Monday, June 15, 2015

Group Considers Restarting Community Association

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher called the meeting.
A dozen Woodbrook residents gathered at Woodbrook Elementary School on June 3, 2015, to discuss neighborhood issues including a plan to restart the Woodbrook Community Association (WCA).

Referring to their April 14, 2015, meeting, Audrey Kocher reported that she has not yet scheduled the ice cream social. According to Ms. Kocher, neighbors want to meet each other and to get together. Ms. Kocher reported that she and former WCA Treasurer Sharon Evans have determined that they can use funds from the WCA bank account. The WCA became inactive on October 1, 2014, when the previous officers failed to call for a neighborhood election. No mention was made of how Ms. Evans and Ms. Kocher will determine which projects qualify and which do not qualify for funding while the WCA remains inactive.

Ms. Kocher also reported that additional neighborhood funds will be required to rent the cafeteria at Woodbrook Elementary as the County is no longer in a position to do so.

"The other information following [the April] meeting was [a] sincere, deep interest in reforming the Woodbrook Association," said Kocher. Multiple requests by this blog for the minutes of the April meeting and a list of its attendees have been denied.

Some Woodbrook residents have expressed concern about the noise of VDOT contractors working on US29 in the evenings, reported Ms. Kocher. Ms. Kocher also reported that she contacted VDOT on behalf of the neighborhood. According to Ms. Kocher, VDOT advised her that there are two projects ongoing at this time, the reconfiguration of the lights and the relocation of underground utilities.

Ms. Kocher reported that according to her contacts at the County, there is still a position available on the US29 comprehensive planning committee.

"Another issue that people have been bringing to me are the wild animals," said Kocher.

Ms. Kocher then opened the floor to a discussion on the topic of re-activating the WCA. Former WCA Treasurer Sharon Evans said, "I don't think we are inactive... so I would like to understand why we are considered inactive." "Missing an election in the past has not rendered the association inactive," she added. Dan Gould said, "The constitution of the WCA says that the officers are required to call an election in September of every year. If they fail to do so for any reason, the association ends." Ms. Evans pointed out that a vote of 2/3 of the neighborhood is required to dissolve the association.[1] Mr. Gould said "while the WCA itself may not be dissolved, it has no officers and it also has no members."

"One thing that may help you all resolve this is that the WCA [constitution] are guidelines, not legal documents", said Kocher, "so it's a little unclear what to do." Joe Fyrer said, "We are fighting over minor things here of is it an association or is it not an association on some document that we have. Why don't we look at how we want to go forward and what we really want. We need a representative of the whole... all the houses in the unit." Beth Gould responded that you can't represent people that don't want to be represented. There were several comments about how the existing WCA constitution has not been strictly followed, at which time Dan Gould said, "So what strikes me is that it's time to re-write this constitution." He continued, "I would strongly support a new document that will take into account the way the neighborhood really operates."

"[Last year's blog] survey, I think was very well done [and] indicated that the majority of people who responded were in favor of an association", said Kocher. To which Sharon Evans added, "by a two-to-one margin." Dan Gould pointed out that the survey Ms. Kocher referred to had the "lowest participant rate of any survey we've ever done." Regarding the majority of Woodbrook residents that didn't participate in the survey, Mr. Gould said, "We don't know anything about them."

Marie Reed, who is new to Woodbrook, asked about the purpose of the WCA. There followed a general discussion about the association's role in the past.

Ms. Kocher said that she was interested in continuing the speaker series, firemen, zoning, US29 development, animal control, and game and wildlife issues.

Beth Gould spoke briefly about this blog's email list which currently reaches 80% of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood Facebook group which facilitates direct communication among neighbors. Tahira Haroon reminded the group that the Nextdoor system is also available, to which Heidie Wooten-Douglas said "I ignore a lot of the Nextdoor stuff because it doesn't relate at all." Beth Gould said that applicants to the Woodbrook Facebook group are very carefully screened to ensure that they live in Woodbrook.

