Residents Disagree on New Community Association

Approximately 40 Woodbrook residents met to discuss the future of the Woodbrook Community Association.
Approximately 40 Woodbrook residents met in the Woodbrook Elementary School cafeteria on September 29, 2016, to discuss the future of the Woodbrook Community Association. The Association had become inactive on October 1, 2014, when its officers failed to call an election. Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher convened the meeting, and Woodbrook resident and attorney Peter Roane led the discussion.

Unfortunately, all the Woodbrook Community Association documents were lost sometime during or between the tenure of Susan Reed and that of Susan Fisher. However, since Dan Gould had scanned over 900 pages of Association documents in 2010, the history of the neighborhood and Association starting in 1972 has been preserved to that point.

Mr. Roane presented two options: either revive the existing Association or start a new one. Working from the scanned documents, Mr. Roane proposed that we start afresh with a new constitution and set of bylaws to replace the 1972 documents which are still in effect. “I vote for new,” said Woodbrook resident Gerry Petencin.

“Don’t you think that people not attending is a vote?” asked one Woodbrook resident. “A vote which way?” asked resident Beth Gould. There ensued a discussion as to whether declining to participate in the process was a vote in favor of or against reinstatement of the Association.

“It concerns me to use the word association, especially when I’ve seen it used at public meetings with elected officials not understanding the difference,” said Woodbrook resident Ryan Burdge.

“I’ve spoken to people that didn’t come because they don’t want to be represented by this group, and they are voting ‘no’ by not coming,” said resident Mary McIntyre. Mary went on to say that should the Association form, it should be required to clearly state publicly how many residents it represents. “We are representing 20 out of 212 homes,” she said, as an example of how the Association should represent itself in a public venue. “That way the people in the County won’t be misled and think that the whole neighborhood thinks something that necessarily only 20 people actually think,” she added.

“An organization that has even a few members is going to have more clout than somebody who just comes in as a voice in the wilderness and is the only voice speaking on the topic for any County board, and I think we would soon come to regret that—I really, really do,” said Roane. “There is a balance between representing, making sure that everyone’s views are represented, and not falsely stating that everybody is behind it, and having nothing at all,” Roane added.

Resident Dan Gould talked about how the neighborhood has been handling advocacy during the past two years in which the Association has been inactive. He cited, as an example, the possible loss of left turn access at Woodbrook Drive and US 29. In that instance, Gould and resident Heather Rose Dorsey floated a petition in 24 hours to make clear the neighborhood’s position on the issue. The petition was hand-delivered to Rio District Supervisor Brad Sheffield within only a few days.

Audrey Kocher presented several ideas for social functions that might be launched by an association, one of which was a “book exchange” where small mailbox-sized libraries are set up throughout the neighborhood. “If there were purely a social and informational organization that then could encourage or find like-minded people go speak on certain issues, I know, based on the folks I know who are opposed to it, [people] would be more in favor of  joining and being a part of it.”

“I’d like to say that the bylaws haven’t been followed in years. What is the point of making a new constitution and bylaws? The fact that the Association lapsed and had no election is why we’re here now,” said Beth Gould.

“If you were at the school board meeting where they heard [the dugout issue]… you had residents… yelling across and yelling to the School Board there’s not a real association,” said Burdge, reflecting the concerns of some that no association can truly represent Woodbrook views as a whole. “I’d be so much happier if [people] started it at the social level and information sharing level, and go from there,” he added.

“We’re not going to do it like this,” said resident Morgan Perkins, referring to the meeting process. She encouraged residents to submit their ideas for a new association in writing.

The meeting was adjourned with no clear path towards a viable resolution. Full audio of the meeting follows:

Group Plans to Restart Woodbrook Community Association

Woodbrook Subdivision
In a nearly unanimous decision, a group of twenty Woodbrook residents voted to restart the Woodbrook Community Association (WCA). The association became inactive on October 1, 2014 when its officers failed to call an election. The meeting, held at the Northside Library on Thursday, May 19, 2016, was organized by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher.

