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April 12, 2010

Council adopts $140.8 million budget for FY2011

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, April 12, 2010


Mayor Dave Norris reads the resolution adopting the budget for FY2011

The Charlottesville City Council has adopted a $140.75 million budget, a 1.19% reduction from the one adopted last year. The real estate tax rate will remain the same at 95 cents per $100 of assessed value. Council took the action at a special meeting held Monday night. The operational budget for FY2011 is $126,001,345, 0.77% less than that during the current year.

Real estate taxes make up the bulk of the budget , and they are projected to be down by 1.59% in the next fiscal year due to a decline in property assessments. Sales taxes are also projected to decrease by 5.56%.

At some point during the year, Council will have to determine where to make $624,000 of cuts to programs funded by the state. Governor Bob McDonnell balanced the budget by requiring localities to reduce spending, but gave cities and counties the flexibility to determine where to make the reductions.


Click for larger image (Source: City of Charlottesville)

Council adopted a $33.85 million capital improvement program (CIP) budget, twice as much as the $16.3 million CIP adopted for FY2010. The increase is due to the transfer of federal and state money being used to pay for Meadowcreek Parkway interchange project.  Other funded projects in this year’s CIP include $1 million for the Charlottesville Housing Fund, $625,000 for the City’s contribution to the Piedmont Family YMCA in McIntire Park and $250,000 for storm-water initiatives. The city will spend $250,000 to acquire new parkland.

Both the budget and the CIP were slightly amended in the weeks since City Manager Gary O’Connell unveiled the proposed budget in late February.

A new dedicated fund for improving the city’s bicycle infrastructure will be created, with an initial funding of $50,000. That amount will be transferred from an account for citywide traffic improvements.

Council opted not to spend $110,000 to increase service on three bus routes operated by the Charlottesville Area Transit service. Instead, the money will either be allocated once a design charette on the future of the system is held, or will be allocated into Council’s pool of funding for “priority initiatives.”

Download Download resolution authorizing the FY2011 budget for more details

Council opted to allocate some of that money during the budget review process. The organization People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry (PACEM) received $10,000 in funding, and the Foothills Child Advocacy Center received $25,000. The police department received in additional $10,000 to help pay for overtime related to helping catch sexual predators people who use the internet to meet children.


Click for larger image (Source: City of Charlottesville)

Council also chose not to spend $200,000 in this year’s CIP to renovate the mall west of the Charlottesville Ice Park. Instead, that money will be allocated to the Charlottesville Housing Fund. In all, there will be $1.4 million placed in the fund this year because Council also opted to dedicate $200,000 in federal community development block grant (CDBG) for that purpose. The budget anticipates the receipt of $18,454,658 in revenue sharing funds from Albemarle County. Of this amount, $4.25 million goes to the CIP, $250,000 goes to a facilities repair fund $211,826 goes to an equipment replacement fund, and nearly $2.8 million goes into the economic downturn fund. The remaining $10,948,527 goes into Charlottesville’s operating budget.

January 07, 2010

City’s Public Works director gives post-mortem on snow removal

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 7, 2010


A car being uncovered on Water Street on Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nearly two feet of snow fell on Charlottesville in the week before Christmas during the fourth largest blizzard in recorded history. While the remaining snowdrifts and patches of black ice will melt in the short-term, the after-effects of the storm could be felt for many years to come as City officials seek ways to improve planning for the next major storm. On January 4, 2010, Public Works Director Judy Mueller appeared before City Council to describe her department’s response. She addressed what went wrong, and offered suggestions to how the city’s response might be improved the next time a massive storm hits town.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast:

Download 20100104-CC-SnowReport

Some facts from her presentation:

  • For six days, the streets division ran 12-hour shifts with 30 employees working snow plows to attempt to clear the roads. Seven other employees worked to support the logistics, and to repair broken equipment.
  • Over 450 tons of salt were used in the clearing efforts. Mueller said it takes 100 tons to cover every City street at least once. She said at no point did the City run out of salt.
  • Bridges were treated with a “special liquid chemical” rather than salt to reduce corrosion.
  • All of the City’s secondary streets were salted prior to the storm.
  • Plowing began after two inches of snow had fallen, and crews remained until all streets were cleared.
  • The first priority was to plow primary routes such as the Route 250 bypass, followed by transit routes, and then secondary roads. At that point, crews began to widen the paths made on primary routes.
  • The public works department received over 1,000 calls during the storm, including many people from Albemarle County who had seen the number given out in broadcast news reports.
  • Many private contractors were not available to work for the City until Monday because they had been retained to clear private parking lots.

