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December 29, 2006

The transportation debate in Richmond

As we head into the next session of the Virginia General Assembly, I urge readers of this blog to keep a close eye on the analysis from Jim Bacon at Bacon's Rebellion.  He has had several good posts this week (At Last, a Real Land Use Debate) about the transportation proposals coming from the House Republican leadership. 

Jim Bacon summarizes the three main components of the Republican proposals:

  • Require counties to create urban development areas large enough to accommodate 20 years of population growth. These areas would incorporate principles of New Urbanism design to include "open space, mass transit, walking trails, denser development and a commercially zoned component – reducing the need to use the transportation system."
  • Invite counties to participate in pilot projects to take over responsibility for secondary roads within urban transportation service districts. As financial inducement, the state would give counties a share of state revenue and allow them to impose impact fees on development.
  • Require the Virginia Department of Transportation to define "neighborhood" roads and then prohibit the state from accepting any more such roads into the state system for maintenance purposes. Either counties or homeowners associations would have to take over responsibility for maintaining the roads.
  • [Note: Here is the House white paper summarizing the legislation]

This past June, I was shocked to hear the Secretary of Transportation on WINA telling our community that it would be helpful for us to have a list of priority projects which could receive the limited transportation dollars available.  I wrote him an open letter with a link to our existing priority lists.  The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle have jointly identified over $100 million in transportation priorities and they are working towards the creation of a regional transit authority.  With respect to the House proposals, Albemarle County has long had designated growth areas and long asked for the ability to levy impact fees. I assume these legislators would give our region high marks for our planning and cooperation efforts. 

We have also identified funding options to pursue in the event new funds don't come from Richmond.  Mr. Bacon has astutely pointed out over the past year that the answer to Virginia's transportation crisis is not just more money, it will also require changes to how we conduct the business of transportation and land use planning in Virginia.  Newcomers in Virginia often ask why we do things the way we do.  Why don't we have impact fees?  Why can't local government withhold approval for new developments until there is adequate infrastructure?  Why can't roads be built in advance to prepare for new development? 

These House Republican proposals seek to change the way we do business, but it is quite reasonable for our community, one that has invested so much in smart growth approaches, to also ask for the resources to ensure the success of our long range plans.  We should be asking our legislators how we will fund our existing priorities.  We should ask how these proposals will help with the almost 18,000 housing units already in our development pipeline. We should ask whether the problem will just be shifted to local government and local property taxes.

Locally, NBC29 has gotten initial reactions from Supervisor Dennis Rooker [view interview] who shares his concerns that our transportation priorities will require "millions of dollars a year of additional revenue... that would have to come from somewhere."

This is going to be quite interesting.

Brian Wheeler

December 28, 2006

Supervisors to hold public hearing on economic development and Chamber membership

The agenda has been released for the first meeting in 2007 of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  The first item of business on January 3rd will be the election of the Board's Chair and Vice Chair.  Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) served as Chairman during 2005-2006 and he indicated at the last meeting of 2006 that he did not expect to be in that seat for 2007.  Many expect current Vice Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) to ascend to the Chairmanship.

At 2:00 PM, the Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on adjustments to the current FY2007 budget.  The Board routinely makes these appropriations throughout the year, however, the recommended appropriations in this batch include two controversial items brought forward by Ken Boyd in December.

On December 13, 2006, Mr. Boyd made some public remarks to clarify the intent of these two initiatives characterizing them as "accounting entries" and not policy changes.  The Supervisors voted 4-2 to bring these expenditures forward for public comment.

Brian Wheeler

City to offer Internet access to live and on-demand video of public meetings

Great news from the City of Charlottesville... starting January 2, 2007, the public will have access to both live streaming video and on-demand archival video of the meetings of City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Architectural Review.  The City has implemented an Internet broadcast product from Granicus.

The media release notes that:

This new software solution creates an integrated public record of City Council agendas, minutes, and audio/video content, which are all searchable by keyword in one interface that is linked to the agenda of the meetings. City Council, Planning Commission and Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meetings will initially be featured followed by other meetings and important videos of resident interest at a later date. Users can search by keyword or “jump” to the moment when a specific item was discussed through a drop-down tool within hours of a meeting.

Assuming this works well, Charlottesville Tomorrow will have another resource which we can use to draw the public's attention to important land use and transportation issues in our area.  Stay tuned!

Brian Wheeler

December 20, 2006

Biscuit Run developers update County on transportation proffers

Copc20061219aOn December 19, 2006, the Albemarle County Planning Commission met for another work session on the Biscuit Run rezoning.  Located immediately south of Charlottesville and Interstate 64, Biscuit Run is now proposed to have 3,100 homes on 920 acres of land in one of the County's designated growth areas.  This was an informational meeting in which the applicant provided an update on transportation matters.  There was significant public comment, about half of which was provided by residents of the City of Charlottesville.

