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February 10, 2010

Natural Heritage chair delivers annual report, pawpaw pie

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The pawpaw tree, with its tear-drop leaves and edible berries, is one of Albemarle’s natural treasures. The chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee (NHC) recently presented a pawpaw custard pie to the Board of Supervisors in order to demonstrate why his group’s mission is crucial.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100203-BOS-NHC

"Pawpaws are a fruit that grow along our rivers and since colonial times, people along the Rivanna and the James would serve pawpaw custard at inns and lock-houses,” Murray said at the last week’s meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

Murray said because the delicacy is no longer sold in grocery stores, many people do not know that it even exists. He said this is one example of how urban and suburban residents can lose sight of the benefits of preserving the rural countryside.

20100203-Murray Lonnie Murray
“One of the primary goals of this committee is to help identify the natural resources in the county that help make us unique and work with landowners and policy makers to find ways to preserve those resources,” Murray said.

In the past year, the committee has provided input into a new county ordinance on weeds, evaluated the effect wind turbines could have on wildlife, and has worked with the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) Committee on a new ranking system that prioritizes properties with rare and unique species.

The NHC is also seeking new ways to engage the public. At last year’s Earth Week, the group asked people to report wildflowers and other flora and fauna on their property.  The NHC is recruiting volunteers to work with Albemarle’s Parks and Recreation Department to analyze the 600 acres that make up the future Byrom Park in the northwestern corner of the county.

“In the coming year, we feel the skills we’ve developed will be very useful as we continue to provide input on the comprehensive plan,” Murray said. He said in these tough economic times, the county should call upon the expertise of NHC Committee members during planning in order to maximize proffered green space.

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) said she appreciated the work of the NHC, and very much enjoyed the slice of pie she was given.

“It had the consistency of pumpkin pie and was very fruity,” Mallek said in an interview. She said she also wanted the NHC to help work on the master plan for the future Biscuit Run state park.

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…

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

August 15, 2008

An audio recap of Pie Day 2008

20080808-lumpkins5
Three delicious pies shortly before being sampled at Lumpkins Restaurant in Scottsville

You’ve seen the pictures. You’ve seen the maps. You’ve read the story.

Now, listen to Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Executive Director as he recalls Pie Day 2008 on the August 12, 2008 edition of WINA’s “Charlottesville—Right Now with Coy Barefoot!” A few days before, the Charlottesville Tomorrow team explored Albemarle County on a quest for baked goods, in an effort to better understand the County’s rural area. They forded streams, investigated cows, and drove 166 miles to advance their quest.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: 20080812-Wheeler.mp3

August 12, 2008

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Pie Day 2008


Listen Click here to get the audio from Pie Day 2008
as told by Brian Wheeler on WINA


Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Pie Day began as a conversation between myself and Coy Barefoot on the Charlottesville Right Now program on WINA AM 1070.

I shared with Coy a November 2006 Washington Post article that I had found very amusing.  It told the story of the Hill High Country Store in Loudoun County, VA that was famous for its pies at Thanksgiving.  The pie loyalists, including many foreign embassies in Washington, D.C., annually descend upon the store for a holiday pie.  The store’s secret, however, was shared at the end of the article—the pies come from 4-5 frozen food vendors including Sara Lee.

That got Coy Barefoot and I talking about authentic home cooking.  Over the course of several programs, I shared my experiences with Montana Plains Bakery in Lynchburg, Mrs. Rowes in Staunton, and Midtown Market in Danville.  Whenever we talked about pie, the phones rang off the hook in the WINA studios.  People even brought us pies to eat.  Everyone, it turns out, has an opinion about pie and other tasty baked goods.  Callers shared a long list of candidates for the best pie in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  But which was THE BEST?  Did we have a country store selling authentic pies that deserved more attention?


SlideFlickr Slideshow

Since our day-to-day work at Charlottesville Tomorrow includes reporting on growth and development throughout the City and County, our staff naturally need to be intimately acquainted with the community.  While I have lived in the area since 1984 and seen most of the County, my colleague Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Program Officer, is a City resident with more limited exposure to Albemarle’s rural fields, farms and forests.  Thus giving Sean, and our summer intern Ben Doernberg, a tour of Albemarle AND searching for the best home baked pie became our mission.

