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January 31, 2012

Federal and state laws on transportation funding could change

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Legislation currently pending before the General Assembly could have a far-ranging impact on how Virginia decides what road and transit projects should be built.

“We think it has the potential to broadly change the way transportation planning and programming and funding [takes] place in Virginia,” said Stephen Williams, the director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The two bills, HB 1248 and SB 639, lay out Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation priorities for 2012.

State law already requires localities to include a transportation section in their comprehensive plans. The new legislation would require those plans to be approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation to make sure they are “consistent” with the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s state plans.

“The department could withhold federal or state funds until the local government came into consistency,” Williams said.

Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that could be problematic.

“There’s no definition in the statute of what that means and it leaves it up to VDOT to assess what is consistent,” Pollard said.

Continue reading "Federal and state laws on transportation funding could change" »

January 30, 2012

Belmont residents seek new design for city bridge

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 30, 2012

Dissatisfied with the design process for a new Belmont Bridge in downtown Charlottesville, a local filmmaker has launched a contest to solicit fresh ideas for its replacement.

“In the city’s design brief, this was to be an iconic gateway to the city, [but this] design is neither,” said Brian Wimer, a resident of Belmont who runs Amoeba Films.


Source: City of Charlottesville

In 2003, engineers determined that the bridge’s deck was deteriorating. City officials determined it would be more cost-effective to replace the structure than to repair it.

The bridge replacement has a cost estimate of $14.5 million and the city has accumulated nearly half of that amount.

The city hired engineering firm MMM Design to develop a new bridge with community input. However, Wimer and many others feel the work did not go far enough to connect downtown with Belmont.

“After a year of charrettes and things like that, they came up with a design that the community didn’t like,” Wimer said.

In September, members of the Board of Architectural Review agreed, and directed city staff and MMM to develop a new design that takes public input into account.

Continue reading "Belmont residents seek new design for city bridge" »

January 29, 2012

Court leaves planning commissions “dead in the water”

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 29, 2012

Just weeks after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that planning commissions do not have the authority to grant zoning ordinance waivers, the planning process in Charlottesville and Albemarle County has been thrown into disarray.

Each locality’s planning commission has seen a significant part of its docket stall now that Sinclair v. New Cingular et al. struck commissioners’ authority to grant waivers, which they have done for decades, leaving them in what Albemarle commissioners called a “paradox” and a “constitutional predicament.”

“The decision comes as a surprise without a doubt,” said Richard Harris, deputy city attorney for Charlottesville. “This is a big deal … [It’s] going to affect a tremendous number of localities.”

The ruling determined that planning commissions may only have an advisory role, and that granting waivers constituted an unauthorized legislative power. Similar decisions can only be made by zoning administrators, boards of zoning appeals and elected bodies.

While the effects of the decision are far-ranging, the case itself was homegrown. The Sinclair case stemmed from a dispute over a 103-foot telephone tower on a piece of land regulated by Albemarle’s critical slopes ordinance.

Continue reading "Court leaves planning commissions “dead in the water”" »

Meet Your Government: Dan Mahon

Dan Ashby Mahon
Dan Mahon
Dan Mahon

Outdoor Recreation Supervisor, Albemarle County

Where were you born (and raised, if different)?

Born in the former backwoods of Fauquier County Virginia but soon after my family and I floated downstream to the Bay and we washed ashore on sandy strip of salt marsh at a place called Grandview Island, Hampton, Virginia. I have relations that go back to dust in Virginia and I am never surprised when I run into a distant cousin.

When and why did you move to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area?

After graduate school I tried to leave Virginia but at the border I was repeatedly turned back by the ghosts of those ancestors mentioned above and ….so in 1993 I finally gave up all notions of moving to Tibet, Tahiti or Tallahassee and decided not to carry my heart out of old Virginny. And further reinforcing my decision to stay was a recollection of something I learned from my 4th grade Virginia History book. There I was taught that it was in Virginia that the Cradle of Western Civilization rocked and here somewhere between the James and Rivanna Rivers and below the Blue Ridge Mountains was the spiritual center of all that…..so it seemed to me that the right place was not far from where I was. 

