Friday, January 30, 2009

Pembroke Area Implementation Plan, Charrette 1, Day 2

The meeting reconvened just after 9 A.M. this morning. Things began with a review of Thursday afternoon's answers and input.

Six tables then held discussions on various principles: efficient land use, urban services and infrastructure, compatible mix of uses, Transportation, human-scale design, and environmental stewardship. The ideas were then shared with the full group before we broke for a shorter and (IMO) better lunch than Thursday.

After lunch the Strategic Growth Area (SGA) was divided into five zones, with separate tables dealing in details for each zone. People started to file out around 2:50 P.M., so we adjourned without gathering everyone together again.

Most of all, I'm happy to report that things look safe on Weaver Drive. The only thing in the plans of concern nearby is a generic notation to make the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Witchduck Road intersection a "gateway".

This afternoon The Virginian-Pravda went online with a story on the meetings:
A few comments:

1. Housing - as this is one of four SGAs compatible for housing, expect the final plan to have a large dose of residential.

2. Municipal Center - while one lady kept insisting on moving the Municipal Center to the SGA, the only two parcels suitable are under contract for private redevelopment. Expect this attempt to move the City government to the Central Business District to die as hard and quick as the previous.

3. Arena - it would be adjacent to the Witchduck Road light rail station, making for easy access (in due course) from elsewhere in Hampton Roads. The site centers on a former steel facility. Given the environmental issues associated with it's previous use, it's unfit for residential.

4. Light rail - without a Redevelopment Authority, it's essential as the catalyst for redevelopment.

The story mentions "4-5 stations"; at one table yesterday, a real estate mogul was pushing for 5. However, today's Transportation submission had 3: Witchduck Road, Aragona Boulevard, and Town Center. Those three would leave everything along the rail line in the SGA in the quarter mile Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) radius of a station, so more aren't needed.

5. Thalia Creek Greenway - it was already in City plans, and the consensus was to incorporate it. A few people had more ambitious ideas, centered on dredging Thalia Creek to allow charter and party boats to sail in from the Chesapeake Bay via the Lynnhaven River.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pembroke Area Implementation Plan, Charrette 1, Day 1

Today was the first day of the 12 hours of initial planning on Town Center's Strategic Growth Area (SGA).

The morning session was well-attended and centered on background Presentations on the possibilities. They were on the proposed Transportation plan (including the crack-induced idea to ram Broad Street through Pembroke Mall, KMart, and Princess Anne High School), the Thalia Creek Greenway, mass transit options, Planning & Placemaking Principles, and Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). Jayne Whitney of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) arrived late for her segment, leading me to joke a Steering Committee member that she had tried taking the bus there.

We got through the morning's business ahead of schedule, leading to a long (96 minute) lunch break. After finishing the supplied lunch from the Westin, I used the time to go to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream.

In the afternoon, participants started by answering four pages of questions, then giving opinions on a number of land use photos. We were asked what the role of the Pembroke area should be in the city, and the character of the area. Following that, we used dot stickers and markers to code maps of the SGA for it's strengths (red), opportunities (green), and challenges (blue).

Of particular interest for me has been the issue of the two apartment complexes on Weaver Drive, just outside the SGA. Aden Park contains 10% of Virginia Beach's apartments in it's price range, while Ebbets Plaza is one of four directly-subsidized apartment complexes in our city. Given our acute shortage of low-income units, losing them out of redevelopment of the SGA would be a disaster. I spoke to Andy Friedman (Director of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation) and Tom Pauls (the City's chief land planner) about it. In addition, I got the area marked for preservation on the map at my table.

The disappointment of the day was that more members of the general public weren't there for the afternoon session, but it was a weekday during the day. I hope we get a large crowd for the session on the evening of February 5.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Public Input On Pembroke Area Implementation Plan

The work on the Pembroke Area Implementation Plan, the land use plan for the Strategic Growth Area that includes Town Center, is underway. Thursday and Friday there will be Charettes at the Westin Hotel from 9-3. The public is invited.

For those who can't do a couple of weekdays, there will be a meeting at Strayer University's Town Center campus on Thursday, February 5 from 7-9 P.M.

