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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" »

July 02, 2012

As biosolids applications begin, practice still has champions and detractors

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, July 2, 2012

Driving down a country road in Albemarle County, one would hardly think twice seeing the small sign posted along a driveway. About the size of a “For Sale” sign and forest green, it often escapes the notice of passing motorists.

20120605-AdventureFarmThis sign on Earlysville Road gives public notice that a farm is going to be applying biosolids as fertilizer. The sludge comes from wastewater facilities after it has been treated to reduce pollutants and pathogens. Biosolids can be disposed of through incineration or buried in a landfill, but they can also be used as fertilizer on farms.

Since 2007, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has been in charge of issuing companies permits, and ensures that the companies applying the biosolids follow strict regulations, such as not allowing livestock to graze on biosolid-affected land for 30 days. Although the permits cost the companies around $5,000, the fertilizer is free for the farmer.

Currently, the only two companies permitted to deposit biosolids in Albemarle are Remington-based ReCyc Systems and Synagro, a national organization. As of May, 277 dry tons of biosolids have been dumped in the county this calendar year, all by ReCyc Systems.

ReCyc Systems receives most of its sludge from the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, operated by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. Some is also received from the Maryland Correctional Institution Wastewater Plant, south of Hagerstown.

Continue reading "As biosolids applications begin, practice still has champions and detractors" »

June 20, 2012

Decision on new soccer fields deferred

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Albemarle Planning Commission said at its meeting Tuesday that it needs more information before it can make a decision on a special-use permit that would allow four new soccer fields and a parking area off Polo Grounds Road.

The Monticello United Soccer Club requested a deferral on its application after a lengthy public hearing.

Pat Reilly, president of the Monticello United Soccer Club

The club has worked out a lease with the owners of an almost 80-acre parcel between U.S. 29 and the entrance to the Montgomery Ridge neighborhood. Farther down Polo Grounds Road is the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s South Fork Soccer Complex.

“We are trying to put four soccer fields on this property,” said Dan Ivory, a MONU board member and director of coaching. “We simply want to grow grass, put up some soccer goals and let kids play.”

“Local residents will be able to use the property,” Ivory added. “We are not opposed to allowing others to use the fields when MONU doesn’t have events taking place.”

Seventeen residents spoke at the commission’s public hearing, with only a handful offering support for the project. Some neighbors of the proposal’s site said they were concerned about the project bringing more traffic and about the location on a flood plain in Albemarle’s designated rural area.

Joseph Kulbok is president of the Montgomery Ridge neighborhood association.

“Montgomery Ridge has about 60 families and we have large houses and a lot of children — a lot of soccer players — and we support soccer,” Kulbok said. “However, the No. 1 problem is traffic, and people are very concerned about it. To put additional facilities there without changes to the road will cause gridlock.”

Continue reading "Decision on new soccer fields deferred" »

June 17, 2012

New soccer fields proposed along Polo Grounds Road

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pat Reilly hopes his patience with Albemarle County’s development review process will pay off when the Planning Commission meets on Tuesday. County staff are recommending approval of a plan to add a four-field soccer complex on Polo Grounds Road.

20080412-SOCA-SFSCIt would give Reilly’s Monticello United Soccer Club its first long-term home for its youth league. The club president first submitted his application for a special-use permit to create soccer fields along the flood plain of the South Fork Rivanna River in October 2010.

“We want to get some fields for our club,” Reilly said. “There is a shortage of fields in this community and it’s always difficult to get them with scheduling.”

Reilly has worked out a lease with the owners of an almost 80-acre parcel between U.S. 29 and the entrance to the Montgomery Ridge neighborhood. Farther down Polo Grounds Road is the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle’s South Fork Soccer Complex.

“They are nice local people that we know,” Reilly said, referring to the Crockett Corp., which owns the land being leased. “There are only two things you can do with the property, either farming or recreation, and we think that is the perfect thing to do on it.”

Residents of nearby Montgomery Ridge have mixed opinions about the project, said neighborhood association president Joseph Kulbok.

Continue reading "New soccer fields proposed along Polo Grounds Road" »

June 08, 2012

Panorama Farms to begin hosting weddings

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, June 8, 2012

An Albemarle County favorite for compost, cross country and camping is moving toward a new cause — marriage.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to grant Panorama Farms a permit allowing special events such as weddings to be held on the farm.

The barn at Panorama Farms. Photos provided by Margaret Murray Bloom.

The permit launches a new business for Panorama Farms, owned by the Murray family since 1953, as they join a growing event venue industry in the county’s rural area. The 700-acre farm, located between Earlysville Road and the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, is already known in the community for Panorama Pay-Dirt, its compost farm, as well as for hosting both the A.R.C. Natural History Day Camp and cross country races.

“We have tried to find new uses for the farm and kind of go with the times,” said Panorama’s events manager, Margaret Murray Bloom. “At this time, the wedding business is thriving in the county.”

From hay to livestock to active campers, the barn is evolving to include a functional wedding site complete with bridal dressing rooms, a “luxury restroom trailer,” and picturesque ceremony locations.

The idea for using the existing 19th-century barn as a venue grew out of several private weddings held there over the years. After family members’ and friends’ weddings, the Murray family decided that it was time to share the site with the public.

