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July 18, 2012

Environmentalists say Shenandoah National Park at risk

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

State and local environmental protection advocates gathered in Darden Towe Park on Wednesday to warn about federal legislation that they said poses a clear and present danger to the Shenandoah National Park and other wilderness lands in Virginia.

Activists said unless the bills pending in Congress are stopped, wilderness areas in Virginia will be threatened by road building, development and resource extraction.

Charlottesville City Councilor Dede Smith said public parks are “some of our nation’s greatest treasures.”

“Here in Virginia we are lucky enough to have one of our crown jewels in our own backyard,” said Smith. “More than one million people come to the Shenandoah National Park every year for its spectacular vistas, its quiet hollows and cascading waterfalls.”

The press conference was timed with the release of a report by Environment America, entitled “Trashing our Treasures: Congressional Assault on the Best of America.”

Priscilla Lin is a Washington-based preservation assistant with Environment Virginia, an affiliate of Environment America. The environmental advocacy organization works “to promote clean air, clean water and preserve natural spaces.”

“If passed, the three bills highlighted in this report would have particularly devastating impacts on Shenandoah,” Lin said. “The American Lands Act [H.R. 2588] would require the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to sell 8 percent of their lands annually until 2016 to the highest bidder.”

“The Wilderness and Roadless Release Act [H.R. 1581] and the Wilderness Development Act [H.R. 2834] would allow road building and logging in the most pristine and sensitive areas of Shenandoah National Park,” Lin said.

The latter bill’s official name is actually the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act.

Kyle Bonini is communications director for Michigan Republican Rep. Dan Benishek, the sponsor of the bill.

“The claim that Dr. Benishek’s Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities legislation would allow logging in any national park is factually incorrect,” Bonini said. “The bill is a common sense measure to protect the long-standing tradition of hunting and fishing on federal lands, but explicitly does not apply to logging in areas like Shenandoah National Park or any of the national parks in America.”

Continue reading "Environmentalists say Shenandoah National Park at risk" »

November 07, 2011

A “green” Belvedere begins to take shape

DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 7, 2011

Approved in 2004, the Belvedere neighborhood off East Rio Road has begun to take shape, as residents have filled the first 80 homes and the development prepares to hit a number of other milestones.

Belvedere is known for its environmental focus and its marketing of a “green,” community-oriented and active lifestyle. Every home in Belvedere carries an EarthCraft green building certification, which developers said raises costs but is demanded by many prospective homebuyers.

201111-Belvedere3“Regrettably, it does cost more [to build green homes],” said Bob Hauser, CEO of Stonehaus, the developer of Belvedere. “But we knew that there was a component of the market that not only would consider [green homes], but absolutely would demand it, and I think we’ve found those people.”

Belvedere follows the Albemarle County “neighborhood model,” which aims to create mixed-use communities in which walking and other forms of alternative transportation are viable. Developers and residents alike say that this creates a level of community interaction that many find appealing.

Continue reading "A “green” Belvedere begins to take shape" »

May 13, 2011

Local developers emphasize importance of “green” construction

By Jason Ha
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 13, 2011
The James River Green Building Council hosted a forum Tuesday and invited three local real estate developers to talk about sustainability in terms of environmentally friendly, or “green,” design and construction practices.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110510_JRGBC

Chris Schooley, former development director at Stonehaus
Jim Stultz, the owner of CBS Rentals, said his company provides housing annually to over 1,200 University students. Stultz described an apartment building his company is about to complete between 14th and 15th streets near the Corner.
“We try to look at the student market and determine what they want to rent, what they’ll pay for and what amenities they really think that they need and have to have,” said Stultz.
“If we can develop this product and really learn about the green technology, not only will we be a leader in our market, but we’ll also be able to pick and choose what really works when we go an rehab our other 11 buildings.”

By conducting a survey regularly with students to better accommodate their housing priorities, he found out that what most students want a building that is green and fashionable.

Bundoran Farm is a 2,300-acre conservation community in Albemarle where 90 percent of its land remains an undeveloped, protected landscape. Joe Barnes, Director of Architecture and Design of Celebration Associates, said Bundoran represented a “market-driven approach to rural land preservation.”

“Unfortunately we are developing a lot of our rural areas in what would be considered to be an unsustainable manner,” Barnes said. “We are losing productive farmland, we are destroying the visual character of our rural landscapes, and then all the environmental aspects that go with that-- with watersheds and in addition the viewsheds.”
Joe Barnes of Celebration Associates

Barnes said his team asked, “Is there a solution out there that allows farmers to maximize the value of their land assets, protect the productive agricultural area, preserve the beauty of the character of the land, encourage the ongoing stewardship of the land?”

“Our primary goal was to preserve rural character, not only the character of land, but also the use of the land,” said Barnes. At Bundoran, the 108 home sites are situated in the “seams” between the farm fields and forests and have shared easements that allow for continued operation of the farm, protection of greenways and other preservation tracts.

Chris Schooley, the former development director at Stonehaus, discussed the design philosophy behind the Belvedere neighborhood located off Rio Road in Albemarle’s urban area. Belvedere was
approved in October 2004.

Schooley said the development team sought at Belvedere to “activate the street and create a social organism.” In doing so, Schooley listed three core fundamental values of Belvedere: a healthy living component, sustainability, and a sense of neighborhood.

With the first phase of Belvedere 70% complete, Schooley said the neighborhood has “started to reach a density that makes the vision start to be something tangible.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Joseph Barnes is a member of the Charlottesville Tomorrow Board of Directors.

November 24, 2010

MPO approves bike trail plan, hears details of sustainability awards


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The MPO Policy Board has been briefed on how the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission will use a $990,000 “sustainable communities” grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20101122-MPO


Stephen Williams, the TJPDC’s executive director, said the money will be used to implement the Sustainability Accords which were developed by the Thomas Jefferson Sustainability Council and signed by regional governments in 1998.

