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June 10, 2012

City leaders contemplate future neighborhoods

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 10, 2012

At a joint planning meeting last week, members of Charlottesville’s City Council and Planning Commission found themselves tasked with a staff-designed planning exercise. With the group spread out among three tables, poster-sized black-and-white city maps beckoned colored pencils.

Brian Haluska, Neighborhood Planner, City of Charlottesville
View all past stories related to the
Livable Communities Planning Project

City planners Brian Haluska and Missy Creasy asked the officials to color their maps to match existing conditions delineating green space, employment centers, high-density residential, entertainment venues, civic centers and transportation connections. Staff added one caveat — they had to do it from memory.

“If you have any papers, put them under your chair,” said Creasy, sounding more like a schoolteacher preparing her class for a quiz. “If I see that you are looking at any of your papers, then I am going to take your papers. We are going with a clean slate for this evening.”

“We’re just asking everyone to go down the list and fill in the city … the way you see it now,” Haluska said. “You can also do potential [uses] if you wish.”

Some tables started with green pencils to outline parks; others marked up existing business zones in red. All wrestled with whether to document today’s conditions versus a city of the future.

“We wore off the entire lead of our green pencil,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos. “We were more interested in parks that don’t exist yet.”

“We also recognized that the University [of Virginia] and the hospital are major employment centers,” said architect Kurt Keesecker, a member of the Planning Commission. “So we tried to look at how we could bring more multi-family residential or high-density residential to the fringes of those areas.”

Continue reading "City leaders contemplate future neighborhoods" »

May 03, 2012

Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee seeks more influence

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 3, 2012

The chairman of Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to ask for a clarification of the group’s charge.
Lonnie Murray
“We as a committee feel it is important that the board help identify the priorities that are most important to you,” said Lonnie Murray. “Certainly involve us and ask us questions so we can give [our] expertise.”
The NHC was created in 2005 following the work of a temporary committee that was charged with creating an inventory of the county’s natural assets.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in helping revalidate a lot of the great work done by the biodiversity work group in years past,” Murray said.
However, Murray said several members of the committee have resigned because of a perception the board considered the group’s work irrelevant.
“They [didn’t] feel like that they are being proactively engaged enough,” Murray said. “There are a lot of issues that relate directly to natural resources and biodiversity. In the past, it feels like we’re consulted after the fact.”

Continue reading " Albemarle’s Natural Heritage Committee seeks more influence " »

January 05, 2011

Forest Lakes residents continue to lobby against Hollymead expansion


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is expected to decide today whether to include two expansions of the county’s designated growth area in the Places29 Master Plan, which comes up for a final vote next month.

“We’re hoping to get that direction so we can proceed and get this [plan] finalized for them to act on it in February,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.

The proposed expansion, which community members thought had been tabled, would add around 140 acres to the county's growth area. Ken Boyd has stated the expansion may be smaller, but no further details have been officially revealed

Members of the Forest Lakes Community Association had thought one of the requests from developer Wendell Wood, to bring 140 acres south of Hollymead Town Center into the growth area, was dead. Neighbors expressed their opposition at a public hearing in November.

At the time, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd told residents he would follow their lead and not support the inclusion, even though he personally favored the idea.

However, at a subsequent work session in December, Boyd said his mind was changed by “additional information,” but he did not further elaborate at the meeting on the specifics. However, he did make an appearance in late December on WINA’s “Charlottesville Right Now” program to explain his views.

“I had an outpouring of people [from] Forest Lakes who said they didn’t want this,” Boyd said. “They thought we were approving development there. All [a growth area expansion] does is invite private investment. … It only says that this is an area that is available for rezoning. It doesn’t rezone the property, and I think that’s what the people are confused about.”

Boyd went on to say that a rezoning would allow the county to receive financial support, in the form of proffers from developer Wendell Wood, to pay for needed infrastructure.

“The reason I changed my mind is that we should give the public an opportunity to hear what they can get out of it,” Boyd said. He specifically singled out the intersection of Ashwood Boulevard and U.S. 29 as one potential beneficiary of funding from a rezoning.

However, a member of the Forest Lakes Community Association’s Board of Directors said he fully understands the county’s land use policies and remains opposed to the reclassification of the land.

“We’re being told this is only a preliminary step in the process, but that does not make any difference,” Scott Elliff said in an interview. “We have said loud and clear that infrastructure needs to come first and that there should be no development on these parcels until traffic problems have been fixed, which is the key purpose of the Places29 program.”

