By Amelie Baily, 2011 Field Officer Intern
Charlottesville City Council met on Monday night (6/20) to discuss affordable housing, as well as to respond to the recent decision by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to reconsider construction of a US 29 Western Bypass.
Matters by the Public featured several individuals voicing frustration with the process by which the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors reached their decision to request that the Charlottesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reconsider building the Western Bypass. These citizens described the process as lacking transparency. The decision to reconsider was made late at night, and was not included as a regular agenda item.
Several councilors echoed frustrations with the process as well as the decision itself, as they discussed whether to advise City MPO representatives (Councilors Huja and Szakos) to approve or vote against the project.
The Bypass has been estimated to cost between $250 and $300 million, and some believe to result in approximately 1 minute of travel time saved for commuters (though no one could site a specific study that claimed this).
Council members generally agreed with one another that the project was an inefficient use of limited transportation funds, and expressed concern that the project would transfer funds away from transportation projects of greater interest to the City such as Belmont Bridge. Currently, there is no clear answer as to where the funds would come from if the project were approved. Councilors voted 4-0 (with Councilor Huja abstaining) to advise the MPO representatives to vote against the project if a vote is taken at the next MPO meeting.
In the first of several discussions on affordable housing, staff recommended approval of the transfer of an Elliot Avenue lot to Habitat for Humanity, who will partner with Southern Development Group in creating a mixed income development. The proposed development includes 48 homes, 7 of which will be affordable housing units. Four units will be developed by Habitat for Humanity, while the other three will be provided by Southern Development Group. Due to an error in providing adequate notice of a public hearing on this matter, the official public hearing will not be conducted until the next City Council meeting, scheduled for July 5th.
Staff also negotiated the purchase of four town house lots located on the corner of Nunley and Paton Streets from Habitat for Humanity in order to create much needed affordable housing options for community members. Two lots are intended for special needs individuals who are Region Ten Community Service clients. One of the additional two lots is intended for a transitional housing project and the other for first time home buyers. The total cost of all four lots is 150,000 dollars. However, the total proposed cost with design and construction costs included will be $690,000. Council unanimously approved the purchase of the lots.
In Response to Council request, city staff presented a plan for greater implementation of “Section 3” in the region. Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 requires that HUD (Housing and Urban Development) financial assistance be accompanied by an effort to direct training, employment, and other opportunities to lower income individuals. This federal law applies to contractors when HUD funding is greater than $200,000 and/or the contract is over $100,000. The proposed plan contains seven goals with proposed actions to take in order to fulfill such goals. Among the changes is the creation of a temporary staff position to coordinate the proposed plan. This position will be funded out of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funds and supplemented by CHF (Charlottesville Housing Fund) as well as CRHA (Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority) funds. Council unanimously voted to approve the resolution.
The Carver Precinct voting location will be moved temporarily due to a 15-month renovation project on the Carver Recreation Center, which will begin in July of this year. Staff proposed that the precinct be moved to the Virginia Institute of Autism building, which is located off of Rose Hill Drive, approximately one mile from the Carver Recreation Center. The benefits of such location are the accessibility, size, and sufficient parking available. Council expressed a desire for significant signage on both Rose Hill Drive and 250 Bypass, as well as near the Carver Recreation Center. They also requested that staff consider creative ways of shuttling voters from the Carver Recreation Center to Virginia Institute of Autism. The new location was approved to be further discussed at a second reading.
Staff updated Council on the progress in designing the new Belmont Bridge. The aim is to create a safe, attractive, and multi modal access bridge. Initial designs include pedestrian access on both sides of the bridge, on-road bike lanes, two northbound lanes, and one southbound lane. At least one lane of traffic in each direction will remain open during construction, as will pedestrian access. Staff emphasized that they are carefully considering aesthetics of the bridge, as was requested by citizens. Council member Kristin Szakos inquired if a sound barrier (between the Pavilion and Belmont) would be constructed, however staff admitted that it was most likely not possible, given funding.
Amelie Bailey is the 2011 Field Officer Intern for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org