“The alternative to a sustainable future is an unsustainable one in which both nature and community are at risk,” reads the document’s preamble. The accords call for action on 68 individual objectives ranging from encouraging compact land use to reducing single occupancy vehicles.

Download Download narrative used by TJPDC's grant application

The grant will allow the TJPDC to implement and measure progress on some of those objectives.

“One of the products [will be] a behavior change plan that would focus on what needed to be done to bring about those changes,” Williams said. This will involve further development of transportation demand management plans and support for the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP).

Other products will include benchmarks to gauge performance on achieving the objectives, the development of a cross-jurisdictional land-use map, the integration of sustainability principles into city and county comprehensive plans, and recommendations for code changes that might be necessary to implement best management practices.

“We expect this sustainable communities grant will allow us to move some very important work forward,” Williams said. Much of that work will be done as both communities begin revision of their comprehensive plans.

The grant will allow the TJPDC to hire a project manager for two and a half years to shepherd the project, as well as two more planners.

“We did not want to create something that was going to create extra work for [city and county] staff after the grant was over,” Williams said.

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum expressed concern about the grant in a blog post last week, likening the grant to a “planner employment plan.”

“Rather than “removing barriers” to sustainable development, we have seen such efforts in the past become mandates for specific design criteria,” Williamson wrote. “The government goes too far when it dictates design criteria, that’s the market’s job.”

Williamson said he would prefer to see the money used directly on actual transportation and transit improvements as opposed to more planning.

MPO endorses Northtown Trail plan

20101122-MPO-trail-picture  Source: TJPDC

The MPO adopted a final plan for the creation of a 14.1 mile long bike commuter trail spanning from northern Albemarle County to Charlottesville’s downtown mall. The Northtown Trail will be built in phases over many years as new transportation infrastructure is constructed.

“A good bit of this will be constructed with the Meadowcreek Parkway and the Belvedere development,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “The real challenge is going to be getting across the [Rivanna] river.”

That will depend on the building of a new bridge to allow for the extension of Berkmar Drive across the Rivanna River. Earlier this month, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors opted against further consideration of a comprehensive plan amendment to bring land north of the river into the development area. Developer Wendell Wood had offered to pay for a portion of the road and bridge’s $25 million cost, but that plan is now in doubt without the expansion.

Download Download final draft of Northtown plan

Also at Monday’s meeting, the MPO endorsed an application for a VDOT transportation enhancement grant to help pay for a bike/pedestrian bridge to connect the eastern and western sides of McIntire Park. The project will cost about $400,000, according to city trails planner Chris Gensic. 


  • 01:30 - Discussion of final draft for Northtown Trail plan
  • 12:00 - Discussion of $990,000 sustainability communities  grant
  • 28:30 - Discussion of resolution endorsing TE grant application for McIntire bike/ped bridge
  • 33:00 - Discussion of appointing representatives to the Virginia Association of MPOa
  • 43:00 - Discussion of US 29 corridor report
  • 1:02:45 - Discussion of Charlottesville MPO's presentation to CTB on December 8, 2010
  • 1:42:00 - Transit updates

September 24, 2010

Davies’ replacement on transportation board seeks new approaches to congestion


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, September 24, 2010

The Charlottesville region’s new representative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board urged members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization Wednesday to come up with fresh solutions to addressing traffic congestion. 

“We don’t have to do [road construction] the same way it’s been done for years and years,” James Rich said.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:   Download 20100922-MPO


James Rich

Rich is from the Plains, a small town in Fauquier County. Governor Bob McDonnell appointed him to succeed Butch Davies on the CTB, which serves as the board of directors for the Virginia Department of Transportation. This is his second stint as a CTB member, having been previously appointed by former Governor George Alllen in 1994.

Rich also served as co-chair of the Route 50 Task Force, a group charged by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors with recommending ways to preserve the scenic quality of a stretch of that highway just outside the D.C. suburbs. He said VDOT for many years had plans to build a huge cloverleaf and new highways around the 18th century villages of Middleburg, Aldie and Upperville.

“Local citizens of the area got together and raised $250,000 to get a well-respected traffic calming engineer to look at this,” Rich said. “They came up with this plan to put roundabouts at Gilbert’s Corner and we did some traffic calming in the villages which stopped [fast moving traffic]. It’s universally popular, the footprint is so much less, and saved millions and millions of dollars.”

Rich is now part of a CTB sub-committee charged with finishing a corridor-wide study of U.S. 29. The report was originally supposed to be released last year, but has been postponed because some members of the CTB felt recommendations were not effective in addressing congestion.

Rich said he felt it was important to limit the number of entrances and driveways that have direct access to U.S. 29.

VDOT brochure depicting location of roundabouts installed to improve traffic congestion on Route 50 in Loudoun County

“You can’t build a bypass around everything, and as soon as you build a bypass here, then further north and further south the cuts come in and you need a bypass there,” Rich said.  “It seems like we could all work together and maybe come up with something different and new in the 29 area down here and elsewhere,” Rich said.

At their meeting Wednesday, the MPO Policy Board also further discussed the Northtown trail, a project to connect the downtown mall with Hollymead Town Center for cycling commuters.

“This concept will hopefully establish a comprehensive network,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. “We’re really viewing it as a north-south spine for the bike system in the region… and improve connectivity.”

The trail will be built by connecting segments such as the Meadowcreek Parkway trail, Schenck’s branch, and a trail planned to pass through the Belvedere neighborhood. To get to Hollymead, the trail would require a bridge to be built over the Rivanna River.

MPO staff are working on a document to list all of the various segments. The TJPDC will hold an open house for the public to view the plan on October 27, 2010.

Also at the meeting, the executive director of Charlottesville Area Transit reported that ridership is down in the first two months of this fiscal year.

