On Wednesday night, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved project recommendations from each Community Advisory Committee as part of the Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative.
The board had previously approved that each of the seven CAC areas will have an equal share of the $1.4 million one-time funds from the county’s fiscal year 2016 budget surplus, which will be used to support the neighborhood-level improvement projects.
An additional $200,000 was approved earlier this year for “soft costs.”
Over the summer, the projects were scoped with a CAC member involved.
“Scoping was a really exciting part of the project because it brought citizens into the capital planning process in a way that we aren’t typically able to accommodate,” said Emily Kilroy, a community engagement specialist for Albemarle.
The scoping groups included county staff and met once in the office and then another time in the field.
“Once you’re out in the field, you can really see what the challenges might be with implementation, so it was great to have a community member there to continue to be the community voice on the ultimate outcome and be part of the problem solving once those challenged were identified,” Kilroy said.
In October, the CACs met for a joint meeting and received presentations and reports from the consultants working on project scoping, then during the regular October CAC meetings each group devised a recommendation for the projects to receive funds.
Dan Heuchert, a member of the 5th & Avon CAC, spoke to the board during public comment about getting increased funding for one of the group’s projects, a corridor study of Avon Street, to expand the concept.
“We are hoping that if there are extra other NIFI funds unexpended from our magisterial district that we might be able to expand that into a master plan for the Avon Street corridor,” he said. “That particular corridor is rapidly becoming a popular destination — we have the Fifth Street Station development, … [and] we also have the planned Biscuit Run State Park.”
“It would very, very helpful to have a master plan to help guide development and not have it a haphazard thing,” Heuchert said.
Some of the CACs are using the funding as a matching amount for grants for projects, including the Cale Elementary School crosswalk with the 5th & Avon CAC, the school-pedestrian connections with the Places 29-Hydraulic CAC and The Square improvements with the Crozet.
For the safe route to schools applications, the crosswalk and the pedestrian connections, Kilroy said the match would bring down the total cost for the Virginia Department of Transportation and increases the likelihood of funding.
If the grants were not awarded, they would go back to the CAC and either pay for the design of the project or have the CAC find another project.
Other projects came in estimated slightly over the allocated amount, such as the Free Bridge project with the Pantops CAC and the Baker-Butler Elementary School connectivity improvements with the Places 29-North CAC.
“Project management division feels fairly strongly that with a little bit of work in the design phase that we can get those projects back in budget,” Kilroy said.
The board also approved projects for the Places 29-Rio CAC and the Village of Rivanna CAC. The Village of Rivanna had leftover funds, as its project costs around $55,000.
Staff then recommended keeping the some of the remaining funds available as contingency for the implementation of the other projects, as the construction market remains slightly unpredictable.
“I would hate to be in a position where we’ve exhausted all our efforts to reduce costs and we still remain just a few thousand above and don’t have the opportunity to move forward,” said Blake Abplanalp, the county chief of project management. “So that was what our thinking was as it related to at least having a portion or a small fund there to help us with that when it comes down to these relatively close to the budget situations.”
The board also wanted to use some of the extra funds toward developing a pilot process for corridor studies for all over the county, and the Avon Street corridor would be used as the test.
“It’s not going to be easy; we have to understand that it’s going to be a little choppy along the way, but at the end, hopefully we have a good product that we can then replicate very quickly,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
Earlier at the meeting, during a discussion of the upcoming two year fiscal plan, a senior budget analyst with the county suggested that some of the fiscal year 17 budget surplus funds could be put into a reserve fund for future rounds of NIFI. The board will discuss options for the fiscal year 17 budget surplus funds at its December meetings.
An appropriation request for the approved NIFI projects will come to the board in December.