Friday, September 18, 2015

Poor Turnout Hampers Organizer's Efforts

Woodbrook Subdivision
Despite perfect weather, just four Woodbrook residents attended the September 13, 2015, neighborhood meeting. The meeting was called by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher, who also chaired the meeting. The meeting was held outdoors in the playground area of Woodbrook Elementary School.

According to Ms. Kocher, Albemarle County plans to expand Woodbrook Elementary. "They are going to double the size of the school," said Kocher. She is concerned that the expansion will increase the number of cars and buses entering the neighborhood, as well as increasing light and noise pollution for residents whose properties border the school. "I worry about fire access," said Kocher.

The discussion then shifted to the planning of a Woodbrook social event. "People really want to get to know each other," said Kocher, who admits that planning of the event has stalled. According to former Woodbrook Community Association Treasurer Sharon Evans, the cost of renting the Woodbrook Elementary cafeteria for an afternoon is $300. Alternative venues include the Northside Library or meeting outside. "I think we will need a committee [to organize the event]," said Kocher. The attendees agreed that unless a good turnout can be assured, there are better uses for this money. "I would like to see more people involved," said Evans. To measure the level of involvement, Kocher said, "I was thinking of a door-to-door survey." Beth Gould pointed out that when surveyed many people respond positively but still don't show up at the events.

There was some disagreement about how residents should be informed of important issues. Former Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed said, "That big [police] car chase [this week] was a example of why you kind of need a central [contact] because the county likes to know somebody that they can call and say 'put this out now'." Dan Gould disagreed. "There are so many people in the Facebook group now, that the first sound of the sirens going through the neighborhood... people were there," he said. Beth Gould added that the response in the Facebook group was in real-time, describing the drama as it unfolded. "The thing with the Facebook group is [that] they would [alert] their elderly neighbors," said Beth Gould. "There's never going to be one [communication] method that's going to get everybody," said Gould. She added that the on-line method is reaching a lot of residents. "Ideally, the on-line [communication reaches] a large group, and if people would just know which neighbors might not have that, and go tell them," said Reed.

There has been no progress with the development of a new Woodbrook constitution according to Kocher.

"We lost our bus stop up at the library," said Kocher. She said that she would like to see bus service returned to Woodbrook. "There are a number of older people in the neighborhood who are no longer driving," she said. Kocher went on to say that she believed that a directory of Woodbrook residents who wanted to supply services to elderly neighbors could be established. Dan Gould said that this is already being done on an as-needed basis in the Facebook group.

Kocher would also like to see a neighborhood welcoming committee. Dan Gould pointed out that it's difficult to track new people coming into the neighborhood.

"[Neighbors] were interested in having a book exchange," said Kocher. Books would be deposited and taken from a neighborhood "box."

Sharon Evans pointed out that the increasing number of renters in the neighborhood is a problem. "That's going to affect how many people are going to want to participate [in neighborhood activities]," she said.

"I think the culture of neighborhood involvement is changing," said Dan Gould. Involvement in neighborhood functions has been on the decline for years, he said.

Ms. Kocher expressed concern regarding the fire hazard between the school and her home. "So when I came home and saw a fire truck in front of my house it was a little scary. [They were] fighting the fire in the back," she said.

Kocher says she is planning future programs for the neighborhood, including a visit by the fire department and rescue squad, but as to a future social event, that's on hold, she said.

Ms. Kocher says she would like to develop a neighborhood vision that would include factors such as safety, livability and transportation. "That might help us develop some goals that we want to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood," she said.

You can listen to the full audio of the meeting below. Our apologies for the poor audio quality during the first minute or so of the recording.
What do you think? Does Woodbrook need a social program? What speakers would you like to come to Woodbrook? Please comment in the space below.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Neighbors Meet with US 29 Solutions Team

VDOT Public Affairs Manager for the Charlottesville Area Lou Hatter speaking to Woodbrook residents at Northside Public Library. The event was organized by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher.
VDOT representatives joined Albemarle County Police officers to speak with Woodbrook residents about the US 29 solutions initiative currently under way in the county. The initiative updates a stretch of US 29 from Best Buy in Charlottesville to Towncenter Drive in Albemarle County. The centerpiece of the development is a new grade separated interchange (GSI) at US 29 and Rio Road which is located just a mile south of the Woodbrook subdivision. The entire project is expected to be completed by October 30, 2017. VDOT Public Affairs Manager for the Charlottesville Area Lou Hatter led the discussion. During the presentation questions were taken from Woodbrook residents.

"The purpose of this is to separate local and through traffic," said VDOT Regional Program Manager for Route29 Solutions Dave Covington referring to the GSI. The design includes a pedestrian crosswalk across both US 29 and Rio Road.