“In the first quarter of last year we had tremendous growth and we set the bar pretty high,” said Bill Watterson. “We are still growing with our UVa ridership. That’s up more than 15% even though we’re down overall.”


  • 01:00 - Introductions of all members of the MPO Policy Board
  • 02:40 - Comments from Jim Rich, Culpeper District represenative on the Commonwealth Transportation Board
  • 35:00 - Discussion of MPO presentation to December CTB meeting
  • 46:30 - Discussion of Sunset-Fontaine Connector modeling project
  • 1:04:45 - Discussion of Northtown Trail
  • 1:30:30 - Transit updates
  • 1:40:30 - Updates on new appointees to CTB, new TJPDC employees
  • 1:42:00 - Mac Lafferty reports on diversion of TEA funds to non-transportation related purchases


March 25, 2010

Planners propose commuter bike trail from Rivanna Station military base to downtown Charlottesville


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Area planners are developing plans for a commuter bike trail to connect the heart of Charlottesville with northern Albemarle County, and elements of the proposed route are already under construction.

“The goal is to provide a connection for both bicyclists and pedestrians that would extend all the way from downtown out to the area where the [National Ground Intelligence Center] is,” said Stephen Williams, executive of the director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

MPO staff are currently working with city and county planners on possible alignments for the trail, which would span between 10 and 15 miles according to MPO planner Sarah Eissler.

The trail would take on many different forms along the way, according to Williams. In some sections, the route would simply consist of bike lanes on existing streets. In other areas, the trail would take the form of a path completely separated from vehicles.

20100324-Williams Steve Williams
Williams said planners will need to make sure they can deliver a continuous trail from one end to the other.

“If you have just a little gap, it cuts down on the usability of the entire thing,” Williams said.

Williams said the project is only in the preliminary planning stages, so it is too early to come up with a cost estimate.

“Once we have the plan in place, it will be built in sections as we’re able to find funding,” Williams said.  He told the MPO Policy Board Wednesday that these types of trails are typically built in segments, such as the portion currently being built in Albemarle.

“The trail is an element of the Meadowcreek Parkway project and is being built now, by the same contractor at the same time the road is being built,” said Lou Hatter, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

North of the Meadowcreek Parkway, the route might follow a new trail being built as part of the Belvedere development off of Rio Road. From there, Williams said it could run along the South Fork Rivanna River and pass underneath the existing U.S. 29 bridge.

Some sections of the trail will depend on the future of other transportation projects. For instance, Williams said the alignment could follow the proposed extension of Berkmar Drive on the Western side of U.S. Route 29. That project, which would depend on contributions from private developers, is also currently in the conceptual stage.

In the City of Charlottesville, the commuter route would likely follow a proposed extension of the Schenk’s Greenway from the McIntire Recycling Center to Preston Avenue. That project, which is being administered by Albemarle County because it owns the property on which the new segment would be built, could get under way in a couple of years. If the county does not have funding to build it, the city could step in.

“The city has offered to build that section if the county funding dries up since it will effectively serve mostly City residents,” said city trails planner Chris Gensic. 

Williams expects to be able to release a map showing a potential alignment later on this spring. After that, the item will go before the public for review, most likely before the MPO Policy Board.

March 16, 2009

Charlottesville Mayor Norris calls for study of athletic fields; reiterates support for McIntire YMCA

Mayor Dave Norris

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has called on his fellow City Councilors to amend the McIntire Park master plan to preserve the existing softball fields. Norris made his remarks at a March 14, 2009 press conference in which he called for a study of how to better allocate the community’s existing fields.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090314-Norris-McIntire

The press conference, held at the park’s concession stand, was held to clear up the notion that the softball fields are threatened by plans to build a 70,000 square foot aquatic and recreation center in the park. Norris began by explaining why he supported the YMCA proposal when it came forward two years ago. At the time, he said Council was facing a decision on the future of its indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The indoor Smith and Crow pools were both in need of substantial repairs, and Norris said the City was faced with the prospect of needing to replace both while only having enough money to build one. 

“We heard loud and clear from the citizens that one facility wasn’t enough,” Norris said. “We did a needs analysis where we demonstrated that the need for indoor aquatics and indoor recreational facilities was actually more than [Smith and Crow] alone could meet.”

The area marked in red is the section of the park in which the YMCA is allowed to build. This new design from VMDO Architects shows a layout that will allow the park to coexist with the existing softball fields

The Piedmont Family YMCA approached the City with a proposal to fulfill some of the City’s needs. The YMCA offered to pay for the cost of building a new facility on City land, with the City’s contribution being leveraged against County funding and  private donations. The County will contribute $2 million to the project’s first phase, which will consist of building the outer shell. That money, which was earmarked in 2007, will now come from unused transportation funds, according to County Facilities Development Director Bill Letteri. They were originally intended to match VDOT funding which has not materialized. Those funds are part of the County’s general capital projects fund balance which stood at $31,476,084 as of June 30, 2008. 

The City’s only contribution for the facility is the ground lease, allowing the City to concentrate on building a new Smith pool at Buford Middle School, which is expected to open in the fall of 2010. Crow Pool at Walker Upper Elementary School is expected to be retired at some point afterwards.

Norris called for the press conference, however, to clear the air regarding what he said was a myth that the YMCA would displace the existing softball fields at McIntire Park. When the master plan for the park’s western half was developed, those fields were replaced with a rectangular field. Former City Parks Director Mike Svetz said this was because a needsan assessment showed there was a greater need for fields for football, soccer, lacrosse and other sports. Norris said his support for that master plan was conditioned on having lights installed at Darden-Towe Park, which is operated jointly by the City and Albemarle County. Those plans are now on hold.

 “In hindsight, I think there were some lessons learned and suffice it to say some things we should have done differently,” Norris said. Most notably, he said the needs of the softball community were not adequately taken into consideration. He said the YMCA proposal has unfairly been blamed.