20100104-Mueller-Council Mueller addressing Council
Mueller said this storm hit very fast and hit at rush hour. Over two feet of snow during the storm. In an average year, Charlottesville gets 17 inches of snow spread out over several storms. Mueller said the City’s equipment is designed to handle 99.99% of expected snow events.“This storm is the .01% that we really don’t have the equipment to handle in a manner everyone would have liked to have seen,” Mueller said. In response to a question from Mayor Dave Norris, Mueller said it would cost the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to purchase the heavy equipment needed to have been fully prepared.

In normal storms, rubber blades are routinely attached to city plows in order to reduce damage to streets. A decision was only made to switch to metal blades when it was clear the roads were packed with ice. 

Another major obstacle was the number of abandoned vehicles. Downed trees also stopped crews on some routes, especially if power lines had also fallen. Mueller said in those cases, Dominion Power must inspect the lines before the trees could be cleared to avoid electrocution.

Mueller said other City departments were also busy during the storm.

“One of the things when you have something like this that happens every 13 to 15 years is a tremendous outpouring of employees wanting to help other employees across division and departmental lines,” Mueller said.
  • The Police Department had 31 uniformed officers working on the Friday of the storm, 23 working on Saturday and 25 working on Sunday. City officers also assisted with search and rescue efforts for stranded motorists in Albemarle County.
  • The Fire Department had 37 employees working throughout the weekend, primarily to assist with the operation of the UVA Aquatics Center as a shelter for those who could not get  home. Officers also helped ferry supplies between the center and the Red Cross’s headquarters on Rose Hill Drive.
  • The Parks and Recreation Department dedicated 32 employees to clearing the downtown mall.
  • Seventeen employees from utilities division were put to work clearing public parking lots and also working on gas leaks and water main breaks.

Mueller said next time such a storm occurs, the city will take off the rubber blades earlier, will hire private contractors, and will try to do more in advance to keep people off the streets.

“We were really, really hampered by heavy traffic,” Mueller said.

Mueller said her department has repaired 36 potholes in the past week, including 13 on the Belmont bridge alone.

Councilor David Brown asked if the bus routes should have been cleared sooner in order to give pedestrians an alternative form of transportation. Mueller said the Charlottesville Transit Service opted to cancel service in the days after the storm in part because it had a hard time getting enough drivers.


City streets downtown were still covered with snow on the Sunday following the storm, allowing for unusual transportation alternatives

Councilor Kristin Szakos called for a volunteer clearinghouse to be set up in order to connect willing workers with necessary projects.

Mueller said Madison House has done that during previous storms, but there were fewer able bodies because the University of Virginia had just ended its fall semester. She said there is a group of volunteers that offer to use their 4x4 vehicles to ferry essential personnel for hospitals and other critically important public services.

One immediate outcome of the storm will be to reconvene the city’s pedestrian safety task force to discuss how sidewalks on key corridors could be cleared faster.

January 05, 2010

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2009.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download Brian Wheeler's appearance on the Coy Barefoot show

This is the fourth year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns.

