The twelve declared candidates participated in the Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association Forum on August 10, 2011
On August 10, 2011, the Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association held a candidates forum for the twelve men and women running for three seats on the Charlottesville City Council. Questions at the event were specifically directed to issues of importance to the neighborhood.
The candidates are Scott Bandy (I); Paul Beyer (D); Colette E. Blount (D); Brevy Cannon (D); Brandon Collins (I); Bob Fenwick (I); Kathleen M. Galvin (D); James Halfaday (D); Satyendra Huja (D); Paul Long (I); Dede Smith (D); and Andrew Williams (I). The forum was held at Cherry Avenue Christian Church and the moderator was Hardy Whitten, president of the Fry's Spring Neighborhood Association.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has endorsed draft changes to the process under which county staff reviews preliminary site plans and rezoning applications.
“This has to do with trying to assure that we have a process in this county that does not unnecessarily make it difficult for development to move forward,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development.
The review was called for in the economic vitality action plan adopted in January 2010 after Supervisors Duane E. Snow and Rodney Thomas joined the board.
Part of the plan directed staff to find ways to reduce the time it takes for staff review of site plans, special use permits and rezonings.
“Time is money for applicants,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning. “Time is also money for the county. Whatever we can do to shorten the timeframe, there’s a value added for both applicants and staff.”
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors met with both the Architectural Review Board and the Planning commission to discuss the changes
Draft results were discussed at a joint meeting the supervisors held Wednesday with both the Albemarle County Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board.
Under the new guidelines, site plan applications will be reviewed within 10 days to determine if they are complete and whether there any major problems. More will be done to inform the public of site plan review to get input early in the process.
“It’s important that we engage the public as early as possible,” said planning commissioner Tom Loach. “It’s been a constant complaint for as long as I can remember that they feel they get into the process too late.”
Other changes include writing clearer guidelines for what is required before a final approval, allowing grading permits with preliminary site plan approval and eliminating the planning commission’s role in approving site plans
However, the Architectural Review Board would still retain the power to review projects in entrance corridors before they receive preliminary approval.
“These proposals for the site plan and subdivision review process we think will only have a review time,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of current development. “But it could reduce the burden on the applicant in terms of the submittal process.”
“If our objective is to get the process speeded up, then I think we need to examine the process itself,” said Duane Zobrist, the chair of the planning commission.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who served on the planning commission from 1998 to 2001, said the changes made sense because the commission has often reviewed site plans for which it does not have any authority.
“The planning commission does not have the discretion to ignore statutory requirements and deny [applications],” Rooker said.
Planning commissioner Linda Porterfield said she was concerned the site plan review meeting would not allow for input from the perspective of a particular magisterial district’s needs.
“I don’t want to see you disenfranchise people in this county who are paying a lot of taxes to be here and would like to speak on something,” Porterfield said. She said the commission should continue to play a role in the site plan process.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said a very specific set of guidelines would need to be published in order to ensure the process provided for quality developments.
“The application [needs] to already meet a very high standard before it would qualify for this [streamlined] process,” Mallek said.
Commissioner Don Franco, who is himself a developer, said he was concerned the changes would simply shift more work onto the ARB.
“I get concerned that this is either an expansion of the ARB’s power or it puts a lot more grayness in the situation,” Franco said. “Architectural standards, if they are allowed to [be applied] to site plan review, then there’s really no end to what might be required of the applicant.”
But ARB member Bruce Wardell said that his body’s job is to make sure development along entrance corridors that affects the public sphere meets the county’s standards of quality.
“Our discussion is [should] there be a way not to add another layer but to get whatever expertise and input there is sooner in the process so that the planning commission or staff can benefit from that,” Wardell said.
Other proposed changes would include requiring a pre-application conference prior to submittal of rezoning and special use permit applications.
These meetings are currently not required, but they are already allowed to occur.
“Developers who actually reach out to neighborhood organizations… those guys are way ahead because they’ve been in a non-confrontational environment to get really good suggestions,” Mallek said.
Staff will continue to work on an ordinance amendment to make the changes. The board will get a full progress report on the economic vitality plan at their first meeting in September.
Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $197 million in funding for the 6.2-mile-long bypass, as well as a $32.5 million project to widen U.S. 29 to six lanes between Polo Grounds Road and Timberwood Boulevard.
