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April 24, 2009

Dave Norris calls for a “Greener Charlottesville”

20090414-Norris1 By Fania Gordon & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, April 24, 2009

Several days before the official kickoff of Earth Week, Charlottesville Mayor, Dave Norris (D), called for action to make Charlottesville greener both literally (by a “significant expansion of green space”) and figuratively (by promoting environmentally friendly features and practices).  On April 14, 2009, Norris presented his Proposal for a Greener Charlottesville at a press conference in Northeast Park.  Norris has held a series of media events related to his current re-election campaign for City Council.

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Norris’ proposal includes recommendations to:

  • Increase the City’s tree canopy from 32% to 40% or more through public and private efforts.
  • Encourage construction of green roofs by facilitating their construction through incentive programs, technical assistance and support.
  • Convert “rivers and seas of barren asphalt” into landscaped green streets and green parking lots, and install more pocket parks and community gardens.
  • Purchase and preserve green space and new park land while enhancing existing parks by planting more native species.

At their September 2008 retreat, City Council identified achieving a 40% tree canopy as one of seven major priorities for 2008-2010. Norris expressed frustration about how difficult it has been to actually realize the Council’s tree canopy objectives.  “We’ve been talking about that for at least two years, and I’m frankly a little frustrated we haven’t gotten to the point of taking action on it,” said Norris.  “We need to implement a bold plan of action,” Norris said.

Norris said City Council had not yet received an Urban Forestry Management Plan that was supposed to be completed by January 1, 2009, according to the City’s workplan priorities.  “We’ve been asking for it for many months, and we are told it is coming soon.” 

At the press conference, Norris emphasized that his proposed actions are not in opposition to urban-infill development within the City, explaining that they should be part of a larger infill strategy.  When asked about the possibility of converting the City owned surface parking lot on Water Street into a green space, Norris said he thought it would be more appropriately used for something else.
“That site presents an opportunity for very creative infill development that could include some green space,” said Norris.

Norris also touted the fact the recently adopted City budget included funds for the greening of Charlottesville.  “This is the first year, in many many years, that the city in the FY 2010 budget has included a small amount of money, $100,000 for the purchase and preservation of green space,” said Norris.  “I’d like to see us expand that amount in the years to come.”

While Norris did not specify exactly which paved areas he would like to see converted to green space he suggested ways that existing roads and parking lots could be made greener. These suggestions included increasing parking lot plantings, installing storm-water runoff mitigation features and landscaping streets.  Norris expressed regret about the fact that the City is going to give up so many acres of green space in McIntire Park for the construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway. “I think it’s the wrong direction for us to proceed,” he said.

When asked if the trees to be removed for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir would be considered in of the City’s calculation of its tree cover, Norris said they would not because they lie outside of the City limits even though the land is technically owned by the City.  However, Norris did say that he felt this question was important as those trees contribute to the overall environmental health of the area and their removal would represent the largest clear-cut on City owned property in a long time.  “We haven’t done a very good job at balancing our talk with our plan of action,” said Norris.  

While 180 acres of trees are proposed to be cleared at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir site, the environmental mitigation plan concept for the 50-year community water supply has as a key element the preservation and enhancement of streams around the Buck Mountain property in Free Union, VA, including the replanting of some 200 acres of riparian corridor.

Norris concluded the press conference saying that the key to successfully greening the City will be community engagement.  “The city can and should be a part of it, but really what it’s going to take is engaging schoolchildren, garden clubs, neighborhood associations, our development partners, the whole community to identify opportunities,” Norris said.

April 16, 2009

Albemarle publishes map to help citizens "go green"

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Albemarle County has published a new map intended to help citizens "go green" by showing where items can be recycled, identifying park and ride opportunities, and even showcasing "green" building projects (LEED certified buildings, solar power, etc.).

“The Green Map is a very visual and engaging guide to a wide variety of local options that support the kind of sustainable lifestyle habits that many of our residents are very interested in,” said Albemarle’s Environmental Compliance Manager Sarah Temple.

The Green Map is available for download from the County's website.

20090416-Albemarle-GreenMap

February 25, 2009

Panelists discuss sustainable development and site selection

20090210-Green-Building-Pan

The James River Green Building Council hosted a panel discussion on February 9, 2009 entitled Site Selection and Sustainable Development. The meeting, which took place at the Charlottesville Community Design Center, brought together planners, developers, public officials, and activists to share ideas about sustainable building practices and the social and cultural issues underlying the way communities develop land.

