Albemarle Co. BOS insist Charlottesville follow rules it hasn’t enforced for a long time until very recently

Editor’s Note:  This post is in no way meant to attack the people working at the County.  They are capable, skilled professionals.  I think most County staff support shared-use trails at County parks and work to create more opportunities for park users.

It is completely reasonable that inconsistencies in present use at County parks and County code were discovered as County staff reviewed legitimate issues around Ragged Mountain.  It is apparent County code is inconsistent with what appears to be long-time, compatible uses at several parks including Ragged Mountain.  So instead of involving park users and the public in general in discussions about changing the County code to come in line with long established use, the promoted uses were quietly changed.

Within weeks of discovering their own code deficiencies, the Board of Supervisors is now insisting that the City cannot use its own land in a manner consistent with City code because of conflicting County code the County itself has not been following for many years.  The BOS letter only mentions mountain biking.  Yet, they make no mention of the other use inconsistencies which include the permitting of boats (which is no longer required by RWSA) or trail running which was also approved by City Council in December.

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After a very lengthy and transparent public process, the Charlottesville City Council voted to follow the will of a majority to open up multi-use trails at Ragged Mountain.

This week, the Albemarle Co. Board of Supervisors’s chair Diantha McKeel released a letter to the public raising a number of concerns.  I tackle much of that here.  However, the biggest revelation is that the County insists the City adhere to Albemarle Co. code that does not allow cycling (or trail running since it is not explicitly mentioned either) at Ragged Mountain and that the County will enforce those regulations on the property regardless of City code.  As it turns out the County has not been only ignoring its own rules, it has been promoting the opposite for many years.   The County staff have been changing its website information to match County code.

There are three Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority reservoir properties in question. Ragged Mountain is owned by the City.  Totier Creek Park and Chris Greene Lake Park are county parks.  In her letter, Supervisor McKeel references code section 11-303 that says that activities not expressly stated in the code are forbidden at Ragged Mountain.    Section 11-302 and 11-306 make similar rules for Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek respectively.  Since none of those code sections list bicycling as a stated activity, it is now allowed at any of these parks.  The problem?  Until after the Charlottesville City Council vote to allow cycling and trail running at Ragged Mountain, the County was actively encouraging cycling at both Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek.

Luckily content on the internet never dies!  Let’s go to the video tape, well screenshots anyways.

The legend for the trail map for Chris Greene Lake still shows a condition that has been in place since at least 2011. It shows trails for both hiking and biking.

chrisgreen

Screenshot of Chris Greene Lake Park trail map, dated Dec. 2011 – current map on County’s website

Hopefully, that will not change.

UPDATE:  Since this post was published, the County has changed the park map to remove cycling because it is not one of the expressly stated activities at the park.  The new map is dated February 2017.  Yet, the dog park continues despite not being officially sanctioned in City code.

However, the map for Totier Creek was changed recently. The previous (at least back to 2011) map legend showed exactly what the Chris Greene map showed:

totierold

Screenshot of Torier Creek Park trail map, dated Dec. 2011 – Internet Archive

Now the current version with “biking” scrubbed:

totiernew

Screenshot of Tortier Creek Park trail map, dated Jan. 2017 – current map on County’s webiste

Notice the creation date of new map as January 2017.  The old version of the map was up until at least January 2017.

Now for the County’s park activity matrix. The new:

matrixnew

Screenshot of park activity matrix – current on County’s webiste

The old:

matrixold

Screenshot of park activity matrix up to Mid Feb. 2017 – Internet Archive

Notice the difference?  Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek mountain bike activities have been removed in the latest version.

The vintage of the current Totier Creek is known because it is dated. Determining when the change of the activity matrix occurred would be tougher if it were not for the Internet Archive.

http://web.archive.org/web/20160301000000*/http://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/forms_center/departments/Parks_and_Recreation/forms/matrixparks.pdf

internetarchive

Screenshot of matrix PDF archive dates on Internet Archive

The last entry in the archive is Feb. 15, 2017.  As of that date, the old matrix was still in place.  It has been replaced since then.

Here is the Internet Archive record for the Totier Creek map.

http://web.archive.org/web/20170401000000*/http://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/forms_center/departments/Parks_and_Recreation/forms/matrixparks.pdf

The February  9, 2017 record shows the new map.  However, the record from December 21, 2016 shows the old one.

