pay for facilities operated by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

The system development fee for each water connection will remain the same at $1,772, but the RWSA fee for water will increase by 3 percent to $3,940 per connection.

For sewer connections, the system development fee will rise 12 percent to $2,404 and the RWSA capacity fee by 9 percent to $2,998. That means it will cost $11,114 for each new sewer connection, a 6 percent increase overall.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum said he is satisfied that the formula that derived the fee increases is valid.

“The ACSA continues to make significant investment that is in many cases being paid for by the new development that needs these increases in capacity,” Williamson said. “This is example of development paying its way.”

However, he said the increases would make it harder for developers to offer affordable housing, as they will add the fees to the cost of each home.

“As connection fees rise over $11,000, you’re talking about that representing around 5 percent of the price of a $200,000 home,” Williamson said.

The increase in connection fees is much less dramatic than the one enacted two years ago, when the system development fee increased by 58 percent and the RWSA capacity charge increased by 30 percent.

Monthly rates for businesses and consumers will remain flat, despite an increase in the wholesale rate the ACSA will pay to the RWSA for water and sewer service. For water, the RWSA will charge $3.39 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 2.57 percent. For sewer, the ACSA will pay $3.348 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 8.56 percent.

All ACSA residential customers pay a monthly service charge based on the size of their connection, and are billed for usage according to a tiered pricing structure.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable we’re having no water and sewer rate increases, particularly given our wholesale rate is almost up 10 percent from the RWSA,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell also said his staff has planned for capital increases over many years so it can avoid big spikes in rate increases.

“A lot of utilities don’t do that,” O’Connell added.

The city of Charlottesville is not prepared to release its water rates, according to finance director Bernard Wray.

A work session on May 5 will be the first of many meetings before a final public hearing on the ACSA budget is held June 16.

April 21, 2011

Supervisors want more info on proposal for 399 new homes on Pantops

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has deferred a vote on a proposal from developer Richard Spurzem to rezone land near the I-64/U.S. 250 intersection to residential so he can build 399 homes.

After a two hour discussion, a majority of supervisors said they were not ready to take a vote without more information.

In January, the county planning commission recommended denial of the proposal.

Since then, Spurzem reduced the number of units in the project and made other changes to win the support of the board. He also proffered to give the county $100,000 towards construction of a proposed Pantops fire station.

County staff recommended denial of the plan for several reasons, including a lack of a traffic study and  the absence of provisions for affordable housing. Staff also estimated Spurzem should pay $5.3 million to the county to help pay for necessary community infrastructure.

The Pantops Master Plan recommends the site have a density of no more than 300 units.

Cal Morris, a member of both the planning commission and the Pantops Advisory Council, urged supervisors to reject the plan.

“This location is in a transitional area going from county’s development to rural areas,” Morris said. “We want to see it more on the size of 300 units.”

However, Spurzem’s attorney disagreed.

“We contend the proposed 399 units is fully consistent with the comprehensive plan,” said Valerie Long of the firm Williams Mullen. “Virginia code is clear that a comprehensive plan is [just] a guide.”

Long said the development would build a key piece of infrastructure called for in the Pantops master plan. VDOT has called for an existing median at Hansens Mountain Road and U.S. 250 to be closed due to safety concerns.

Hansens-mountain-road
Spurzem has hired an engineer to develop plans for a relocated Hansens Mountain Road, but Supervisors wanted more information. Click for a full-size .PDF of the plans.

As part of the rezoning application, Spurzem has offered to relocate Hansens Mountain Road so it connects with Viewmont Court in the Glenorchy neighborhood. Residents of Pantops Ridge, as well as 130 homes in the Ashcroft Neighborhood, would use the upgraded road to get to U.S. 250 at the Peter Jefferson Place intersection.

Supervisors expressed some desire to see the road relocated.

“There’s a horrible traffic situation out there that’s getting worse, and this might help that,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

However, Rooker said the proffer language calling for the road could be interpreted in such a way that the county would have to condemn property.

“If Spurzem makes an offer and the property owner declines, this puts the onus on the county to condemn the property,” Rooker said. “We don’t want to be in a mode where we’ve approved this and he doesn’t have to build the road because we won’t condemn the property.”

However, County Attorney Larry Davis said he felt the county would be justified in taking the property if negotiations between Spurzem and property owners fell through.

“This is a road improvement I think everyone has identified as being needed,” Davis said.

During the public hearing, two residents of Viewmont Court pledged to fight eminent domain to the fullest extent possible.

Deborah Parsons said the relocation of the road would radically transfer her quality of life by routing 7,000 vehicles past her house, which is currently on a cul-de-sac.

“To me, that’s an abomination,” Parsons said. “It would be a traffic nightmare.”

“I warn you, I will not acquiesce quietly,” said Ronald Dimberg, who also said property crime would increase.

However, the president of the Ashcroft Neighborhood Association pleaded with the board to approve the rezoning so the road improvement would be made.

“At least we would have a way out of our neighborhood,” said Kelly Oakes. “You must give us some way out of our neighborhood.”

Spurzem had previously planned to build a shopping center on the 37.5 acre property. In 2005, Albemarle lost a court case with Spurzem that sought to deny the by-right shopping center development known as Gazebo Plaza.

Long said Spurzem could still build the shopping center if he is not granted the rezoning.

“The value of the road and other amenities are worth several million,” Long said. She added the county’s cash proffer policy provides for flexibility.

“This road intersection is extremely dangerous and there are not a lot of options to fix it in the future,” Long said, hinting the only way to guarantee improvement would be to approve the rezoning.

She said the road would have a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit and would have traffic calming measures.

After a two hours of discussion, a majority of supervisors said they did not have enough information to support approval.

“We’ve got a lot of loose ends here,” said Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier. He said the applicant should work with staff to resolve the issues.

Rooker said he would prefer to hold at least one work sessions, especially on the issue of condemnation. 

“The [Viewmont Court] residents did not create this problem,” said Rooker. “It's unfortunate you have a small neighborhgood on a cul-de-sac that is being asked to bear the brunt.”

Supervisors directed staff to work with the applicant to conduct a traffic study before scheduling a work session.