Scottsville Town Council spent the first hour of its Dec. 12 meeting arguing over what kind of meeting it could have — or whether it could have one at all.
Council had scheduled a public hearing for a proposal to transform a blighted tire factory into an apartment complex. Instead, the Dec. 12 meeting revealed just how unprecedented new development of this scale is for this small Albemarle County town.
The issue was not especially complex. The developer submitted a new proffer (which is a voluntary offer intended to mitigate a new project’s effects on public infrastructure) Friday afternoon. State law requires local government staff to analyze proffers before public hearings. Scottsville town staff did not have enough time to do that, so the hearing had to be postponed.
But with no experience dealing with such issues before, the curveball paralyzed the small town’s council.
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During that first hour, councilors could not reach a consensus on what type of meeting they’d convened for. Some thought they were there to vote on the rezoning request. Others thought they were there for a public forum. Not 15 minutes in, Mayor Ron Smith thanked people for coming, but declared the public hearing postponed to a later date. Councilor Edward Payne Jr. objected.
Their confusion frustrated the dozens of people who showed up to the meeting expecting a public hearing and a possible vote on a project that would convert the old factory into about 200 apartments and nearly double the town’s population.
“I think the public wants to see that everyone has their ducks in a row,” Kimberly Shifflett, a beekeeper who owns Scottsville Supply store on Valley Street in Downtown Scottsville, told Council. “But the way you guys started this, it doesn’t look like anyone in here has their ducks in a row. Including over here,” she said, gesturing to town staff.
Localities that have a large number of rezonings usually have procedures requiring applicants to submit proffers a certain number of days before the public hearing. But Scottsville Town Council does not have any such procedure, said Town Attorney Jim Bowling.
One councilor asked if the Council could vote on adopting them that night.
Bowling cautioned against it. “I would give that some thought,” he said. “When you act off the top of your head, my experience has been that you cause problems for yourself. Decide what you want to do, study it a little bit, and then enact it.”
Councilor Meredith Hynes, who took time off of work to prepare for the meeting, was upset that town staff, town attorney Bowling, and Mayor Smith did not decide to postpone the hearing when the proffer came in Friday afternoon — or any time before Council gathered that Monday evening. “To not even give us a heads-up in an email that this was not going to happen tonight is really unfair,” to both Council and the public, she said.
The public hearing was rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. That night, Council could vote on the proposal, or postpone the vote.
At some point the week before the hearing, Council will also meet for a work session on the project. “This will have a massive impact on the future of this town, and we haven’t talked about it yet,” said Councilor Zachary Bullock, who proposed the work session. He wants councilors to sit around the table, not up on the dais, to discuss the information before them.
Council did, however, hold a public forum to hear from the people who’d gathered on Dec. 12to talk. Many spoke not just of concerns about the proposed project, but how the town is handling it.
Most speakers acknowledged that change is inevitable for Scottsville, and one of them encouraged Council to be “agents of change, not victims of change.”
A resident who’s lived in Scottsville for 51 years said that nobody on Council has knocked on his door to ask his opinion. “It sounds good on paper, but in reality it’s not going to work. I want you all to remember that you are elected officials. You represent us, not yourselves,” he said, mentioning that there is already a Scottsville Lofts website and wondering if Council has already gotten the town into something. “You all are trying hard to make this town into something that it’s not,” he said. “If you want to turn this into Crozet, let us know so that we can move away from here.”
Most of the speakers asked for more information on whether or not the town infrastructure and resources — roads, water supply, emergency services — could feasibly handle a few hundred more residents. And, if not, what would it take to make sure they could?
One person said that this is “too much for Scottsville to take on by itself” and that Albemarle County should get involved “especially because they’re collecting all of the taxes.” (Scottsville residents pay real estate taxes to the county, not the town.)
Albemarle County Supervisor Donna Price, who represents the district surrounding Scottsville, was in the audience. She stood up to say that she attends Scottsville meetings to hear from folks directly and bring their opinions and concerns back to the county. But, ultimately, this is a decision Scottsville Town Council has to make.
Sarah Woods told Council that while officials have been aware of this proposal for a while, the public has only known about it for a few months. People have questions, they want more information, and they want to be involved, she said.
And not everyone who wanted to speak, could, said Woods. About 30 people attended the meeting in person, with 30 more on Zoom, but others who wanted to join the virtual meeting said they couldn’t because they were given the incorrect Zoom meeting link.
A few folks spoke in support of adding more rental housing, and apartment-style rental housing, to a town that doesn’t offer much of it. Not everyone who wants to live in Scottsville can afford to buy a single-family home there, they said, and adding some affordable apartments could potentially help ease the area’s widespread affordable housing crisis. It would be better than reverting the factory to industrial use, which would only increase demand for already-scarce housing resources in the area, said Thomas Unsworth.
Scottsville Planning Commissioner Lisa Catalbiano called in via Zoom to say that many of the public’s questions about infrastructure are addressed in town staff reports about the project. Catalbiano also said the new proffer addresses an issue that came up during a Planning Commission meeting in November, and she commended Echelon for listening and responding in that way.
The proffer relates to maintaining Scottsville’s levee system, Randy Cosby with Echelon Resources told Charlottesville Tomorrow after the meeting. Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the levee in 1989, Scottsville experienced many historical floods, one of which put the small town under 34 feet of water in 1972.
Many community members experienced those floods and worry that construction on the proposed apartment building, which is on the same property as the levee, might affect the system. If the levee were to fail, the hundreds of people living in that building could be in grave danger.
Echelon’s idea to mitigate that danger is to pay for levee maintenance by either taxing Albemarle County residents or setting the developer’s own money aside for Scottsville to use. The tax would be established through a tax increment financing agreement, which Albemarle is now considering. Cosby wouldn’t name a dollar amount that Scottsville could see from this agreement, but he said that it would be “significant” for a town with an annual budget of $600,000. If the county does not approve the TIF, Echelon plans to simply give the town $100,000 to maintain the levee.
Echelon submitted the proposal Friday afternoon because it had a conversation about a possible TIF with Albemarle County on Thursday, said Cosby.
During the Dec. 12 meeting, Catalbiano expressed other concerns related to the project — balancing the budget without raising property taxes, building appropriate sidewalks, to name two —but “we can make this happen, it just needs to be a good deal,” she said.
The public comment period went on for more than an hour, and when it ended, most people didn’t stick around to hear the Council discuss its next steps.
Cosby, the project developer, said that the meeting showed him how little the Scottsville community knows about the project. So, he decided to hold a series of community meetings about the factory redevelopment both in-person and via Zoom:
- Tuesday, Dec. 20, 11 a.m., in the meeting room of the Scottsville branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library at 330 Bird Street
- Wednesday, Dec. 21, 6 p.m., on Zoom (Zoom link: shorturl.at/AKNOY)
- Tuesday, Dec. 27, 6 p.m. in the library meeting room
- Wednesday, Dec. 28, 10 a.m., on Zoom (Zoom link: shorturl.at/AKNOY)
The flyer promises meeting dates and times for January as well.