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2009
  1. Biscuit Run goes from Albemarle’s largest proposed development ever to a future state park after all 1,200 acres are acquired by the Commonwealth of Virginia in December.
  2. Meadowcreek Parkway construction begins in Albemarle.  Local lawsuit fails to stop construction and City Council’s 3-2 vote to convey City property is upheld in court.  In December, VDOT puts City’s portion (called McIntire Road Extended) out to bid and City Council approves preliminary interchange design.
  3. City & County both hold local elections.  Democrats keep all five seats on Charlottesville City Council.  Three independent candidates in the City are unsuccessful in their bids for Council with Bob Fenwick’s campaign largely a referendum on the future of McIntire Park and dredging for water supply needs.  In Albemarle, Republican Rodney Thomas upset incumbent Chairman Democrat David Slutzky (D-Rio).  In the open seat race to fill the Samuel Miller District seat, Republican Duane Snow defeats two opponents.  Thomas and Snow join Republican Ken Boyd to form a group of three Republicans.  Both newcomers are local businessmen born and raised in Charlottesville-Albemarle. The election results will bring a new mix of experience, politics and philosophy to the board in 2010 that could mean big changes in the board's approach to budgeting, tax rates, economic development and other key issues.
  4. Fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan continues to be evaluated by local officials and public for opportunities to improve plan and lower costs.  Engineering firm Gannett Fleming is dropped and replaced with local firm Schnabel Engineering.  Three studies get underway related to dredging of South Fork, the design of the new Ragged Mountain Dam, and a “conceptual review” of the proposed pipeline connecting the two reservoirs.
  5. Places29 Master Plan is recommended for approval by Albemarle County Planning Commission on 4-2 vote.  Many business leaders continue to oppose grade-separated interchanges and other transportation proposals that cannot currently be funded by state.  Wendell Wood lobbies for growth area expansion on to undeveloped land he owns in Northern Albemarle.
  6. Peter van der Linde opens recycling facility at Zion Crossroads.  Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (run jointly by Charlottesville-Albemarle) files lawsuit against van der Linde accusing him of fraud and non-payment of as much as $1 million in tipping fees to the RSWA facility.  RSWA decides to seek bids to privatize the Ivy Material Utilization Center and McIntire recycling facilities.
  7. Charlottesville Downtown Mall renovations completed under budget and mostly on schedule (fountains needed more work after deadline).
  8. Major new housing and retail developments continue to be held up by market forces, economic downturn, and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity).
  9. Virginia General Assembly blocks local sales tax voter referendum, requested by both Charlottesville & Albemarle as part of search for new transportation funding resources, specifically to support formation of a Regional Transit Authority.
  10. First annual CvillePieFest is held in Crozet.  Organized on Twitter, it was simply amazing.
    (Full disclosure: Coy Barefoot & Brian Wheeler really want to continue as permanent judges for this event, something that should become the Virginia Pie Festival! Keep track of all things local pie here.)
Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2010
  1. Key decisions will be made about next steps for the fifty-year Community Water Supply Plan related to Ragged Mountain dam design and dredging.
  2. Crozet Master Plan review is completed.  What is new target for Crozet’s build out population and will the growth area be expanded at Yancey Mills for a new business park?
  3. New growth area land in U.S. Route 29 corridor will be considered to replace the 3.5% of growth area lost to state’s acquisition in late 2009 of Biscuit Run for a new state park.
  4. Village of Rivanna and Places29 Master Plans will be reviewed by Board of Supervisors.  Will Places29 be approved and, if so, with what transportation vision for the future of U.S. 29 North?
  5. Local government continues to struggle with the continuing impact of state and local budget shortfalls in very difficult economy.  Officials will consider new proposals to diversify Albemarle’s tax base (increased commercial/industrial) and proposals to reduce recently adjusted cash proffer expectations in an effort to encourage new home construction.
  6. City-County-UVA cooperation will get more attention by the public and local officials (revenue sharing, water, solid waste, schools, public safety).  Will it get better or worse?
  7. Master Planning of McIntire Park will get underway and future uses, like a botanical garden, will be assessed. 
  8. The military facilities at Rivanna Station around the National Ground Intelligence Center will continue their expansion and bring new residents to the community working for the Defense Intelligence Agency and military sub-contractors.
  9. Charlottesville and Albemarle both face challenges from their residents concerned about urban infill development, the type of growth encouraged by each locality’s comprehensive plans, but often opposed in the face of neighborhood concerns about increased traffic, public safety, and noise.  How will this impact redevelopment of West Main and old Martha Jefferson Hospital?
  10. Landmark Hotel construction on Downtown Mall resumes, or not…

July 21, 2009

Council allocates Downtown Mall savings to other streetscape projects; Holds balance in reserve

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Charlottesville City Council has reallocated some of the cost savings from the $7.5 million Downtown Mall renovation project which was completed under budget. Council voted to spend $800,000 on work to improve 2nd Street SE next to the stalled Landmark Hotel as well as improvements near the University Corner. However, Council opted not to approve a staff recommendation to use $300,000 to brick part of 6th Street SE between the Market Street Parking Garage and City Hall.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090720-CC-Mall-Savings

Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, said while the City expects approximately $1.5 million in savings from the Mall, he could only confirm $1.1 million at the time he appeared before Council on July 20, 2009. He offered three projects for Council to consider:

  • 2nd Street East: The uncompleted Landmark Hotel project left this street in a state of disrepair. This project, estimated by Barton Malow to cost $800,000,  would install bricks as well as place utilities underground. Tolbert said the project would be done in such a way that the improved sidewalk would be protected if and when the hotel project resumes. The City has previously allocated $208,000 to this project, and Tolbert asked for $600,000 more.
  • Corner streetscape projects: An existing project to repair curbs and sidewalks in the Corner district was budgeted at $300,000, but Tolbert told Council the work is actually going to cost $500,000. He asked for an additional $200,000 to make the sure the project can be completed. Missing bricks are being replaced, trip hazards are being minimized, and basements are being water-proofed.
  • 6th Street East: The alleyway between City Hall and the Market Street Parking garage currently only has one narrow sidewalk. This plan would add bricks to a third of the street leading up from the Mall, widen the sidewalk, and add landscaping near Market Street to improve the street’s appearance. Tolbert asked for $300,000.