“I would vote that we form the association again because it really represents everyone and not just a few people,” said one Woodbrook resident. “I strongly feel that you do need an association,” said former WCA President Susan Reed. Woodbrook resident Dan Gould pointed out that re-establishing the WCA would require ratification from the neighborhood at large, not just from the people “in this room,” he said. “Absolutely,” said Kocher.

On the topic of neighborhood inclusiveness in the process, Reed was adamant. “If people don’t show up and vote in any election their vote just doesn’t count,” she said. Woodbrook resident Jenny Mathews added, “This is not harming anyone, for us to have this community association, and anyone who thinks it is, doesn’t understand what it’s all about.”

“I would like to call this a kind of provisional Woodbrook Community Association,” said Kocher, detailing her plans to gain support for the idea. “We need to revise the by-laws,” she added.

Dan Gould asked if Kocher’s plans contemplated annual membership dues as in previous incarnations of the WCA. “That would be up to the by-laws committee,” said Kocher.

“For the people who live in the neighborhood who do not want to be represented by a central organization, how would you handle that situation?” asked Gould. “My opinion is that people have a choice to be represented, if [they don’t choose] then too bad,” said Kocher, who also said that it would be the by-laws committee’s responsibility to make this decision.

There ensued a lengthy discussion on the rights of Woodbrook residents to opt out of being represented by a central organization. The general consensus was that if residents don’t participate in the election process they forfeit their right to choose. Comparisons were made to federal elections in which those who don’t vote lose their right to select their leaders. Only Dan Gould pushed back on this idea. “At least [federal voters] know there is an election,” he said.

Beth Gould asked about how the new by-laws would be approved. “That’s a little fuzzy,” said Kocher, who went on to say that additional research on this issue would be required.

“I think you have to have some regulations; I’m concerned about property values,” said one resident. “I’ve always wondered why people are so opposed to covenants of some sort that have to do with how you keep up your property,” said another. “[It’s] because to implement [the covenants] people have to spend money on their property and they don’t want to, or they don’t want to be forced to,” said Gould.

Woodbrook resident and legal expert Peter Roane said, “Go ahead and form a voluntary association. Get as many people as you can to join and present it to the County as no, this is not a homeowners’ association [with] covenants that run with the land that are in the deeds and all that. It is purely voluntary, but then cite to them this represents, I don’t know, 159 out of the 200 some homes in the neighborhood, so we speak for that.” “I could support that,” said Dan Gould.

“What’s the point in electing officers if nobody is doing anything?” asked Beth Gould. “We had no representation, we [only] had officers on paper,” she said. “I agree,” said Kocher. “We have got to appoint active leaders and hold them accountable,” Kocher added.

Roane volunteered to prepare a new set of by-laws for the association. Other residents volunteered to deliver flyers and to set up a new electronic communication network for the neighborhood.

Referring to the funds held by the previous WCA, Kocher said, “I don’t want to use it until there is some formal organization.”

Concerning Ms. Kocher’s plans to survey the neighborhood about the new organization, Dan Gould asked if the survey respondents will be required to sign a document indicating their support for a new WCA. “Yes, I think [they would sign] something that says they are interested in [a new association] or would support one, but that’s not the same as a vote,” said Kocher.

Click below for a recording of the meeting. The recording starts at about minute 34 of the meeting following an update on neighborhood news by Ms. Kocher.

Poor Turnout Hampers Organizer’s Efforts

Woodbrook Subdivision

Despite perfect weather, just four Woodbrook residents attended the September 13, 2015, neighborhood meeting. The meeting was called by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher, who also chaired the meeting. The meeting was held outdoors in the playground area of Woodbrook Elementary School.

According to Ms. Kocher, Albemarle County plans to expand Woodbrook Elementary. “They are going to double the size of the school,” said Kocher. She is concerned that the expansion will increase the number of cars and buses entering the neighborhood, as well as increasing light and noise pollution for residents whose properties border the school. “I worry about fire access,” said Kocher.

