Rio District Candidates Forum

From left to right: Charlottesville Tomorrow Executive Director Brian Wheeler, incumbent candidate Rodney Thomas (R) and challenger Brad Sheffield (D).

Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-hosted a forum for Rio District candidates Tuesday. The forum was held in the cafeteria at Woodbrook Elementary School. Participating were incumbent candidate Rodney Thomas (R) and challenger Brad Sheffield (D).

The forum was divided into three sections. In the first, the candidates answered seven questions jointly selected by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress. In the second, seven written questions were taken from the audience. In the final section of the forum, the candidates were allowed to ask each other two questions each.

Listen to the full forum discussion here (1:15)

While the candidates did not specifically speak to Woodbrook issues, topics of local interest such as congestion on US29 were discussed.

Woodbrook Lagoon’s New Bench and Bridge

The January appearance of a new bench and bridge in the Woodbrook Lagoon came as a surprise to some Woodbrook residents who believed negotiations with the developers were still ongoing.

Jon Schwaner, a 17 year-old Woodbrook resident, is responsible for the structures. They were a part of his Eagle Scout project. His father, Carl Schwaner, assisted Jon with County and neighborhood negotiations.
Woodbrook residents may recall that in late April 2012, the Woodbrook Community Association took a survey of residents on the subject of the construction of a bench and deck by the young Schwaner. While a small majority of residents were in favor of the project, those residents whose properties are nearest the site were almost unanimously opposed.

To get to the bottom of how a project so divisive to the neighborhood got built without Woodbrook resident’s knowledge, we spoke with three individuals. They were Greg Harper, the Water Resources Manager for Albemarle County, Woodbrook Resident Carl Schwaner and Woodbrook Community Association President Susan Reed.

Seventeen-year-old Woodbrook resident Jon Schwaner supervised the design and construction of the bench and bridge as a part of his Eagle Scout project. Jon also raised the funds needed to build the structures. By all accounts the structures are well-built, sturdy and attractive.

Greg Harper spoke to us with the understanding that most of the initial negotiations with the Schwaners were done by his subordinate Mr. Gregor Patsch. Mr. Patsch is no longer in the employ of Albemarle County. Mr. Harper believes that it may have been the County that recommended against the original idea of a deck due to safety problems resulting from the deck’s proximity to the channel.

“I understand that there were more supporters than not in the neighborhood,” says Harper. “We worked with Jon on the design just to make sure it was ‘beefy’ enough to withstand standard loads,” he added. “We think it looks good,” he said. “Primarily we kind of relied, I think, on Jon and Carl to let us know what was going on out there,” says Harper. “I did want to not necessarily allow something that most people did not want,” he added.

Prior to construction, the County reviewed plans for the bridge and made recommendations as to its structure. “Nobody [at the County] did an official inspection [of the bridge],” says Harper. “There is no formal process for that,” he added. Following completion of the work, the ownership of the structures transfers to the County, who is responsible for their ongoing maintenance.

Satellite view showing the location of the bench and bridge. In the upper left is the corner of Brookmere and Idlewood Drive in the Woodbrook subdivision. In the lower right is the Raintree subdivision.

Carl Schwaner, is a Woodbrook resident and father to Jon Schwaner. “We had a vote, in the neighborhood, online, which my son’s project got a majority of the vote,” says Schwaner. “[Mrs. Reed] never responded to [my] email requesting that the results be made public.” During this time, Jon, the younger Schwaner, modified his plans to include a “bench and a bridge” and requested by email that the WCA take a new neighborhood survey. According to Schwaner, there was no response from the WCA. “We waited two months between emails to see if [Mrs. Reed] would respond,” says Schwaner.

“I waited, and I waited and I waited,” says Schwaner referring to his attempts to communicate with the WCA. According to Schwaner, multiple requests were made of the WCA to meet with neighbors on-site, none of which received a response from the WCA. “Nobody ever contacted us”, says Schwaner. By September all communication with the WCA had ended.