Tahira Haroon asked, "Should we propose an election?" Dan Gould said that it's his understanding that "strictly speaking, according to [the WCA constitution] right now no one has the authority to call an election, so you might as well start from scratch." Heidi Wooten-Douglas said that she thought we should get more involvement of the neighborhood before embarking on a new WCA. "We could get something together to get more involvement first, and the summer should be a pretty good time for getting families involved," she said.

Marie Reed said "It sounds kind of imperative that there is somebody involved in the [US] 29 initiative and that can't really wait on [a new constitution]."

Audrey Kocher said that she is willing to facilitate a continued discussion and is willing to do more social things and to get more speakers. Marie Reed said that her first choice for speaker would be someone who could talk about the US 29 initiative.

Returning to the discussion regarding re-writing the constitution, Heidi Wooten-Douglas said "I'd want to do that after we try to get more people involved." Sharon Evans said, "I think we need to reach out to more people because this is an argument between about ten people in this neighborhood and this is not going to solve anything."

The meeting closed with a general agreement to increase the number of social activities within the neighborhood and that the County's and VDOT's US 29 initiatives need volunteers from Woodbrook as soon as possible. There were no volunteers among those present.

What do you think? Should the WCA be restarted? If so, what do you think its mandate should be? What should the requirements for membership be, and how should the wishes of those residents that don't want to be members be respected? Please use the comment space below to share your thoughts.

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[1] To dissolve the organization, the constitution of the WCA requires a 2/3 majority vote of its membership, not of the neighborhood. The WCA has no members at this time or officers who could call for a vote.

[Note: It's been our practice since starting this blog to include the recorded audio from neighborhood meetings. However, this time we made the mistake of recording the meeting from our seat in the audience causing some off-the-record comments from people sitting near us being captured on tape. We promise we won't make that mistake again.]

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2nd Annual Neighborhood-Wide Yard Sale

Woodbrook held its second annual neighborhood-wide yard sale June 6, 2015 from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The event was organized by Woodbrook resident Aimee Bateman. Fifteen Woodbrook homes participated in the event. Photos from the event follow below.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Albemarle Supervisor Brad Sheffield Responds to Woodbrook's GSI Concerns


As a follow-up to our previous story on the grade-separated interchange (GSI) at US 29 and Rio Road, we asked Rio District Supervisor Brad Sheffield to address some of the issues raised by Woodbrook residents. Supervisor Sheffield addressed our questions in an interview recorded at the County Office Building on February 10, 2015.

Listen: Listen to our full interview with Supervisor Sheffield here. (33m)

I began by asking Supervisor Sheffield about current traffic levels. Many Woodbrook residents believe that traffic congestion has yet to reach the level that justifies the development of the GSI. "[VDOT] also looks at approved and by-right growth, and this is the biggest thing that has been ignored in the conversations about traffic projections that I hope people will understand," said Sheffield. Referring to development on US 29 North Sheffield said, "There's a daunting amount of growth that has already been approved; Hollymead is still not built out and there is still hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space planned." The biggest of these developments, North Pointe, includes about a million square feet of commercial space and about a thousand homes, adding tens of thousands of cars to US 29, according to Sheffield.

"Hydraulic [Road] is a great example of what happens when we wait too long," said Sheffield, addressing our question of why this intersection isn't being developed first. "I think when VDOT looked at these projects, and looked at what money they were going to allocate, the 230 million dollars, I think they looked at what they could do what people like to call shovel ready." Sheffield went on to say that they looked for a project with manageable right-of-way constraints. That the intersection is located partly in Albemarle County and partly in the City of Charlottesville also complicates the issue at Hydraulic Road, Sheffield explained.

I asked Supervisor Sheffield a question that has been on many minds here in Woodbrook, that is, why not build out the Berkmar and Hillsdale extensions before investing in the development of the GSI. "When [VDOT] started to analyze the parallel roads, it was immediately apparent that the Rio intersection was going to be directly impacted," said Sheffield. The VDOT analysis predicts that traffic flowing north and south on Berkmar and Hillsdale will eventually flow into US 29 at Rio Road, increasing the traffic volume at the intersection and causing it to fail, according to Sheffield.