Elliff said he and other Forest Lakes residents will appear before the board to make their views known during the public comment period in the morning. Board Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek said in an interview that she did not plan to take further public comment during the work session.

When reached for comment Tuesday, Boyd said he would make no further public remarks until he can explain to his constituents why he is in favor of the expansion.

“There is obviously a great deal of misinformation out in the public and individuals trying to spin their opinions as my position,” Boyd wrote in an e-mail. “I have arranged a community conversation at Hollymead Elementary on January 27th and don’t plan on any more comments until that discussion.”
Elliff said he would welcome such a meeting, but said it was long overdue.

“We think it would have been much more preferable to get the opinions of those who live here early on and to listen to their overwhelming opposition to this bad idea,” Elliff said.

Supervisors will also decide whether another potential expansion area should be allowed near the Rivanna Station military base, some of which also includes land owned by Wood. In December, supervisors said they wanted more information about the Defense Intelligence Agency’s future expansion plans for the base. Cilimberg said that to his knowledge the DIA has not presented the information, but added it was possible supervisors could have had personal conversations with DIA staff.

The work session on Places29 will begin at 3:30 this afternoon. Opportunities for the public to speak will come in the morning during the regularly scheduled comment period.

December 05, 2010

West Virginia company buys 4,500 acres in Albemarle near Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, December 5, 2010

The family that owns The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia has acquired 4,500 acres in Albemarle County south of Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello.

The James C. Justice Cos. purchased 55 parcels from MeadWestvaco Corp. for $23.75 million in a deal that closed last week.

20101205-MeadWestvaco James C. Justice II is CEO of the family-run West Virginia company known for its coal mining, farming and timber operations. Justice bought The Greenbrier in 2009 when it was facing bankruptcy. Justice company representatives did not respond to a request to comment on their intentions for the property in Albemarle.

James H. Hill, a MeadWestvaco vice president, confirmed the sale and said the property was no longer needed for the company’s timber operations.

“Several years ago, MeadWestvaco launched a rural land sales program,” Hill said in an e-mail. “These properties have been managed for decades to the highest standards … ideal for investors or outdoor enthusiasts. This 4,500-acre tract has been managed for fiber supply and is no longer strategic for the company’s needs.”

MeadWestvaco’s land sales website advertised the property as the “Presidential Estates” given its location near the homes of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson. The advertised price was $38.5 million and the land, zoned for rural use, has an assessed value of $21.5 million. It sold to the Justice Cos. for $2.25 million over the tax assessment.

Rex Linville, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s land conservation officer for Albemarle County, said he thought the land had the potential for about 450 residential units.

“That’s a best-case scenario, not accounting for critical slopes and road access,” Linville said. “That said, I don’t know what they intend to do. We would like an opportunity to work with an owner like this on preservation of the property, and we hope that’s the new owner’s intent.”

‘Historically significant’

Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, said in a prepared statement that “the land to the south of Monticello is historically significant, since it remains largely as Jefferson saw it.”

“We are committed to working with our community partners to ensure protection of the viewshed from Monticello,” Bowman added. “We welcome our new neighbors and look forward to working together to protect Jefferson’s views for future generations.”

Christopher Owens, a historic preservationist from Spotsylvania, has been working since 2004 to complete a mapping project of land once owned by President Monroe.

“Monroe’s home, Ash Lawn-Highland, is a 535-acre remnant of what was a 3,500-acre estate,” Owens said. “The MeadWestvaco tract has 700 acres of Monroe’s original Highland estate.”

“Ecologically and historically, it is really an historic piece of property,” Owens said. “The use has remained unchanged throughout civilized history. Owners have always used this land for timber. In fact, Monroe had a sawmill on the property and it is likely that his old grist mill was there too.”

Bigger than Biscuit Run

At 4,500 acres, the MeadWestvaco parcels combined are 3 1/2 times the size of the Biscuit Run development that the state bought last year for a future state park. The commonwealth paid $9.8 million for the 1,200 acres, plus an unspecified amount of Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits.

Bill Kittrell, director of conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy, said the MeadWestvaco land had been identified as an attractive site for a park prior to the state’s acquisition of Biscuit Run. His organization got involved soon after MeadWestvaco put it on the market in 2006.

“We were involved in trying to find a way to protect the MeadWestvaco property either through state ownership or conservation easements with private ownership,” Kittrell said. “I think whatever timber liquidity there was, they have already extracted what was of any value. Given its location near Monticello, the value is less in timber and more in other forms of development, like residential and estate land.”

