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An Impromptu Map of Charlottesville

I did this map the other day when explaining commuting and settlement patterns in Charlottesville and Albemarle. It would have been near-perfect had I put the “North” indicator on it; that said, its orientation is with north at the top.

The good part was that it made complete sense.

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A Stark Look at Urban Planning in Charlottesville and Albemarle

What do most people think about when they think about “Charlottesville”?

The Downtown Mall? It’s in the City. Monticello? That’s in the County. So’s the Rotunda. And John Paul Jones Arena.

Know what doesn’t get shared effectively or efficiently? Planning how to get from Darden Business School to the Downtown Mall. Absurd, right?

Ever wonder about the differences in urban planning in Charlottesville and Albemarle?

I’ve often likened the relationship between City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle as that of estranged parents who get along just well enough to feed their kids. Most of the time.

Hmmmm ….

Sean Tubbs at Charlottesville Tomorrow writes a must-read piece this weekOne community, two approaches to urban planning in which he delves into the disparities between the City and County in population (the County has a lot more people), funding (the City has a lot more to work with) and ability to plan and implement said plans (the County is at a significant disadvantage to the City).

To guide that growth, the county has adopted four master plans that cover the U.S. 29 corridor, Pantops, Crozet and the Village of Rivanna.

However, the county’s proposed capital budget identifies no new funding to implement projects called for in those plans. For instance, one item that will be deferred is a long-awaited small area plan for the intersection of Rio Road and U.S. 29.

On the other hand, the Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City Council last year calls for small area plans, two of which are currently underway.

They are the “strategic investment area” in central Charlottesville completed by the firm Cunningham and Quill and the $340,000 streetscape of West Main Street.

The city’s proposed capital budget also includes $2.1 million in the next year to begin implementation of those plans.

“That’s money for design for whichever projects we decide to move forward,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, at the council work session. He said this could include street improvements or work to begin daylighting Pollocks Branch, a creek running underground near Friendship Court and the Ix warehouse complex.

The localities have a symbiotic relationship. The City of Charlottesville has the Downtown Mall and the “hustle and bustle” of a City. The County has Monticello. And a whole lot of UVA (think Boar’s Head, Klockner Stadium, office buildings along Emmett Street, too). Route 29 runs through the City and County for goodness sakes. One would think that the City and County would agree on how its citizens traveled. The City of Charlottesville is not an island. (found via Statchatva.org )

Courtesy Cooper Weldon Center for Demographics

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Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Growth | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Western Bypass is Apparently Dead. So What’s Next?

So says the Daily Progress.

One decades-old question was answered with a resounding no.

“A bypass is not something we would consider,” Norfolk-based consultant Philip A. Shucet, the head of the advisory panel and former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, told the board.

Nearly two years after officials awarded a contract for the bypass, and after $54 million was spent on the project, the planned 6.2-mile road has become a footnote.

The transportation board, a 17-member panel of gubernatorial appointees that presides over Virginia’s transportation system, will determine what happens to unspent money from a project state officials had valued at more than $244 million.

If nothing else, this seems to remove the uncertainty from the conversation about the Western Bypass. We can return now to our discussions about the woes of traffic on 29 North and how the CharlAlbemarle area is woefully incapable of understanding the issues and equally incapable of implementing solutions. Such is life.

Rather than go into the history of the Western Bypass (it goes on for decades), discuss the various regional influences (Lynchburg is key), the various local players (broadly it’s growth vs no-growth) and whether VDOT is going to sell the houses it bought many years ago (it should if the Bypass is truly dead) or even whether the Western Bypass was the right route (it wasn’t but that’s because it’s a 30+ year old design, designed well before massive growth on 29 North) – start looking at background at Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Lynchburg is mad.

There is a fundamental disagreement over what, exactly, U.S. 29 is. Is it a major north-south transportation corridor with the goal of providing relatively unimpeded traffic flow to through traffic along its 1,000-mile path or is it, in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, a local retail strip? It can’t be both. …

Charlottesville and Albemarle, however, still persist in their silly, outdated belief that U.S. 29 is really just “Emmett Street,” the local retail strip, and has no connection to the rest of the state. That’s evident in Albemarle’s “plan” to address improvements on Emmett Street: a silly, utopian “Places29” with overpasses — built where major retail centers now sit — for through traffic, pedestrian-friendly amenities and added lanes for traffic.

I think they’re right. If the bypass is truly dead, what’s the solution?

Short story – a new solution needs to be implemented. One would assume it would need to be agreed upon first, so let’s accept that the segmentation of the Charlottesville – Albemarle region will continue. Not that that’s a bad thing, it just is. (more)

One of the first things I thought about what this line from Ocean’s 11.

I’m thinking we will need to wait for Elon Musk’s hyper loop.

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Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, General Real Estate, Politics, Transportation | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

3 Reasons I Like Radon

I’ve said to my clients often enough that “I Like Radon” that one of them suggested I write a story with this title.

EPA Map of Radon Zones

Sure, radon is a colorless, odorless gas that emanates from the earth’s crust that causes cancer.

Sure, the Charlottesville area is in Zone 2 of the EPA’s Map of Radon Zones. “(Zone 2 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L(orange zones)”

I still like radon. So why do I like radon?

I like radon in real estate negotiations because the solution to radon is known and relatively inexpensive. Generally, in my experience, a radon mitigation system costs between $800 and $1500. In the scope of a real estate transaction, that’s relatively insignificant.