What neighborhood do you live in now?

I currently live in one of the 1950’s era neighborhoods in Crozet.

Family (spouse, kids, etc)?

My wife Jan is currently the Director of the Arboretum at JMU. Our daughter Alanna is dancing and artfully working her way through her senior year at Western. And our son Marsh is an EMT proudly serving on the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, and contributes the local music scene.  

Continue reading "Meet Your Government: Dan Mahon" »

January 28, 2012

City brings bicycle/pedestrian coordinator onboard

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, January 28, 2012

The city of Charlottesville has added a part-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in the hopes of creating a more cohesive network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the city.


Amanda Poncy, Charlottesville's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator

The new coordinator, Amanda Poncy, brings five years of experience with the local Renaissance Planning Group that she plans to apply toward the city’s ambitious transportation goals.

“The city’s Comprehensive Plan has a goal reducing the percentage of people who drive alone as a means of transportation to work, from 61 percent to 50 percent by 2015,” Poncy said in an email. “Making bicycle and pedestrian facilities safe and accessible so people will use them is certainly an important part of that goal.”

Local bicycling advocate Scott Paisley, a member of Charlottesville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee and owner of Blue Wheel Bikes, said that while the city has completed many of the possible easy, uncontroversial improvements, the network of bike lanes and pedestrian facilities remains “pretty disjointed.”

However, he lauded the city for its progress in creating a connected East-West Corridor between Water Street and Ivy Road and its commitment to increasing walkability.

“It’s been amazing in these past few years the amount of work that’s been done on pedestrian improvements,” Paisley said.

Poncy will be responsible for filling a variety of roles including coordinating bicycle and pedestrian planning efforts between the city, Albemarle County and the Virginia Department of Transportation, handling inquiries and complaints from cyclists and pedestrians, reviewing development proposals for their suitability for biking and walking, and overseeing the city’s Safe Routes to School program.

Continue reading "City brings bicycle/pedestrian coordinator onboard" »

January 27, 2012

Community meets to engage leaders on economic development


On Wednesday night at Charlottesville Tomorrow's monthly News n' Brews, over 50 community members packed into Bashir’s on the Downtown Mall to talk about economic development.

Here's how we captured the conversation...



Public brings ideas to transportation workshop

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 27, 2012

Which transportation projects should Albemarle County and Charlottesville begin planning for now to make it easier for people to travel around the community in the future?

That was the central question asked Thursday at a workshop held by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission as part of its “Many Plans, One Community” initiative.


Albemarle County Chief of Planning David Benish helping a member of the public

Nearly 60 people attended the event, which was an opportunity for the TJPDC to receive public input on a new forecasting model that can project how different transportation solutions would affect traffic volumes.

Many roadway segments and intersections in the region are projected to experience gridlock as population increases.

“I think the projections for 2040 are somewhat scary, and I think it’s important that they get out and people realize that this is going to happen,” said city resident John Pfaltz.

Pfaltz said he observed that most of the sharpest increases in traffic would occur within city limits.

“This congestion is on residential streets where people live as opposed to U.S. 29 or [U.S. 250] where almost nobody lives,” Pfaltz said. “I’m very much for getting traffic around the city and not through it.”

Continue reading "Public brings ideas to transportation workshop" »

January 26, 2012

Update on civic media and community engagement

"Blacksburg Tomorrow"?

We all know the media landscape is changing. More people are reading their news online and looking for multiple sources of news, including social media.  Yet, in many communities local newsrooms are shrinking and the information our democracy and a thriving local community depends upon is getting even harder to find. 

Virginia Tech, Institute for Policy and Governance
Community Voices, November 29, 2011

  • Video timeline:
    • 00:00 to 23:00 - Presentation
    • 23:00 to 40:45 - Q & A with moderator
    • 40:45 to 59:39 - Audience questions

Last winter, I was contacted by Virginia Tech's Institute for Policy and Governance which is involved in an effort to reinvigorate local information resources, news and otherwise, in Blacksburg. That conversation led to an invitation to meet with their residents and Virginia Tech faculty and students to discuss our work in civic media and community engagement.