So, then, why did the Schwaners believe they had the green light to proceed with the project? According to Mr. Schwaner, County representative Gregor Patsch advised the father and son team that they didn’t need neighborhood approval to proceed. “The project was so small in scope, so low impact, that the neighborhood really had no vote in the matter whatsoever,” said Schwaner referring to his earlier conversation with Patsch. With Patsch no longer in the employ of the County, his supervisor Greg Harper signed off on the project on November 30, 2012 clearing the way for construction to begin in January 2013.

When asked if either of the Schwaners attempted to communicate with any other member of the WCA besides President Reed, Carl said, “No.” He continued, “The reason that communication was not attempted to be restarted again in December was that it was quite apparent by that point that there was going to be ‘foot dragging’ and lots of ‘hemming and hawing’, and we felt that the neighborhood association had been given plenty of fair opportunity to respond to this, and that trying to restart that communication process was just gong to drag it out and drag it out,” says Schwaner. “I just wasn’t going to allow that to happen”, Schwaner added.

We asked Carl what he would like to say to those that are concerned about the recent discovery by a Woodbrook resident of condoms and condom wrappers at the site. “I’ve seen no evidence of major partying down there,” says Schwaner. “It’s not going to happen to any great extent,” he added.

The bridge, located a few feet from the bench, crosses a small channel.

Susan Reed has served four terms as President of the Woodbrook Community Association. During her presidency she has appeared several times before the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission on behalf of the neighborhood and was instrumental in stopping a roadway connection with Arden Place.

According to Reed, Schwaner did not respond to the WCA’s request to obtain the support of residents whose properties abut the Lagoon. Concerned that the survey it commissioned especially for Schwaner did not adequately represent the concerns of those residents closest to the proposed development, the WCA prepared a map identifying homes most affected by the project. “There was one comment, where somebody’s property abutted [the project] that asked that their opinion should be weighted a bit more as they were going to have to deal with the fallout [of the project],” says Reed. Reed says she emailed a copy of the map to the senior Schwaner with the request that he get abutting property owners to sign off on the project. That never happened, according to Reed.

There also appears to be some misunderstanding surrounding the April 2012 WCA survey. Reed says that what some are calling a “vote” was intended to be an informal survey. “It was just like taking the temperature, so to speak, before we got into all the deep waters. There were very nearly just as many [neighbors] against it as there were for it,” says Reed. “This was meant to be a preliminary survey,” she added pointing out that the survey also included a question about a neighborhood sign.

“The sign was included because several people had expressed interest in getting our neighborhood sign back and we wanted to see numbers on that as well as the bench idea,” says Reed. While the question of the bench clearly divided the neighborhood, there was almost unanimous support for the sign.

I asked Reed to respond to the discovery of condoms and condom wrappers near the new bench. “A bench just makes it more convenient for that sort of activity,” says Reed. “Frankly that’s one of the things we had worried about,” she said. “The neighbors that live down there see parties going on in summer evenings in the woods,” she added.

Moving forward, Reed says the WCA will continue to monitor the situation and will deal with problems resulting from the structures if and when they occur.

The bench looking south.

The last word in our story goes to the neighbors themselves. In an email survey conducted last week, we polled all Woodbrook residents living within 400 feet of the bench and bridge. Of those residents responding, none had ever been contacted by the Schwaners, nor had they seen the project. A majority of respondents said they were still opposed to the project and wanted the structures removed. “We feel the project was never mentioned in the original project plans. The misrepresentation of this goes against the wishes of those residents within the distance of the bridge/bench,” said one respondent.

What do you think? Did the Schwaners perform due diligence in soliciting neighborhood opinion on the project? Were they obligated to do so? What is the role of the WCA in such matters? Did the County act responsibly in dealing with the Schwaners directly? As always, please be respectful in your comments.

