Residents of southwest Charlottesville had the opportunity Thursday to interact with city officials in the latest of a series of town hall meetings.
The Our Town series was established in 2010 to provide an informal way for citizens to directly express concerns about the community.
“This is an unmediated opportunity to hear directly from folks, but the staff is here, as well,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer. “The intent of this is to sync up issues with responsible staff, as well as the policymakers.”
The latest installment was held for the neighborhoods of Fry’s Spring, Jefferson Park Avenue and Johnson Village. About 60 people attended the event in the cafeteria at the Johnson Village Elementary.
“You guys are the eyes and ears of the city,” said City Councilor Bob Fenwick, adding that concerns brought up at these meetings are useful for the city.
Gweneth West said she was concerned that new construction is driving up the cost of housing.
“The Wegmans shopping center [in nearby Albemarle] will increase tax assessments, and we’re all wondering if we’re going to be able to continue living here when we’re done with our jobs,” the Fry’s Spring resident said.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said the city is trying to address the housing issue and pointed to a city-commissioned study published earlier this year by the firm RCLCO.
“There is not enough housing built, and that means the housing we do have is getting more expensive,” Galvin said. “We’re really trying to get the data and hit the sweet spot, but your point is well taken.”
West also wanted to know if the city could do something to stop the number of hotels coming to the area. Several hundred rooms are to be built in both the city and Albemarle County, adding to the 3,700 rooms currently here.
“Those folks are responding to the market, and the market has been very strong over the last several years,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. “People who own property are being approached by people who want to address that demand. These things run in cycles, and at some point, it will level off.”
One citizen asked what the city was doing to address the number of people who live in poverty.
“We did a report that looked at the barriers to self-sufficiency in our community, and out of that, we have spawned a couple of programs to address that through workforce development,” said City Manager Maurice Jones.
“We’ve created a number of programs called our Growing Opportunities programs.”
Jones said these programs have so far provided jobs for bus drivers and electricians, and other programs are being created to train more technical workers.
“We are working with employers to identify their labor needs,” Jones added.
Marlene Jones, of the Johnson Village neighborhood, asked if there is going to be an update to the city’s website to allow for citizens to pay taxes online.
“There’s no way to go online and look at your bills over the last few years,” she said. “It’s incredibly 20th century. As a citizen, we should have more modern services.”
City Manager Jones said such a portal is coming.
“We do have a mobile 311 system that we’re looking at now,” he said. “We’re reviewing proposals to address the complaint side, and we are having discussions about the ability to pay bills.”
One participant wanted a dead-end sign on Observatory Avenue to stop people from using the street as a cut-through. Another thanked the city for recent upgrades to Azalea Park, and another wanted sidewalks on Stribling Avenue.
The next Our Town meeting will be held Sept. 29 at Venable Elementary School for the Lewis Mountain, University, Venable, Rose Hill and Kellytown neighborhoods.