Listen: Listen to the entire VDOT/ACPD presentation. (74m) (Slides)

Woodbrook resident Jim Perkins asked for clarification on access to the local businesses located in Albemarle Square. According to Covington, all access to local businesses will be maintained, although the round trip distance for Woodbrook residents will be longer. The work will be done largely at night except from May 23, 2016 to September 2, 2016 said Covington. During that time residents may be required to use alternate routes through this area. "It will be a little bit of an inconvenience, we understand that, but we have compressed it to a very short period of time," said Covington, "We do advocate the use of Berkmar [Road]," during this time he said. A temporary traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Berkmar Road and US 29 which will allow access to both north and south bound US 29 lanes during the construction period said Covington.

Woodbrook resident Beth Gould was concerned about the already heavy traffic on Woodbrook Drive between US 29 and Berkmar Road. "The problem with that is the existing signal at Woodbrook and Berkmar," said Covington. "We are actually in the process of getting ready to start a complete rebuild of that signal," he added.

Jim Perkins asked if the long delays Woodbrook residents experience while making a left-hand turn from south bound US 29 to Rio Road have been addressed. Joel DeNunzio explained that by bringing left turning traffic over US 29 a lot more "green time" can be provided for left turning vehicles reducing the delay for those vehicles that need to travel east on Rio Road. For vehicles turning right from Rio Road westbound on to US 29 north, a "free flow" right-turn lane will provide an almost continuous green light to prevent vehicles backing up on Rio Road as is presently the case.

"From a planning perspective things don't always go according to plan," said Woodbrook resident Skip Langford who was concerned that the best intentions of planners don't always work out. He asked how VDOT plans to mitigate schedule issues should they arise. According to Covington the initiative uses a "carrot and stick" approach to project management whereby contractors are rewarded if they are early and face penalties if they are late.

Woodbrook resident Sharon Evans wanted to know why the adaptive traffic signal project wasn't completed before the decision was made to build the GSI. "We know that a system like that is not going to deal with the issue we have here at Rio," said Covington.

Woodbrook residents who wish to learn more about the US 29 Solutions Project can join the project's email list. The list includes weekly project updates as well as alternate route advisorys. A online forum is also available to the public.

"The good news for you all is there is one way in and one way out so people are not going to be cutting through your neighborhood to get around this intersection," said Albemarle County Police Sergeant Miller Stoddard. Regarding emergency response Stoddard doesn't expect a problem. "There's not a concern for us for emergency response to be delayed to your homes," he said. According to Stoddard, should a problem arise, a backup plan is in place that would stage emergency equipment and personnel in strategic locations so as to ensure that response times are not degraded.

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher expressed concern over the amount of construction noise at the site, particularly during the evening hours. "We have a book of specifications that determines what the acceptable noise level is," said VDOT's Charlottesville Residency Administrator Joel DeNunzio. "We are holding the design-builder to those noise levels that are set by VDOT," he said.

The Woodbrook community business meeting which was to follow the presentation was cancelled.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

County Reaches Out To Neighborhoods

Albemarle County Community Engagement Specialist Emily Kilroy speaking at the Neighborhood Leadership Summit in April 2015. Photo: Jody Lewis.
To facilitate better community involvement in the planning process, Albemarle County is reaching out to Woodbrook and other neighborhoods through its newly staffed Department of Community Engagement. To discover how this might benefit Woodbrook residents, we talked with Community Engagement Specialist Emily Kilroy about her work in the community. We caught up with Emily at her office in the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire road. Our interview was recorded on July 7, 2015.

Listen: Listen to our interview with Emily Kilroy (20m)

"My office specifically works on engaging with the community, making sure that residents have a way to access all the different services and programs that the County is running," said Kilroy during our interview. Kilroy is also responsible for collecting public comment and does the detective work, if needed, to find the best person who can answer a question from the public. Kilroy is often the contact person for the County's AMail email list. The AMail system allows County residents to subscribe to both general County news as well as many specific topics. According to Kilroy, the AMail system currently has about 4500 subscribers.

Getting people involved on issues in the earliest stages of planning is a priority for Kilroy. "I think the main purpose of my position is to make sure that people find out about things before there is a big problem," said Kilroy. "Typically, when there is a big question, or a big development project coming to the area, residents will show up at a Planning Commission meeting or a Board of Supervisors meeting on the night that it's being decided," she added. Kilroy went on to say that the earlier in the development process a concern is raised the more likely a solution can be found that will satisfy everyone involved.

Filling positions on County boards and commissions is an important part of Kilroy's job. "The ones that I'm most closely involved with sort of fall into two buckets, one are citizen advisory committees and the other are special issue committees," said Kilroy. She added that citizen committee meetings are open to the public, making them a good way to meet your neighbors and other stakeholders who have an interest in a particular planning area. Meetings are usually held monthly in the evenings and run from 90 minutes to two hours.

Some Woodbrook residents say they don't volunteer for advisory committees because the committees don't take their input seriously. "I think the commitment by the County to really take citizen committees seriously can be seen in the creation of my position, which for many years was vacant," said Kilroy. "This Board of Supervisors has been very receptive to hearing from citizen committees."

One committee that might interest Woodbrook residents is the Places 29 (RIO) Community Advisory Committee, which has vacancies at the time of this writing. The Committee works on transportation and development questions. Interested residents can apply to join the committee here.