The latter project is called for in Albemarle County’s Places29 Master Plan.
After the MPO’s first public hearing on July 14, Snow and Thomas said they would not vote for the bypass unless they received guarantees that the CTB also would fund other priorities identified in Places29.
He specifically recommended that the CTB allocate in June 2012 the $10 million in funding to construct Hillsdale Drive Extended and $8.4 million to advance construction of the Belmont Bridge replacement.
Connaughton promised no funding for Berkmar Drive Extended, however, offering only to prepare a design concept.
“I am directing VDOT as part of the Route 29 Bypass design to include the conceptual design and layouts of Berkmar Drive Extended including the river crossing to ensure the Bypass does not preclude the construction of Berkmar Drive Extended,” Connaughton wrote.
Connaughton also said he expects the city to retain its investment in a project to add a second lane on the westbound on-ramp at the intersection of southbound U.S. 29 and the U.S. 250 Bypass. VDOT will still take over administration of the project, as has been previously reported.
After the public hearing, the letter was read to the dozens of people who were still in attendance.
Szakos said Connaughton’s letter did not specify when the funding would actually be allocated to the project.
“It’s a very vague phrasing that doesn’t commit to anything,” Szakos said.
Albemarle Supervisors Duane Snow & Rodney Thomas
Thomas pointed out that the secretary doesn’t have the power to make decisions for the CTB. Snow said the letter satisfied his conditions.
Szakos said she felt that taking a vote without input from city staff on the letter undermines the whole process.
“I don’t think this meets the conditions because it doesn’t even necessarily say he’s recommending full funding,” Szakos said. “It doesn’t offer any concrete assurances.”
Jeff Gleason, a county resident who serves as deputy director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Connaughton only offered to recommend funding. He said it was disgraceful Connaughton’s letter was only released to the public at the meeting.
“That is unacceptable for an issue so important to this community,” Gleason said. “We can see these are not commitments. If they were serious about this, they would have made those recommendations at the last CTB meeting.”
County resident Michael Johnson said he supported the bypass because it would be a long-term investment in transportation infrastructure.
“Fifty years ago, our predecessors built the U.S. 250 Bypass,” Johnson said. “Can you imagine what traffic would be like if they hadn’t?”
Rick Edwards, a business owner from Lynchburg, said he frequently is delayed on business trips to Washington while driving through Charlottesville.
“The bottleneck traffic in Charlottesville makes travel time consuming and unsafe and the bypass will alleviate these concerns,” Edwards said.
Nancy Goodrich said she agreed with those from Lynchburg who say a bypass of Charlottesville is needed.
“There is no disagreement over that fact, but there is terrific disagreement about what that plan should be,” Goodrich said. “As it is resurrected and heading toward implementation, the plan raises many questions and we need answers.”
Area resident John Owen, a long-time opponent of the road, conceded defeat.
“What we should have done is made friends and not enemies with Lynchburg,” Owen said. “We should have worked with them on objective criteria on what makes a good bypass.”
Hired in 2004, Frederick will make an annual salary of $132,803, an increase from $128,710.
Frederick also oversees the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, and it was at a joint meeting of the two boards on Tuesday where his annual performance evaluation was completed and combined annual salary set.
“The board felt that Tom did an exemplary job this year and deserved to be at the high end of the bonus range,” said Michael Gaffney, chairman of the RWSA and RSWA boards. “We have truly appreciated all of Tom’s hard work over the last eight years and we look forward to the next 10 years, if we can keep him that long.”
Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, the county’s elected official on both boards, made the motion to increase Frederick’s salary, which was approved unanimously.
“The salary range [increase for staff] … for this year is between 1.82 percent increase and a 3.18 percent increase, the first being for ‘meets expectations’ and the 3.18 percent for ‘top achievers,’” Boyd said.
A key issue discussed in the remainder the meeting related to the study of three sites for the location of a new sewer pump station. The capacity of the existing pump station in Woolen Mills is being increased to improve its reliability and protect the environment.
In May, the RWSA board was unable to narrow the list of sites under consideration, It approved further study of three locations. Hazen and Sawyer, an environmental engineering firm, was authorized to receive up to about $430,000 to study locations known as concepts A, D, and E.