In 2008, The Nature Conservancy had local Charlottesville-based Nelson, Byrd, Woltz Landscape Architects prepare a master plan for a public park and nature preserve. At that time, Biscuit Run was poised to become Albemarle’s largest residential development in history, having already been approved for up to 3,100 homes.

The conceptual master plan for “Jefferson Monroe Park” was shared with state officials and potential investors. Ridge Schuyler, a former member of the local Nature Conservancy staff, said he toured the property when the park concept was being developed.

“It has beautiful bones,” Schuyler said. “It’s a nice, rolling piece of property with spectacular views back towards Monticello and the Southwest Mountains. In its post timbered state, it’s not the most attractive, but you could see the potential.”

“I don’t know how much value it has as timber property,” Schuyler added. “MeadWestvaco sold it because it wasn’t close to their sawmills, and it hasn’t moved any closer.”

Hopes for the future

Owens observed that a unique opportunity exists with the University of Virginia’s ownership of the adjacent Morven Farm.

“My goal was to at least get [Monroe’s] 700 acres back somehow,” Owens said. “One could easily create an almost 12,000-acre park unifying the land with Morven, Ash Lawn-Highland and Monticello. It’s a very historic landscape. Mr. Justice could still harvest timber and do that.”

The PEC’s Linville questioned such a high price being paid for a long-term timber investment.

“I called contacts in the timber business, and they said that the price didn’t make sense from a timber investment perspective, you wouldn’t recoup your investment on timber alone,” Linville said. “It’s also equally unlikely someone would pay that price from a residential development angle. Since neither scenario really makes sense in today’s market, my hope is it’s a conservation transaction.”

Besides The Greenbrier, the Justice family has owned or developed other large recreational properties. According to Marshall University’s website, where Jim Justice received his undergraduate and MBA degrees, the family developed the Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in West Virginia’s Monroe County.

October 22, 2010

ACSA will fund earthen dam design


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 22, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority has agreed to pay for the final design work on a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

The water authority will pay up to $869,000 to Schnabel Engineering to produce a final design, which will be completed by April.

The city of Charlottesville has not agreed to construction of a new full-height earthen dam. The City Council prefers the dam to be built in phases in conjunction with dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20101021-ACSA-Water



RWSA executive director Tom Frederick (right) was on hand to answer questions, as was Chris Webster of Schnabel Engineering (background)

At the September meeting of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, city and county officials could not agree on whether to continue paying Schnabel for design work, given the uncertainties about the approach. Mayor Dave Norris suggested that the ACSA pay for the work, given that the city has paid for studies on dredging and the feasibility of repairing and expanding the existing dam at Ragged Mountain.

ACSA’s executive director, Gary O’Connell, said he needed a vote from his board before he could commit the funds.

“There is the risk of the work being authorized and funded, but no agreement to build,” O’Connell said.

“This seems to me to have the potential to save us millions of dollars,” O’Connell added, saying that money spent now to continue design work would allow the RWSA to take advantage of a competitive bidding environment if a decision is made to build a new dam.

In comparison, the winning bid for the North Fork Regional Pump Station, one of the ACSA’s own capital projects, came in at $4.9 million, below the estimate of $6.12 million.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction and I thought it was a positive motion for the mayor to suggest this,” said ACSA board Chairman Clarence Roberts.

With respect to whether Schnabel designs a dam that can be built all at once, or in phases, engineer Chris Webster said work will first be done on the dam’s foundation, as well as a drainage tunnel to convey water through the dam to avoid seepage. After that, blueprints for the dam itself will be designed, requiring a decision on its ultimate height within three months.

ACSA board Vice Chairwoman Liz Palmer said she is opposed to phasing the dam.

“To build the base of the dam in order to phase in the future, we would be paying basically 99 percent of what we would if we just built the dam all the way,” Palmer said.

Jim Colbaugh

ACSA board member Jim Colbaugh said he would accept limiting the size of the reservoir by not filling it up with water all the way, but wanted to avoid building the dam in a piecemeal fashion.

“It just doesn’t sound right in my mind; it would be terrible to do that,” Colbaugh said. “I just hope we can move forward in six months with actual construction.”

Colbaugh said he could support paying for the rest of the design work because the city has established a precedent of paying for the study of water supply alternatives.

“The city has spent a half-million on their own,” Colbaugh said. “I feel comfortable recognizing the work the city has done, and I feel comfortable moving forward on the next six months of dam design.”

On Tuesday, the RWSA will discuss how to proceed with the city’s wish to issue a request for proposals to dredge the South Fork. One decision that came out of a September meeting of the four boards was to follow a recommendation from HDR Engineering to pursue a first phase of dredging separate from the water supply plan.