“They have said from the beginning that they are happy to co-exist in McIntire Park with the softball leagues,” Norris said. He pointed the audience’s attention to a new illustrative design which depicts the YMCA’s ground lease as being totally separate from the softball fields. He formally called upon Council to amend the master plan to specifically preserve the fields, but added that was only half of what the community needs.

“We have to take proactive measures to address the needs of other sports and also to continue to see how we can expand the availability of space for softball,” Norris said.  He called upon the City, the County, the University of Virginia and area sports leagues to undertake a recreational field utilization study. This would involve an inventory of area fields, suggestions of where new fields could be added, and to come up with a better plan of how to split the existing fields between different sports.

Denny Blank, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA

“Right now we’re sort of arguing over pieces of this pie, and the pie is simply not big enough,” Norris said. 

Denny Blank, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA, disputed the idea that his organization is a private club, and said free memberships will be offered to those who can demonstrate they cannot afford to pay. Blank said that Paul McIntire, the man who donated the land for the park, served on his organization’s Board of Directors.

“We at the YMCA have always felt it was important to preserve the green space [in McIntire Park],’ Blank said. He said the ground lease the YMCA has signed with the City surrounds the picnic shelters and the structure will be built in a ravine. The existing picnic shelters in the location will be dismantled and moved to another location in the park. Blank said the YMCA supports the efforts to preserve the softball fields.

Norris invited representatives from other groups to speak as well. Toya Washington of the group Urban Vision said the YMCA’s proximity to Charlottesville High School met a community need for better access to recreational facilities. Chad Day of the 1,200-member Charlottesville Sports and Social Club said he is having a hard time finding enough fields to support his club’s activities. Bill Mueller, Executive Director of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle, said there aren’t enough fields in the area to support the 2,500 children and adults who play in his league on a given Saturday.

“On game day today, we’ve got 30 fields all around the City and County in use, and even at that, it’s not enough,” Mueller said. “We’re trying to cut the pie into too fine a slice.”

In April 2008, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved plans for SOCA to build six outdoor fields and a 38,000 square feet indoor practice facility as part of the new Belvedere development. SOCA has to raise the funds to build the facility, which isn’t conditioned on the build-out of the Belvedere development.

Sean Tubbs


March 13, 2009

Is affordable housing available in “The best place to live in America”?

EDITOR’S NOTE -- March 27, 2009: This story has been corrected in response to the comments from Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. We regret the error that led to the omission of the Charlottesville Housing Fund initiative and the use of the City's Strategic Investment reserve fund. The original story compared Charlottesville and Albemarle’s operational budgets ONLY and did not include funds set aside for future use. The revised story describes the appropriations made from the Charlottesville Housing Fund and shows $220,000 appropriated in FY 2008-09 as contributing to the City's overall contributions this year. While this mixes dissimilar funding streams, it seems the most accurate way to quantify Charlottesville's contribution and it is an approach we can replicate in future reports.
-- Brian Wheeler, Executive Director, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Effective as of November 25, 2007, the minimum entry-level wage for a full time employee of the University of Virginia, the region’s largest employer, is around $21,092 a year ($10.14/hr), qualifying as “very low income” according to HUD. This one person household would be considered cost burdened if their housing costs exceeded $527 each month. The AMI for a one person household in the Charlottesville MSA is about $48,000.
The Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 that creates housing opportunities for low to moderate income families and individuals in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties and the City of Charlottesville and provides education to help community members become homeowners. 

According to Stu Armstrong, Executive Director of PHA, the shortage of affordable housing is the result of a number of factors including expensive land and the fact that people have unreasonably high expectations of the amount of living space they need while many households may only have one earner.  “We are way over-spaced,” Armstrong said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow on February 10, 2009.  Armstrong also pointed out that “the cost of housing in America has become a dual income model.”

In 1997, PHA was established as a Community Housing Development Organization (CDHO) and in 2001 it was certified by the U.S. Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).  As a CDFI, PHA recently received a million dollar grant from the federal government for down payment assistance and qualifies for another $700,000 pending proof that PHA has more projects at the “shovel ready” stage.  Additionally, PHA is certified as a Housing Counseling Agency by HUD and Freddie Mac and more than 3000 families have gone through the counseling.  Over 500 families have gone through the homeownership education process with PHA and gone on to purchase a home.  Additionally, PHA manages the Charlottesville Housing Fund’s asset base.
Over the last twelve years, PHA has built and rehabilitated homes in Crozet, Starr Hill and Hinton Avenue.  The recently completed 10th and Page project rehabilitated, completed or assisted thirty-one homes helping provide low mortgage rates to struggling homeowners.  Additionally, PHA helped to build the Hope Community Center on 11th street.  
“We do what the City can’t do and what the private sector won’t do,” said PHA Executive Director Stu Armstrong.
PHA’s projects create construction jobs and increase tax revenue in the City and County through enhanced housing stock and increased homeownership.  With the current slowdown in construction, Armstrong says these jobs provide a unique opportunity for economic development, feeding money back into the community.  Between the Crozet Meadows and Monticello Vista projects, 180 full time jobs will be created according to Armstrong. 
“We play a vital role, we cannot let our fears related to this economy at a personal level inhibit our investment in this community as a non-profit,” Armstrong said. 
While PHA receives funding from both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, this funding is typically leveraged 10:1. PHA leverages the localities’ funds by finding matching grants or receiving in kind donations. This means that for the $150,000 given to PHA by the City each year, $1.5 million dollars worth of projects are completed.  According to Armstrong, each project typically has more than seven sources of funding. 
“We’ve created $300,000 per year in tax revenue for the city, they’re only giving us $150,000 a year,” said Armstrong, “we’re a great investment in the community because of what we leverage.”