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Planner Lyle Solla-Yates served as moderator and explained some of the benefits of urban infill over development of rural areas on the fringe of cities. New construction that reuses building stock and urban public infrastructure is more sustainable than construction that requires new infrastructure and more environmentally intensive transportation use. However, urban redevelopment is currently not the norm, even for LEED certified buildings, because of the added expenses and barriers involved in infill projects.

Developer Richard Price of the Folsom Group sees a “reshaping of the American Dream” as the underlying necessity for sustainable site selection. A low-density lifestyle has become embedded in our culture.  Price said sprawling development is already here, and the challenge will be in finding a way to redevelop suburban housing stock that he considers likely to become future slums. Price’s research is in how to integrate a highly connective natural ecology with a built environment that is currently very fragmented. This involves finding links in order to make people-centered and ecological connections between existing suburban developments.

Another panelist, Albemarle County planner Elaine Echols, explained the principles of the County’s Neighborhood Model and how it relates to LEED-ND. This involves pedestrian-orientation, mixed-use centers, options for alternative transportation, buildings of human-scale, parks and open space, and clear boundaries with rural areas. The goal is to “create livable, vibrant places for residents and the preservation of rural areas.”

Julia Monteith, Senior Land Use Planner in the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect, spoke about the new University land use plan. The Office of the Architect is working on connecting the various parts of campus and keeping all new development on grounds. Academic/Mixed-use and Housing/Mixed-use are the two zones in which infill development will be accommodated. She sees physical connectivity on campus as a way to encourage mental connectivity of academic disciplines.

20090210-Green-Building2
Left to right: Stratton Salidas, Richard Price, Julia Monteith, Dan Rosensweig, Karen Waters, Sean Dougherty, Elaine Echols

City Planning Commissioner Dan Rosensweig acknowledged the tragic ecological consequences of the suburban development practices over the last several decades. Rosensweig said Charlottesville is at an “interesting existential impasse” because it needs to decide whether to stay as a “big town” or become “small city.” Rosensweig is personally pushing for more density, mixes of uses, and regional cooperation. There has been some success to this end in recent years, particularly with a new zoning ordinance to allow higher density around the University. Rosensweig believes that a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) system could be a helpful tool toward achieving this goal, and the city could benefit from being more involved in this discussion with Albemarle County.

Planner Sean Dougherty of Octagon Partners sees Urban Growth Boundaries as an effect tool in ensuring pockets of growth. He said that while Albemarle County has a boundary, there is a problem when development can leap-frog into other jurisdictions such as Greene County that do not have the same regulations in place. There needs to be regional or state-wide cooperation.

Karen Waters, director of the Quality Community Council, brought up the dilemma of gentrification. She said infill development may be  green, but there must be a way to avoid displacing current residents with new growth. People often fight new urban redevelopments because “the people who come in may not be the people who were there before.” She asked the question of how social sustainability can be included with environmental sustainability.

Local activist Stratton Salidas said he thinks the most important factor in sustainable development is the difference between building for pedestrians versus automobiles. Sustainable land use policies are important, but they will never be successful without pedestrian-oriented transportation infrastructure. Zoning should be loosened up, he said, to encourage “micro-infill” rather than large subdivisions on the outskirts of the urban area.

Daniel Nairn

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 00:55 – Introductory remarks, James River Green Building Council
  • 02:25 – Panelists are introduced
  • 05.35 -  Lyle Solla-Yates frames questions on site selection
  • 09:20 – Richard Price on connecting the existing suburban landscape
  • 15:45 – Elaine Nichols outlines Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model
  • 18:05 – Julia Monteith tells about University of Virginia planning initiatives
  • 25:35 – Dan Rosensweig offers his vision for the City of Charlottesville
  • 33:05 - Sean Dougherty explains the tool of Urban Growth Boundaries
  • 38:05 – Karen Waters brings up the dilemma of gentrification
  • 42:20 – Stratton Salidas combines ecological health and social justice
  • 51:40 – Question and Answer: How does LEED-ND factor in site location?
  • 53:00 – Is it easy for developers to redevelop on sustainable sites?
  • 1:03:15 – What is more responsible, the demand or the supply?
  • 1:11:55 - How much flexibility does planning commission have in allowing new development practices?
  • 1:15:45 – How can a denser lifestyle be sold to the homeowners, neighbors, and developers?