However, Norris has indicated he would like the RWSA to pursue a much broader course of action.
O’Connell sought direction from his board on how to represent them in that discussion.

Palmer said the ACSA should only support the first phase and should indicate an unwillingness to go further.

“We’ve already said that Rivanna has paid for its five-year capital improvement program without raising wholesale rates,” Palmer said. “If we start adding other things in there … we’re concerned that there will be more price involved and it will interfere with the 50-year plan.”

However, Colbaugh said he would be OK with seeking more information

“It’s just more information that we have, and why not get it?” Colbaugh asked. “Get the RFP, have it focused on phase 1 and provide alternatives for the full dredging and see what someone comes up with.”

ACSA member Dave Thomas made a motion directing O’Connell to express the ACSA’s support for phase 1 dredging and its support for the possibility of further dredging. However, Thomas made clear in his motion that the ACSA takes no position yet on whether further dredging is “feasible, economical, or desirable.”

The motion passed 3-2 with both Palmer and Richard Carter voting against.

September 20, 2010

City planners consider two residential in-fill projects

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, September 20, 2010

In 2003, the Charlottesville City Council adopted a zoning code that encouraged more  compact residential development within city limits. That vision is being realized as developers seek projects that take advantage of undeveloped land.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission finds itself trying to strike a balance between what a property owner can build by-right and the concerns of existing residents about loss of green space and increased traffic. Two such projects were considered by the commission last week and both illustrate the role that neighborhood involvement plays in whether a development is ultimately approved.

Download 20100913-CPC-Estes-Eton

Commissioners granted a special use permit allowing for a developer to slightly increase the density allowed on vacant land in the city’s Cherry Avenue zoning corridor just south of the railroad tracks and within sight of the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Download Download staff for Estes' special use permit

By right, the firm Estes Street Partners could build 15 units on the site, but the permit allows construction of 2 more units.

Katerina Krzancic, who lives nearby on Nalle Street, spoke out against the project when it originally came before city planners. 

“The applicant originally came forward five years ago with a proposal that I and other neighbors felt was very inappropriate for the neighborhood,” Krzancic said. “It was a very high density project with a lot of concrete and parking.”

On Tuesday, however, Krzancic told commissioners she supported the project because the developer had worked with the city and neighbors to reduce the density and maintain the neighborhood’s character.

“Sometimes we hear about delayed processes and I think this is one where the cooperation among neighbors and applicants over the years has resulted in something that no one quite envisioned in the beginning,” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller.

In contrast, Commissioners told developer Alex Hancock that his request to rezone land in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood would likely be denied unless he took the time to work with his neighbors to improve the project.

Alex Hancock makes his case before the commission

Hancock is seeking to rezone 2.5 acres of land at the end of Eton Road, a cul-de-sac just on the edge of city limits. The preliminary plan is to build 9 additional homes on land that is currently wooded.

City Planner Brian Haluska said Hancock could likely squeeze between 5 and 7 units on the site by right, but the exact number would not be known until an engineering plan is performed.

Developers are invited to participate in a preliminary discussion with the planning commission the month before a public hearing on a rezoning is held. Several residents of Eton Road appeared Tuesday to argue against the development.

Anne Lucas said the homes would double traffic on her street, making it unsafe for pedestrians. 

“We feel like this project would set a poor precedent for the direction of the city,” Lucas said.

Bill Niebel, another resident of Eton Road, said he was opposed to the development because he thought the land was undevelopable.

“It doesn’t belong and it shouldn’t happen,” Niebuhl said. “No one wants this to happen. You don’t even need to take it into consideration.

However, Hancock already paid the $2,000 fee for the process to begin so the application is proceeding through city hall.

At their meeting, Commissioners were concerned that the conceptual site plan was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and told Hancock he should work with his neighbors.

“I would encourage you to be as open to your neighbors as possible given that they’re going to be an integral part of whatever’s going to happen,” Keller said.

Commissioner Michael Osteen, an architect, encouraged Hancock to continue pursuing the rezoning rather than developing on the site by-right.

“There is a great project that could be built from this, but you’ve got a lot of things going against you,” Osteen said.

Haluska said Hancock plans to take his chances and will present his plan to the commission for formal consideration at its October meeting.

January 08, 2010

Kaine speaks at Monticello to announce success on conservation goal, Biscuit Run acquisition

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, January 08, 2010

Governor Tim Kaine appeared at Monticello today to formally announce the Commonwealth of Virginia’s purchase of the 1,200 acre Biscuit Run tract formerly owned by Forest Lodge LLC. Two-thirds of the property had been zoned for development of up to 3,100 homes, but now all of the land will be turned into a state park.