Pie Day 2008 took place on Friday, August 8, 2008.  It was only after we scheduled it that we got a good laugh about how we were embarking on 8-8-08--Ate, Ate, oh how we Ate some pie.

Trip Stats:

  • Duration of trip: 9 hours 36 minutes
  • Distance traveled: 160 miles
  • Highest point: 1,332 feet at Mission Home, VA
  • Lowest point: 249 feet in Scottsville, VA
  • Photos taken: 379
  • Streams forded: One (up to my hubcaps)
  • Stores with pie: Three (Lumpkin’s, Crossroad, and Chiles)

Before anyone gets testy, let me quickly point out that we couldn’t visit all the places we wanted to go.  There is clearly going to be a Pie Day II.  We decided to focus our first trip on the rural areas South, West, and North of Charlottesville.  Pie Day II will include Charlottesville, Albemarle’s Urban Ring, and points East.  Let me also point out that you can follow along as I describe the trip using the maps and photos below.

Open in Google Maps

Click to open in Google Maps
Open in Google Earth

Click to open in Google Earth

Since we woke up early Friday morning and I had not had any coffee, that was our first priority.  I suggested we stop at Charlottesville’s famous Spudnuts Coffee Shop.  While not pie, a Blueberry Spudnut is on my list of epic Charlottesville foods that everyone needs to know about.  Then we headed South to Scottsville, VA.  On the way, we stopped at any country store that looked promising.  Our strategy was simply walk in and immediately ask, “Do you have any Pie?”  Our first stop was a little disconcerting when we were directed to the Little Debbie display.  Our second stop had similar plastic wrapped snacks, but no fresh pie. 

20080808-lumpkins4 Fortunately, one of the callers to Coy’s show had instructed us to go to Lumpkin’s (home of the Big Chicken) Restaurant and Motel in Scottsville.  When we asked our waitress if they had pie, she pointed to the dry erase board on the wall which listed the daily specials.  Half the board contained their list of pies, eight in total!.  We tried the Peach Cobbler, the Peach Cobbler a la mode, and the Coconut Custard.  All were very, very good and we highly recommend Lumpkin’s.

We left Scottsville to visit Howardsville, VA along the James River, the Southernmost point in Albemarle County.  This was a place I had not been previously.  We walked in to the Howardsville General Store very optimistic.  It looked like a substantial country store that would know good home cooking.  The staff was very nice, and while they did not have any pie, they did recommend coming back if we ever had a Burger Day adventure.  We bought three bottles of Coke, the small glass bottles of course, and then paid a visit to the James River at Baber’s landing.

Next it was time to start heading North over to Covesville, VA on Route 29.  Covesville has a long history in the apple orchard business.  While I knew the Covesville Store was now selling antiques, I hoped there was an oven baking pies somewhere in the back.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  We took some pictures and departed for Crossroad Store on Route 29 near North Garden, VA.

Another caller to Coy’s show told us that we had to stop there to get Vern’s Five Fruit Pie.  However, the folks at Covesville had told us that Vern had sold the store.  The question was, had he sold the recipe for the Five Fruit Pie?  We walked in and examined the pie case and saw a large number of pies were available.  “May we have one Five Fruit Pie?”  We waited anxiously as the clerk moved the pies around searching for the right one.  Success!  We set up some folding chairs in the grass outside Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie (the pizza variety).  We cut three pieces and started sampling.  Wow!  This was a good pie.

We came with a scorecard and a rating scale developed with extensive research using Google (i.e. it was the first hit).  We scored pies based upon their appearance, crust, filling, and location (Was this a historic country store?  Were the staff memorable and friendly?).  The Crossroad Five Fruit Pie scored very well.  So well, I figured I better send our intern Ben in to ask about the five ingredients in the Five Fruit Pie.  Ben returned with the news the staff didn’t know because the pies were not made there.  Perhaps Vern didn’t sell that recipe after all!  Still, it was very good pie, but we couldn’t score it as authentically baked on the premises.

Next, we headed West towards Batesville and Crozet.  Batesville Store owner Liza Scallet was busy in the kitchen when we arrived.  Unfortunately, she was not busy making pie, though she promised she would do so if we gave her advance notice.  Batesville is also famous for its Apple Festival, so we may come back in the future looking for Apple Pie.  Broadening our mission again to sample other non-pie items, I bought a famous Scallett Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Awesome!  Just like my Grandmother’s.   We had a chance for free Scallet Cookies, but we couldn’t convince Ben to dance for them.