The discussion then shifted to the planning of a Woodbrook social event. “People really want to get to know each other,” said Kocher, who admits that planning of the event has stalled. According to former Woodbrook Community Association Treasurer Sharon Evans, the cost of renting the Woodbrook Elementary cafeteria for an afternoon is $300. Alternative venues include the Northside Library or meeting outside. “I think we will need a committee [to organize the event],” said Kocher. The attendees agreed that unless a good turnout can be assured, there are better uses for this money. “I would like to see more people involved,” said Evans. To measure the level of involvement, Kocher said, “I was thinking of a door-to-door survey.” Beth Gould pointed out that when surveyed many people respond positively but still don’t show up at the events.

There was some disagreement about how residents should be informed of important issues. Former Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed said, “That big [police] car chase [this week] was a example of why you kind of need a central [contact] because the county likes to know somebody that they can call and say ‘put this out now’.” Dan Gould disagreed. “There are so many people in the Facebook group now, that the first sound of the sirens going through the neighborhood… people were there,” he said. Beth Gould added that the response in the Facebook group was in real-time, describing the drama as it unfolded. “The thing with the Facebook group is [that] they would [alert] their elderly neighbors,” said Beth Gould. “There’s never going to be one [communication] method that’s going to get everybody,” said Gould. She added that the on-line method is reaching a lot of residents. “Ideally, the on-line [communication reaches] a large group, and if people would just know which neighbors might not have that, and go tell them,” said Reed.

There has been no progress with the development of a new Woodbrook constitution according to Kocher.

“We lost our bus stop up at the library,” said Kocher. She said that she would like to see bus service returned to Woodbrook. “There are a number of older people in the neighborhood who are no longer driving,” she said. Kocher went on to say that she believed that a directory of Woodbrook residents who wanted to supply services to elderly neighbors could be established. Dan Gould said that this is already being done on an as-needed basis in the Facebook group.

Kocher would also like to see a neighborhood welcoming committee. Dan Gould pointed out that it’s difficult to track new people coming into the neighborhood.

“[Neighbors] were interested in having a book exchange,” said Kocher. Books would be deposited and taken from a neighborhood “box.”

Sharon Evans pointed out that the increasing number of renters in the neighborhood is a problem. “That’s going to affect how many people are going to want to participate [in neighborhood activities],” she said.

“I think the culture of neighborhood involvement is changing,” said Dan Gould. Involvement in neighborhood functions has been on the decline for years, he said.

Ms. Kocher expressed concern regarding the fire hazard between the school and her home. “So when I came home and saw a fire truck in front of my house it was a little scary. [They were] fighting the fire in the back,” she said.

Kocher says she is planning future programs for the neighborhood, including a visit by the fire department and rescue squad, but as to a future social event, that’s on hold, she said.

Ms. Kocher says she would like to develop a neighborhood vision that would include factors such as safety, livability and transportation. “That might help us develop some goals that we want to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood,” she said.

You can listen to the full audio of the meeting below. Our apologies for the poor audio quality during the first minute or so of the recording.

What do you think? Does Woodbrook need a social program? What speakers would you like to come to Woodbrook? Please comment in the space below.

Neighbors Meet with US 29 Solutions Team

VDOT Public Affairs Manager for the Charlottesville Area Lou Hatter speaking to Woodbrook residents at Northside Public Library. The event was organized by Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher.

VDOT representatives joined Albemarle County Police officers to speak with Woodbrook residents about the US 29 solutions initiative currently under way in the county. The initiative updates a stretch of US 29 from Best Buy in Charlottesville to Towncenter Drive in Albemarle County. The centerpiece of the development is a new grade separated interchange (GSI) at US 29 and Rio Road which is located just a mile south of the Woodbrook subdivision. The entire project is expected to be completed by October 30, 2017. VDOT Public Affairs Manager for the Charlottesville Area Lou Hatter led the discussion. During the presentation questions were taken from Woodbrook residents.

“The purpose of this is to separate local and through traffic,” said VDOT Regional Program Manager for Route29 Solutions Dave Covington referring to the GSI. The design includes a pedestrian crosswalk across both US 29 and Rio Road.