Download the podcast: Download 20100108-Kaine-BiscuitRun

20100108-Kaine-Audience Governor Kaine spoke to a packed crowd at Monticello
The purchase of Biscuit Run by the state helped Kaine reach a goal of conserving over 400,000 acres during his term as governor. He told the audience the idea was inspired by the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

"The idea was to try to conserve 1,000 acres for every year since [1607],” Kaine said. The goal was reached through a combination of land purchases and conservation easements. In all, over 424,000 acres have been permanently protected from development in Virginia since July 1, 2005.

The state paid $9.8 million to purchase the property from Forest Lodge LLC. Just over half of that amount came from bonds specifically issued to raise money to purchase land for state parks. Voters approved the bond issue in a 2002 referendum. The rest of the money came from federal transportation enhancement funds.

Kaine said he first learned of the opportunity to purchase Biscuit Run when he received a called from former Congressman L.F. Payne. He said negotiations were handled by Natural Resources Secretary Preston Bryant, but he said he understood the reasons why investors in Forest Lodge LLC wanted to sell Biscuit Run, which they reportedly paid $46.2 million for in 2005.

“The real estate market, the desire to do something positive for the region, and an awareness that open space disappears every day,” Kaine said were all motivating factors.

The owners of Forest Lodge LLC, including developer Hunter Craig, will now be eligible to apply for Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credits and federal charitable deductions. The exact value of these credits will be a matter between Craig and the department of taxation.

“Our tax department really goes over these assessments very, very carefully, and there’s no guarantee what the tax credits will be,” Kaine said. “The only guarantee was the purchase price.”

20100108-Kaine-Close-Up Governor Kaine speaking to reporters
Kaine acknowledged the land is worth a lot more than what the state paid for it. In 2009, Albemarle County assessed the property at $44 million. This is the third state park acquired during the Kaine administration, and the first ever to be located in this part of Central Virginia. The new state park will not be programmed until a public master planning process, which could take up to a year.

“The reason we’ve not been able to purchase a state park in the Charlottesville area is that the land costs have been too high,” Kaine said.

Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said the acquisition of Biscuit Run helps soften the blow that comes with the reduction in funds for the County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program.

“It is a harsh financial reality that our ACE program must shrink at a time when our purchasing ability would be the best in many years,” Mallek said. County funding for ACE was cut in half for this fiscal year and will likely be eliminated entirely for next year. In October 2009, Supervisors directed staff to consider cutting all local funding of the ACE program and to only appropriate the $350,000 that comes from the Virginia Department of Tourism.


  • 01:00 - Opening remarks from Leslie Green Bowman, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
  • 04:30 - Comments from Ann Mallek, Chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
  • 08:50 - Comments from Preston Bryant, Secretary of Natural Resources
  • 12:30 - Comments from Governor Tim Kaine
  • 28:00 - Comments from Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band
  • 35:50 - Kaine answers questions from reporters

October 26, 2009

County candidates square off on growth issues at final forum

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, October 26, 2009

Population growth, transportation improvements and protecting the watershed were the three topics discussed at the final candidate forum for the six men vying for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. The forum, held on October 22, 2009, was sponsored by Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP), Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation (ACCT), the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Rivanna Conservation Society.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091022-Final-County-Forum

Watch the video:

Albemarle County Candidates Forum from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

The forum was moderated by Bob Gibson, Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

The sponsors asked three long questions in advance of the forum, each of which was backed up with facts and footnotes.

Download Download the full list of questions here

Question 1: In light of ASAP’s survey on the area’s ecosystem services capacity, what policy implications do you envision for the pending revision of the Comprehensive Plan? What additional facts would be necessary to help you form your opinion about the desirability of capping County growth at an optimal sustainable population size?

