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The Daily Progress - Inyourbackyard

In Your Backyard | Feb. 13, 2020

Hello and welcome to the first edition of In Your Backyard, a newsletter about Albemarle County government news!

My name is Allison Wrabel, or as many of you know me from Twitter, Craftypanda. I enjoy running, watching the Browns, talking about land use and hanging out with my cat, Leo. 

I’ve been a reporter at The Daily Progress for 4.5 years, and I began reporting on Albemarle County government in February 2017 (you can read my first county story about the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 here. How far I’ve come!).

I’ll be sending out a newsletter the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, which are the weeks between Board of Supervisors regular meetings. 

Check out what’s been happening in Albemarle government so far this month!


'The mall as we know it, for the most part, is dead'

In Your Backyard | Feb. 13, 2020

Many stores have closed in the Charlottesville Fashion Square mall in recent weeks, leaving vacancies throughout the property.

ERIN EDGERTON/THE DAILY PROGRESS

As retail changes, Fashion Square is experiencing many of the same issues as other enclosed shopping malls around the country.

Recently, the $45.2 million loan on the mall was sent to special servicing, according to special servicer notes, which were limited, indicating only that the loan is “facing imminent default.

Last year, the mall’s owner Washington Prime Group reclassified it from a Tier II property to a non-core property, which means the company will likely remove the mall from its assets.

A number of mall stores that have closed since late 2018 were owned by companies that declared bankruptcy — Sears Holdings, Charlotte Russe, Crazy 8, Payless ShoeSource, Charming Charlie and Motherhood Maternity.

Mark Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, told me that the rise of e-commerce, poor leadership among mall developers and retailers and unchecked retail development have led many malls to decline. 

“I think this trend has no end in sight,” Cohen said. “I think there are hundreds of malls that are failing and will fail — a few will be saved.”

The mall is in an area that Albemarle County has identified as a priority area for public investment and redevelopment, and the county is currently working on zoning updates for the area. 

(And, at least for the time being, the University of Virginia is NOT buying the mall.)

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A controversial gas station is given the red light

A special use permit that would clear the way for a gas station and market near the Interstate 64 interchange with Black Cat Road was recommended denial by the Albemarle County Planning Commission last week. 

Tiger Fuel is proposing an up to 4,000 square-foot market with up to five gas pumps at the site. The market also would serve food and sell snacks and beverages.

The commissioners cited the rural nature of the area and neighbors’ concerns as reasons for recommending denial. 

Zoning regulations were changed in 2019 for certain types of commercially zoned properties in the rural area and now property owners who want to have restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores on those properties need a special-use permit if the property is not served by public water or a central water system.

The ordinance was enacted because county staff had found it difficult to prove how much water a proposal would consume.


Other Albemarle news

  • An Albemarle County man was arrested Tuesday on charges related to a missing plaque that marks the spot where enslaved people were bought and sold (and I was on the phone with him when he was arrested). 
  • Champion Brewing Company is no longer pursuing a new location off Earlysville Road, and the brewery withdrew its license application for the controversial proposal.
  • The county and school division are considering increasing the minimum wage for classified employees.
  • Two special exception requests were approved by the Board of Supervisors last week -- one for a homestay and another for a proposed apartment building in Stonefield. 
  • A judge ruled on a demurrer that Albemarle County is within its rights to dissolve the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad. 

Albemarle is asking county residents to take a survey about issues such as the quality of services, access to resources and taxes.


What's in an Acronym?

Local governments use a lot of acronyms and it can get confusing for residents who aren’t regularly involved in the government.

We’ll start with an easy one (and one of my personal favorites to say out loud) — the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau, or the CACVB!

The CACVB is the organization that promotes tourism in the area. It’s funded through a portion on the hotel tax. The bureau has been around for years, but saw a major overhaul in 2018 when elected officials were added to the organization's board.

The organization announced its new advertising campaign, “More to C’,” and logo in May, after another campaign around the word “C’villeization” received mixed reviews from the CACVB board.

In August, Courtney Cacatian started as the CACVB’s executive director.


 What are other local governments doing?


Future agendas:

  • County Executive Jeff Richardson will present his recommended budget to the Board of Supervisors at noon on Feb. 19 in Lane Auditorium at the McIntire Road County Office Building. 
  • The board will then hold its regular meeting starting at 1 p.m. Feb. 19, where it is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance change for when a dog is prohibited from running at large — or not on a leash or lead.
  • The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Feb. 18 in Lane Auditorium at the McIntire Road County Office Building. The commissioners are currently scheduled to hold public hearings on an application plan for a small property on U.S. 29 immediately south of Fashion Square mall and a special use permit for a pavilion at Tandem Friends School. 
  • The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold its first budget work session at 3:00 p.m. on Feb. 25 at the McIntire Road County Office Building in room 241.

We're adjourned!

Have story ideas or questions? Let me know at awrabel@dailyprogress.com or (434) 978-7261.

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