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 ekilroy@albemarle.org.

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.

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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.