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May 29, 2012

Success, challenges of neighborhood model debated

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The ongoing update of Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan is giving county officials an opportunity to review a key planning strategy meant to encourage density within the designated growth areas.
“The Comprehensive Plan talks about the neighborhood model as being the preferred model of development,” said Elaine Echols, principal planner for the county.
An abbreviated list of the 12 principles in Albemarle County's Neighborhood Model
The neighborhood model, which was adopted in 2001, has 12 principles ranging from orienting buildings to be more pedestrian friendly to providing clear boundaries between urban and rural areas.
“Since that time we’ve had many developments which are achieving the [goal] of the neighborhood model,” Echols said at a recent county Planning Commission work session.
Other principles include encouraging a mixture of commercial and residential uses, and relegated parking.
Each new neighborhood that makes its way through the community development department is measured against these principles.
“It puts [applicants’] eyes on the individual aspects that they need to address, or if they can’t address them it becomes clear why they can’t,” Echols said.

Continue reading "Success, challenges of neighborhood model debated" »

May 23, 2012

County planners support museum for Teddy Roosevelt’s rural retreat

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 

A proposal to build a historical center at President Theodore Roosevelt’s rural Albemarle retreat near Keene has cleared its first step in county government. 
The county Planning Commission recommended approval Tuesday of a special use permit allowing for construction of a small museum and restroom facility at Pine Knot. 
Beazley addresses the Albemarle Planning Commission
Pine Knot is a rustic cottage nestled in the middle of southern Albemarle,” said Paula Pierce Beazley, president and chair of the Edith and Theodore Roosevelt Foundation. 
Edith Roosevelt selected the spot as a getaway for the 26th president of the United States.
“He needed a place for rest and repairs within a day’s trip of Washington, yet remote enough and deep within the woods so as to leave his presidential cares behind,” Beazley said. 
Pine Knot is currently not recognized as a historical center under the zoning code.
“They’re looking to bring the use of the site as a historical center with special events into compliance with our zoning ordinance,” county planner Andy Sorrell said. “The events would promote the mission of the historical center.”

Continue reading "County planners support museum for Teddy Roosevelt’s rural retreat " »

May 12, 2012

Locavore expo puts spotlight on area’s local farmers and food innovators

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Charlottesville City Market was bigger than ever Saturday morning — literally. As part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, the market area was expanded for a Locavore Expo to celebrate and educate the community about local food.

Expo organizer Natasha Sienitsky, a member of the Charlottesville Planning Commission, said local food complimented the festival’s innovation program.

“I think it’s a natural fit for the innovation series because it’s an area that our community has been particularly innovative in,” said Sienitsky. “It’s something there is clearly passion for in the community.”

Locavore Expo organizer Natasha Sienitsky

Listen using player above or download the podcast:
Download 20120512-TTFF-Locavore

While parents made their market purchases, Sienitsky made sure the more youthful locavores had learning opportunities too.

“We had seed ball making for kids, and we did veggie prints with them,” Sienitsky said. “The whole idea is that by getting kids excited and engaged about food, and seeds and planting and harvesting, that will create the next generation of consumers who feel passionately about local food.”

Sienitsky and her husband Oliver Platts-Mills, who co-founded the Tom Tom festival with Paul Beyer, hosted a panel discussion on local foods inside the South Street Brewery.

Representatives from Albemarle County, the Local Food Hub, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, and the Piedmont Environmental Council talked about their work. They described a wide variety and scale of local food initiatives in the community.

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May 10, 2012

Supervisors defer action on alternative septic systems

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 10, 2012

A recent change in Virginia regulations is forcing localities to allow rural property owners to install alternate septic systems, but Albemarle County has to change its rules to follow suit. 
“Our ordinance now doesn’t specifically allow for these alternate treatment systems,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. “It requires drain-fields and underground septic systems for development and we are not in compliance with the state mandate that we allow these systems.” 
Alternate septic systems use filters such as peat, plastic or sand to purify wastewater. They require less space than conventional septic fields and are regulated by the Virginia Department of Health. 
“A large house in the rural area may have a septic field that is 5,000 square feet in size,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development. “There are probably alternative on-site systems for that same house that would fit in 500 square feet.” 
The Board of Supervisors was asked Wednesday to consider changes to the zoning to bring Albemarle into compliance. 
“The state’s perspective is that these systems are actually better than the conventional systems,” Graham said. “Under the Chesapeake Bay [total maximum daily loads], they’re even looking at going a step further and saying all new sewage systems would have to be one of these systems because of the ability to remove nitrogen.” 

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May 09, 2012

Effort to pave rural road fails; supervisors adopt secondary-road priorities

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The owner of a 4,000-acre farm in southern Albemarle County failed in an effort Wednesday to pave a quarter-mile stretch of Blenheim Road using his own funds.
Location of the portion of Blenheim Road that was requested to be paved. 
The Virginia Department of Transportation will allow private interests to pay for rural rustic road paving projects, but will only issue a permit if the project has the support of elected officials.
Albemarle supervisors deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to indicate that support because several property owners along the road were opposed.
“It’s hard for me to ignore the people who spoke out against the road,” said Supervisor Christopher Dumler.
In 2003, Tom Sullivan of Murcielago LLC paid to pave a 3.5-acre stretch of the road from Secretarys Road to Mount Pleasant Farm Road.
The section was not paved at the time because VDOT regulations did not allow paving if there was not at least 50 feet of right of way. Landowners opposed to the project declined to give an easement.
Since then, VDOT has created a “rural rustic” paving classification, which has lower standards. Rural rustic projects can only be done on roads with fewer than 1,500 vehicles per day, must be primarily for local traffic and must have the minimal potential for traffic growth.

Continue reading "Effort to pave rural road fails; supervisors adopt secondary-road priorities" »