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) is a separate entity from the City of Charlottesville which receives its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). CRHA does, however, receive federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the City for capital projects and other specific programs.  The CRHA manages 376 public housing units in Charlottesville and administers approximately 300 Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) rental units that are supported through federal funding. 
Approximately 2,000 people are housed through these subsidy programs. Participants typically pay 30% of their income for rent and HUD pays the rest.  While 70% of the public housing households have an annual income under $10,000, 13% have income under $3,000 per year according to the CRHA.
In order to encourage homeownership, the CRHA provides loans through the Housing Opportunities Program to assist families in purchasing homes if they do not qualify for large enough mortgages.  Additionally, through their Down Payment & Closing Costs Assistance Program and the Housing Choice Voucher Home Ownership Program the CRHA helps low income families with down payments and closing costs.
On March 12, 2009, it was announced that the CRHA will receive around $797,000 from the federal government as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in order to improve and modernize some aging public housing buildings.
Map of CRHA Properties
(Source: CRHA)
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville (Habitat) is a non-profit organization working to provide more opportunities for affordable homeownership in Charlottesville and the surrounding area.  Through volunteer labor and homebuyer “sweat equity” Habitat develops land and constructs mixed-income communities.  Habitat partner families are then given interest-free mortgages which allow them to build their personal wealth.  Since 1991 Habitat has built 79 homes: 38 in the City, 25 in Albemarle County and the balance in Louisa and Greene.
Each of the developments that habitat is working on has access to City bus lines. Currently, Habitat is constructing 18 units in Fifeville (8 have been built, 4 are under construction and the remaining 6 will be constructed in late 2009).  These units will be sold to households that earn 25 to 60% of the AMI with several additional units being sold at fair market value. 
Habitat is also transforming Sunrise Trailer Park in Belmont replacing the 17 trailers with 48 townhouses and condominiums.  This planned neighborhood will include affordable units directed towards current residents of the trailer park and additional families who qualify for Habitat homes. 
Habitat is working to develop a mixed-income community at the site of the 100 acre Southwood Mobile Home Park near the rezoned Biscuit Run Community.   This development will replace the 353 trailers with at least 500 high-density mixed-income units.   According to Ken Hankins, Chief Operating Officer of Habitat, an existing building in Southwood was recently renovated and now serves as the Southwood Community Center.   The Community Center includes the property management office, a community room available for classes and programs, a tripling of the space for the Boys and Girls Club for the additional children that are expected to move to the area with the new development and a new outdoor ball court.

An in-depth report on the affordable living choices in our community.  By Charlottesville Tomorrow's Fania Gordon

In their operating budgets for Fiscal Year 2008-09, the City of Charlottesville dedicated $1.61 million and Albemarle County dedicated $2.04 million to assisting with affordable housing in the community.  In addition, Charlottesville has allocated another $220,000 from the Charlottesville Housing Fund during the current year.

There are many causes for the local shortage of affordable housing and local governments and organizations have different ideas about the best solutions.   This report sets out some of the basic definitions that are necessary to understand the affordable housing problem, identifies the local agencies working to fix it, and outlines how local money is being spent to address affordability in the area.

Housing affordability is determined by the percent of a household’s income spent on housing.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that a household pay no more than 30% of its income for housing and housing related costs such as homeowners insurance and utilities.  Households that pay more that 30% considered cost burdened.  

Alc-income Housing affordability numbers are determined by income levels for the metropolitan statistical area (MSA).  The Charlottesville MSA consists of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson Counties. According to HUD, a family of four in the Charlottesville MSA earning the area median income (AMI) of $68,500 should pay no more than  $1,712 each month for housing related expenses.  The AMI varies depending on household size.

There are different AMI groups to be considered when discussing affordability issues.  Households earning 60-80% of the AMI are considered low income, those earning 30-60% are very low income and those earning less than 30% of the AMI (~$20,000) are considered extremely low income.

In order to identify the number of community residents that are cost burdened by their housing expenses, statistics from the American Community Survey and National Decennial Census can be examined.  However, census data regarding rent as a proportion of household income is skewed in Albemarle and Charlottesville because it includes UVA students’ households which have low incomes but may receive assistance paying rent.

An examination of Charlottesville and Albemarle households reveals that 53% of renters in Albemarle and 57% of renters in Charlottesville with household annual incomes of $20,000 to $50,000 pay more than 30% of their household incomes towards rent. (U.S. Census)

However, the problem of a shortage of affordable housing is more complicated than examining incomes and ensuring that an adequate number of units exist for households at each income level; it is not only people who qualify as “low income” that try to save money on housing.  Since people with higher incomes and University students look for inexpensive housing within the City and there are a limited number of affordable rental units, low-income earners have to spend a higher portion of their pay on rent in order to be competitive in the rental market.  The situation has been exacerbated by the slowdown in the housing market; as the demand for rental units grows, rental prices within the City and County are increasing while unemployment is on the rise and salaries are staying the same or decreasing.

While the limited number of available affordable housing units may limit a resident’s ability to acquire housing, location of affordable housing is an important factor in determining whether an area has adequate affordable housing stock.  Affordable housing units that lack access to reliable public transportation and other public services may limit a resident’s ability to access employment opportunities, particularly those that provide opportunity for advancement.  Easy access to public transportation is essential for those who may not be able to afford cars, lack driver’s licenses or need special services or assistance.

In 2000, 6,133 people came to work in Charlottesville and 9,160 workers came to work in Albemarle County every day from Louisa, Greene, Nelson and Fluvanna Counties according to the TJPDC’s State of Housing Report.  Housing activists have attributed this high commuter volume to the shortage of affordable housing for people who work in Albemarle and Charlottesville area, many of whom fulfill necessary community functions such as teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Map 1 Population Density for Charlottesville and surrounding areas (Source: TJPDC)

As the cost of living continues to increase, people are moving across county lines where homeownership and rental costs are less prohibitive than in Albemarle and Charlottesville.  Fluvanna and Greene Counties have their highest population densities directly across the county line and close to the major highways that provide access to Charlottesville and Albemarle.  (See Map 1) The high volume of workers commuting into and out of the area every day contributes to traffic congestion, leads to increased spending on road expansion projects and leads to diminished local air quality due to pollution from car exhaust. 