Concept A is the pump station’s current location in the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood. Concept D is a location across the Rivanna River in Albemarle on property owned in part by State Farm Insurance.
Concept E is a location on RWSA property suggested by residents of Woolen Mills, who have lobbied to remove the pump station from its location near existing homes and Riverview Park. It involves drilling a 2,000-foot-long tunnel to extend the sewer pipe to a point closer to the Moores Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Janice R. Carroll, an engineer with Hazen and Sawyer, reported on her firm’s investigation of two questions raised about these sites: Was there enough room on land already owned by RWSA for concept A? And is there an alternative site on the State Farm Property for concept D.
“The upgrade cannot fit within the existing parcel,” said Carroll, describing the less than half-acre of land that is home to the existing pump station. “The further evaluation of concept A is proceeding, and it will encompass more area than just that parcel.”
Hazen and Sawyer also reviewed the feasibility and costs of placing the pump station for concept D at a location more acceptable to State Farm Insurance.
“We met with State Farm Insurance right after the board’s May decision,” Frederick said. “State Farm asked us to look at the opposite corner where the property faces the Rivanna River.”
The board was told Tuesday that State Farm “strongly opposes” any use of its property. However, Frederick asked the board if it could pick one location there for concept D.
“It turns out that the northwest corner does add $3 million to concept D,” Frederick added.
The original site has an estimated construction cost of $39 million whereas the site requested by State Farm would cost $42 million.
“You’ve answered one question for me as far as [concept] A, if we can’t keep it within the current footprint that’s there, the city says it will never approve a larger footprint there,” Boyd said. “Why waste any more money on that?”
The same occurs on the other side of the river in the case of State Farm,” Boyd added. “The Board of Supervisors is never going to give the necessary approvals to have option D implemented.”
The board acknowledged concept E would be the best solution from the community’s point of view, particularly in light of city and county opposition to the alternatives. However, Frederick argued for studying more options rather than less to ensure at least one plan could be approved before the end of the year.
“Based on what we know, I don’t blame anybody for wanting to be optimistic in hoping that [concept] E turns out to be something that is doable,” Frederick said. “If there is serious debate … and we have pushed ourselves into November getting the answers, there’s just not going to be enough time to get it done.”
“I understand how in this community sometimes we need to sit down and debate things,” Frederick added.
The RWSA board authorized Hazen and Sawyer to focus on the more expensive location for concept D. Hazen and Sawyer will continue to evaluate all three concepts and present its cost estimates to the RWSA in late September with a final plan agreed to in December by city and county officials.
On July 20, 2011, Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-sponsored a city council candidate forum for the seven candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for three of the five seats on Charlottesville City Council.
The Charlottesville Democratic Party will hold an “unassembled caucus,” also known as a Firehouse Primary, on Saturday, August 20th, from 9am to 7pm at Burley Middle School to select its three council nominees. One candidate for Clerk of the Charlottesville Circuit Court will also be nominated.
In the primary, Charlottesville Democrats may vote for up to 7 council candidates and rank them by order of preference. This ranking is to facilitate an instant runoff in the event there is not a simple majority.
MEADOW CREEK PARKWAY Do you support construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway in the city of Charlottesville, YES or NO?
WESTERN BYPASS Do you support the Western Bypass route now in place if the state fully funds its construction as well as fully funding other local transportation priorities such as the Belmont Bridge replacement, Hillsdale Drive Extended, Berkmar Drive Extended, the widening of Route 29, and the improvement of the Best Buy ramp to the U.S. 250 Bypass? YES or NO?
WATER PLAN As the primary approach for adding to our long term water supply, do you favor dredging and water conservation before construction of a new or taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, YES or NO?
Moderator questions (each candidate received 3 of the 7 questions)
Transportation What is your transportation agenda for the city and how will you fund AND implement it?
City-County relations Much is made of the status of city-county relationships and the importance of maintaining and strengthening this relationship. On a grading scale of A to F, how would you grade this relationship, and how do you think it can be improved?
Performance measurements for local government Do you think the city is doing a good job of measuring its performance on the implementation of its vision and council priorities? Would you favor any specific other approaches or methodology?
Water supply Are you planning to seek a new vote by the council on the previously approved 50-year water supply plan and how would you change the plan, if at all?