July 10, 2008

St. Anne’s project moves forward with significant conditions for road improvements and “green” buildings

20080708-STAB-Panorama At their July 8, 2008 meeting the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended conditional approval of a special use permit allowing St. Anne’s Belfield school (STAB) to expand their lower school campus to include middle school as well as elementary school students, raising the maximum number of students allowed on the campus to 550. Of the ten conditions the Commission placed on the approval, St. Anne’s objected only to a provision requiring construction of a new turn lane, and the stipulation that all new buildings would have to be LEED certified by the US Green Building Council as “environmentally responsible”.

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The Commission first discussed the permit application at an April 29, 2008 work session. County staff raised concerns before that meeting that the headmaster’s house, set to be demolished to make room for an additional playing field, could be a historically or architecturally significant building that should be preserved. In response, STAB submitted an evaluation by an architectural historian that the building did not fall into that category, and while staff expressed “disappointment” that the building could not be saved, they removed their objections to its demolition.

Both County staff and Commissioners were also concerned about the possible impacts increased traffic to the lower campus could have on nearby intersections. A Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) submitted by STAB identified five intersections that would experience significant congestion in 2010 if the expansion was allowed; however, according to the TIA, all of these intersections would need improvements anyway by that time due to other growth in the area. The TIA identified two intersections that would be more significantly impacted than the others, and STAB offered to pay a pro-rata share of the construction costs for those two improvements, equal to approximately $13,000.

Joel Denunzio of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) asserted in an email that while the planned increase in students would affect traffic levels at all five intersections, it would directly “trigger” the need for improvements at two intersections; a right turn lane extension at the intersection of the Route 250 off-ramp and Faulconer Drive, and a right turn taper at the intersection of Route 250 and Old Garth Road. Denunzio argued that the applicant should either be held responsible for constructing the two improvements directly triggered, or should pay a pro-rata share of all five affected intersections.

The cost for constructing the two improvements was estimated by the TIA at approximately $110,000; Mr. Denunzio was unable to provide the Commission with an estimate of STAB’s pro-rata share of all five intersections in time for the meeting. Staff recommended that STAB be responsible for construction of the two most directly impacted intersections. Richard Carter, lawyer for the applicant, objected to the suggestion that STAB should be responsible for constructing road improvements, imploring the Commission to recognize that “we’re trying to run a school, we don’t know how to build these roads.” He raised questions about who owns the land that a turn lane extension would require, and asked what his client should do if it turns out that they are unable to complete the construction.

20080708-PC-STAB-Cars

Erick Strucko argued that since STAB accounts for almost all of the traffic at the 250 off-ramp Faulconer Drive intersection (left), but only a portion of the traffic at the other intersections, the fairest thing to do would be to require STAB to complete the right turn lane extension at that intersection, and leave the other intersections to VDOT. Commissioner Linda Porterfield introduced an amendment that would provide a solution in case STAB was unable to secure the necessary right of way to construct the improvements, allowing the school to pay VDOT to condemn the land and then construct the improvement itself. However, Commissioner Tom Loach objected on the grounds that if the applicant was correct that the intersections would be at failing levels of service by 2010, it would be irresponsible of the Commission to allow them to increase traffic and not ensure that the improvements were made. He was adamant that construction should not start until the transportation infrastructure was ready to support it. The amendment did not pass. The final condition was amended to require that, prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the applicant must build a turn lane extension for the Route 250 off-ramp.

St. Anne’s also objected to staff’s proposal concerning construction of the new buildings in keeping with the LEED environmental principles. STAB had set as a goal for themselves the achievement of LEED silver certification for all new buildings, a certification awarded by the US Green Building Council based on criteria that can change from year to year. What staff had proposed was a multiple step process to ensure that the school made a good-faith effort towards LEED compliance, but was not penalized if the effort was unsuccessful.

According to the condition as drafted by staff, prior to receiving a building permit, STAB would need to “submit a certification from a LEED certified architect” stating that the building plans, if followed, would result in structures meeting LEED silver certification criteria. Then, in order to receive a certification of occupancy, the architect would need to submit an additional certification stating that the buildings as constructed match the plans certified earlier. Commissioner Edgerton, a LEED certified professional, categorized the language as confusing, and not in keeping with the way LEED certification progresses in practice.

Calvert Bowie, architect for the applicant, explained that in his view the issuance of a “certification” that a building would meet LEED standards before it is actually built was not professionally responsible. Bowie explained that LEED certification takes into account the way in which materials on a site are disposed of, construction methods, and a host of other factors that the architect has no control over. He argued that “no architect really should certify…that a building is built to the full standards.”


St. Anne's Belfield Head of School David Lourie, and from left, Attorney Rich Carter, Engineer Kurt Gloeckner, and Assistant Head of School Michael Waylett.