Listen to the entire VDOT/ACPD presentation. (74m) (Slides)

Woodbrook resident Jim Perkins asked for clarification on access to the local businesses located in Albemarle Square. According to Covington, all access to local businesses will be maintained, although the round trip distance for Woodbrook residents will be longer. The work will be done largely at night except from May 23, 2016 to September 2, 2016 said Covington. During that time residents may be required to use alternate routes through this area. “It will be a little bit of an inconvenience, we understand that, but we have compressed it to a very short period of time,” said Covington, “We do advocate the use of Berkmar [Road],” during this time he said. A temporary traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Berkmar Road and US 29 which will allow access to both north and south bound US 29 lanes during the construction period said Covington.

Woodbrook resident Beth Gould was concerned about the already heavy traffic on Woodbrook Drive between US 29 and Berkmar Road. “The problem with that is the existing signal at Woodbrook and Berkmar,” said Covington. “We are actually in the process of getting ready to start a complete rebuild of that signal,” he added.

Jim Perkins asked if the long delays Woodbrook residents experience while making a left-hand turn from south bound US 29 to Rio Road have been addressed. Joel DeNunzio explained that by bringing left turning traffic over US 29 a lot more “green time” can be provided for left turning vehicles reducing the delay for those vehicles that need to travel east on Rio Road. For vehicles turning right from Rio Road westbound on to US 29 north, a “free flow” right-turn lane will provide an almost continuous green light to prevent vehicles backing up on Rio Road as is presently the case.

“From a planning perspective things don’t always go according to plan,” said Woodbrook resident Skip Langford who was concerned that the best intentions of planners don’t always work out. He asked how VDOT plans to mitigate schedule issues should they arise. According to Covington the initiative uses a “carrot and stick” approach to project management whereby contractors are rewarded if they are early and face penalties if they are late.

Woodbrook resident Sharon Evans wanted to know why the adaptive traffic signal project wasn’t completed before the decision was made to build the GSI. “We know that a system like that is not going to deal with the issue we have here at Rio,” said Covington.

Woodbrook residents who wish to learn more about the US 29 Solutions Project can join the project’s email list. The list includes weekly project updates as well as alternate route advisorys. A online forum is also available to the public.

“The good news for you all is there is one way in and one way out so people are not going to be cutting through your neighborhood to get around this intersection,” said Albemarle County Police Sergeant Miller Stoddard. Regarding emergency response Stoddard doesn’t expect a problem. “There’s not a concern for us for emergency response to be delayed to your homes,” he said. According to Stoddard, should a problem arise, a backup plan is in place that would stage emergency equipment and personnel in strategic locations so as to ensure that response times are not degraded.

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher expressed concern over the amount of construction noise at the site, particularly during the evening hours. “We have a book of specifications that determines what the acceptable noise level is,” said VDOT’s Charlottesville Residency Administrator Joel DeNunzio. “We are holding the design-builder to those noise levels that are set by VDOT,” he said.

The Woodbrook community business meeting which was to follow the presentation was cancelled.

Group Considers Restarting Community Association

Woodbrook resident Audrey Kocher called the meeting.

A dozen Woodbrook residents gathered at Woodbrook Elementary School on June 3, 2015, to discuss neighborhood issues including a plan to restart the Woodbrook Community Association (WCA).

Referring to their April 14, 2015, meeting, Audrey Kocher reported that she has not yet scheduled the ice cream social. According to Ms. Kocher, neighbors want to meet each other and to get together. Ms. Kocher reported that she and former WCA Treasurer Sharon Evans have determined that they can use funds from the WCA bank account. The WCA became inactive on October 1, 2014, when the previous officers failed to call for a neighborhood election. No mention was made of how Ms. Evans and Ms. Kocher will determine which projects qualify and which do not qualify for funding while the WCA remains inactive.

Ms. Kocher also reported that additional neighborhood funds will be required to rent the cafeteria at Woodbrook Elementary as the County is no longer in a position to do so.

“The other information following [the April] meeting was [a] sincere, deep interest in reforming the Woodbrook Association,” said Kocher. Multiple requests by this blog for the minutes of the April meeting and a list of its attendees have been denied.