Role of City Council What are the top responsibilities that you believe City Council should be actively and consistently engaged in?
Education Are you satisfied with the performance of the city schools? How would you support continuous improvement as a member of City Council?
Workforce development / Jobs What do you see as the best opportunities to develop career-ladder jobs that city residents can pursue?
After the moderator questions, the candidates each answered one question from the audience. Then each candidate had an opportunity to ask another candidate a question.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, July 20, 2011
RICHMOND — The Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved the allocation of $197.4 million to the Western Bypass of U.S. 29 through Albemarle County, fully funding the $233 million cost estimate for the project.
“A lot of the big issue up to this point was 'we don’t have the money' and now it’s time,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
The CTB’s discussion Wednesday was centered on the fact that Virginia Department of Transportation has designated U.S. 29 as a “corridor of statewide significance.”
“Most of the developed areas along the corridor have a bypass,” said James Utterback, administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District.
“Warrenton, Lynchburg, Culpeper and Danville and a number of other communities have built one,” Utterback added.
VDOT is upgrading other intersections along the corridor, including a $44.6 million interchange at of U.S 17 and U.S. 29 at Opal and $216 million interchange at Gainesville interchange with Interstate 66.
Until recently, both the MPO and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have consistently opposed construction of a route selected by the CTB in the early 1990s.
Dr. James A. Davis, representative of the Staunton District, said he did not know why there was so much local opposition to the project.
“The failure to get this done in a reasonable timeframe is an offense to the commonwealth and we need to figure out a way to do it that is acceptable,” Davis said.
Culpeper district representative James Rich said many in the community believe the alignment is obsolete because it travels through the county’s growth area.
“You’re not going through a cornfield,” Rich said. “You’re going through a developed area. It’s going to take [over] 40 homes, negatively impact 1,500 more, and affect the health of 4,000 school children at 6 schools. … That is why people are upset. “
Mark Peake, the CTB representative from the Lynchburg District, said if the debate is opened to determine another alignment, there will never be a bypass around Charlottesville.
“This has gone on too long,” Peake said. “They’ve spent $47 million to plan a bypass while we have spent hundreds of millions to build one for Danville, Lynchburg and Culpeper. … This is a United States highway, a primary road, and we have the money now to build a [Charlottesville Bypass].”
Thirty people spoke during the public comment period, mostly in opposition.
A former candidate for the Albemarle’s Scottsville District pleaded with the CTB to listen to local opponents.
“The bypasses in Lynchburg and Danvile actually go around those cities,” said Denny King. “This one goes through ours. … If we build this, we’ll be building another one in five years.
However, former CTB member Carter Myers, a longtime proponent of the bypass, said he can see long lines of traffic every day from his auto dealership near the South Fork of the Rivanna River.
“I’d say this location is in the right location,” said Myers. “Avoiding 14 traffic lights will make a difference.”
Both of the county’s representatives on the MPO appeared before the CTB to express their support for the road. Supervisor Duane Snow said his family was affected both by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the bypass of U.S. 250 through Charlottesville.
“I can understand how people would get upset,” Snow said. “I think it’s important we stop studying this and start doing it.”
“I request the board vote 100 percent in favor of these projects and the improvements the MPO board has requested,” said Supervisor Rodney Thomas, chairman of the MPO.
Before a vote was taken to allocate the funds, Rich sought an amendment to defer consideration of the bypass funding.
“You heard most of the opponents,” Rich said. “This road dead ends into a growth area. We do not have all the right of way. This project is not shovel ready.”
Rich’s amendment failed, and the CTB voted 12-1 to approve the reallocation. Rich was the lone vote against.
On Monday, the MPO sent a letter requesting that several local road projects be considered as part of the group’s decision to drop its objections to the bypass. One of those requests was to move up construction of the city’s $14.5 million Belmont Bridge replacement by two years.
Albemarle County Supervisor Duane Snow
Connaughton was dismissive of the request, especially given that the city’s two representatives on the MPO have indicated they will vote against the bypass.
“Yet they send us a letter saying if you do build a bypass [on a primary road], also make secondary and urban allocations in the city of Charlottesville?” Connaughton asked.
One of the items on the list was funded Wednesday.
The CTB also approved $32.5 million in funding to widen U.S. 29 from six lanes from Polo Grounds Road to Hollymead Town Center.