Attorney Steve Blaine made his presentation to the Commissioners and a sizeable audience that included members of the City Planning Commission and City Council.  His comments were also directed to the many residents from the Old Lynchburg Road area concerned about the development's traffic impacts.  Mr. Blaine volunteered the following proffers to address the community's concerns:

  • Copc20061219bRoute 20 South would be widened to four lanes over a  2.3 mile stretch between Biscuit Run and Route 53 (near I-64).  By his estimate, a $5.5 million contribution would cover the costs of design and construction of the expanded road. He acknowledged there would be other costs for right of way and relocation of utilities.  Mr. Blaine indicated the goal would be to make Route 20 the preferred path into Charlottesville over Avon Street.
  • Four turn lanes would be added on the I-64 interchange ramps at Fifth Street.
  • Two traffic lights would be added, one at Avon Street and Route 20, and one at Fifth Street and Sunset.
  • A connecting road would be constructed through the Southwood neighborhood to connect Biscuit Run to Old Lynchburg Road.

No decisions were made by the Commission.  Additional meetings have tentatively been scheduled as follows:

  • January 16, 2007 - Work session to review application plan, code of development, and non-transportation proffers
  • January 30, 2007 - Transportation joint work session with City Planning Commission
  • February 10, 2007 - Public forum
  • Note: See Charlottesville Tomorrow's calendar for more information

Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced a podcast of this meeting which includes the staff report, Mr. Blaine's presentation, followed by public comment. 

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20061219-CoPC-Biscuit.mp3

Brian Wheeler

December 19, 2006

A design competition for Water Street lots

CitypropertyThe City of Charlottesville has issued a request for proposals seeking an organization to manage a design competition for the Water Street parking lots [Download RFP].  All proposals are due by 2:00 PM tomorrow.  Entries for the competition will be due at a later date after the City engages a manager for the competition.

The metered lot, home to the City Market, is owned by the City of Charlottesville.  The other parking lot in front of the Live Arts building is owned by Charlottesville Parking Corporation which has been trying to sell the property for some time.  This area was the inspiration for a letter sent by sixteen community members to Mayor Brown in July 2006.  This design competition is a response to our call for the City to begin an "open discussion and launch a proactive process for rendering a shared vision for this critical tract and its surroundings..."

The material below is excerpted from the RFP.

Brian Wheeler

The successful proposal will manage an 'open ideas' competition for the Water Street Parking Lots.  An 'open ideas' competition is defined as follows:

An open ideas competition invites architectural and urban design teams locally or nationally to submit creative ideas for the development of a site.  The competition can be national or local and the cost is closely tied to that decision.  The program requirements are crafted and vetted by a group of local stakeholders and the winners are selected through a facilitated jury process.  The composition of the jury generally reflects diverse perspectives including architects, landscape architects, green building experts, urban designers, developers, transportation professionals, City officials, and citizens.  The winner of the competition generally receives a cash prize.

An open ideas competition generates excitement and publicity for a project while bringing the highest degree of creativity to the process.  Some proposals stretch the boundaries, but aim to provoke thought and provide a vast array of alternatives.  A good example of an open ideas competition is the Urban Habitats Design Competition for the Sunrise Trailer Park, organized jointly by the Charlottesville Community Design Center and Habitat for Humanity (see www.urban-habitats.org).

The considerations guiding this process are as follows:

  • Prioritizing the highest and best use of a limited public and private asset.
  • Increased connectivity in the rapidly-developing corridor south of the mall and with the mall.
  • A demonstration of the city’s commitment to affordable services and workforce housing.
  • Continued public desire for a civic space south of the mall.
  • The critical need for a comprehensive parking plan for downtown.
  • Accommodating current and future public transit possibilities.
  • A commitment to architectural excellence and multi-use, environmentally-friendly building.

December 15, 2006

City-County Transit Work Session

County Supervisors Dennis Rooker and Lindsay Dorrier
working with City Councilors Julian Taliaferro,
Dave Norris and the City's Director of Public Works,
Judith Mueller.

On November 29, 2006, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) held a transit work session for policymakers from Charlottesville and Albemarle.  The goal, to discuss regional transit opportunities and challenges.

In preparation for the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Board's December meeting, the following documents have been prepared following up on the work session.

  • Click here to download staff memo outlining potential next steps
  • Click here to download draft work session summary

Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced two recordings of this event. 

Recording #1

  • Presentation by Corey Hill, Virginia Dept. of Rail and Public Transportation
  • A vision for regional transit by Harrison Rue, Executive Director, TJPDC

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20061129-MPO-RTA1.MP3

Recording #2

  • Public comment
  • Review of existing conditions by a panel discussion with representatives from CTS, JAUNT, UTS, and RideShare
  • Discussion of next steps

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20061129-MPO-RTA2.MP3

December 14, 2006

Boyd offers clarification on recent initiatives

At the end of yesterday's meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Ken Boyd (Rivanna) responded to public criticism of the Board from earlier in the evening and offered clarifications about the intent of his motions last week to create a $250,000 economic development fund and to have the County rejoin the Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy organization it has not belonged to since the 1970s.

First, Mr. Boyd responded to citizen complaints that the actions were taken at the end of the last meeting under other business and thus they were not on the agenda for public comment (nor for that matter were they something on which the Board received advanced reports from staff).

"Unfortunately, our procedure is such that other matters from the public are at the beginning of each meeting and other matters from the Board members are at the end of each meeting, so that is the only time we have to bring up matters that are of concern to us."