20091022-ASAP-Thomas Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I think the research for this study was flawed because it didn’t take into consideration technological advances and the increase in growth and density proposed by the master plan… After the last drought, many residents stepped up and worked to reduce the amount of water they used.... We can continue to be good stewards of the land and not handcuff future generations… I don’t believe in population control.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The comprehensive plan is a beautiful statement of intent, but intent is empty, if you will, without process to support it, and we are limited in our process elements to our comprehensive plan… We need to strengthen policy choices that would lead to rural area protection….”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “Some of the additional information we need is really what I would call geographic specific information about the areas that we need to focus on to better protect areas where natural resources are housed. One of the things we do know is that forest protection is incredibly important.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “The facts presented should give us all pause regarding the future size of our population. The study gives us time to address the possibility of rampant growth… If we can keep the growth in the urban ring… we’ll be able to mitigate the potentially harmful effects on our water, forests and fields.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “The study is valuable from the standpoint of helping to illustrate the needfor us to continue to set clear-cut policies in terms of zoning… I asked the question if the study took into account conservation easements… [the Consultant] said no… Right now some of the things we can continue to do is fund the [Acquisition of Conservation Easements] program…”

20091022-ASAP-lowry John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “I did see some things in the study that didn’t seem quite right. I am in North Garden, only 6.5% developed, and the study said the population could go from 6,800 to 60,000, and I don’t see that happening… It’s good to have the discussion in a conceptual and abstract sense because it’s better to plan for your future than not plan for your future…”

Question 2: Do you support the approach taken in the Places29 Master Plan to address traffic congestion through parallel roads, bus rapid transit, grade-separated interchanges and better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians? If so, how will you secure funding? If not, what is your plan for addressing the transportation problems of the County?

20091022-ASAP-slutzky David Slutzky (D-Rio): “If we’re going to have traffic, meaning people moving from place to place, I think we need to disperse and diffuse that energy across modalities… We’ve got to get people out of cars and into alternative modes of transportation… To the extent that people are in automobiles, we need to create a network of parallel roads… How we pay for them is a whole other matter….”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I know of no place in the United States where a community our size has significantly increased alternative transportation by throwing massive amounts of taxpayer dollars at it, so I am inclined to think that throwing money at a fleet of empty buses is not the answer.... We need some of the parallel roads that are on the drawing board put in place, but at this time there does not appear to be any money for them…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “We sought a bill at the legislature last year that would have allowed us to have a public referendum on whether or not we could add up to a penny on the sales tax for dedicated transportation funding for this area. The legislature did not allow that to get out of committee. Had we done that… we would have had adequate transportation funds to do most of the things that we know need to be done.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “If we have the seed money that we can raise on our own, that will allow us to do debt issues of long term capital to finance our improvements in the transportation system. After all, they’re long-term investments and they’ll pay us back… We really need to have the Sunset Avenue/Fontaine Avenue connector….”

20091022-ASAP-cummings Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “We must find ways to get out of our cars…If the General Assembly were to at least allow the localities to choose what improvements their citizens would desire and how to fund them by means of local referenda, I believe we would do the responsible thing.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “I think that we need the parallel roads… I’m not interested in seeing in seeing a through-way with U.S. 29 with grade-separated interchanges and increasing the speed limit to 60 miles an hour….”

Question 3: The County’s comprehensive plan calls for a number of policies to protect the Rivanna watershed, but a number have not been implemented. Can you comment on the County’s willingness to approve developments that are consistent with the plan, but its unwillingness to support policies such as the Mountain Overlay District? Do you agree with the County passing ordinances to make sure clean water flows towards the Chesapeake Bay?

20091022-ASAP-rooker Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett): “The County amended the zoning ordinance to include driveway standards… The County amended the water protection ordinance to require stream buffers and all intermittent and perennial streams… The County amended its process for development in the rural areas to require that building permits include critical resource reviews….”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller): “I do feel like Albemarle County is very effectively managed… I do support ordinances to protect the watershed… I think we need to have firm policies that we will not expand our growth area….”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller): “There should be equal respect given to protecting the natural environment as there is to development… I feel like we’ve made a promise to our fellow citizens in this community and the other states that feed into the Bay… We all need to do a better job… I feel like we must protect our forests because they clean the air, they hold the soil from erosion, and they enhance the quality of the water….”

20091022-ASAP-snow Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller): “Working on the Architectural Review Board, we started taking a really close look at how these projects were developing and making sure they got the controls in place… In large-scale development we need to make sure we have the runoff that we’ve had in the past… I’ve spent my life trying to educate people on how to take care of their land  and how to improve water quality… I look at myself as one of the original environmentalists in the area….”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio): “I think the solutions arrived at by the Board of Supervisors over the past several years were a reasonable balancing of the rights of property owners and improved steps to preserve our ecosystems…100 foot buffers on streams, required timely vegetation on development sites, driveway requirements in rural standards… We must be careful not to make farming impossible by making rules that limit our farming heritage….”

David Slutzky (D-Rio): “The comp plan gives us guidance… but it’s the Board’s job to carry out that will… How do we get further? I tell you when we sit there at a Board hearing and the folks who are there to defend their property rights are out in numbers, and the folks that want to have ecological systems protected for the benefit of future generations are at home talking about it among themselves, the political will isn’t there for our Board to be more proactive and assertive….”