So far, VDOT has purchased 83 out of 122 parcels at a cost of $33.7 million. That figure includes amount for litigation associated with the condemnation process. Another $13.5 million has been spent on preliminary engineering.
The request consists of $7.4 million for additional engineering, $71 million to complete right of way and easement purchase, and $118.2 million for construction.
That brings total funding for the project to $244.5 million.
By Brian Wheeler Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Four environmental groups backing the approved 50-year community water supply plan for Charlottesville and urban Albemarle County say new information proves that dredging alone is insufficient to provide water for either human or environmental needs.
The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority released a new study Tuesday by Hydrologics that for the first time shows the so-called “safe yield” of a dredging-only plan. Dredging supporters countered that the analysis was flawed and that the community needs to revisit past goals for improving stream flows.
According to the Hydrologics report, one-time dredging of South Fork Rivanna Reservoir would produce a safe yield of 9.2 million gallons per day when combined with the stream flow releases contained in state and federal permits approved in 2008. Continuous dredging of South Fork for fifty years would produce a safe yield of 10.3 mgd.
Bill Kittrell, The Nature Conservancy; Robbi Savage, Rivanna Conservation Society; and Liz Palmer, League of Women Voters Photo by Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress (used by permission)
Today’s urban water usage is about 9.9 mgd and updated forecasts released earlier this month indicate the community will need 16.26 mgd in 2055. The water plan was originally based on a goal of 18.7 mgd projected for 2055.
“The reason that we support the approved plan is because it does provide enough water and it does not force us to make a sacrifice, or make choices between providing water for people or water for nature,” said Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy in Virginia and a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority board of directors. “We oppose the dredge-only option.”
“It needs a lot more explaining,” said Smith in an interview. “How do the stream flows work in the dredging scenario and how does it make such a huge impact on safe yield? I think it is because they are using stream flows that are inappropriate for that scenario.”
The environmental groups said Tuesday that revised demand forecasts by AECOM Technology Corporation, combined with the new analysis by Hydrologics, show that dredging alone would be insufficient to meet even today’s water needs.
“If you have more storage capacity, then you are able to draw water from your reservoir instead of taking water directly from your river during times of drought,” Kittrell said. “The approved plan does exactly that, dredging does not.”
The Hydrologics study was commissioned after the RWSA heard last Thursday from Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning, wrote RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. with concerns about the use of past DEQ analyses.
“We received an email from Scott Kuldas last week saying he was concerned about some statements he had read and interpretations of [past DEQ letters] by some citizens,” said Frederick in an interview. “We agreed to have Hydrologics look at one-time and continuous dredging to determine what the safe yield would be with the stream flow releases indicated in our permit.”
Earlier this month Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan used an August 2010 DEQ letter on its website and in communications to local media to claim that dredging South Fork would provide 15.5 mgd.
“This is an inaccurate and inappropriate comparison that can only further confuse the public dialogue regarding the project,” said Kudlas in an email prior to the Hydrologics study. “[T]he DEQ analysis should no longer be used as a point of comparison with the other more recent estimates for determining yield or whether the facility meets projected demands…DEQ also believes that, for clarity, the Authority [should] consider having its current consultants run additional simulations to provide a valid comparison of safe yield.”
Asked to respond to the concerns raised by Kudlas, Smith said the RWSA, through its Hydrologics study, was now doing the same thing, “applying stream flows inappropriately.”
“If you are going to talk about South Fork, you need to revisit stream flows,” Smith added. “I am for improving stream flows but not tying them to the water supply. You would have to rewrite stream flow goals if you are going to do dredging.”
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris says he continues to favor an alternative water plan focused on a smaller dam, a new $63 million pipeline and dredging.
“I haven’t said this publicly before, but I was perfectly prepared to argue we should build the pipeline at the start,” said Norris. “It absolutely accomplishes the stream flow protections and, if we build it at the beginning, it we will accomplish it sooner.”
“I have never argued that we should only do dredging,” said Norris. “[C]ontinuous restorative dredging and a small increase in the dam at Ragged Mountain…will most likely will save a substantial amount of money and avoid destruction of a biologically rich natural area.”
Norris was asked to address the long-term costs of 50 years of dredging.