NDS Director Jim Tolbert had argued that 6th Street NE could use wider sidewalks to  improve pedestrian safety

Council did not feel that the 6th Street project was a high priority at this time. Councilor Satyendra Huja said he felt that improvements should be made first to 2nd Street Northwest between McGuffey Park and the Mall, 5th Street East between the Mall and Court Square, and 2nd Street North between the Mall and Lee Park. He asked for designs to be conducted for each project. Tolbert said those designs could be done.  However, rather than allocate the $300,000 to those projects, Council opted to place that money in reserve to carry over into the Capital Improvement Budget for fiscal year 2011.

“I’m not sure this is a time where we can justify improvements that are purely cosmetic in nature,” said Mayor Dave Norris.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro questioned why curbs are being replaced on Elliewood Avenue, given that delivery trucks will likely wear them back down again. Tolbert said the existing curbs were installed over 25 years ago, and needed replacement.

2nd Street SE is currently in a state of disrepair

Councilors also questioned whether improvements to 2nd Street East would be premature. Tolbert said the hotel developer, who must contribute $200,000 to the project by 2014, would be responsible for any damage done when construction resumes. Tolbert said that the design would allow for scaffolding to be placed on the building, and added that the project will no longer need heavy cranes given that the hotel’s structure is already in place.

Councilor Holly Edwards asked if the savings could be use to reduce the fees paid by vendors. Tolbert said he would look into it as his department reevaluates the fee structure this fall.

Councilor Huja also questioned the estimates for the other projects and asked his fellow Councilors if they would support reducing the amount for each project by $50,000 each. However, Tolbert said he would have to alter the Corner streetscape project dramatically if the budget was reduced.

“I promise you that we won’t spend a dime more than we have to,” Tolbert said.

Council unanimously voted in favor of reallocating $800,000 towards two of the projects recommended by Tolbert. The rest will be kept in reserve. 

May 07, 2009

Charlottesville Democrats hold forum for three City Council candidates


By Sean Tubbs & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 7, 2009

The three Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the two open seats on the Charlottesville City Council have held their final debate before an open primary on Saturday, May 9, 2009. Incumbents Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro along with challenger Kristin Szakos spent an hour answering questions at the party’s candidates’ forum on May 6, 2009.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090506-Dems-Candidates-Forum

Watch the video: Video: City Council Candidate Forum #2

Mayor Dave Norris said that if he is re-elected, he looks forward to the revitalization of the City’s public housing sites. He says redevelopment will be the community’s “best opportunity” to increase the amount of affordable housing units. Norris also said he would like Council to have more authority over the hiring and firing  of City department heads.

Challenger Kristin Szakos called for holding City Council meetings outside of Council Chambers, meetings where dinner and childcare would be made available to attendees. Szakos also said she supported a dedicated City fund for affordable housing, called for the upgrading of the Charlottesville Transit System to a “more urban” system, and said she would be a careful watchdog of City staff.

Incumbent Julian Taliaferro said he wanted to complete the community’s 50-year water supply plan, defended his unwillingness to support a dedicated affordable housing fund, and said he has the experience to help the City through the next few years of economic turmoil. Taliaferro also said he is capable of standing up to City Manager Gary O’Connell. 

Moderator Sean McCord had the opportunity to ask questions on current issues facing the City. None of the candidates felt the City had the responsibility to help complete the abandoned Landmark Hotel project on the Downtown Mall. 

On the topic of the Hillsdale Drive/Regal Cinema 4 expansion issue, Norris said a “communications breakdown” between City staff and the developers has lead to a misunderstanding that he said could be solved by moving the road’s alignment. Szakos said the City did not do a good job of bringing all the stakeholders together to explain the road’s purpose. Taliaferro did not directly answer this question, but did explain why he continued to be a supporter of the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Saturday’s unassembled caucus will be held from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM at Burley Middle School on Rose Hill Drive in Charlottesville. Registered City voters can participate as long as they are willing to sign a loyalty pledge that says they will not support another party’s candidate or an independent candidate in the general election.

