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June 28, 2012

City and county seek common goals for joint planning

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler & Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 28, 2012

Planning staff and officials in the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County will spend this summer identifying joint goals to include in their respective comprehensive plan updates.

Earlier this year, officials identified seven shared priorities: historic preservation, entrance corridors, environment, housing, economy, transportation and land use. In separate meetings Tuesday, each planning commission began identifying specific opportunities for the first three of those topics.

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Summer Frederick, Project Manager, TJPDC

Summer Frederick, a project manager with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, spoke to the Albemarle Planning Commission after giving a similar briefing in the city.

“What we are looking for is for you to discuss these topics and come up with … specific opportunities to work with the city to come up with joint goals,” said Frederick.

The TJPDC is working with the city, county and the University of Virginia as part of a three-year $1 million federal grant awarded in 2010 for what is known as the Livable Communities Planning Project. One goal is to facilitate the comprehensive plan updates that guide local government planning decisions.

Albemarle Commissioner Bruce Dotson noted the results of a community survey from a previous comprehensive plan update.

“The thing that I remember from that … was how many residents of the city said that what they liked about the area were things that are located in the county, and vice versa, how many county residents liked things located in the city,” Dotson said. “The ultimate success in preserving the rural area is when urban people value it, and vice versa.”

Continue reading "City and county seek common goals for joint planning" »

June 21, 2012

Green business competition winners announced

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 21, 2012

A contest to encourage environmentally friendly and energy efficient practices at area businesses concluded Thursday as the winners of the Better Business Challenge were announced. 
 
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“This is the culmination of a year-long effort to bring awareness to environmental stewardship,” said Teri Kent, manager of the Better Business Challenge. “We wanted to galvanize the business community.” 
 
In all, 106 area businesses and nonprofits entered the competition last June. Ten volunteer judges reviewed all of their efforts and handed out 14 awards on the event’s “green carpet” at the Paramount Theater
 
Kent said the challenge was an opportunity for participants to save money by integrating environmentally sustainable practices into their operations. 
 
The Blue Moon Diner won the “Restaurant Superstar” award for their efforts to increase recycling and composting. They also replaced their dishwasher sprayer with a more efficient model. 
 
“We have always welcomed input from our customers, but the Challenge has directed those suggestions in ways that have really helped inspire us to action,” said Laura Galgano, the diner’s owner. 
 

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June 14, 2012

Albemarle says shorter can be better when it comes to comprehensive plans

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 14, 2012

As a planner in Albemarle County for the past 15 years, Elaine Echols is one of the most knowledgeable officials guiding the locality’s update of its comprehensive plan. While changes happen each year, a major rewrite hasn’t happened since 1996, shortly before Echols started her job.

However, the plan she was handed as a new employee fit in a single three-ring binder. Today, she can only show community groups photos of the comprehensive plan. That’s because it’s too cumbersome to carry around.

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Elements of Albemarle County's Comprehensive Plan in June 2012
Credit: Elaine Echols

“I took this picture yesterday, and I’m not sure it’s inclusive of everything, but this is our comprehensive plan,” Echols said Wednesday to a meeting of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. “You can see why it needs to be reduced in bulk.”

“We have master plans, a biodiversity report and recommendations, open space plans … the neighborhood model and historic preservation,” Echols observed of the stacks of material. “We’ve got a lot of plans where the substance doesn’t need to go but the form needs to be changed.”

Albemarle is reaching out to various stakeholders to get them involved in the effort. A similar process is under way in Charlottesville and both localities are working in concert with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The TJPDC received a three-year $1 million federal grant in 2010 grant for what is known as the Livable Communities Planning Project.

Tom Olivier is the chair of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. He followed up Echols’ presentation from the perspective of a long time environmental advocate in the community. He said he agreed having a more accessible plan was a “completely reasonable goal.”

“A plan should not be highly specific,” Olivier said. “It ceases to be a plan if it is so detailed that people can’t find the principles readily.

“At the same time, when text is reduced, it’s very easy for nuances and small bits of text which nonetheless involve key commitments, to get changed or eliminated,” Olivier warned. “We need for citizens with knowledge and commitment to be involved and look at the drafts as they are brought before the Planning Commission.”

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May 03, 2012

Biotech leaders say their industry is primed for growth around university

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 3, 2012

On one side of town, advocates for limiting local population growth told the Albemarle supervisors a new study recommending industries targeted for economic growth was flawed. In part, they said, because new businesses would seek to retain in the community students graduating from the University of Virginia.