I other situations late in their meetings, Board members have sought consensus to have something placed on the agenda for future discussion and public comment, something Mr. Boyd proceeded to do a few moments later when he sought and received Board consensus to have a work session on Mr. Slutzky's transfer of development rights (TDR) initiative at a future meeting.

Then Mr. Boyd turned to explaining his view of the votes to create the economic development fund and join the Chamber of Commerce.

"What I proposed, and what was in my mind, and what was approved were two accounting entries, not policy changes.  We had $200,000 of undesignated money in our budget for this year and I asked that it be set aside for future use as an opportunity fund.  I also asked for the additional $50,000 to be worked through the public process and brought forward as part of our budget for next year.  In my mind that was an accounting entry."

"The other [issue] was that we paid our dues for the Chamber of Commerce.  Now I don't like the term 'seat at the table,' but if you think about it, we've had a seat at the table for thirty years... [County Executive] Bob [Tucker] has been on the Board of Directors for the last 15-16 years... somehow that didn't corrupt our County....I just felt that we not free load anymore and that we pay our dues.  So I asked that it be brought forward as a budget initiative and as an appropriation initiative and I asked that it be done at a time when we have a public hearing..."

The expenditure for Chamber dues will be on the agenda for a future public hearing as an 'accounting entry' in the next regular batch of appropriations periodically approved by the Supervisors.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20061213-BOS.MP3

Brian Wheeler

December 13, 2006

What are the 5Cs?

I recently asked a member of the Albemarle County Planning Commission if they planned to go to the meeting of the 5C's to hear David Slutzky give a presentation on a transfer of development rights (TDR) program.  The response?  "What are the 5Cs?"

So I thought I would share in this posting a little more history on the Citizens Committee for City-County Cooperation (aka The 5Cs).  I'll preface this by saying I have never been to one of their meetings and I don't even know exactly who is a 5C member and who is not.  The 5Cs are facilitated by Leigh Middleditch, Jr., an attorney at McGuireWoods.  In January, I did share a post that included a podcast of Mr. Middleditch describing the origins of the 5Cs when he was giving a report to the MPO.  The 5Cs had been approached to make recommendations on local transportation funding options. I just have not taken the opportunity to ask him for any further details or a membership list.

Today I received an e-mail announcing Mr. Slutzky's presentation to the 5Cs on Thursday, December 14th.  It included the following passage of interest:

"For those of you without an 'institutional memory', the 5Cs Committee was established in 1980 as a non-partisan group of city and county residents to support the then referendum on the novel Revenue Sharing Agreement as a replacement for annexation, a referendum that passed overwhelmingly and has served both jurisdictions well for the last 25 + years.  The 5Cs was reconstituted about ten years ago and has been instrumental in fostering additional city-county cooperation in a number of areas."

That is a little more than I knew yesterday.  Maybe others can chime in with their knowledge of this group and its accomplishments and we can build some institutional memory on the Charlottesville Tomorrow weblog.

Brian Wheeler

County holds work session on mountaintop protection

On December 13, 2006, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors met jointly with the Planning Commission in a work session to further discuss the Mountain Overlay District (MOD) Committee's recommendations to "protect the economic, cultural, and natural resources of Albemarle County's mountains."  After a little more than an hour of staff presentations and discussion, the Supervisors agreed to continue the work session on January 10, 2007.  No substantive decisions were made. [Link to agenda item]

When the Supervisors last considered mountaintop protection proposals in September, it was the surviving initiative of the threesome that included rural area phasing and clustering.  The next work session is expected to include: 1) discussion of building height restrictions and ordinance waiver provisions; 2) a decision by the Board as to whether a mountaintop protection ordinance should even be drafted for public and Board review; and 3) if an ordinance is supported, a decision about applying some of the mountaintop protection standards throughout Albemarle's rural areas (i.e. also off the mountaintops).

Brian Wheeler

Sally Thomas shares letter on rural area protection strategies

Thomas_sally2Albemarle County Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) has published a letter today raising some questions and offering some solutions to the County's goal of protecting our fields, farms, and forests.

You can download the entire letter here.  Ms. Thomas addresses the following questions:

  • Do we want to improve our protection of rural resources, especially soil and water?
  • Do we want to discourage indiscriminate building in the rural area on land inappropriate for development? 
  • In our Strategic Plan, we gave ourselves a goal of putting more acreage into conservation easements.  If this continues to be a goal, then we should increase funding of the ACE program.
  • Do we want to give rural landowners viable alternatives to thinking of themselves as no more than wholesalers of land for development?
  • Do we particularly want to protect our forests, as the Chesapeake Bay watershed loses 100 acres of woodland each day, threatening water and air quality?
  • Do we want to reduce the budget impact that rural sprawl imposes on a community?
  • Do we want to reduce development potential in the rural area?

I would encourage you to review her positions on these issues as the Board of Supervisors continues its discussion about how to limit new housing in the rural areas of the County.  Previous postings have given David Slutzky's TDR proposal a lot of coverage.  Any other Supervisor who wants to lay out their plan, just let me know!

Brian Wheeler