The County BOS now insists the property owner, the City of Charlottesville, cannot allow an activity that the County itself did, in fact, promoted for many years at parks that have the exact same County code.  They are asking City to suspend our planning process for a shared-use plan at Ragged Mountain.   If you live in the County, please contact your Supervisor and ask them to change code section 11-303, 11- to allow both cycling and trail running to match the property owners’ wishes and to change sections 11-302 & 11-306 to allow historic compatible multi-use.

More Ragged Mountain Woes

 

So, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has weighed in on Ragged Mountain.  Please find the NBC 29 story with all three letters from Albemarle Co.

http://www.nbc29.com/story/34613988/albemarle-supervisors-issue-open-letter-over-ragged-mt-natural-area

Below is the letter address to citizens with my responses embedded with italics.


An Open Letter to City and County Residents

This letter is for those City and County residents interested in the public water supply at Ragged Mountain Reservoir, those who have enjoyed walking the trails in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area (“RMNA”), those interested in biking within RMNA, and others. This information has been previously shared with members of City Council and their staff.

The City engaged in a very public process from 2014 to 2016 to determine what activities it wanted to allow at RMNA. With respect to biking, the City received a significant number of comments on both sides of the issue. [with overwhelming support for multiuse trails at Ragged Mountain] When City Council adopted its ordinance on December 19, 2016 to allow biking [they also voted to allow trail running.  Why no mention of that?], the controversy surrounding the question was reflected in City Council’s 3-2 vote. The two Council members who voted “no” encouraged delaying the vote based on a written request from the Board of Supervisors. [As stated in the same paragraph by the author, the City of Charlottesville engaged in a lengthy, very public two-year process.  The BOS had plenty of opportunity to weigh in and chose not to.]

The City’s ordinance is unique in that it claims to regulate activities outside of the City’s boundaries. [That is not unique. Charlottesville owns several other properties in Albemarle Co. for which it has ordinances.  There are also other localities in Virginia that own property in other localities.]

Ordinarily, cities and counties are authorized to exercise their powers only within their respective boundaries. [except where permitted by law as in this case]

There are exceptions, and the City relied on a State law (Virginia Code § 15.2-1725). That law allows the City to adopt regulations pertaining to recreational areas such as RMNA even though it is located outside of the City’s boundaries. The State law restricts how the City’s authority may be exercised. It prohibits the City from adopting any regulations in conflict with the County’s. Unfortunately, the City’s new regulations conflict with a County regulation (County Code § 11-303), which does not allow biking at RMNA. The County’s regulation is intended to prevent pollution of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir by limiting the types of human activities allowed at RMNA. [However, the County does not have a general law against cycling, nor does it ban cycling at most of its parks.  So the ban at Ragged Mountain is an exception.  Who does the County have regulations regarding Ragged Mountain at all?   My understanding is that the County needs the regulations in order to enforce the city laws for Ragged Mountain not to actually dictate uses there.  Without their own regulations for the property, ACP would be powerless on what would otherwise be considered private property.]

The Board of Supervisors has contacted City Council to resolve this matter as quickly as possible, offering to hold a facilitated meeting between designated members of the Board and City Council and their respective staffs. The Board acknowledges the desire of the biking community to have greater access to off-road public lands. Indeed, the County promotes properly located recreational activities. Therefore, the Board has proposed to City Council a solution for our community by opening a new County park on the Hedgerow property much earlier than originally planned. Hedgerow Park will have a new entrance and be accessible for biking without the risk of polluting the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, our community’s public water supply. [Hedgerow will only be accessible off of Rt. 29 and will not be accessible by bicycle unless you want to ride on the 250 bypass under I-64 and then another mile or so to the park entrance.  No thanks.  So, you will still need a car to access that park.  One of the keys to a successful bicycle networks for which Charlottesville strives, is to have meaningful destination you can reach by bicycle.  Other than the Rivanna Trail and O Hill which are both places that rely on the benevolence of private owners, there is no destinations for a bicyclists that do not wish to use a car. Ragged Mountain provides a nice nature experience that should be enjoyed by more users engaging in physical activity.  The Ragged Mountain property is also not the source of the majority of the reservoir’s water, that water is pumped there from the City’s other reservoirs that are also in the county.  Also keep in mind, that I-64 runs through the Ragged Mountain watershed and over the reservoir itself.  It is hardly a pristine environment AND has the potential to suffer much greater effects than adding a few multiuse trails.]