"We have six business representatives on [the] panel that I participate in every other Thursday," said Sheffield in response to our question on the effect of the GSI on local businesses. "I believe that the decline of this area commercially is very directly related to the congestion [in this area]," he said. He hopes that local businesses will continue to interact with VDOT to maintain their visibility at this intersection. According to Sheffield, improving the intersection will bring new business to the area. "There is a special use permit site plan that has been submitted recently for a 130 bed hotel to be put at this intersection," he added.

To address concerns about congestion at the Woodbrook and US 29 traffic light, Sheffield said that during construction a U-turn will be provided near Carter Myers Automotive to allow vehicles to turn around before reaching the Woodbrook light. "South of the [Rio/29] intersection, right at Berkmar drive, there will be a temporary light as well as the ability to make a U-turn," he said, the idea being that at least some traffic will be routed around the Woodbrook traffic lights during the construction stage of the project. After construction, northbound vehicles trying to reach Goodwill will need to make a U-turn at the Woodbrook lights. Sheffield believes that this will have a "minimal impact" on the intersection. He does concede that following construction, the Woodbrook and US 29 intersection "will be the number one intersection that is going to have to be managed properly."

Supervisor response, or lack thereof, to Woodbrook concerns is a recurring issue here. According to Sheffield, the Board of Supervisors has seen about 1700 signatures. That's compared to the 13,000 signatures that Smart29 says it has collected in opposition to the GSI. "If that is the case, we have not been provided any petitions at all that have accumulated to 13,000 signatures," said Sheffield. "I think we are listening to the public. I held six town hall meetings, two that were specifically advertised for this project," said Sheffield. "The most common theme that comes up [among constituents] is 'just get something done'," he added.

In closing, Sheffield said "I encourage people to reach out to me. Ask me the questions—I will try to get you the answers."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Woodbrook Residents Oppose Overpass at US 29 and Rio Road


In a private survey conducted in late January 2015, Woodbrook residents were clear on one thing. They do not support the development of a grade separated interchange (GSI) at Rio Road and US 29 in Albemarle County.

With 41 residents responding to our survey, over 90% were of the position that the GSI should not be built. Of the remaining 10%, only one person indicated that they would support the project, while two others were in the "don't know" category. The Woodbrook subdivision is located within half a mile of the site of the proposed project.

The survey was designed for this blog by long time Woodbrook resident Gerry Petencin. "A waste of $84 million that accomplishes nothing, makes a mess of our area, destroys local businesses, and will reduce property values for at least the duration of the project, as prospective home buyers try to avoid the construction mess," said Mr. Petencin in the opening remarks of our survey.

Neighborhood concerns can be divided into four main areas: Project justification, construction order, the effect on local businesses and the effect on the Woodbrook traffic light.

Several Woodbrook residents who travel the US 29 corridor daily have questioned the need for a GSI at Rio Road at all. Woodbrook resident Susan Reed said, "There is something seriously wrong with spending 84 million dollars on a project that will maybe save a minute or so and won't significantly change things as there are a lot of other traffic lights on 29." Woodbrook resident Cheryl Petencin said, "If I have to plan for an extra 3.5 minutes to get to my destination, I think that is a small sacrifice." From Kathy Welch we heard, "Yes, the intersection is big, and it handles a lot of traffic, but it handles that traffic well." Lynanne Wilson said, "I agree that Rio IS a big intersection but it functions pretty well at the moment." Other residents including George Klosko, questioned the utility of building a single GSI, "In order for 29 to flow freely, there must be a series of these overpasses, which means traffic tie ups year after year," he said.

Drop pin shows the location of the proposed grade separated interchange (GSI). The Woodbrook subdivision is shown in the upper right. A VDOT simulation of the GSI is here.

A number of Woodbrook residents suggested that the Berkmar and Hillsdale projects be constructed before the GSI at Rio Road. "Do the Berkmar extension then reevaluate the need for the overpass," said Denise Benson. Lynanne Wilson said, "We need to be doing the other "smaller" projects first, like Berkmar and Hillsdale."