I have all three meetings in my calendar book, so watch this blog for coverage if you can't make it.

For Those Wanting To Get Rid Of Me

Sorry, folks, I just signed a one year extension on my apartment lease this morning. I'll be at my current address for the 7th year. The new lease will run through January 31, 2010.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Praise Of The Virginia Department Of Taxation

That title got your attention, didn't it? They're hardly favorites this time of year, but I want to give credit where credit is due.

I filed my Virginia income taxes online on the evening of Friday, January 16. My form was processed and my refund authorized on Thursday the 22nd, the money sent on Friday the 23rd, and it direct deposited into my bank account this morning.

When you also realize that Monday was a holiday, you couldn't expect faster service.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Congratulations To Les Lilley

Our City Attorney has been named a Judge on the Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
Les is a great guy and has done a pretty good job as City Attorney. Best wishes on his new position.

That raises the obvious question: who is going to be the new City Attorney? Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Should We Redevelop The Dome Site?

In our latest poll, 11% think Virginia Beach does great with Budget priorities, 43% a good job, 11% fair, and 32% poor.

There was an attempt to flood the poll with "Poor" votes, which commenters attributed to the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). As I anticipated, there was a counterflooding to prevent Poor from winning.

The new question: should Virginia Beach redevelop the Dome site? Michael Jenkins is required to return to the City with a plan sometime in March.

TDCHR January 22, 2009

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) met this afternoon at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) headquarters in Hampton.

Much discussion was held on probable Federal mass transit stimulus funding. HRT is projected to get in the neighborhood of $24 million and CEO Michael Townes assured the Commission that the conditions for keeping the funding could easily be met.

Proposed budget cuts by the Commonwealth of Virginia would mean a reduction of $1.4 million in funding this fiscal year, and $1.2 million next year. However, lower fuel costs mean that HRT can probably absorb this year's reductions without having to cut service.

The contract to study light rail for Virginia Beach is slated to be awarded at the March TDCHR meeting, and the study will take 18 months to complete. That means that even if City Council wanted to place the matter on the ballot, the facts would not be ready for a referendum any earlier than November, 2011. Randy Wright of Norfolk repeatedly expressed his unhappiness with the Virginia Beach City Council leaning towards punting the issue to referendum.

A couple changes were made with Norfolk light rail construction. First, 240 sunken piles in Broad Creek will have to be removed. Second, the Downtown Norfolk Council will do the signage to alleviate business disruptions at a cost of $50,000, while the original bid for the task was $165,000.

The humorous moment of the day: Commissioners were given the ridership figures for November. HRT's User Citizen Advisory Committee (UCAC), meeting in the same room the night before, had been given the December numbers. So the UCAC was given more current information than the TDCHR?!?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Your Guide To Ride

Yes, I'm going to end up with a few transit stories clustered here. I've been wanting to post this video for a few days, but Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) initially had it misposted on their YouTube channel.

This video is elementary to the point of being laughable for bus regulars, but it could help novices. A few comments:

1. Note that she (properly) calls HRT bus drivers "Operators".

2. No need to hold up your hand like that if you're at a posted bus stop in daylight.

3. The bell on a bus doesn't really sound like a doorbell. (Dubbed tape.)

MPO January 21, 2009

This morning the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Hampton Roads' regional Transportation planning board, met.

Off the bat, the Consent Agenda was passed. It included $1.5 million for the Southside light rail extensions study package of Newtown Road - Dome site in Virginia Beach and EVMS - Navy base in Norfolk.

A consultant presented the MPO Best Practices final report. First, it waffled on the weighted voting issue, recommending both weighted and unweighted voting systems. Second, a few MPO members hedged on exactly how to do public input.

A review of Transportation legislation pending in the General Assembly was conducted. A long debate ensued when a couple Peninsula members tried to get the MPO to endorse Delegate Oder's bill to bid out Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) expansion as a PPTA. There was no vote, the primary reason being that no one had a copy of the text of the bill. Secondarily, concern was expressed that such a piecemeal approach deviated from the MPO addressing the region's Transportation problems as a whole.