Let me distill this page which is chock full of lots of radon information into an easily digestible sentence or two that is relevant to those (who may be seeking to buy a home) in the Charlottesville area:

- We have radon in our area – generally at least 50% of the homes I see tested have actionable levels of radon.

- You might as well get a test during the inspection period (it costs ~ $150)

- I don’t think radon is that big of a deal, but it’s a good negotiation item and it’s easily remediable.

- I don’t see radon (or radon mitigation systems) as having any impact on market value

From an NPR story a couple years ago that put context to the radon risk conversation (I wrote about it then, too):

Phil Price, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, has spent a lot of time studying radon. He is willing to accept the government’s rough estimate that radon causes about 21,000 deaths from lung cancer each year. But, he says, people should know something about that number.

“A large fraction of those estimated deaths are thought to be among smokers,” he says. “One way to think of it is it’s just one of the things that goes along with smoking, is that it increases your chance of radon-related lung cancer.”

The EPA estimates that among people who have never smoked, radon accounts for fewer than 3,000 radon deaths each year. The huge difference in risk is because smoking and radon appear to have a powerful synergy when it comes to lung cancer.

This is what I tell my clients – a radon mitigation system accomplishes at least three things -
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Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What’s a Kickout Clause?

Before Mom Calls For Dinner

From time to time, I’ll see a house that’s still active on the market (I showed one on Wednesday in fact) but is under contract with a kick out clause. Right now, there are 6 such instances out of 1764 active listings in the Charlottesville MSA and MLS.

What’s a Kick out Clause?

A kick out clause is a chance for the seller and buyer to have their respective cakes and eat them, too.

Or, when a buyer wants to buy a home but hasn’t yet sold their current home, and the seller wants to accept the offer but not fully remove the home from the market.

If a house is under contract with a kick out clause, that means it’s under contract but the buyer most likely has a home sale contingency. If another buyer were to come along with an offer the seller wanted to accept, the seller would accept the second offer, subject to the first offer’s termination and give the buyer notice and give them 48 hours or so to remove their home sale contingency. If the buyer chooses to not remove the contingency (most likely because they cannot) the seller could kick out the first offer and accept the second one.

Seller’s happy, second buyer is happy, first buyer notsomuch.

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Posted in General Real Estate, Reader Questions, Stupid Real Estate Questions - AKA: What are the questions you think you should know but have never asked? | 1 Comment

Surgery Price Transparency in Charlottesville?

This is not real estate related story other than the fact that many people choose to move to Charlottesville because of our excellent health care. Also, knowing what you are going to pay for something in healthcare is an oddly radical and seemingly impossible achievement.

Graelyn Brashear at C-Ville reports that the “Monticello Community Surgery Center (MCSC), an independent outpatient center owned by 22 shareholding physicians, is embarking on a new model centered around price transparency.” (although I cannot find a website for them other than this page)

When the list price for medical care is arbitrary and obscured, nobody can make an informed decision, and cost and quality become uncoupled.

“What’s wrong with our current system is that nobody understands what the cost of services are that they’re able to obtain through insurance, unfortunately in part by design,” he said.

I’m wondering – is what they’re doing similar to what the Surgery Center of Oklahoma is doing?

The two doctors who started the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, Dr. Keith Smith and Dr. Steven Lantier, are committed to charging fair prices, and they founded their hospital with the goal of price transparency. “What we’ve discovered is health care really doesn’t cost that much,” Dr. Smith told KFOR-TV. “What people are being charged for is another matter altogether.”

They have been posting all of their prices online for the past several years, and they charge significantly less than other hospitals in the area.

Anyone who knows me knows how frustrated I’ve been whenever I’ve broken myself playing soccer. Getting injured stinks; not knowing how much an MRI or X-Ray or doctor’s visit cost adds enormous stress and frustration to the equation.

So – will more people from around the country see this progressive option and move to Charlottesville? Conveniently, they’re going to be located close to the SOCA soccer facility … surely they will be some cross marketing, right?

Related reading: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us

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Monday Morning Reads – 10 March 2014


- Four reasons bikes should not pay the same fines as cars
- The most revealing broadband maps we’ve ever seen
- 7 Essential Elements of your Home Inspection
- NAR: Pending home sales index down 9% year-over-year
- Why home prices are climbing again and what you should do about it
- New-home building is shifting to apartments
- Albemarle County Schools are building their own fiber network (search the doc for “dark fiber”. Continue reading

Posted in General Real Estate | 1 Comment

Albemarle County May Increase the Property Tax Rate

Assessments are up. So might be the mil rate.

From the Daily Progress:

Recommended budget value: $349.3 million

Increase over current year: 8.3 percent ($26.8 million)

Proposed real estate tax rate: 80.8 cents/$100 assessed value

Current rate: 76.6 cents/$100 assessed value

Impact: The annual tax bill on a property assessed at $300,000 would increase from $2,298 to $2,424 at the proposed rate.

Proposed raises: 2 percent for county staff

So … the tax rate cannot go higher than 80.8 cents/$100 assessed value. And it could stay at 76.6 cents. Of the proposed 4.2 cent increase, nearly half of that would be dedicated to the Albemarle County schools. This should be an interesting debate.

If you’re curious to learn even more about the Albemarle County budget, the County has a lot of information on their site.

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Posted in Albemarle, General Real Estate, Politics | Tagged , | 5 Comments