  • 01:00 - Introduction from Bob Gibson, Executive Director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership
  • 04:50 - Gibson introduces the candidates
  • 07:00 - Question 1
  • 08:30 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 10:30 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 14:30 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 17:30 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 20:00 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 22:20 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 24:15 - Gibson reads additional information to set up Samuel Miller rebuttal
  • 25:30 - Cummings rebuttal to Question 1
  • 27:15 - Snow rebuttal to Question 1
  • 30:20 - Question 2
  • 32:10 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 34:10 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 36:00 - Slutzky rebuts Thomas
  • 37:00 - Thomas rebuts Slutzky
  • 38:20 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 41:45 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 43:45 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 45:45 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 47:45 - Lowry rebuts Snow and Cummings
  • 49:40 - Cummings rebuts Snow on the idea of zero based budgeting
  • 51:15 - Snow uses his rebuttal time to call for economic development
  • 52:45 - Question 3
  • 54:00 - Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) responds
  • 57:30 - Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 59:45 - John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 1:01:00 - Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) responds
  • 1:04:00 – Samuel Miller candidates rebut on question 3
  • 1:09:40 - Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) responds
  • 1:10:30 - David Slutzky (D-Rio) responds
  • 1:12:00 - Rio candidates rebut on question 3

September 03, 2009

Land use revalidation exceeds Albemarle assessor’s expectations; some Supervisors concerned too many landowners will get hit with roll-back taxes

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Over 85% of Albemarle County landowners participating in the land use taxation program have submitted revalidation forms, exceeding the expectations of County Assessor Bob Willingham. The deadline to submit a form without incurring a late fee was September 1, 2009.

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The Board enacted the revalidation process in October 2008 to satisfy critics of the program who claimed it was being abused by people who were not actually using their land for agricultural purposes.  Properties that qualify for the program are granted a property tax rate that is lower than the fair market rate.

Forms were sent in late May to the owners of all 4,927 parcels in the program.

County Assessor Bob Willingham
“As of [the deadline], we’ve received 4,206 back,” said Bob Willingham, the County’s Assessor. “That’s about an 85% success ratio.” The remaining participants have until December 5, 2009 to submit their form. After that, they will be considered to be non-compliant with the program, and subject to paying the fair-market value for the past five-years. This is known as the “roll-back” tax, and can be a hefty amount.

Three weeks ago, the County began a public relations campaign to publicize the deadline.

Supervisors Ann Mallek (White Hall) and Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) even made personal phone calls to landowners in their districts, encouraging them to return the form.

Some Supervisors concerned about impact of roll-back taxes

Under the program, a landowner must submit a new form any time the use of the land changes, or if their parcel is subdivided. Willingham said that during the revalidation process, many landowners are hoping to adjust how their land is classified to take advantage of an “open-space” category.

The advantage to a landowner is that no agricultural work needs to be done to maintain the land use taxation.  For instance, in order to qualify for the forestry category, a landowner must provide a forest management plan.

To qualify for the open-space category, a landowner must:
  • meet Virginia law’s definition for open-space
  • must have more than 20 acres
  • no construction or major disturbances could be permitted during the course of the agreement
  • land must be either under a conservation easement, in an agricultural-forest district, or part of an open-space use agreement signed by the County Executive by the end of this year
Members of the Board were concerned that at least some of the landowners will not meet that last requirement in time. That would mean their land would be subject to “roll-back” taxes.

“It’s that transition that I want to know more about because what people understand is that they [may] have roll-back taxes when they’re only trying to transition to the right category,” said Supervisor Mallek.

Willingham said that in many cases, he has no alternative but to impose the roll-back tax if a landowner is not in compliance.

“People don’t want to hear that, but what you’ve got is a situation where people in a number of cases have had land-use for a long time and they really haven’t qualified,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett).

Supervisors had the chance to adjust the open-space category at the meeting. An ordinance to authorize County Executive Bob Tucker to accept the open-space commitment agreements was on the consent agenda for the September 2, 2009 meeting. Supervisor Mallek and Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) were concerned that 20 acres was too large a requirement for open space. But Rooker was reluctant to decrease that figure.

“I would be very cautious about going down the road of adopting a plan that basically allows a lot that doesn’t have a house on it to qualify for land use,” Rooker said.

Thomas said she was concerned that elderly landowners might no longer be able to maintain their land, and consequently their qualification to remain in the land use taxation program.