For Woodbrook residents who would like to see a committee in action right now, the Water Resources Funding Advisory Committee is working throughout the summer on public engagement outreach. Their next meeting is July 21, 2015, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the Northside Library. Greg Harper, the water resources manager for the County, will give a presentation on the Committee’s work, with time afterwards for questions and comments from the audience.

Woodbrook residents are encouraged to contact Emily with their questions or comments by telephone at 434-296-5841 Ext. 3422 or by email at

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Albemarle County Police Speak at Woodbrook Meeting

Captain Pete Mainzer speaking to Woodbrook residents at Woodbrook Elementary School. The event was organized by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher in conjunction with the Albemarle County Department of Community Engagement.
On June 3, 2015, a group of about 16 Woodbrook residents attended a presentation on geo-policing by the Albemarle County Police Department (ACPD) at Woodbrook Elementary School. To bring their message to a wider Woodbrook audience, we interviewed two of the presenters. Captain Pete Mainzer joined the ACPD in 1986 and has responsibility for the Jefferson Patrol District which encompasses the northern and eastern part of Albemarle County. Lieutenant Tim Aylor is the Deputy District Commander for the Jefferson District and has served on the force since 1995. We caught up with the officers at the ACPD headquarters on 5th Street Extended. The interview was recorded on June 30, 2015.

Listen: Listen to our interview with Captain Mainzer and Lieutenant Aylor. (36m)

The Albemarle County Police Department was created in 1983; Albemarle County is one of just nine counties in Virginia with a dedicated police force. In December 2012, the ACPD was reorganized to implement geo-policing. Geographic-based policing is a revised version of community-oriented policing, says Mainzer in this interview. "We've created district teams," said Mainzer, "and those teams consist of uniformed patrol officers, some of our detectives, animal control officers, some of our school resource officers, [and] some of our fire marshals that work along side us." District officers work in the same geographic part of the county every day. "The creation of these district teams has really provided a much better system of accountability at all levels," said Mainzer. In geo-policing's final implementation, Mainzer expects to see the establishment of precinct stations within each district.

The Woodbrook community is in sector two of the Jefferson district. Sector two consists of everything east of US29 from the city limits at Hydraulic Road up to Polo Grounds Road.

According to Lieutenant Aylor, the most common crime in Woodbrook is theft from vehicles.
According to Lieutenant Aylor, the three most common crimes that occur in Woodbrook are larcenies from vehicles, scams, and daytime burglaries. "We particularly see an up-tick in larcenies from vehicles during the warm summertime months," said Aylor, "It's a crime of opportunity." Vehicles that are unlocked are especially vulnerable to the theft of change, sunglasses, GPS devices, and anything else that can be carried on foot, said Aylor. "If you see a person at two or three o'clock in the morning, and they have a backpack on, they're probably not making the right decisions," he said. The lieutenant went on to say that it's important to store valuables out of sight and to keep your vehicle locked at all times. Better yet, says Aylor, take your valuables inside with you.

Another precaution Woodbrook residents can take to prevent crime is to keep their property neat. "It could be a simple thing as keeping your lawn and your bushes trimmed," said Aylor, "that's a place where criminals could hide."

Some Woodbrook residents have indicated that they are reluctant to report small crimes to the police. But according to Aylor, the ACPD wants to hear about all crimes committed in the neighborhood. "If you think it's suspicious, we want to be called," he said. Crimes in progress should be reported via the 9-1-1 system. "We try to get to emergency calls [from Woodbrook] within five minutes or less, 85% of the time." said Mainzer. Past or non-emergency crimes can be reported through the non-emergency number, 434-977-9041, or via the ACPD web site.

Summertime brings a lot of door-to-door soliciting to Woodbrook. "[Criminals] will target an older person, an elderly person, where they will overcharge them for a small job," is one example of a common door-to-door scam, said Aylor. He also said that a criminal will sometimes distract a homeowner in front of their house while their partner enters the home through the rear.

"What we encourage citizens to do is to call us if they want their house checked," said Aylor
If you plan to be away for a vacation or long trip, "What we encourage citizens to do is to call us if they want their house checked," said Aylor. The ACPD will assign an Auxiliary Police officer to check your property periodically during your absence.

The department's Facebook page is used to alert citizens of potential crimes, motorist alerts, and other important bulletins. "From our stand point, with the ACPD, [Facebook] is a huge vehicle for us to push out information to the public," said Mainzer.

Regarding the grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and US 29, the ACPD is not anticipating significant problems. "We're in constant contact VDOT about the timeline and about the project as a whole," said Mainzer. "I understand that much of the work, specifically at the grade-separated interchange is going to occur during the nighttime hours, so that may lessen some of the impact for people that have to travel along that corridor."

What do you think? Have you had a recent need to call the police? Was your problem resolved to your satisfaction? How can the ACPD improve service to the Woodbrook Neighborhood? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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.


[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."