Mayor Paul Fraim explained Norfolk's opposition to the four-lane expansion of the HRBT that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) had studied. Such a project would require condemnations of over 1,200 homes in Norfolk, while 900 others would be hit with a significant noise impact. In contrast, The Third Crossing (3X) would only need the condemnations of 38 homes.

Speaking of which, a study by Old Dominion University (ODU) on the issue was presented. ODU did computer modeling of all alternatives for relieving congestion at the HRBT. Please note, VBTA: only The Third Crossing provided appreciable congestion relief. In event of an accident, an expanded HRBT couldn't do it alone.

Finally, there was discussion of pending Federal stimulus legislation. Concern was expressed over how "ready for shovel" would be defined, and whether enough of our region's projects could meet the criteria.

A Revenue Idea For Hampton Roads Transit

Going to the December Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA) meeting in Hampton, my bus on Route 103 was driven by the best looking Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) Operator I have ever seen. (In HRT jargon, a bus driver is an "Operator".) Taking two MAX buses yesterday out of Victoria Boulevard (i.e. Peninsula garage), I drew a couple Operators that could give her a run for her money. Recently a Southside bus regular commented to me on the plethora of attractive female Operators on the Peninsula.

I have an idea: a The Operators of Victoria Boulevard calendar. First, it's a revenue idea for a cash-strapped agency. Second, a myriad of men who don't use mass transit would start taking the bus just to see for themselves.

Nah, it makes too much sense for a government agency to ever do it....

Common Sense Meets Transit Policy

A couple local changes from absurd policies:

1. The restrooms at the Newport News Transportation Center (NNTC) have been reopened. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) had closed them, complaining about behavioral issues of a few. However, in closing them they created at least as many problems as they solved.

At HRT's December public meetings on the ongoing Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA), the need for restroom facilities at transfer centers was an issue in 4 of 7 meetings. Let people use the toilet!

2. The downtown Norfolk loop bus stop on Boush Street has been moved from in front of Union Mission to Tazewell.

Senior City of Norfolk Staff, transit advocates are watching you very closely.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Organizing For America

President-elect Barack Obama announces the launch of Organizing for America. It's the morphing of his campaign organization into a permanent political organization to push for the "change" the campaign promised.

Yes, it will be a liberal organization. However, by the Summer of 2010 I would expect the local affiliate to be more relevant than a couple of the groups we regularly discuss on this blog. Therefore, it rates a post.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kudos To Will Sessoms

After taking office on January 5, new Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms did an interview with The Virginian-Pravda's Deirdre Fernandes. With a video camera rolling, he pledged to have the negotiations on the Norfolk Southern Right-of-Way acquisition done within two weeks. Fernandes most of us did. After all, there had been on-and-off talks with Norfolk Southern for over three years. How did Sessoms think he'd get it done in two weeks?!? He did, with time to spare

Okay, what now?

1. Obviously, complete the right-of-way acquisition

2. Do Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) on Newtown Road - Dome site and EVMS - Norfolk NOB alignments.

3. Boost Virginia Beach's year-round bus routes to get to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) standards for light rail funding. Hopefully that can be done in the City's FY 2010 Budget.

I learned about this around 6:50 P.M. When HR Transit Ideas' Michael Ragsdale called me about twenty-five minutes later, I answered by yelling into my cell phone "We got the right-of-way!" (He hadn't heard.)

Mister Mayor, I owe you a beer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CCO Banquet Tickets Available Online!

The Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation, holds an annual recognition banquet to honor volunteers in the civic leagues and community. This year's will be Saturday, March 14 at the Wyndham Hotel on 57th Street.

The fun part: for the first time ever, you can buy your tickets online with a credit card. There's a 99 cent service charge for each ticket bought online.

I already have my ticket paid for. Hope to see you there.

City Council Approves Town Center Phase IV

Last night the Virginia Beach City Council approved proceeding with Town Center Phase IV on an 8-3 vote. Councilmen DeSteph, Diezel, and Dyer voted "No".