20080808-chiles7 Next it was off to Greenwood, VA which is West of Crozet.  I have often been to the Chiles Peach Orchard over the years, but I had never sampled their pies.  At their recently renovated store, the first thing we saw sitting at the register was an inviting homemade Peach Cobbler.  Given our experience with the Five Fruit Pie, I asked the questions before buying this time.  “So who makes your pies?” I asked.  Bill the cashier said Ally Chiles made them fresh several days each week. In fact, the hand written label on the pie said it was "Made with Love," and "Made This Morning." Perfect. 

Sitting on their porch overlooking the peach orchard all three of us realized we had found the winner.  This was amazing pie.  After our trip, I called back to Chiles and spoke to Ally.  It turns out Ally is a Junior at Western Albemarle High School and she said her Grandmother taught her how to make the Chiles family Peach Cobbler.  Ally explained to me that she has been baking pies to sell for a couple of years.  She does Peach Cobbler between June and August and then switches to Apple Pie in the Fall. 

“What goes in your pie?” I asked.   “Well first I peel the Chiles Peaches,” said Ally.  “Then I add sugar and let that mix cool in the refrigerator.” “Ally those were amazing pies, are there any other ingredients?” I asked.  “There are a couple of secret ingredients,” she responded.  Every winning pie needs those.  Well at least one secret is out.  If you want some great Peach Cobbler, go to Chiles Peach Orchard and ask for one of Ally’s pies.  She only makes a few each week.

20080808-boonesville1 As the Pie Day Team headed North through Crozet to White Hall, we reflected on the morning’s journey.  All three of us had a renewed appreciation for the grandeur and scale of Albemarle’s rural countryside.  Great food and great people are certainly one of the special attributes of our community, and we had found a good helping of both on this trip.

While I had a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) that I would later use to encode the location on all the photographs, Sean had made it clear he enjoyed the traditional paper maps and being our navigator.  So Sean guided us up past White Hall to Mission Home on Albemarle’s Northwestern border with Greene County.  I have eaten a lot of Mission Home Banana Bread and Pumpkin Bread which is sold in shops around town.   I was hoping, however, that we would find some pie in the Mission Home Bakeshop.  No luck.  We did leave with some great pictures of their bell tower and some other tasty treats.  I found the drive in that area of the County to be the most scenic, particularly as we headed East towards Boonesville and Nortonsville.

20080808-WINA While we didn’t find any more pie, we did have fun as Sean’s navigating had us fording a stream near Free Union.  My VW Passat wasn’t really equipped for the river, but I think the water only went up to my “hubcaps.”  We also got out of the car and explored the Advance Mills bridge area as that has been the subject of numerous Charlottesville Tomorrow stories.

As Pie Day 2008 came to an end and we drove back into town, we heard Coy Barefoot talking on the radio about our adventure.  We quickly pulled in to the station so Coy could sample some of the rest of that Five Fruit Pie sitting in the cooler in the back of my car. He tried to get the story out of us, but we told him he’d have to wait until he had us back for next week’s show.

Brian Wheeler

August 11, 2008

Charlottesville Tomorrow's Pie Day 2008: The Photos, Google Maps, and more

Charlottesville Tomorrow celebrated Pie Day 2008 on August 8, 2008 as we set out on a quest to find the best homemade pies in the Albemarle County countryside. Good pie is something we can all connect to and that brings the community together.  When it comes to good pie, Staunton is known for Mrs. Rowes.  Lynchburg has Montana Plains Bakery.  What is Albemarle known for? 

When we posed this question on Coy Barefoot's show on WINA, the phones rang off the hook.  We haven't been to all the places you recommended, but we saw a good slice of Albemarle County in our adventure.  Read the complete story here when it is posted on Tuesday, August 12th.  In the meantime, you can review our course around Albemarle County in the interactive maps below, see the pies we sampled in the slideshow, and comment on the photos in Flickr. 

Tune in Tuesday afternoon to WINA AM 1070 at 5:00 PM to hear Brian Wheeler talk all about the adventure on Charlottesville Right Now with Coy Barefoot.

SlideFlickr Slideshow

View the Slideshow in Flickr

View in Flickr 
Open in Google Maps

Click to open in Google Maps
Open in Google Earth

Click to open in Google Earth