A video capturing the evening presentation at the Lyric Theater has just recently been published.  I was joined by Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Senior Reporter, and we both found it very interesting to see another Virginia community searching for new ways to share information and engage the public.

Throughout the day we were peppered with questions about the origins of our organization, funding, our board of directors, our daily work, and of course our partnership with The Daily Progress. 

It was an invigorating day, and a good reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for in the resources and information we are able to share in this community.  I sincerely hope Blacksburg proves to be as generous towards whatever form of new media they decide to pursue as our local donors and foundations have proven to be. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without this community’s generous support.


I shared in Blacksburg some of the metrics below related to our news partnership.  While Media General, the company that owns The Daily Progress, does not pay for articles we write, the partnership pays off for us in many other ways.  For example, our surveys tell us many of you see our content primarily because it's in the paper or on their website. 

In 2012, we are planning a series of events and activities to build even better connections with you.  That has been facilitated by a major grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  I know many of you are noticing the increased attention our Community Engagement Coordinator, Jennifer Marley, has put on everything from social media to community events.

For those of you interested in reviewing this data and the presentation, we are naturally curious about your observations.  We are half way through this grant, and I’d like to hear what’s on your mind.

Brian Wheeler
Executive Director

Charlottesville Tomorrow + The Daily Progress: Partnership Highlights 2009-2011

  • 487 published stories (newspaper’s online and print editions) including major front page stories, features, and collaborative series - 24 stories a month in 2011
  • 17% increase in newspaper’s content on growth and development (Charlottesville Tomorrow now produces almost 50% of content in that area)
  • 100% of Charlottesville Tomorrow’s stories now appear on the newspaper’s website and more than 80% appear in print
  • 217% increase in Charlottesville Tomorrow's website traffic
  • Significant collaboration between editors and reporters, in both organizations, to maximize quality and timeliness of coverage
  • Joint production of local election voter guides and co-sponsoring of candidate forums - Newspaper makes in-kind gift for voter guide layout and printing
  • There is no direct financial contribution to Charlottesville Tomorrow

MPO gets preview of future traffic projections

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 26, 2012

A traffic forecasting model created by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is projecting that roads in Charlottesville and Albemarle County will be more crowded over the next few decades, even as improvements such as the Western Bypass are built.

Some routes in heavy use today will face what TJPDC characterized as “gridlock," including points on U.S. 29 both north and south of the Western Bypass.


An overview of the model of the 2040 scenario

“This is a real wake-up call that if we’re serious about alleviating congestion, we’re going to keep hitting snags no matter what we do to fix the roads,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board.

The model forecasts what traffic conditions will be in 2040 and assumes all projects in the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan will be built by then. It uses future housing construction data to calculate how traffic volumes on roadway segments will be affected by population growth and other changes in socioeconomic conditions.

The combined population of the MPO area in 2010 was 118,546. The 2040 scenario assumes a population of 188,610. In 2010, there were an estimated 495,000 vehicle trips per day. The 2040 scenario assumes that will increase to 727,487.

Continue reading "MPO gets preview of future traffic projections " »

January 25, 2012

Planning Commission briefed on city’s future growth possibilities

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Charlottesville Planning Commission discussed a key question on Tuesday — how dense can the city become within its footprint of 10.4 square miles?

“If all vacant land in the city were developed at maximum by-right density with no regard for any limiting factors, it would yield 4,328 additional residential units, or 10,514 additional residents,” said Brian Haluska, city planner.

“With special-use permits, these same parcels could accommodate 14,536 additional units, and 34,625 additional residents,” he added.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20120124-CPC-Build-Out

Download Download city's build-out analysis and cover letter

Haluska’s figures were derived as part of a build-out analysis that calculated a hypothetical number of potential dwelling units that could be constructed under existing zoning regulations.

There are currently 17,778 dwelling units within city limits. The 2010 Census recorded 43,475 people as Charlottesville residents.

“Build-out potential generally exceeds reality,” said Genevieve Keller, chairwoman of the Planning Commission. “What the numbers say to me is that our city can meet growth demands that could occur as a result of university expansion or other economic development that could occur.”

Continue reading "Planning Commission briefed on city’s future growth possibilities" »