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Graham Anthony, CFO of Biovista

Later that evening in the city of Charlottesville, a mix of local officials, investors, innovators and start-up incubators gathered to talk about the work that’s already happening to grow the area’s biotech sector.


Listen using player above or download the podcast:
Download 20120502-TTFF-IS

A panel of speakers assembled Wednesday as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s innovation series said they need students to stay in the area after graduating and that biotech is growth that’s good for the community.

In the audience of about 40 people, City Councilor Kathy M. Galvin challenged the crowd to work toward getting local government and the community to “embrace the idea of growth” to address “entrenched poverty.”

“I think when we no longer have 18 percent unemployment among our 18- to 30-year-old population in the city, when we no longer have over 50 percent of our children on the free and reduced[-price] lunch program in the city, [then] I think we can be very comfortable and say we don’t need to worry about growth and economic vitality,” Galvin said.

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April 26, 2012

City’s tree commission to mark Arbor Day

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Charlottesville’s tree community will celebrate Arbor Day in Forest Hills Park on Friday by gathering around one of the city’s most majestic trees.
 
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The age of this tree in Forest Hills Park is unknown, but the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards consider it to be a landmark (Source: Daily Progress)
“It’s a beautiful white oak and it’s obviously very old,” said Tim Hughes, the city’s arborist.
 
Members of the Charlottesville Tree Commission will place a plaque near the tree at a 10 a.m. ceremony to commemorate its status as a landmark tree.
 
“We think it’s very important as our city celebrates its 250th birthday to bring greater attention to our very special landmark trees,” said Elizabeth “Bitsy” Waters, a former mayor and chairwoman of the tree commission.
 
The nine-member tree commission was created in late 2010 to oversee management of the city’s urban forests.
 
“We’ve learned that we already do a lot to preserve and plant trees in Charlottesville, but there are many opportunities to do more,” Waters said. “We look forward to identifying places that will benefit most from having additional trees, including corridors and neighborhoods with limited tree canopy.”

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January 01, 2012

It’s electric: UVa students at transportation’s cutting edge

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 1, 2012

Walk into the decommissioned nuclear reactor room at the University of Virginia and you’ll see students pushing toward a new kind of energy future — one in which cars can be powered by electricity from any energy source, including wind, solar, nuclear, or fossil fuels.

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UVa Ride Forward students (L to R): Olivia Jeffers (third-year; McLean, VA), Kyle Smalkowski (third-year; Richmond, VA), Jason Rowe (fourth-year; Waynesboro, VA), and Brian Chaldares (fourth-year; Waynesboro, VA).  The 2004 Subaru Legacy is being converted for David Slutzky.

Since its founding in 2008, the RideForward program has given UVa students the opportunity to convert conventional gasoline-powered cars into vehicles that run on electricity alone.

Professor Jim Durand, the program’s founder and faculty adviser, said his inspiration for the group came from the recent recession, which saw record-setting gas prices on top of the severe financial crisis.

“We were shipping nearly $350 billion abroad each year for our fuel and it just seemed like there had to be something we could do [at UVa],” Durand said.

After three years, RideForward now boasts 55 student members and three advising professors. In addition to three current electric vehicle (EV) conversion projects, RideForward has groups focusing on solar race car development, business and policy, and creating an infrastructure of EV charging stations.

“RideForward has really been shaping up over the last couple of years,” said RideForward president Olivia Jeffers, a third-year civil engineering student.

Continue reading "It’s electric: UVa students at transportation’s cutting edge" »

December 17, 2011

Renewable energy center unveiled at Albemarle middle school

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, December 17, 2011

A cheering throng of Henley Middle School students gathered around a new 45-foot wind turbine Friday to witness a ribbon cutting and dedication of the school’s Renewable Energy Resource Center.

Student, staff and expert speakers all praised the new center as a source of clean energy and educational opportunities for students, with eighth grader Alex Kingsley calling it an “amazing addition to the school.”

“Enjoy it — it’s great to have these [energy] systems in the school,” said Richard Wright, director of business development at Baker Renewable Energy, the firm undertaking the project. “You’ll be able to generate your own power on site here from wind and from the sun.”

The renewable energy center will feature three different clean energy technologies: the wind turbine, 182 roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels and six solar thermal collectors, which use the sun’s energy to heat water.