I wasn't committed to commenting on this, but the number of negative comments online this morning got me off the fence. Two important things to remember here. First, Armada-Hoffler will build Phase IV in it's entirety at their own expense, then the City will buy the public portions with bond debt. Therefore, the City's capital expenses don't kick in until Phase IV is completed. Second, that will be 2-3 years from now. Given that, the economy should be better then and this project coming online will help.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out how this helps the case for light rail in Virginia Beach. Those additional people at Town Center will now have to be counted in the updated Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS), boosting the ridership figures.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chuck Smith For Congress

Previous Republican Party of Virginia Beach (RPVB) Chairman Chuck Smith has thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District seat. His website is up

Chuck would make for a strong House candidate, certainly better than either of the two other names I've heard mentioned so far.

H/T to VBDems

Monday, January 12, 2009

Circle Mall Alterations & Shoe Repair

As is my custom, I like to give publicity to businesses that are very good to me. In today's spotlight: Circle Mall Alterations & Shoe Repair.

One of my pairs of work pants had a seam starting to come out. I took them in this morning, planning to pick them up on Wednesday. I got there, the seamstress asked me to wait, and she had them done within a few minutes. Couldn't ask for faster service.

They're in Military Circle Mall in Norfolk.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

77% Think This Council Will Be Better

Over three-quarters of you expect the new Virginia Beach City Council that took office last week to be better. 19% thought it would be worse, while 2% expect the same.

While I was one of the 77%, I was surprised by the margin of victory. For all the bad things you could say about the Will and Bill Era on Council, at least they weren't afraid to pull the trigger. The previous two Councils were struck with political paralysis, and little meaningful got done. With a backlog of issues that need to be tackled, there finally seems to be a sense of urgency to act.

The new question is how good are Virginia Beach's Budget priorities? In two separate meetings last week (I blogged on neither), two divergent groups raised concerns on where the City of Virginia Beach places it's Budget priorities. While I was the only attendee common to both, I neither raised the subject nor got it rolling in either meeting.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ravens 13, Titans 10

Yeah, we're just one win away from another Super Bowl. Next victim will be Pittsburgh or San Diego.

Check out

Friday, January 9, 2009

New School Bus Stop: Liquor Store

This actually happened in Billings, Montana. A school bus driver began her run by making a stop at a liquor store. She then used students to try to hide the purchase on board the bus.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

RAC January 8, 2009

This afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's January meeting.

The chief item today was a sustainable Green initiative for the Resort Area, and how to structure it. There was a consensus to do the former; things got bogged down over how to do the latter. The matter was deferred.

The Action Items from the Resort Area Strategic Action Plan were presented to the Commissioners. The RAC's committees will now be charged with implementing them.

The priorities from the 2008 Strategic Planning Meeting were reviewed and found to still be applicable.

Next month Staff hopes to have the Holiday Lights figures available. While down, they're supposed to be better than anticipated.

With the RFP submissions in for the new Resort Area entertainment contract, a Staff recommendation will be made next week.

Brian Smith at HRT

Recently hired at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is Brian Smith as Government Affairs Coordinator.

If the name sounds familiar, he's the former Chairman of Norfolk Tea Party II. As here at the Beach the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) wants to convince you public transportation is anti-taxpayer, you only have to look across the city line to Norfolk. Obviously those at Norfolk Tea Party II see the value in mass transit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

CTB January 7, 2009

The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) held a Public Hearing this evening at The Regional Building in Chesapeake. Comments were being asked for on Virginia's Transportation projects. About 60 people were in attendance.

There were 16 speakers. Half of them in their comments emphasized the need for improved mass transit in Hampton Roads. In addition, a few local governments sent representatives to make their cases.

Intriguing fact of the night: 63% of Virginia Beach's roadway mileage has congestion that is grade "D" or worse.

The amusing part: the habitual complainers were AWOL.

In the end, it made for a pleasant night where people sought constructive, realistic solutions.

The 58 Delicatessen

Councilman Bob Dyer had twice recommended it to me, and I finally got around to it today. I went to The 58 Delicatessen for lunch.

It's hardly a secret: the place was packed at 12:45 P.M. I got consigned to the corner seat at their three-seat bar. (Took some maneuvering to get in.)