See Charlottesville Tomorrow's Election Watch page for complete coverage of the City's 2009 elections.


  • 01:00 – Introduction of forum from moderator Sean McCord
  • 02:40 – Opening statement from Mayor Dave Norris
  • 04:10 – Opening statement from challenger Kristin Szakos
  • 05:10 – Opening statement from incumbent Julian Taliaferro
  • 07:00 – Question #1: “If you are elected or re-elected to the City Council and you return to a public forum like this a year from now, what would you like to say you accomplished after this year?”
  • 11:30 – Question #2: “What distinguishes you as a Democratic candidate and what are the advantages of electing Democrats to City Council?”
  • 17:00 – Question #3: “Do you think the City and the City taxpayers have a responsibility to help finish the Landmark Hotel project, and what would you like to see done with it?”
  • 19:30 – Question #4: “Regal Cinema 4 has announced plans to rebuild their cinema behind K-Mart with additional screens and stadium seating. Many area residents are excited that they won’t have to drive to Short Pump in order to have a modern movie-going experience. Unfortunately, that theater sits directly in the path of the $30 million proposed road construction project to extend Hillsdale Drive to Hydraulic Road. At the same time, a group of concerned citizens have gone to court to prevent the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway through McIntire Park. What do you propose, both short term and long term, as a solution to our traffic problems and to citizen opposition to building new roads?”
  • 27:30 – Audience question #1: “We have a city manager form of government, and over the years I’ve come to believe that the city manager wields more power than anyone else for setting priorities and making decisions. My question to all three of you is, what system do you have in place to watchdog the city manager?”
  • 33:30 – Audience question #2: (directed at Taliaferro) “You mentioned affordable housing in your opening statement. On several occasions, you have publicly endorsed the creation of a dedicated fund for affordable housing, but when it came time to vote for it, you were the deciding vote against it. How do you reconcile your public statements against it with your [previous] campaign promises?”
  • 39:00 – Audience question #3: “I hear each Council member speak for affordable housing. The last time I heard someone talk about affordable housing they  built 12 houses in the 10th and Page neighborhood, and they were all $300,000 homes. Can someone define affordable housing and who are they going to build these affordable housing units for when a large majority of people in this town are not doctors and lawyers and only have incomes [between] $30,000 or $35,000? What kind of affordable housing are we offering those citizens?”
  • 42:35 – Audience question #4: “You are supposed to be voting the will of the people. You’re up there representing me and other people in this room and other people not in this room. I don’t want you to vote what you think is best. I want you to vote what I think is best and what your constituents say is the best. Would you comment on that, please?”
  • 48:00 – Norris asks Szakos: “What is it about community organizing that has helped to shape the way you would serve this community as a City Councilor?”
  • 50:00 – Szakos asks Norris: “What is one thing that you were not able to  achieve during your first term that you’re running for reelection so that you can accomplish?”
  • 52:00: Taliaferro asks Norris: “How do you think we can bring more pressure to bear to move [the 50 year community water supply] forward?”
  • 53:45 – Closing statement from Taliaferro
  • 54:45 – Closing statement from Szakos
  • 55:55 – Closing statement from Norris
  • 57:45 – Comments from City Democratic Co-Chair Jonathan Blank

April 16, 2009

Planning Commission skeptical of plan to increase parking downtown

By Daniel Nairn
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 16, 2009

At their joint public hearing on April 14, 2009, the Charlottesville Planning Commission reacted to a staff proposal to reinstate minimum parking requirements for all new downtown developments. Most commissioners wanted to explore other means of meeting demands of mobility before assenting to a dramatic increase in downtown parking spots. The Commission unanimously voted to request from City Council another 150 days to study the issue further.

Current PEZ zones from Downtown Parking Study

Parking Exempt Zones (PEZ) were created in the 1970’s as a way to discourage the use of downtown land for surface parking. A 2008 parking study evaluated the current use of PEZ as part of a comprehensive review of downtown parking. While the zones have not been very effectual, because developers typically opted to supply parking anyway, the study concluded that the PEZ were not causing any problems. Planning staff, with guidance from a stakeholder group, decided nevertheless that PEZ ought to be eliminated.