In a related concern, some residents of the subdivision believe that the intersection at US 29 and Hydraulic Road should be the county's first concern. Betty Oswald said, "Why not address the Hydraulic Rd intersection which is a total nightmare and worse than Rio Rd." David and Anne Russell said, "I feel a real and less costly solution should start at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Rt 29 south." From Latifa Kropf, "The traffic problems are farther south between Hydraulic and the entrance to 250." Lynanne Wilson said, "It is definitely the bottleneck at Hydraulic and the funneling down into the city that is the main problem now." And finally, "On a random Tuesday at noon in January, I had to sit through 3 lights to be able to turn from Hydraulic to 29." said Susan Reed.

Residents too have a concern for the local businesses that will be affected by the construction of the GSI. Cristiane  Fran├ža said, "That will disturb the flow of our entire city as well as a fair number of businesses." From Jenny Mathews we heard, "29 North is a major business highway where businesses have been encouraged to stay and grow. Do we need even more empty storefronts?" Jill Carey said, "What a shame for all the businesses along 29 who will suffer greatly."

And lastly, there is a significant concern among Woodbrook residents that their own access to US 29 through the traffic lights at US 29 and Woodbrook Drive will be irreparably damaged by the construction of the GSI just half a mile to the south. Jim Riosa said, "What bothers me is the lack of planning/data around the proximate intersections." Lynanne Wilson said, "We will no doubt have additional problems at our light due to the proposed changes at Rio." Susan Reed said, "I am also fairly certain that this will back up traffic to the Woodbrook light while the work is being done." And finally, from Nancy Brewer, "If this goes through, forget about waiting one light [to] turn to get out of Woodbrook. We will become the U-turn center of 29 North."

(The names of the Woodbrook residents contained in this story and their comments are used with their permission.)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bargain Hunters Descend on Woodbrook

Woodbrook was jammed this morning as bargain hunters arrived for its first annual neighborhood-wide yard sale. The event was organized by long time Woodbrook resident Heather Rose Dorsey and was open to all Woodbrook residents. Great buys could be found on virtually every Woodbrook street.


The two day event, which runs from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm, ends tomorrow Sunday, June 22, 2014.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

North Town Center Development (Part 2 of 2)


The Gander Mountain store in the new North Town Center on US 29 just north of the Woodbrook Subdivision in Albemarle County.
In part two of this two part series we look at the story of one family whose lives were so profoundly affected by the North Town Center development that they no longer call Woodbrook their home. When Steve Vondra and Bonnie Morgan moved to Woodbrook in October 2009 they expected it to be their last move. It didn't turn out that way.

Listen: Our interview with Steve and Bonnie. (8m)

New to Charlottesville, Steve and Bonnie immediately fell in love with their new home in the 2700 block of Brookmere Road in Woodbrook. "It was so quietly settled in the back there," said Vondra. "It was just where we wanted to live," he added. "We had the woods in the back which was beautiful," said Morgan recalling their early days in their new Woodbrook home. "It was tucked away in the woods there, and that was perfect for us," she said.

Just a year later, Steve noticed surveyors working behind their home. A trip to the County office to view the site plans for the area confirmed that things were about to change in a big way. "After looking at those plans we started making plans to move the very next day," said Vondra.

Like many of their Woodbrook neighbors, Steve and Bonnie watched the forest behind their home disappear as construction began. "Every day we could see more change to our beloved back yard," said Morgan. "The trees just disappeared, the noise was horrendous, we could hear the bulldozers and the logging," she said. "We could see that our quiet little piece of paradise was gone," she added.

As the forest disappeared so did the noise and light buffer between their home and US 29. "Every night as more and more trees went down it was definitely noisier and we had a lot of light coming in our bedroom up on the second floor," said Vondra.

While they are very happy with their new home, Steve and Bonnie regret leaving Woodbrook. "If [the development] wasn't there we'd still be there," said Vondra. "I'd love to live in Woodbrook still," said Morgan. "Woodbrook would still be our first choice if it hadn't been for [the development]," she added.

We asked Mark Graham, Director of Community Development for Albemarle County to speak with us about the North Town Center development for this story. After initially agreeing to do so, Mr. Graham did not respond to our several email requests to establish a date for the interview.