The Virginian-Pravda had named their Reuben the best in the region, so I had it for my first meal. The sandwich was huge; I had trouble holding it together while eating it. It was great. Despite the size, I finished it.

A must for your list of regular places to eat.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Temporary Bus Stop Is...Where?!?

With light rail construction having begun in downtown Norfolk, the buses downtown are having to detour. Instead of making the right onto City Hall Avenue in making the downtown loop, buses are heading up Boush Street to Brambleton, then making a right onto Brambleton. That eliminates the MacArthur Center stop.

The City of Norfolk placed only one temporary bus stop on Boush Street. Here's the kicker: it's at Union Mission. Does that speak volumes about what City of Norfolk senior Staff think of bus riders or what?!?

First the ongoing Cedar Grove soap opera, then the abortive attempt to shovel bus riders onto Salter Street, and now this. Will the Norfolk City Council deal with their bus rider-hating Staff?

Library at Seaboard Is Partially Operational

The Kirn Library had to be moved, as Norfolk's light rail Starter Line construction gets underway. Limited operations have begun in the neighboring Seaboard Building, with Internet computer service and material returns.

This and the previous post were made from a computer in the Seaboard's basement computer room. Pretty nice, and very roomy. I look forward to seeing the library fully operational.

A Teenager's Lesson On Transportation

Yesterday at 5:30 P.M. we had one of our due Staffers call in. She was going to be late getting in, as she had been in Portsmouth.

Uh...trying to go P-town to Pembroke Mall at rush hour?!? No, she wasn't going to make it on time. In fact, she still wasn't there when I left at 6. A naive teenager getting a first-hand introduction into our region's Transportation problems.

Of course, the long-term solution is a regional light rail network. Had Virginia Beach's and Portsmouth's planned extensions been in place, she could have made the trip by train.

[I duck as the usual suspects will oppose both LRT and highway funding, offering no real solutions of their own.]

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Road 90 Coverage of Gaza Conflict

For a pro-Israeli perspective of what's going on, try

There's even a link where you can purchase pizzas for Israeli soldiers.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

When They Don't Know The System

The greatest number of problems with newer riders on Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) is that they're unfamiliar with the system. They make mistakes that regulars would laugh at.

Case in point came early this afternoon. Two of us were waiting for the Outbound Route 23 at the bus shelter on Lowery Road in Norfolk. We had both been shopping (her at Farm Fresh, me at Walmart) and had our bags ready to load. The bus arrived roughly on schedule. The woman who had been waiting for the Inbound 23 on the other side of Lowery crossed (with her bags) and boarded, too. She wanted to loop to Best Square, then stay on the 23 to Cedar Grove.

Here's the hitch: had she been patient and waited a few more minutes, she would have been on the previous Inbound 23. As we were boarding on Lowery, it was across at Janaf and heading our way. Her mistake cost her a half hour's time.

If a new rider, a couple simple tips. First, map out your trip using HRT's website prior to riding. Second, if you have any questions, ask the regular riders. Most of them know the bus system much better than those answering the phones at HRT Customer Service.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Reid Greenmun And The VBTA Have No Credibility

Okay, most of us already knew that. However, on December 17 Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun went before the MPO and claimed the VBTA endorsed studying a EVMS to Norfolk NOB via ODU light rail extension. Speaking with others afterwards at the meeting, no one believed Reid's "endorsement". I thought he did it simply so he could try to leverage it to kill the Newtown Road to Dome site extension.

Two-thirds of you who voted agreed: the VBTA's "support" was a ruse. After all, the VBTA wants to abolish Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) as an agency.

Fun over on the blog Bearing Drift: chief poster J.R. Hoeft wrote under 2009 Predictions, "Reid finally admits he actually is a Democrat." J.R.'s point: Reid does far more damage to the side he claims to champion than he ever does to help it.

Of course, Reid Greenmun is best known as the cofounder of Messnerism-Greenmunism, that extremist ideology from the Loony Side. More on Reid's enduring ties to Barbara Messner in an April 1 post.

The new poll question: how do you think the new Virginia Beach City Council will do? Better, worse, or the same?