The proposed change, entitled “Urban Parking Zone,” would require a developer to provide 1 space per residential unit and about 1 space per 500 sq. ft. for restaurants and retail. Parking must be provided within 1000 ft. of the site. Alternatively, the developer could contribute to a fund specifically earmarked for the construction of another parking garage. Conspicuously absent from the proposal was any option for developers funding alternative transportation or Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies. Mayor Norris asked Jim Tolbert why staff had not followed City Council’s recommendation to include these elements, and Tolbert responded that it was simply an “oversight.”

The commissioners agreed that some provision for TDM ought to be allowed as an option for developers. Commissioner Cheri Lewis asked, “Can we do something to encourage alternative means of transportation? This is just throwing us back into a requirement that was the reason why we adopted a parking exempt zone.” Commissioner Michael Farruggio was the only commissioner to defend the push for more parking to relieve parking problems in residential neighborhoods, yet he also wants to consider other ways to resolve this problem that do not require more parking lots.

Many commissioners carried the discussion further by asking why the City has been giving away parking for free.  Councilor David Brown even interjected to thank the Commission for raising the issue of charging for parking. He was the only Councilor to support the idea when City Council received the parking study in February. The parking study recommended a $1 an hour parking fee for on-street parking, which would generate between $500,000 and $600,000 a year in revenue.

Commissioner Mike Osteen first raised the possibility of pricing city parking, saying “I think we provide cheap on-street parking at the most convenient locations. I think we need to be more aggressive about the price structure of these places.” Commissioner Lewis added, “This is a short term fix but I don’t think its meeting our long term goals.” She agrees with the idea of installing meters and discouraging the notion that the public is entitled to have a free spot available exactly where they want it.

Because of the importance of the discussion, the Planning Commission decided to request a deferral from Council in order to have more time to study the issue. The 2008 Parking study that is the linchpin of this discussion is available online for public review.

April 08, 2009

MMM Design selected to oversee new Belmont Bridge design work

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An artist's rendering depicting the span of the Belmont Bridge through downtown Charlottesville (Source: MMM Design)

Charlottesville City Council received a very brief update on the replacement plans for Belmont Bridge at their meeting on April 6, 2009. The project has a current cost estimate of $9 million, according to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert. Construction will not begin until at least 2014 when the City is expected to have received enough funding for the project.  It has accumulated state funding and federal commitments to allow for preliminary engineering work by MMM Design. MMM is the company that oversaw the design of the downtown mall renovations.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090407-CC-Belmont-Bridge

“From an engineering standpoint, any engineers could design a bridge,” Tolbert said. “But because of this bridge and because of where it’s located… the aesthetic pieces of this and the functionality are really the important things.” Tolbert added that MMM Design has proven their understanding of the need to make the bridge more than just about cars. They will now begin a design process that Tolbert said would last at least two years. He said a special effort would be made to reach out to the Belmont neighborhood.

Continue reading "MMM Design selected to oversee new Belmont Bridge design work" »

February 09, 2009

Council modifies downtown parking; keeps 2 hour spots

In the early spring of 2008, Neighborhood Development Services for the City of Charlottesville hired consultants to conduct a study of downtown parking.  They examined whether there are currently enough parking spaces to meet today’s needs as well as the demand for the future, whether the parking in the core of the city is meeting community needs, if the parking exempt zone is still useful and how improved public transit may affect parking demand. The results of this study were first presented to Council on November 3, 2008.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download Parking Resolution

At their meeting on February 2, 2009, the City Council heard the staff’s recommendations (Download Parking Resolution )  for addressing these parking issues.  The study found that the way spaces are currently utilized in the downtown area presents problems for the loading and delivery that is necessary for downtown businesses to operate. They also concluded that the parking exempt zone is no longer appropriate.  (The parking exempt zone was established to encourage downtown redevelopment by waiving minimum parking requirements for new developments.)  Furthermore, the study suggested that parking should be managed and coordinated with a planned system for how on-street spaces could be designated.

Assistant City Traffic Engineer Donovan Branche addresses the City Council

City staff suggested making changes to on-street parking that include:

  • Restricting tractor trailer delivery times at the mall crossing to before 11 A.M.
  • Creating delivery placards that would be sold to businesses that could be used on side streets.
  • Converting 15-minute, 30-minute and two-hour spaces in the core zone between Market and Water Streets to one hour parking  (not adopted by City Council)
  • Converting Garret Street between Gleason and 2nd St. to one way, in the west bound direction, and creating angled parking on one side
  • Creating 12 all day Vespa or Motorcycle spaces
  • Initiating a change to zoning that would eliminate the parking exempt zone therefore requiring downtown developers to include parking or pay a fee into a fund to pay for the next public garage (amended to include the option of utilizing the fund to support a Park & Ride program)

Several community members spoke at the public hearing in support of the parking study and its recommendations. Todd Toms, owner of Moxie Hair Lounge, said that he thinks improved parking will help the warehouse district to continue to grow and develop.  “Great construction and development are happening here which will make the area a viable part of the city,” Toms said.