He characterized the condition as written as “very onerous to us, and would be to our insurer….Certifying is an act that our insurance company will do a backflip over.”

Commissioner Jon Cannon explained that the language was an attempt to avoid a situation where STAB failed to get a certification, and then was retroactively not in compliance. Commissioner Edgerton responded that he would be comfortable simply requiring the school to achieve LEED silver certification, and saying that “this special use permit would not be valid if they didn’t achieve that, and whether it takes them a year, two years, three years, I don’t care.” LEED certification is partly based on the use of the building once completed, and therefore a certification could not be received until after the building was occupied. Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning for Albemarle County, explained that permits that are retroactively invalid would be a major problem for the County’s enforcement division. Julia Monteith, a non-voting member representing the University of Virginia, suggested that they only require basic LEED certification, a less stringent standard, but encourage the school to strive for LEED silver. This suggestion was agreed to by the Commission.

The Commissioners were also concerned about how to resolve a potential conflict between LEED certification requirements and the guidelines of the Architectural Review Board (ARB). The condition as initially drafted by staff gave the ARB precedence over LEED requirements, but Commissioner Cal Morris saw “a real, real problem” with that, and Commissioner Marcia Joseph asked the Commission to examine its commitment to LEED.  The commission came to a consensus that the statement about ARB precedence should be removed, which would, as Commissioner Jon Cannon put it, “have the effect of having this condition, meeting LEED certification, trump any inconsistent guideline imposed by [the ARB].” The final condition was reworked to require STAB to receive the basic level of LEED certification within two years of receiving their certificate of occupancy.   

The Planning Commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the special use permit with the ten conditions laid out in the staff report, but with the changes to the conditions regarding traffic construction and building requirements. The permit request now goes to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, at a date to be determined.

Ben Doernberg

February 28, 2008

Office building moves forward for busy intersection on Hydraulic Rd

20080219woodard3
The plan for construction of a two-story office building at the southwest corner of the intersection of Hydraulic and Georgetown Roads has received the support of the Albemarle County Planning Commission.  At their meeting on February 19, 2008, the Commission recommended approval of Keith Woodard’s rezoning request.

20080219woodard2
Intersection of Hydraulic and Georgetown Roads.  Photo: Albemarle County

While very close to Albemarle High School and a densely populated neighborhood area, Woodard's parcel is actually located in the County’s rural area and is currently zoned for commercial use.  Staff recommended approval of the rezoning to Neighborhood Model District in part because the proposed use is less intensive than what current zoning allows.

The 20,000 sq. ft. commercial building will have two stories visible from the road and a third story visible from the parking area at a basement level behind the building.

“We feel, as do many of our neighbors, that this use is more desirable than the convenience store and gas pumps [for which] the property is currently zoned,” said Woodard.  He informed the Commission that half of the 1 acre property would be left in conservation or preservation areas and that a vegetated buffer at the rear of the parking lot would be protected and enhanced with new plantings. Woodard has also committed to a “green building” and proffered to submit evidence of LEED certification. 

20080219woodard4_2 Woodward said his primary goal is to sell office space for law firms, insurance companies, and other similar professional users.  He said he could not rule out some small retail shops that would support the offices.

“I think this design is a great improvement over what would otherwise be there by-right,” said Commissioner Jon Cannon (Rio District).  “I drive by this corner every day.  I would much prefer to see this development than the other development, and frankly [I would] much prefer to see this to what is there now, which is a vacant lot and an eye sore and not used or useful to anybody.”

The Commission’s vote to recommend approval was unanimous (7-0) and the rezoning will come before the Board of Supervisors on March 19, 2008.

Brian Wheeler

June 15, 2007

A Close Look at an EarthCraft Home

Ec_logo The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association continues its 2007 EarthCraft Home Tour this weekend at ten locations throughout Charlottesville and Albemarle County. EarthCraft House provides a set of guidelines to home builders so they can construct energy-efficient houses that have less impact on the environment.

We visited two homes being built near Profitt Road in Albemarle County to in find out some of the construction elements that go into an EarthCraft home. These homes are being put together by Dominion Development.

In this first-ever video feature from Charlottesville Tomorrow, we speak on location with Dominion's John Kerber and Jay Willer of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association.