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Continue reading "Renewable energy center unveiled at Albemarle middle school" »

December 14, 2011

City panel recommends approval of critical slopes revision

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 

The Charlottesville Planning Commission voted 5-2 Tuesday to recommend approval of a revision to the city’s critical slopes ordinance.

“This is a good [amendment] because it clarifies the ordinance beyond what we have now,” said Planning Commission chairwoman Genevieve Keller.

The commission has been reviewing the critical-slopes ordinance for nearly two years. The goal has been to make the process for getting a waiver more understandable to the public, city staff and commission.

The current definition of a critical slope is one with a grade of 25 percent or more. Under the amended ordinance, additional criteria have been added.

“Those criteria are that any slope greater than 25 percent and has a horizontal run of 20 feet or a square footage of 6,000 or greater,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “Or that the slope is within 200 feet of a waterway.”

Continue reading "City panel recommends approval of critical slopes revision" »

November 13, 2011

Electric cars made in America, driven in Charlottesville

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, November 13, 2011

It’s not every day that a nationally recognized business and political leader comes to town to announce he is going to manufacture a new American car.

A battery powered electric car.

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The all electric MyCar.  Photo provided by GreenTech Automotive

The offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs is a story about which we are all familiar. Some argue that America should focus increasingly on innovation and intellectual property. Then find cheap foreign labor to manufacture the products we invent, and that American consumers desire.

Terence R. McAuliffe, a candidate in Virginia’s 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary and past chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has turned that equation around. He bought technology invented in China, and he’s opening the factory in America.

McAuliffe says he wants electric automobiles to be both affordable and built by U.S. workers, especially workers in economically depressed areas.

“We have some great electric cars out there, but they are expensive,” McAuliffe said in an interview. “I want the masses to be able to buy our car.”

Continue reading "Electric cars made in America, driven in Charlottesville" »

October 01, 2011

Livable communities project gets public input

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, October 1, 2011

 

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Attendees were asked to make suggestions to how the city and county comprehensive goals should be phrased

The Many Plans, One Community Livability Project kicked off its community input series this week with the first of six workshops seeking public suggestions for the update of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s comprehensive plans.

“We take all of these comments and they’ll all be transcribed [into a] usable format for elected and appointed officials,” said Summer Frederick, manager of the livable communities project for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The Thursday night workshop, which focused on environmental topics, was one component of a nearly $1 million regional planning grant awarded to the TJPDC by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant kicked off a project allowing the TJPDC to help coordinate updates of the two communities’ comprehensive plans, as well as the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Long-Range Transportation Plan. A livability implementation plan will also be created for the Charlottesville area.

Charlottesville planner Missy Creasy said that the city hopes to receive new ideas and hear whether there are any holes in its current Comprehensive Plan, adding that the process could identify areas of common interest where the city and county can cooperate, as well as areas of disagreement.

Frederick said that while collaboration is a large part of the livable communities project, all the end decisions will be made independently by the city, county, the University of Virginia and the MPO.

“It’s ultimately up to [each] elected board because they are separate and unique localities,” she said.

Thursday’s workshop asked attendees to submit comments on current city, county and UVa goals and action items in environmental categories ranging from sustainable development to trails and greenways. Attitudes amongst members of the public ranged from excitement at the opportunity to offer input to cynicism that the goals would truly be followed.

“Their plans look very good, but when it comes to spending money, it often goes to the wrong places,” said John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. “I’d like a change in the whole movement of our community.”

Frederick said that the HUD grant has led to new levels of coordination between local jurisdictions, highlighting combined maps of the city and county for trails, parks and water resources, which she said had never been done before.

“That’s a really important part of this grant — to be able to have all the information in one place,” Frederick said.

Woolen Mills resident Bill Emory said the unified map allowed him new insights into how best to add to the community’s shared assets, pointing out the Rivanna River south of Pen and Darden Towe parks.

“My main thing is this incredible resource. [Here’s] this fabulous spot for a linear park [along the river],” Emory said.

Scottsville resident Edward Strickler was happy to add comments representing the concerns of southern Albemarle, but worried about how representative the process could be of lower-income residents, who he said might not be able to make it to planning workshops.

“A lot of the people that aren’t here are among the most vulnerable,” Strickler said.

Comments are also being accepted online at the project’s website, 1-community.org.

The next workshop, focusing on land use and transportation, will take place Oct. 27.