Our interview with Steve Vondra and Bonnie Morgan was originally recorded on January 19, 2013.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

North Town Center Development (Part 1 of 2)

While Woodbrook resident's experience with the new North Town Center Development abutting the neighborhood on its north side varies, they are in agreement about one thing. They do not want to see a car dealership built on the site.

In a late November 2013 survey of residents, almost 80% of the forty-four homes responding said that they were opposed to the construction of an automobile dealership on the site. That's compared to just 35% who said they were opposed to the recently constructed Gander Mountain store in the Center.


That's not to say that residents whose properties are near the development approve. "We face the North Town development and we can see US 29 and all the businesses along it now, which used to be blocked by the large forested area," said one Woodbrook resident who asked to remain anonymous. "Before all the trees were cut down, we could barely tell that US 29 was nearby," they added.


Before (above) and after photos of the back yard at 2925 Brookmere Drive, in Woodbrook. (Before photo courtesy of Tom Bancroft.)

Problems with noise varied as well with 13% of respondents reporting that they had problems with excessive noise either during or following construction. Michael Juers, whose property lies within 500 feet of the development said, "There is a hum of traffic constantly. Sitting on my back deck enjoying the views and sounds of nature have been compromised." Another resident, who has asked to remain anonymous and whose property abuts the development said, "Noise level has also increased with loss of trees with delivery trucks, forklifts (back up sound is quite loud and can be heard over TV) and general traffic noise from US 29". They went on to say, "The construction crews also frequently worked outside the 10 pm to 7 am quiet zone during the clearing of the land." Former Woodbrook Community Association president Susan Reed echoed the concern of several residents, "There were times this summer when it sounded like something was crashing as they evidently were moving rocks. This was with all the windows closed and it was going on till 9:00 p.m. or so. We don't even back up to the property," she said. "When we walked the neighborhood, you could hear the noise through most of it," she added.

At 23%, almost twice as many Woodbrook residents were concerned about light pollution over noise problems. That's not surprising considering that the light coming from the site directly affects more residents.

However, it was the question of the car dealership that raised the greatest concern among Woodbrook residents. Sid Wood, whose property abuts the development, said, "I don't like the idea of a Jim Price Auto lot wrapping around the bank on the property". One resident who asked to remain anonymous said, "[My] biggest concern with the car dealership is the numerous bright lights they commonly have. The Jim Price Dealership lights are already quite intrusive with the missing trees." Another said, "Light pollution and daytime sound pollution are the biggest issues that I see with a car dealership. I'm not sure how many car dealerships still use an outdoor speaker system to call their sales staff, but I have heard Colonial's at times. That would be unacceptably close for a dealership at NTC." Susan Reed said, "Car lots have speakers and can usually be heard for a fair distance. Resident Josie Pipkin said, "A car dealership would bring in a lot of noise and light. The developers should have to address this and do what can be done to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood if plans for a dealership go forward." Heidi and Jim Douglas said, "[We are] not a fan[s] of people test driving vehicles near my property and my kid's school."


Before (above) and after photos of the back yard at 2925 Brookmere Drive. (Before photo courtesy of Sid Wood. Mr. Wood is not related to the developer Wendell Wood.)

Many Woodbrook residents are simply upset by the whole project. Jo An Eliason, whose property lies within 500 feet of the development, is strongly opposed to the project. "We are thinking of moving away from Woodbrook because of this disastrous mess. We have already lost good neighbors because if it. It has had a negative affect on the animals in our woods and the wonderful appeal of Woodbrook has been lost," she said. Ron Berube said, "It not only ignores, it devalues the community adjacent to it - Woodbrook." Woodbrook resident Gerry Petencin said, "What's most disturbing here is that at one point, after attending many Board of Supervisor's meetings, after watching that process unfold for years, we're led to believe that one set of things will happen, in terms of the nature of development. And then a VERY different set of things actually do happen."

Next week, in part two of this series, we talk to one Woodbrook family so profoundly impacted by this development that they no longer call Woodbrook their home.