“That’s a good point, and it’s the only remaining legitimate concern,” said Norris. “We have never put out an RFP for continuous dredging….I still believe market-based, pay as you go, opportunistic dredging, which restores the capacity of the reservoir, will be substantially less than one-time dredging.”
Liz Palmer, League of Women Voters
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress (used by permission)
Liz Palmer spoke at the Tuesday press conference representing the League of Women Voters. Palmer is also a member of the ACSA board.
“Some claim that the HDR [dredging] study showed that dredging is a lot less expensive than we previously thought, and they claim that because of this we should abandon the adopted plan,” Palmer said. “This is absolutely false, it is a false claim.”
Palmer said dredging would only provide 151 million gallons of water storage at a cost of $36 million and was not cost effective when compared to the 1.1 billion gallons of storage gained in building the earthen dam for $26 million.
“Ratepayers will pay $10 million more for one-eighth the amount of water on the dredge-only plan,” said Palmer. “Less expensive is the ‘greener plan.’”
Over 100 speakers, more than two-thirds which were opposed to the bypass, packed Albemarle County’s Lane Auditorium Wednesday.
Around 11 p.m., the board began its discussions, which lasted until almost 12:30 a.m. Each supervisor defended his or her June 8 vote, which by a 4-2 margin, resurrected the long-shelved plan to alleviate traffic congestion on U.S. 29 at a cost estimated between $250 million and $300 million.
“I think that the Western Bypass is important to Albemarle’s future,” said Supervisor Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr., who received the pivotal phone call last month from Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton with an offer to fully fund the bypass.
“It is an opportunity to relieve pressure on 29 north and make the road safer for all who use it,” Dorrier added. “We will be hurting badly in Albemarle County if we don’t do something about the road.”
Supervisor Duane Snow said nothing about the bypass was being “rammed through.”
“We didn’t make a decision to vote the bypass in, we just put it on the agenda so that we can talk about it and have the [public] hearings,” Snow said. “Nothing has been voted on and nothing has been decided.”
The board, meeting for the last time this month, started outlining a bundle of commitments they want from the Virginia Department of Transportation before the road project moves forward. Supervisors said that proposal will be finalized as soon as possible to inform two public hearings being held in July by the Metropolitan Planning Organization and a meeting next week of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, the board’s most vocal bypass opponent, arrived at the meeting with a draft resolution outlining conditions for the board majority to weigh, which if adopted, would require the state to fully fund other projects in addition to the bypass.
It also suggested VDOT would have to seek Albemarle’s approval of the final design of the northern terminus of the bypass near Ashwood Boulevard. The engineering and right-of-way acquisition for the portion north of the South Fork Rivanna River is incomplete.
“When you move forward without public comment and any real discussion, a lot gets left behind,” said Rooker in an interview. “Now we are seeing those things being dealt with, and that’s just backwards from how it should be.”
“I am troubled by a number of the people who support the road that don’t seem to have any concerns for the impacts,” said Rooker. “I’m certainly not a supporter of this road, but if the road’s going to be built, I want to make sure the community is looked after here.”
Snow also shared a list of conditions he said needed to be nailed down before he or Supervisor Rodney Thomas would vote as MPO representatives to change Albemarle’s long standing policy of opposition to the road. The June 8 decision gave them authority to do so and, in effect, negotiate on the board’s behalf.
While no resolution was adopted, the board’s suggested conditions included the following items raised by Rooker and Snow:
A completed design of the Western Bypass northern terminus, which would have to be approved by the Albemarle supervisors.
A CTB resolution assuring that neither Charlottesville nor Albemarle would have other transportation project funding reductions in order to fund the bypass.
“To me the bypass is not the main issue, the main issue is getting those other projects that have already been identified that are going to greatly reduce the burden of traffic on Route 29,” said Snow. “The fact that the bypass has become a part of this, even though that was not on my original agenda, I can see some very valuable things that will happen as a result of it.”
Snow and Thomas met on Wednesday in Richmond with VDOT Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley and Deputy Commissioner Charles Kilpatrick, in advance of the public hearing, to start negotiating the language in a resolution that would be considered by the MPO.
Snow said the initial statement from VDOT was too vague and only promised to build the bypass, widen U.S. 29 at the northern terminus, and not remove funding from other projects.