Many workers who are vital to the community compete for a limited number of affordable units.  According to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Housing Analysis, entry-level firefighters and police officers could only afford 129 of the single-family homes and 42 of the condominiums sold in the Planning District between 2004 and 2005.

“Prohibitively high housing costs are a key factor in many recruits’ decision not to join the Charlottesville Police Department,” according to the Charlottesville Police Department Foundation website. The Charlottesville Police Department Foundation is currently sponsoring a program to assist five Police Officers each year with home buying costs. 

The Charlottesville Areas Association of REALTORS (CAAR) created a Work Force Housing Fund to assist those people who serve essential community functions to purchase homes near to where they work.  The Fund is based at the Charlottesville Albemarle Community Foundation and administered by the Piedmont Housing Alliance.


In their FY08-09 budget, the City included:

  • $95,546 for the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program (AHIP) that assists low income City residents who need to make improvements to their homes, in order to rehabilitate them.  AHIP counsels city residents on improvements, taxes, legal matters and credit.
  • $142,106 for the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) to towards housing and community development opportunities. 
  • $511,026 for the Affordability Tax Grant Program that assists homeowners who need assistance paying their real estate taxes.
  • $789,722 for rent and tax relief for the elderly and disabled.

Another initiative outside the operational budget is the Charlottesville Housing Fund.  According to Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, the fund was capitalized with $2.15 million in FY2007-08 and another $1.4 million for the Fund was included in the FY2008-09 Capital Improvement Program. The final decisions regarding how these funds will be allocated are expected by May of 2009. As of March 27, 2009, $220,000 from the fund has been allocated in FY2008-09. According to the City, $2.6 million was allocated the year before with the largest amount received by Dogwood Housing ($850,000).

According to Charlottesville’s adopted budget, the “mission of the Fund is to meet the housing challenges facing our residents by dedicating, consolidating and expanding financial support for the preservation and production of affordable housing in our community.”  

The full list of Objectives for the Use of the Charlottesville Housing Fund and criteria for awarding funds was approved on November 3, 2008 and can be found on the Charlottesville Housing Fund website.

Some of the types of projects for which the Charlottesville Housing Fund can be used include:

* Redevelopment of CRHA Properties
* Homeowner Rehabilitation.
* Flexible revolving loan program.
* Rental Subsidies
* Development of Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) units

Additionally, according to Mayor Norris, in FY 2008-09, the City agreed to designate $1 million of the $4 million from the economic development Strategic Investment Fund to create a revolving loan program to encourage the development of new mixed-use projects that include affordable units.  As of March 27, 2009 there have been no applications for this low interest loan .

In their FY 08/09 budget, the County included:

  • $416,328 for AHIP, who rehabilitated 31 homes in the County and assisted homeowners with 49 emergency home repairs in 2007.
  • $113,396 for PHA, who in 2007, assisted 38 families with down payment assistance in the County.
    • Both AHIP and PHA use that money to leverage other state, federal and private funds and 480 families with rental assistance.   
  • $435,928 for the Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • $250,000 for the Community Development Loan Fund
  • $40,000 for the Woods Edge Rental Subsidy.
  • $678,638 for tax relief for the elderly and disabled.

Through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (otherwise known as Section 8 vouchers), Albemarle County assisted more than 480 families with rent payments in 2007.  This totaled over $2.5 million in federal money paid directly to private landlords.    Additionally, through the Homebuyer Assistance Program, Albemarle County works with the Piedmont Housing Alliance to help first time homebuyers with down payment or closing costs.    In 2007, the Homebuyer Assistance Program leveraged funds and mortgage financing from the Virginia Housing Development Authority and dispersed 38 loans to first time homebuyers.  County funding made up 11% of the expenditures for affordable housing with the balance coming from the state, federal government and private sources. 

The Albemarle County Office of Housing’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program coordinates existing community services in order to help families currently receiving rental subsidies to become more self-sufficient.  This “one-stop” housing office offers services including counseling, workshops, and job training.

Albemarle County was awarded a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in 2007 to assist with rehabilitation and preservation of existing affordable units and construction of 38 new rental units for low-income elderly residents.  Furthermore, the revised Zoning Ordinance provides density bonuses for developers provided half of their additional units meet the County’s definition of affordable housing.



Albemarle County defines proffers as “voluntary offers by a landowner to perform an act, contribute money or donate land in order to mitigate the impacts of new development that result from a rezoning.” The Albemarle County Affordable Housing Policy sets forth the goal that at least 15% of all units developed under a rezoning or special use permit should be proffered as affordable housing for those making 80% of the AMI.  Alternatively,  the developer may contribute cash to the County to support attainment of affordable housing goals.  In their report, the Affordable Housing Joint Task Force recommended that the County restructure this target to specify that affordable housing be included for those in the extremely low, very low, and low income categories.

Since the Affordable Housing Policy was adopted in 2004, 1,622 affordable units have been proffered.  While nine proffered units have been completed, seven are under construction and twenty-five are in the final site plan review stage.  When these proffered  units are completed, the housing stock in the County that is affordable to families making 80% of the AMI will be dramatically increased.



Since 2004, more than $1.5 Million in cash proffers for affordable housing have been offered to the County and of that about $400,000 has been collected. Presently, several major residential and mixed-use developments include affordable housing proffers in the County:

  • Belvedere - 103 units & $500,000
  • Biscuit Run - 455 units
  • Cascadia - 50 units
  • Hollymead Town Center - 245 units
  • North Pointe - 110 units and $300,000
  • Old Trail Village - 330 units
  • Rivanna Village - 78 units
  • Wickham Pond - 16 units

These proffered units are required to be affordable to residents earning 80% of the AMI and are generally intended for purchase whereas public housing is generally directed at families earning incomes at or below 30% of the AMI.