Some Woodbrook residents have expressed concern about the noise of VDOT contractors working on US29 in the evenings, reported Ms. Kocher. Ms. Kocher also reported that she contacted VDOT on behalf of the neighborhood. According to Ms. Kocher, VDOT advised her that there are two projects ongoing at this time, the reconfiguration of the lights and the relocation of underground utilities.

Ms. Kocher reported that according to her contacts at the County, there is still a position available on the US29 comprehensive planning committee.

“Another issue that people have been bringing to me are the wild animals,” said Kocher.

Ms. Kocher then opened the floor to a discussion on the topic of re-activating the WCA. Former WCA Treasurer Sharon Evans said, “I don’t think we are inactive… so I would like to understand why we are considered inactive.” “Missing an election in the past has not rendered the association inactive,” she added. Dan Gould said, “The constitution of the WCA says that the officers are required to call an election in September of every year. If they fail to do so for any reason, the association ends.” Ms. Evans pointed out that a vote of 2/3 of the neighborhood is required to dissolve the association.[1] Mr. Gould said “while the WCA itself may not be dissolved, it has no officers and it also has no members.”

“One thing that may help you all resolve this is that the WCA [constitution] are guidelines, not legal documents”, said Kocher, “so it’s a little unclear what to do.” Joe Fyrer said, “We are fighting over minor things here of is it an association or is it not an association on some document that we have. Why don’t we look at how we want to go forward and what we really want. We need a representative of the whole… all the houses in the unit.” Beth Gould responded that you can’t represent people that don’t want to be represented. There were several comments about how the existing WCA constitution has not been strictly followed, at which time Dan Gould said, “So what strikes me is that it’s time to re-write this constitution.” He continued, “I would strongly support a new document that will take into account the way the neighborhood really operates.”

“[Last year’s blog] survey, I think was very well done [and] indicated that the majority of people who responded were in favor of an association”, said Kocher. To which Sharon Evans added, “by a two-to-one margin.” Dan Gould pointed out that the survey Ms. Kocher referred to had the “lowest participant rate of any survey we’ve ever done.” Regarding the majority of Woodbrook residents that didn’t participate in the survey, Mr. Gould said, “We don’t know anything about them.”

Marie Reed, who is new to Woodbrook, asked about the purpose of the WCA. There followed a general discussion about the association’s role in the past.

Ms. Kocher said that she was interested in continuing the speaker series, firemen, zoning, US29 development, animal control, and game and wildlife issues.

Beth Gould spoke briefly about this blog’s email list which currently reaches 80% of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood Facebook group which facilitates direct communication among neighbors. Tahira Haroon reminded the group that the Nextdoor system is also available, to which Heidie Wooten-Douglas said “I ignore a lot of the Nextdoor stuff because it doesn’t relate at all.” Beth Gould said that applicants to the Woodbrook Facebook group are very carefully screened to ensure that they live in Woodbrook.

Tahira Haroon asked, “Should we propose an election?” Dan Gould said that it’s his understanding that “strictly speaking, according to [the WCA constitution] right now no one has the authority to call an election, so you might as well start from scratch.” Heidi Wooten-Douglas said that she thought we should get more involvement of the neighborhood before embarking on a new WCA. “We could get something together to get more involvement first, and the summer should be a pretty good time for getting families involved,” she said.

Marie Reed said “It sounds kind of imperative that there is somebody involved in the [US] 29 initiative and that can’t really wait on [a new constitution].”

Audrey Kocher said that she is willing to facilitate a continued discussion and is willing to do more social things and to get more speakers. Marie Reed said that her first choice for speaker would be someone who could talk about the US 29 initiative.

Returning to the discussion regarding re-writing the constitution, Heidi Wooten-Douglas said “I’d want to do that after we try to get more people involved.” Sharon Evans said, “I think we need to reach out to more people because this is an argument between about ten people in this neighborhood and this is not going to solve anything.”

The meeting closed with a general agreement to increase the number of social activities within the neighborhood and that the County’s and VDOT’s US 29 initiatives need volunteers from Woodbrook as soon as possible. There were no volunteers among those present.