“We said that’s not good enough,” Snow told the board. “Rodney and I told him that if we don’t have this spelled out exactly as I’ve told you, that we will not be voting for this, we will not be voting for the bypass — that’s a promise to each of you here and everybody else [in the audience] tonight.”
The morning after the public hearing, Rooker reflected on the discussion and said he remains convinced there is no need to rush a decision and that alternatives to the bypass are both cheaper and more effective.
“The combination of Hillsdale Drive Extended and Berkmar Drive Extended costs about $80 million, and that package will move traffic in the corridor better than the bypass,” Rooker said. “Given our [nation’s] massive debt, one would think fiscal conservatives would look for the least costly ways to move traffic.”
The MPO Policy Board will hold public hearings on Thursday and July 27 to consider amending language in its transportation improvement program to allow the Virginia Department of Transportation to allocate funds for construction of the bypass.
Russell "Mac" Lafferty
CHART member and Albemarle County Planning Commissioner Russell “Mac” Lafferty has issued a statement calling on the MPO to postpone its vote until more information is known.
“Without a more realistic description of the true costs and benefits of the revived Bypass project and more precise assurances that the project will not impede other more highly prioritized transportation investments, the community represented by the CHART committee will not support the Western Bypass,” Lafferty wrote.
Connaughton has not yet detailed how money from other projects will be reallocated, but he is expected to do so by the CTB’s next meeting on July 20.
As a purely advisory body, CHART has no power to affect the outcome of the MPO’s public hearings. However, its members agreed last week to issue a statement expressing concern over the project’s funding and to question whether it would have any local benefits.
They did so after a nearly two-hour discussion that began with public comments from several former members of CHART who are opposed to the bypass.
“Do you really think that after they spend a quarter of a billion dollars on this road they’re going to supply more funds to this area?” asked George Larie, who served on a predecessor to CHART in the late 1990s. “I urge you to reject this request and insist on funding our Places29 projects already approved.”
The transportation components of the Places29 Master Plan were designed to reduce congestion by building a parallel road network and building grade-separated interchanges at key intersections along the U.S. 29 corridor. However, the interchanges were de-emphasized before the plan was adopted in February due to opposition from the business community.
Previous boards of supervisors did not allow the Western Bypass to be considered as part of that plan.
CHART members wanted data from traffic models that would show how many vehicles would be removed from the road.
A traffic forecast conducted in 1997 by the firm Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Quade and Douglas suggested that the bypass would be used by as many as 24,000 vehicles a day but daily traffic on existing U.S 29 would still be close to 70,000 vehicles a day, said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
Williams added that no additional forecasts modeling the potential effects of the bypass have been conducted since then because it was not considered to be an active project after 2002.
Albemarle resident Brad Sheffield said he was not necessarily in favor of the road, but said existing U.S. 29 could become more pedestrian friendly if some traffic is removed.
“When you take traffic that doesn’t belong on U.S. 29 and move it away, Places29 has a better chance of coming into fruition because you don’t have through traffic who are trying to go 60 miles an hour in a 35 mile per hour zone,” Sheffield said.
City resident Stephen Bach had a differing opinion.
“I think it might be a really positive thing if nothing got done,” Bach said. “The price of gasoline is not always going to be $4 a gallon and I think that the idea that we’re going to have the era of happy motoring forever is just ridiculous.”
Bach wanted Lafferty to tell the five voting members that the project is ill-advised.
However, Odell had a different approach.
“Can we find a package that we can sell that says we want to have a much more transit-friendly, pedestrian- and bike-friendly, environment-friendly 29 North instead of this continuous strip mall we have now?” Odell asked.
Albemarle resident David Shreve said he wanted VDOT to illustrate any benefits that might come to the community.
“We should not pretend that this is going to be undertaken with substantial benefits for our region when, in my mind, it does not contain them,” Shreve said.
Connaughton has previously said he believes the road can be advertised for construction by the end of the year. However, Williams said several steps remain before that can happen.
For instance, VDOT does not own all of the right of way for the bypass and owns no land north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. As a result, VDOT says the engineering for the project is incomplete and VDOT does not have permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to disturb impacted wetlands.
“Even if after the MPO Policy Board takes action, if they take action, there are a number of steps that have to take place before equipment rolls out,” Williams said.