“Parking is vital to our survival, we need it and we want it,” said Sharon Manning, owner of Quince, urging the Council to move forward with improving parking around Garrett Street.

Peter Kleeman, who lives on Hedge Street, questioned the accuracy of the study saying that the parking garage being constructed on 4th street northeast for the Juvenile and Domestic Court project was not included in the study, making it less accurate than it otherwise might have been. “It is not in the interest of our community to build parking garages in the core downtown area,” Kleeman said.

Collette Hall, President of the North Downtown Residents Association, told Council that her group’s main concern is overflow commuter parking in neighborhoods.  She recommended development of a Park and Ride system for City and County employees to relieve some downtown parking spaces.

One of the recommendations of City staff was to explore ways in which parking enforcement can be made more efficient, citing a decrease in citations.  Police Chief Tim Longo was asked to respond to this suggestion.

“We do our very best to use the resources we have in a way that’s smart for both enforcement but also helping to manage the greater parking issue that takes place downtown and in our communities,” Longo said.  He explained that there are vacant positions for parking enforcers.

“I’d like to think that people are changing their habits and seeking out other transportation options when they come downtown,” Chief Longo also told council.

City Councilor Holly Edwards said that she would like to hear more from the police department about how efficiency could be measured.  She said she would like to see it become efficient within the department where it exists rather than move the responsibility to a new department.     Additionally, Councilor Edwards suggested that the zoning specify that funds be used for transit improvements or establishment of a park and ride system in addition to a new parking garage. “The remote parking that UVA has established at U-Hall is a good example of how that can be successful,” Edwards said. 

Parking on Market Street

City Councilor Satyendra Huja expressed concern that limiting parking in the core to one hour was too restrictive. “I wonder whether one hour is sufficient time for somebody coming downtown for lunch or something,” Huja said.

Mayor Dave Norris also challenged staff’s recommendation to convert the core zone to all one hour parking. Saying that as a step to deal with the “two hour shufflers” this does not address where those people will park instead. “I’m not convinced that moving to one hour parking is the best way to go,” Norris said.

Mayor Norris also suggested providing incentives to developers and employers to create transportation demand management programs in addition to parking.  “We should be encouraging developers to contribute toward transit itself,” Norris said.

The parking study also included discussions with the owner of Friendship Court and nearby businesses.  Currently, parking on the south side of Garrett is restricted after 9 P.M. “The current owners of Friendship Court have told me that they no longer feel [the parking restriction] is necessary to maintain public safety,” Mayor Norris said.  However, Norris said there is still the need to talk to the people who live in Friendship Court to see if they are favorable to lifting those restrictions. 

“More bodies, cars and pedestrians on side streets would improve public safety,” said Mayor Norris.  The Council voted to adopt a resolution incorporating some of the recommendations, as well as their various amendments.

Fania Gordon


January 06, 2009

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2008

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2008.

This is the third year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns and fellows.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Brian Wheeler's Top 10 Stories

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth and Development Stories of 2008