What do you think? Should the WCA be restarted? If so, what do you think its mandate should be? What should the requirements for membership be, and how should the wishes of those residents that don’t want to be members be respected? Please use the comment space below to share your thoughts.

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[1] To dissolve the organization, the constitution of the WCA requires a 2/3 majority vote of its membership, not of the neighborhood. The WCA has no members at this time or officers who could call for a vote.

[Note: It’s been our practice since starting this blog to include the recorded audio from neighborhood meetings. However, this time we made the mistake of recording the meeting from our seat in the audience causing some off-the-record comments from people sitting near us being captured on tape. We promise we won’t make that mistake again.]

Woodbrook Residents Oppose Overpass at US 29 and Rio Road

In a private survey conducted in late January 2015, Woodbrook residents were clear on one thing. They do not support the development of a grade separated interchange (GSI) at Rio Road and US 29 in Albemarle County.

With 41 residents responding to our survey, over 90% were of the position that the GSI should not be built. Of the remaining 10%, only one person indicated that they would support the project, while two others were in the “don’t know” category. The Woodbrook subdivision is located within half a mile of the site of the proposed project.

The survey was designed for this blog by long time Woodbrook resident Gerry Petencin. “A waste of $84 million that accomplishes nothing, makes a mess of our area, destroys local businesses, and will reduce property values for at least the duration of the project, as prospective home buyers try to avoid the construction mess,” said Mr. Petencin in the opening remarks of our survey.

Neighborhood concerns can be divided into four main areas: Project justification, construction order, the effect on local businesses and the effect on the Woodbrook traffic light.

Several Woodbrook residents who travel the US 29 corridor daily have questioned the need for a GSI at Rio Road at all. Woodbrook resident Susan Reed said, “There is something seriously wrong with spending 84 million dollars on a project that will maybe save a minute or so and won’t significantly change things as there are a lot of other traffic lights on 29.” Woodbrook resident Cheryl Petencin said, “If I have to plan for an extra 3.5 minutes to get to my destination, I think that is a small sacrifice.” From Kathy Welch we heard, “Yes, the intersection is big, and it handles a lot of traffic, but it handles that traffic well.” Lynanne Wilson said, “I agree that Rio IS a big intersection but it functions pretty well at the moment.” Other residents including George Klosko, questioned the utility of building a single GSI, “In order for 29 to flow freely, there must be a series of these overpasses, which means traffic tie ups year after year,” he said.

Drop pin shows the location of the proposed grade separated interchange (GSI). The Woodbrook subdivision is shown in the upper right. A VDOT simulation of the GSI is here.

A number of Woodbrook residents suggested that the Berkmar and Hillsdale projects be constructed before the GSI at Rio Road. “Do the Berkmar extension then reevaluate the need for the overpass,” said Denise Benson. Lynanne Wilson said, “We need to be doing the other “smaller” projects first, like Berkmar and Hillsdale.”

In a related concern, some residents of the subdivision believe that the intersection at US 29 and Hydraulic Road should be the county’s first concern. Betty Oswald said, “Why not address the Hydraulic Rd intersection which is a total nightmare and worse than Rio Rd.” David and Anne Russell said, “I feel a real and less costly solution should start at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Rt 29 south.” From Latifa Kropf, “The traffic problems are farther south between Hydraulic and the entrance to 250.” Lynanne Wilson said, “It is definitely the bottleneck at Hydraulic and the funneling down into the city that is the main problem now.” And finally, “On a random Tuesday at noon in January, I had to sit through 3 lights to be able to turn from Hydraulic to 29.” said Susan Reed.

Residents too have a concern for the local businesses that will be affected by the construction of the GSI. Cristiane  França said, “That will disturb the flow of our entire city as well as a fair number of businesses.” From Jenny Mathews we heard, “29 North is a major business highway where businesses have been encouraged to stay and grow. Do we need even more empty storefronts?” Jill Carey said, “What a shame for all the businesses along 29 who will suffer greatly.”