In December, after City Council adopted its ordinance, it passed a motion asking the Board to consider amending the County’s regulations. The Board has invited the City to share the information that it collected during its lengthy public process for the County’s staff to analyze. This information will complement and accelerate County staff’s own analysis of the issue. [Why should the county have any say what uses are allowed on City-owned property?]

Lastly, readers may wonder why the issue of whether biking should be allowed at RMNA is important to the County. This concern extends beyond only preventing pollution of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. [There is no evidence to suggest that allowing cycling among the other newly sanctioned activities like trail running add more to pollution of the Ragged Mountain reservoir.  In fact, evidence suggest that properly designed and maintained trails that replace the current poor trails at the park will make for better water quality overall.]

Imagine if the County purchased land within a residential City neighborhood in order to establish a County-owned urban park. Then, based on its ownership of the park, the County decided to allow a use that was prohibited by the City. As an extreme example, assume that the County decided to allow riding motorcycles in the park at any time. The City would justifiably feel that its authority over the lands within the City was being violated by the County. The Board of Supervisors’ expectation is that City Council will respect the County’s sovereignty and its regulations, regardless of whether the City Council and City staff disagree with those regulations. [This is a specious argument for several reasons. 1) It is a false equivalency to suggest that motorcycle use is anything like mountain bike use. 2) It is against the rules of all the City’s parks to allow motorized vehicles.  That is obviously not the case for cycling.  3) The County maintains properties in the city which includes at least two schools and an administrative building.  Does the County seek permission from the City to govern those properties? I bet the answer there is “no.”  It is a shame that elected County officials choose to dabble in such arguments.]

Everyone can agree that our community is not well-served when its local governments are in conflict. Everyone can also agree that it is the responsibility of both the City and the County to provide rules that are clear and consistent. The Board of Supervisors looks forward to a speedy resolution of this controversy. In the meantime, the County is bound to enforce its regulations.  [This is a completely manufactured controversy.  The County clearly has had the opportunity to weigh in.  The RWSA has no issues with mountain biking at Ragged Mountain.  The overwhelming public input, the City’s park advisory board, the City’s bicycle and ped. committe and the City’s planning commission all reviewed the proposals.  All voted to allow cycling at Ragged Mountain.  The County could quickly end the “controversy” by voting to amend its regulations to mirror the City’s.]

Diantha McKeel
Chair, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors


Now we Albemarle supervisor Rich Randolph saying this really isn’t about bicycles at Ragged Mountain. It is about the City not ceeding to the whims of the county board.

http://www.newsplex.com/content/news/Political-Tuesday-Ragged-Mountain-Natural-Area-415022033.html

If that is the case, why did Ms. McKeel ask for a postponement of a preview new trail alignments at Ragged Mountain scheduled for this weekend?  This has never been about anything other than a very small group’s attempt to keep all but a few from enjoying the reservoir.  I read the County’s regulation re Ragged Mountain.  It also says boats must be permitted.  I have been to Ragged Mountain many times.  I have yet to see any posting mentioning the boat permitting.  I also bet the County has chosen not to enforce the that portion of the law up to now.  So why all the posturing about enforcing the rules now?  I also would be willing to be the County has never run an enforcement operation against trail running there either.

It has also been pointed out that the County allows cycling at two other RWSA reservoirs.  Chris Green Lake and Totier Creek Park have almost the exact same language in their county code as does Ragged Mountain.  Yet, the County actively supports bicycling at those parks.  The County’s Chris Green Park trail map is evidence to that.

http://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/forms_center/departments/Parks_and_Recreation/forms/ChrisGreene_TOPO_PageSize.pdf

UPDATE:  It appears the county is updating its park use maps and matrix to come inline with its own regulations.  The Totier Creek Map was changed in January to remove references to bicycling.  The park use matrix was updated on February 24th and the references to cycling at Totier Creek and Chris Green Lake have been removed.

It is time to County residents to contact their supervisors and tell them you do not want them participating in this.  They should quickly change the regulations to match the City’s inclusive use policy for the betterment and enjoyment of more City and County residents.

Great News out of the Va. Legislature this week

There were a number of pro cycling bills passed by the state legislature this week.  Specifically, two were really good news:

  1. HB2023 will keep funding from being cut for road miles for localities that use the road diet technique to increase bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
  2. SB1224 removes liability from property owners that allow recreational users to cross their property.

See more at the Virginia Bike Federation site here.