  1. Approved 50-year Community Water Supply Plan comes under scrutiny as proposed Ragged Mountain Dam cost estimates rise and citizen group demands look at project alternatives and dredging options. [Review all our water supply news].
  2. Major new housing and retail developments held up by market forces and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity impacting North Pointe and Albemarle Place developments). National economic recession impacts local government budgets, housing market, and new home construction.  New County residential building permits total 360 through September 2008, on track to be the lowest annual total in over a decade.
  3. Supervisor Ann Mallek’s first year representing the White Hall District on the six member Albemarle County Board of Supervisors results in several significant 4-2 votes breaking the 3-3 stalemate that had existed on issues like property taxes and rural area protection strategies.
  4. City and County agree to seek legislation to support formation of Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Transit Authority (CARTA), a jointly run public transit authority that would take over and expand the bus operations of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS). Separate legislation is being recommended by a work group of Supervisors and City Councilors to seek authority to raise funds for transportation projects (including transit operations) via a local sales tax increase, if approved in a voter referendum in each locality.
  5. Meadowcreek Parkway construction contract (for the County’s portion) awarded to Faulconer Construction with work scheduled to begin in early 2009. City Council opts for grade-separated “signalized diamond” interchange for the Parkway’s intersection with the Route 250. The Steering Committee had recommended a design with an overpass above an oval roundabout. City Planning Commission ends their work in 2008 with a recommendation to withdraw funding for City’s portion of project which is scheduled to go to bid in early 2009. 
  6. Albemarle County approves several rural area protection strategies. Three rural area ordinance changes were approved related to holding periods on family sub-divisions, stream buffers, and driveways across steep slopes. A new land use taxation revalidation program is also approved by a unanimous vote of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. 
  7. County continues review of economic development policy update in comprehensive plan and eyes light industrial zoning needs. As part of a lengthy (and frequently delayed) review of the Economic Development chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, Supervisors overturn a Planning Commission decision and opt to continue review of Yancey Mills Business Park, a proposal for a light industrial business park in Crozet near the I-64 and Route 250 interchange. Review of the economic development goals began in November 2007 and is once again on the agenda of the Board of Supervisors for their meeting on January 7, 2009.
  8. Charlottesville City Council holds retreat in Staunton, VACharlottesville Tomorrow attends as only observer from public or media
  9. Albemarle County improves citizen and media access to important planning information by providing Internet access to complete staff reports provided to the County Planning Commission and by releasing the County View web application which allows detailed tracking of planning and building applications. Combined with the County’s GISWEB application and complete access to Board of Supervisor meeting materials and podcasts, the County has an impressive collection of material available online.
  10. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Pie Day 2008.  No other topic generated as much positive feedback and listener calls as Coy and Brian’s ongoing radio dialogue about homemade pies.

Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2009

  • 50-year Community Water Supply Plan
  • Results of government efficiency reviews released by City and County.  What changes will be implemented?
  • Local elections will be held for City Council and Board of Supervisors (see Election Watch 2009)
  • General Assembly will block local sales tax increase for transportation funding and continue to shrink VDOT funding allocations to Charlottesville-Albemarle
  • Downtown Mall renovations will be completed.  Will it be under budget and on schedule? Monitor the progress here.
  • Local governments will face budget challenges as recession continues.  Revenue sharing from County to City will increase by $4 million to around $18 million a year.
  • Places29 Master Plan will be unveiled.  Will it be approved?
  • Crozet Master Plan’s first 5-year review gets underway
  • Meadowcreek Parkway construction gets underway. Will a lawsuit stall City’s portion?
  • Community will review of ASAP’s optimal population study findings

The best way to keep track of these and other stories about growth and development is to subscribe to our free weekly e-mail updates.  Thanks for listening, reading, and commenting in 2008!

Brian Wheeler

December 18, 2008

Tolbert: Preparation for mall renovation “exceeding expectations”

The renovation of the downtown mall is scheduled to begin in earnest just after the New Yeark. City Council received an update on the project at its meeting on December 15, 2008 from Jim Tolbert,  Charlottesville’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services.  Tolbert said the project will be ready to begin next month as most of the major elements have been bid. 

  • Brick for the project has been ordered and Tolbert said bids came under budgeted amount
  • Masonry, runnel replacement, and demolition have been placed for bid
  • Electrical work has been bid and awarded to Design Electric
  • Fountain refurbishment work has not been bid yet
  • Tolbert said the project appears to be between 10% and 15% under the project’s $7.5 million price tag, but would produce a final report on cost savings by April 2009
  • The removed bricks will be taken up and pulverized for use in trail construction

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20081215-CC-Mall

These bricks on 5th Street NE were removed in November as part of a demonstration project

Tolbert also shared the phasing schedule with Council and promised that no stores or restaurants would be closed during construction. He said there will be signage to direct pedestrian traffic while bricks are being removed and replaced. Block captains will meet every two weeks during the project to relay information between business owners and construction crews.  

When Council agreed to the project in July, Councilor Holly Edwards had asked about the possibility of employing local youth as a workforce development project. Tolbert said Barton Malow, the firm managing the construction, is working with the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) to hire students to serve as assistants for the project.  

“The hope is that those individuals would be helping do a lot of the work that needs to be done, directing citizens as citizens are looking for how to get to the businesses, but they’d also be learning the carpentry trade while they’re there,” Tolbert said. Councilor Satyendra Huja said Tolbert’s effort to create opportunities was a model for future City projects.

Sean Tubbs