And lastly, there is a significant concern among Woodbrook residents that their own access to US 29 through the traffic lights at US 29 and Woodbrook Drive will be irreparably damaged by the construction of the GSI just half a mile to the south. Jim Riosa said, “What bothers me is the lack of planning/data around the proximate intersections.” Lynanne Wilson said, “We will no doubt have additional problems at our light due to the proposed changes at Rio.” Susan Reed said, “I am also fairly certain that this will back up traffic to the Woodbrook light while the work is being done.” And finally, from Nancy Brewer, “If this goes through, forget about waiting one light [to] turn to get out of Woodbrook. We will become the U-turn center of 29 North.”

(The names of the Woodbrook residents contained in this story and their comments are used with their permission.)

North Town Center Development (Part 2 of 2)

The Gander Mountain store in the new North Town Center on US 29 just north of the Woodbrook Subdivision in Albemarle County.

In part two of this two part series we look at the story of one family whose lives were so profoundly affected by the North Town Center development that they no longer call Woodbrook their home. When Steve Vondra and Bonnie Morgan moved to Woodbrook in October 2009 they expected it to be their last move. It didn’t turn out that way.

New to Charlottesville, Steve and Bonnie immediately fell in love with their new home in the 2700 block of Brookmere Road in Woodbrook. “It was so quietly settled in the back there,” said Vondra. “It was just where we wanted to live,” he added. “We had the woods in the back which was beautiful,” said Morgan recalling their early days in their new Woodbrook home. “It was tucked away in the woods there, and that was perfect for us,” she said.

Listen to our interview with Steve and Bonnie. (8m)

Just a year later, Steve noticed surveyors working behind their home. A trip to the County office to view the site plans for the area confirmed that things were about to change in a big way. “After looking at those plans we started making plans to move the very next day,” said Vondra.

Like many of their Woodbrook neighbors, Steve and Bonnie watched the forest behind their home disappear as construction began. “Every day we could see more change to our beloved back yard,” said Morgan. “The trees just disappeared, the noise was horrendous, we could hear the bulldozers and the logging,” she said. “We could see that our quiet little piece of paradise was gone,” she added.

As the forest disappeared so did the noise and light buffer between their home and US 29. “Every night as more and more trees went down it was definitely noisier and we had a lot of light coming in our bedroom up on the second floor,” said Vondra.

While they are very happy with their new home, Steve and Bonnie regret leaving Woodbrook. “If [the development] wasn’t there we’d still be there,” said Vondra. “I’d love to live in Woodbrook still,” said Morgan. “Woodbrook would still be our first choice if it hadn’t been for [the development],” she added.

We asked Mark Graham, Director of Community Development for Albemarle County to speak with us about the North Town Center development for this story. After initially agreeing to do so, Mr. Graham did not respond to our several email requests to establish a date for the interview.

Our interview with Steve Vondra and Bonnie Morgan was originally recorded on January 19, 2013.

North Town Center Development (Part 1 of 2)

While Woodbrook resident’s experience with the new North Town Center Development abutting the neighborhood on its north side varies, they are in agreement about one thing. They do not want to see a car dealership built on the site.

In a late November 2013 survey of residents, almost 80% of the forty-four homes responding said that they were opposed to the construction of an automobile dealership on the site. That’s compared to just 35% who said they were opposed to the recently constructed Gander Mountain store in the Center.

That’s not to say that residents whose properties are near the development approve. “We face the North Town development and we can see US 29 and all the businesses along it now, which used to be blocked by the large forested area,” said one Woodbrook resident who asked to remain anonymous. “Before all the trees were cut down, we could barely tell that US 29 was nearby,” they added.

Before (above) and after photos of the back yard at 2925 Brookmere Drive, in Woodbrook. (Before photo courtesy of Tom Bancroft.)