In the fall of 2008 the Thomas Jefferson Community Land Trust nonprofit was incorporated with the support of the TJPDC. Community Land Trusts (CLT) aim to make private homeownership more affordable, allowing individuals to build wealth.  A CLT acts as steward of the land, owning it and leasing it out to homeowners therefore allowing individuals to purchase homes without purchasing the land upon which they are built, ensuring long term affordability.  Seventy-five percent of the homes on Thomas Jefferson CLT owned land will be targeted to households earning below 80% of the AMI and the household income would be capped at 120% of the AMI.

In October 2008, the Charlottesville Albemarle UVA Joint Task Force on Affordable Housing presented its draft recommendations to the Albemarle and Charlottesville Planning Commissions.  The main recommendation of the task force was for the establishment of a committed, permanent, dedicated source of annual affordable housing funds from the City and the County outside of their existing operating budgets.  In preliminary discussions it was suggested that UVA should dedicate annual funding to affordable housing projects in the area, however, University officials deemed this type of dedicated funding to be outside of the mission of the University.

On January 22, 2009, the Task Force released their final report with specific recommendations on what is needed in order to address the region’s affordable housing problems.  The Task Force agreed that increasing local funding in order to leverage other funds should be the top priority of Charlottesville and Albemarle.  They recommended that proffer policies be revised to address long-term affordability and ensure that existing units remain affordable.  The Task Force further recommended that the Human Resource Departments of the City, County and University develop standards for establishing a local living wage for employees and contracted workers whenever possible.

The Joint Task Force presented its recommendations to the City Council on February 2, 2009, the County Board of Supervisors on February 11, 2009, and the Planning and Coordination Council, representing UVA, Albemarle and Charlottesville on February 19, 2009.  While none of the recommendations were immediately adopted by any of the bodies, the Board of Supervisors asked for more information on implementing some of them, specifically deed restrictions which would require that affordable units remain affordable after their first sale.  James City County mandates deed restrictions on affordable units that are then monitored by the developers, preventing the burden of monitoring from being placed on planning staff, according to Ron White, Albemarle’s Chief of Housing.

Additionally, City Council and the Board of Supervisors expressed interest in pursuing federal funding for development of single room occupancy units (SROs) to address the needs of extremely low income individuals within the City where they could have excellent access to public services.

Fania Gordon

October 06, 2008

County leaders discuss VDOT funding crisis, primary road priorities


The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has adopted its Primary Road Improvement Priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. However, they did so just a few hours after being told by a top official with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) that further cuts are coming to the allocations that the County receives from VDOT. 

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Jim Utterback, the new Administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Culpeper District, said VDOT’s funding crisis is sharpening. The Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund is no longer stable, federal funding for transportation is down because people are driving less and paying less in gas taxes, and fewer new and used vehicles are being sold. 

“We know we’re going to have a significant cut to the six-year program,” Utterback said. Last year, VDOT reduced funding by 44%. In response to a question from Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett), Utterback said this year’s cuts would be on the same magnitude.

“If you read the VDOT mission statement, it’s plan, design, build, maintain and operate state roadways for the travelling public,” Utterback said. He added that VDOT’s challenge now will be to focus on the latter two objectives during the funding crisis, which he said could last for several years.

Funding to replace the Advance Mills Bridge is not in jeopardy, according to VDOT's Allan Sumpter

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) asked if projects that are nearing their construction dates will be affected, such as the Meadowcreek Parkway and the Advance Mills Bridge. Utterback said those project would go forward, and that the Culpeper District has gotten “the green light” from Richmond to proceed with putting the Meadowcreek Parkway project out to bid. 

Rooker said that the area will never see a project as big as the Meadowcreek Parkway again until the funding crisis is resolved. He said the state’s economic development prospects would be lower until something can be done to allow communities to invest in their transportation infrastructure.

Allan Sumpter, the Charlottesville Residency Administrator, said his staff would be working to make sure that core services are maintained, but he could not provide any specific details on what would be cut back until the full budgetary picture develops.

Utterback’s comments cast a shadow over the Board’s discussion of primary road priorities that took place later in the meeting. Every year, the County establishes its priorities for primary roads prior to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s fall meeting. The CTB serves as VDOT’s Board of Directors and authorizes transportation projects.

Chief Planner David Benish said this year, County staff are making only a few changes.

  • Removal of Free State Bridge project because construction of entrance road for Belvedere neighborhood renders it unnecessary
  • Addition of Bridge on 250 East at Shadwell onto list of bridge repairs
  • Removal of Route 22-Route 250 safety improvements because project is nearing completion
  • Strengthened language requesting bike lane improvements on primary roads

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) asked that the request to build the Berkmar Drive Extension be amended to specifically mention the required bridge over the Rivanna River. That change was made as part of the adopted priority list. 

Supervisor Rooker wondered if it were wise to include City-related projects on the County’s list, such as funding for the additional lane on the ramp from Route 29 to Route 250 at Best Buy. Benish said that the improvements would also serve to greatly improve the County’s transportation infrastructure.  He added that the priority list is worked out in conjunction with the City and VDOT as part of a joint planning process with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Rooker suggested breaking out City-related projects into a category “City projects of County interest.”

“I don’t want us to be in a mode where we’re competing, and effectively asking them to do projects in the City ahead of projects in the County to the extent we get an allocation,” Rooker said, adding that the Hillsdale Drive Extension project would also assist the County.

With regards to the improvements around Route 29’s intersection with the 250 Bypass, the City has access to additional revenue sharing funds from VDOT, according to Mark Graham, the County’s Community Development Director. Additionally, Graham said that the proffers for the Albemarle Place development include funds earmarked for road work in the City.

“The private money would be used basically as a match on the revenue sharing money that the City is getting from VDOT,” Graham said.