“I’m sure you’re going to get a few people and it’s going to be horrendous and maybe force them off their land,” Thomas said. She said she would like to find a way to help connect those individuals with people willing to work on farming projects.

“We are working very hard with people not to remove them from land use,” Willingham said. His staff is educating landowners about how to become compliant if they are not already. Willingham avoided stopped short of using the word ‘lenient.’

"You don’t have to harvest trees every year. If you’re talking hardwoods it might be a 100 years. In agriculture, you don’t have to produce a crop every year because it’s good to let the land go fallow and regenerate,” Willingham said.

Mallek asked if there was any way to prevent such landowners from being penalized. County Attorney Larry Davis said state law requires roll-back taxes to be applied if the use of the land changes.

“If someone has stopped farming and made no provisions to try to continue farming for an extended period of time, that would be a change of use to a non-farming use,” Davis said. “If someone stopped farming for one season and had been continuing to try to find someone to till the property, that may be able to be determined to simply be idle and not be a non-qualifying use. That’s a judgment call that the assessor has to make.”

Supervisors will revisit land use taxation in 2010 to see how the revalidation program may be tweaked.

August 28, 2009

Charlottesville Planning Commission considers ways to improve tree canopy initiative

By Connie Chang & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, August 28, 2009

Although the City has already surpassed its goal of having a tree canopy of 40%, the Charlottesville Planning Commission continues to debate ways to build upon that goal and further protect the City’s trees. Commissioners discussed the issue at a work session on August 25, 2009.

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20090825PCWorkSession The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation created an Urban Forest Management Plan to help achieve the 40% goal, a key objective called for in the City’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The tree canopy initiative was one of seven priorities outlined during City Council’s retreat in September 2008. In April 2009, Mayor Dave Norris presented a “Proposal for a Greener Charlottesville” in order to increase the City’s tree canopy from 32% to 40% coverage.

However, Park and Trail Planner Chris Gensic revealed to Council on June 15, 2009, that analysis of aerial photographs of the City indicated that the tree canopy was already at 46%, but that not all neighborhoods and areas of the City were consistent.

Since then, City staff have further analyzed data on the City’s tree canopy coverage to zero in on specific neighborhoods and entrance corridors where the percentage could be increased. Staff investigated each neighborhood and compared them against American Forestry Standards for urban, suburban, and central business district areas. Staff provided the Planning Commission with maps showing tree canopy coverage based on areas such as schools, parks, and watersheds. For instance, Preston Avenue and West Main Street are particular areas where the canopy could be increased.

Staff has also been working with city arborist, Tim Hughes, to develop a “best management practice” manual for preserving and protecting trees during construction.

Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden said the next step will involve determining areas where trees should be planted and noted that staff have looked at models from around the country to develop a manual for design standards.

Commissioner Bill Emory, who serves on the Urban Forest Management Plan committee, expressed concern that executing a tree canopy initiative of this magnitude may lead to an unfavorable outcome. He said the City commissioned a street tree plan in 1975, but it was never implemented. Emory emphasized the value of using tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and incorporating input from the community to make the urban forest management plan one that will work for the next twenty years.

In moving forward with the tree canopy initiative, Commissioners agreed that discrepancies among statistical figures will need to be addressed in order to determine the most effective planting locations. For example, within the Hydraulic Road entrance corridor, the percentage of canopy coverage seemed questionably high for an area composed mostly of pavement. There was also uncertainty as to whether calculations for other parcels within the City included street trees in the percentages generated. Once these figures are verified, the City will have a better picture of the areas of most concern and can carry on to the next step of the initiative.


01:00 – Neighborhood Planner Ebony Walden provides status update on tree canopy initiative
03:23 – Jason Pearson welcomes new Planning Commission members John Santoski and Kurt Keesecker
06:28 – Planning Manager Missy Creasy begins Planning Commission introductions
10:24 – Jason Pearson discusses work plan priorities
11:35 – Ebony Walden continues overview of tree canopy initiative
12:24 – Bill Emory provides comment
19:40 – Jason Pearson poses process-level questions to staff
20:03 – Ebony Walden responds to question
23:32 – Dan Rosensweig expresses concern over statistical numbers generated by staff
24:29 – Ebony Walden responds
24:45 – Planning staff member Nick Rogers provides comment
27:30 – Michael Osteen provides comment
29:48 – Jason Pearson provides comment
33:25 – Genevieve Keller poses question over examining projections on health of tree canopy
34:23 – Ebony Walden responds
35:20 – Bill Emory provides final comment