Problems with noise varied as well with 13% of respondents reporting that they had problems with excessive noise either during or following construction. Michael Juers, whose property lies within 500 feet of the development said, “There is a hum of traffic constantly. Sitting on my back deck enjoying the views and sounds of nature have been compromised.” Another resident, who has asked to remain anonymous and whose property abuts the development said, “Noise level has also increased with loss of trees with delivery trucks, forklifts (back up sound is quite loud and can be heard over TV) and general traffic noise from US 29”. They went on to say, “The construction crews also frequently worked outside the 10 pm to 7 am quiet zone during the clearing of the land.” Former Woodbrook Community Association president Susan Reed echoed the concern of several residents, “There were times this summer when it sounded like something was crashing as they evidently were moving rocks. This was with all the windows closed and it was going on till 9:00 p.m. or so. We don’t even back up to the property,” she said. “When we walked the neighborhood, you could hear the noise through most of it,” she added.

At 23%, almost twice as many Woodbrook residents were concerned about light pollution over noise problems. That’s not surprising considering that the light coming from the site directly affects more residents.

However, it was the question of the car dealership that raised the greatest concern among Woodbrook residents. Sid Wood, whose property abuts the development, said, “I don’t like the idea of a Jim Price Auto lot wrapping around the bank on the property”. One resident who asked to remain anonymous said, “[My] biggest concern with the car dealership is the numerous bright lights they commonly have. The Jim Price Dealership lights are already quite intrusive with the missing trees.” Another said, “Light pollution and daytime sound pollution are the biggest issues that I see with a car dealership. I’m not sure how many car dealerships still use an outdoor speaker system to call their sales staff, but I have heard Colonial’s at times. That would be unacceptably close for a dealership at NTC.” Susan Reed said, “Car lots have speakers and can usually be heard for a fair distance. Resident Josie Pipkin said, “A car dealership would bring in a lot of noise and light. The developers should have to address this and do what can be done to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood if plans for a dealership go forward.” Heidi and Jim Douglas said, “[We are] not a fan[s] of people test driving vehicles near my property and my kid’s school.”

Before (above) and after photos of the back yard at 2925 Brookmere Drive. (Before photo courtesy of Sid Wood. Mr. Wood is not related to the developer Wendell Wood.)

Many Woodbrook residents are simply upset by the whole project. Jo An Eliason, whose property lies within 500 feet of the development, is strongly opposed to the project. “We are thinking of moving away from Woodbrook because of this disastrous mess. We have already lost good neighbors because if it. It has had a negative affect on the animals in our woods and the wonderful appeal of Woodbrook has been lost,” she said. Ron Berube said, “It not only ignores, it devalues the community adjacent to it – Woodbrook.” Woodbrook resident Gerry Petencin said, “What’s most disturbing here is that at one point, after attending many Board of Supervisor’s meetings, after watching that process unfold for years, we’re led to believe that one set of things will happen, in terms of the nature of development. And then a VERY different set of things actually do happen.”

Next week, in part two of this series, we talk to one Woodbrook family so profoundly impacted by this development that they no longer call Woodbrook their home.

Santa Run 2013

For over a decade The Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department has celebrated Christmas with its annual Santa Run. This year Santa’s armada of fire trucks arrived in Woodbrook at 6:45 p.m. on December 20th.

This year’s route included all of Brookmere Drive, as well as parts of Idlewood Drive, Eastbrook Drive and Brentwood Road. The video above follows the run as it moves eastward along Brentwood Road at Idlewood Drive.

During the run the STVFD passes out candies for the kids and collects food for the local needy.

Woodbrook Residents Elect WCA Officers

Woodbrook residents last week elected three people to serve as officers for the Woodbrook Community Association, the voluntary organization that serves to represent the community in all matters affecting it. A record 44% of registered voters participated in the election.

The new board consists of Susan Fisher (President), Tahira Haroon (Vice-President) and Sharon Evans (Secretary/Treasurer). Only Ms. Haroon returns from last year’s board.

“The new members of the Board look forward to a vibrant year in Woodbrook, and encourage all neighbors to engage in, and benefit from, what this great community has to offer,” said Fisher in an email message to this blog late last week.

The election was the second to be held using the Internet. Residents received a ballot by email that allowed them to vote transparently using software specially designed for the election. Residents without access to the Internet were invited to vote by telephone. The election took place over a ten day period ending September 30, 2013. The elected officers will serve until the end of September 2014.