Sean Tubbs

Watch this six-minute video below:

May 09, 2007

Builders back Comprehensive Plan changes for sustainable design

20070508copc At the May 8, 2007 meeting of the Albemarle County Planning Commission, the County took another step towards the integration of green building principles into its Comprehensive Plan.  The Commission unanimously approved (Joseph & Cannon absent) a proposal to amend the Natural Resources and Cultural Assets chapter of the Comprehensive Plan to include language related to green building objectives.  Staff recommended the changes as supportive of the Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Accords which were adopted in 1998 and are already part of the Comprehensive Plan.

Download the approved recommendations

Only one member of the public was present to speak during the public hearing.  Jay Willer, Executive Vice President of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association, offered his support of the proposal and commended the County for its approach on green building initiatives. "We are very pleased with what you are doing here.  Staff is doing a good job and the County is showing leadership."  The proposal includes six strategies specifically related to advancing green building approaches in the local development community.

The Comprehensive Plan Amendment will next be considered by the Board of Supervisors at a public hearing on June 6, 2007.

Brian Wheeler

April 20, 2007

Albemarle examines cost, benefits of green buildings

Albemarle County is one of several dozen jurisdictions around the country that are beginning to change policies to make way for green building practices such as the LEED certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was created by the U.S. Green Building Council to help measure the environmental impact of using such practices such as the use of recycled materials, and the use of better plumbing to eliminate the waste of water.

In December, the Albemarle County Planning Commission passed a resolution of intent to amend the comprehensive plan to encourage builders to adopt green techniques. County planner Sean Dougherty says the Board of Supervisors is generally supportive of green building practices, "as long as budgetary impacts are kept in check."  That resolution led to a February decision by the County Board of Supervisors to have its future public buildings be LEED certified.

20070320copcgreenLast March, the Commission heard from Jason Hartke, Manager of State and Local Advocacy at the U.S. Green Building Council. He told the commission LEED-certified buildings practices can reduce energy bills by up to thirty percent by reducing water use and preventing heat loss. In his presentation, Hartke addressed the costs of such benefits.

"We know that green buildings increase property value, they also decrease liability, but they also have a huge impact on health and well-being." He even says green buildings can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism by providing healthier places to work and learn. But, he told the commission the dollar value of such improvements are hard to quantify.

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To become LEED-certified, builders must use materials that are more expensive. Architects and engineers must also spend more time integrating the building practices into their designs. He points to a 2003 study produced by Greg Katz of the firm Capital E which says green buildings cost an average of 2 percent more than traditional methods. Hartke says the extra spending will pay dividends, with savings up to twenty percent of the construction costs over the lifetime of the building.

"An initial upfront investment of up to $100,000 to incorporate green building features into a five million dollar project would result in one million dollars over the life of the building," Hartke told the commission, reading from the Katz report. The report also demonstrates that LEED-certified buildings use 30 percent less energy.

The idea is catching on. Hartke said the General Services Administration is now requiring its new buildings to be LEED certified. He says ten other federal agencies now have similar requirements.

"But it's really the local level where there's been a laboratory of innovation," Hartke said. "More than twenty jurisdictions have developed incentives for the private sector, in the form of tax credits, density bonuses, expedited permit reviews, and grant programs."

"When folks have a public ordinance in terms of requiring LEED they usually see a lot of savings," says Hartke. He says San Diego has recently begun an initiative to push development towards the LEED-Gold status.

Sean Tubbs

February 13, 2007

Albemarle County commits to green buildings

On February 7, 2007, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors received an update on an initiative to foster environmentally friendly or “green” building approaches and actions that could be taken to better support the sustainability goals in the Comprehensive Plan.  Last December, the County Planning Commission passed a resolution of intent encouraging the Board to consider amending the Comprehensive Plan to improve the community’s commitment to green building and sustainability. 

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The update from staff touched on: public education efforts on the benefits of green building; opportunities to work with the local development community to promote green building; work within the County’s own operations to improve energy efficiency; and the goal of amending the Comprehensive Plan to support this green building and sustainability.

The Supervisors reached consensus that future County buildings should, pending review of budgetary impacts, be green buildings and pursue a LEED certification.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and represents the efforts of a coalition including the US Green Building Council to establish a nationwide standard for constructing “green” buildings.  The new library in Crozet is expected to be the next County building designed with this approach.

County Executive Bob Tucker told the Board that staff would move forward with their feedback and support.  He noted:

“We’ve heard for the first time… a consensus among all of you that you are ready to move forward… on our buildings… and provide green building initiatives and follow the LEED certification.  That’s something we haven’t heard from the full board.  We’ve heard it anecdotally and from some members, but now I am hearing it from all of you.”

Brian Wheeler