Allan Sumpter suggested that the County “federalize” as many projects as possible, by prioritizing projects that appeal to the federal government’s transportation priorities to move people between cities.

Rooker said that he thought the County had a chance for getting primary funds for one of its goals, most notably expanding US 29 from the South Fork Rivanna bridge to Hollymead Town Center.

Benish also said revisiting the priorities may be “discouraging” given the current funding crisis, but that the list gives direction to County staff to help with decision making on land-use decisions as well as Capital Improvement Goals. Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said she understood that, but also asked Benish if there was a way to indicate which project would be the most cost-effective.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) and Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio)

Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) also addressed the issue of prioritizing projects in the County.  “I see a lot of projects on here that sort of put Pantops behind Crozet, particularly the safety issues and sidewalks and improvements to downtown,” Boyd said. He said the recently formed Pantops Advisory Council is concerned about the “pedestrian unfriendliness” of Route 250 through Pantops, especially as Martha Jefferson relocates. “Since we have spent a lot of money in Crozet so far, with the library and other things… would it make sense to share the wealth a little bit and look at some of these Pantops issues,” Boyd said. Slutzky said that by that logic, the Route 29 North area should be moved to the top of the list, but said the Crozet Master Plan came first. 

Boyd said that he thought the members of the Pantops Advisory Council would be discouraged if the transportation elements of the Pantops Master Plan cannot be realized because of the funding gap. Rooker said that if the Board cannot have unanimity on settling its internal priorities, it would have no chance of getting permission from the General Assembly to obtain additional revenue through a sales tax. Slutzky said he would support adding Pantops as a beneficiary of additional revenue, if Boyd would go on record in support of the sales tax increase.

“I don’t want to go there,” Boyd responded.

One of the Supervisors will make an oral presentation of these priorities to the Commonwealth Transportation Board later this fall.

Sean Tubbs

August 07, 2008

Star Swimming seeks $500,000 from Albemarle for pool enclosure

20080806-Fairview The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has agreed to negotiate with a coalition of groups building a new indoor competitive swimming facility to be located in the new Belvedere neighborhood off Rio Road. If the County decides to enter into the public-private partnership with Star Swimming and the Virginia Gators Association, the County’s high school swim teams would get priority practice times at the facility. The County is being asked to spend $500,000 on the project.

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The request was formally made by Dave Phillips, the Executive Director of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors and member of Star Swimming’s Board of Trustees. He said the pool will meet a growing demand for competitive swimming facilities. Fairview Swim and Tennis Club and Star Swimming are partnering with Star Swimming on a $1.5 million new facility that would include a 25-yard by 25-meter pool with ten lanes, as well as a two-lane warm water pool for aerobics and other exercise programs.  Fairview, a private club, is paying for the new pools. Star Swimming will pay for the enclosure as part of this partnership.

20080806-Dave-Phillips Phillips said the new pool is needed because of the current shortage of lanes in both the County and the City. He said competitive indoor swimming has gained in popularity even though the community has not built more lanes. Phillips said the new facility would be fully dedicated to the sport, unlike the new Smith and YMCA pools scheduled for completion in 2010. 

The County’s commitment to spend over $2 million on the YMCA’s capital costs is not in question. The Board signed into a use agreement in January 2008, but left open the question of whether to invest the additional $1.25 million.

If the County agrees to partner with Star Swimming, the funding could come from the $1.25 million the County tentatively set aside in the County’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). That money would guarantee competitive swimming lanes at the new YMCA pool at McIntire Park. However, the staff report for the proposal suggested the County could decide instead to use that money for the Star Swimming project because discussions which were to have occurred by May 20 of this year did not take place. Additionally, staff suggested that the Fairview expansion could be complete one year before the YMCA.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said the Star Swimming proposal was a great idea to pursue, but he though the City and the YMCA should be involved in the negotiations. “I want to be fair to the City, and it might inform how they decide to handle their pool inventory,” Slutzky said. “If we’re thinking about reallocating CIP dollars from the [YMCA] project, we owe it to the City to engage them in that conversation.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) made a motion that the Board take the idea into consideration. Before anyone made a second, Slutzky suggested a modification to add the City to the proposed negotiations. Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) tried to add a representative from the Crozet Pool, a private club that might be interested in expanding as well. Boyd said he wasn’t interested in developing a swimming plan for the whole area. Rooker said if Crozet Pool wanted to participate, they should bring forward a specific proposal. Mallek said she understood and she would encourage them to do so as soon as possible.

“I know that Star Swimming is ready to put the shovel in right now and get going, and that is very, very important, and we have no idea what is happening with the [YMCA],” Mallek said.
Rooker said he was not sure if this proposal would preclude the County’s participation in the YMCA, but that it was his impression they were never that interested in providing competitive swimming lanes. County Executive Bob Tucker will appoint a committee of negotiators, and both Boyd and Rooker volunteered.

After the meeting, the County’s Director of Parks and Recreation told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the Board could choose to fund both the YMCA and the Star Swimming proposals.

“The board didn’t outright say that if we fund one, we won’t fund the other,” said Pat Mullaney. 

“Comparison with the Y facility is a bit like comparing apples and oranges,” Krueger wrote in an e-mail. “Their pool would be devoted solely to competitive swimming.  Ours is a full-facility Y with a competition pool, a warm water pool, locker rooms and a fitness center, among other features.”

Krueger acknowledged that the Star Swimming facility would be open sooner, but said that the YMCA was planning for a facility that could last for 50 to 80 years.

“An aluminum frame, vinyl plate structure will not have near that useful life, so when all the plates have to be replaced after a couple of years, who will be paying for that and will the County be asked for more money?” Krueger asked. He added that the full size of the YMCA has not been determined, and that if the University of Virginia agrees to help pay for construction of a competitive diving well, the YMCA facility could have as many as 16 lanes.

Sean Tubbs