Woodbrook Residents Elect WCA Officers

Woodbrook residents last week elected five neighbors to serve as officers for the Woodbrook Community Association, the voluntary organization that serves to represent the community in all matters affecting it. An unprecedented 38% of residents voted in the election.

Returning officers from last year were Susan Reed (President), John Dondido (Vice-President), and Bonnie Morgan and Steve Vondra (Treasurers). New this year is Tahira Haroon who will serve as secretary.

“I’m pleased that so many people participated and voted and that we got some good ideas for things that neighbors would like to pursue,” said returning President Susan Reed in an email message to this blog.  “I look forward to working with the new slate of officers. It’s good to be part of a neighborhood like Woodbrook,” said Reed.

The election was the first ever for the neighborhood to be held electronically using the Internet. Residents received a ballot by email that allowed them to vote transparently using software specially designed for the election. A place for comments was provided that residents could use to suggest ideas for the neighborhood. Residents without access to the Internet were invited to vote by telephone. The election took place over a ten day period ending October 24, 2012. The elected officers will serve until the end of September 2013.

New ER Near Woodbrook Opens Wednesday

A typical examination room in Martha Jefferson’s new emergency care facility at US29 and Proffit Road in Albemarle County. (NBC29 photo)

Woodbrook residents will no longer need to drive to Pantops for most emergency medical situations. Thanks to a brand new emergency care facility at US29 and Proffit Road, the trip time to the ER is now only a few minutes.

The new ER was built by Martha Jefferson Hospital to service the north end of Albemarle County as well as the counties of Madison, Green and Orange. According to Google Maps, the new facility is just 3.8 miles north of Woodbrook or approximately 10 minutes of travel time from the subdivision.

We toured the new facility during its open house on September 15th. At thirteen beds, the facility has two more beds than did Martha Jefferson’s former downtown facility. The examination rooms are completely outfitted with the latest technology and feature hardwood in the center of the room. A critical care room supports the care of patients with the greatest needs. Specialty  beds are included so that ER staff can take digital X-Rays without moving the patient. The nurse’s station in the center of the examination rooms is very large.

Off the main ER we viewed several rooms full of specialized equipment including a brand new low dose CT scan machine, a digital X-Ray room with servo controlled camera and table, a room for drawing blood, a room for mammograms and a room dedicated to bone density measurements. Digital medical images are stored in the hospital’s computer system for immediate reference by doctors and other care givers.

The new center opens this Wednesday and will operate 24/7.

Woodbrook to Hold Online Election

Established in October 1972, in response to concerns arising from the dumping of raw sewage in the Woodbrook Lagoon, the Woodbrook Community Association has represented the concerns of Woodbrook residents in many civic matters. This year, for the first time in its almost thirty year history, the association will hold its annual election of officers online.

Traditionally, the association has held its annual election during its September picnic. Members of the community gathered at Woodbrook Elementary School to renew friendships and share stories. For many residents it was a once a year opportunity to catch up on community news. Now that news is distributed by email as it happens, and neighbors can connect at any time on the neighborhood’s Facebook page, the need for an annual meeting has become less important.

“People are very busy these days and it seems as though there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get done what needs to be done,” said WCA President Susan Reed in an email message to this blog. “The WCA traditionally has a picnic or some sort of get together in early September to vote for our slate of officers.  Because life is so busy, if the picnic isn’t in early September it’s difficult to get people to attend,” says Reed.

Reed hopes that the new election format will allow more Woodbrook residents to participate. “[An online election] has the added benefit of potentially getting more people to vote,” she said. Residents will have ten days to complete their online ballot. Residents without email may register their vote by telephone if they wish.

Ballots will be delivered to residents by email in mid September. Residents may vote or change their vote at any time during the voting period. In keeping with the WCA’s traditional “show of hands” vote, the voting process will remain transparent.

“This does not mean that we won’t have a gathering anymore,” said Reed. If re-elected, Reed plans to hold a community social event in the near future.

Comcast Service Outage a Problem for Some Residents

Some Woodbrook residents were without cable, Internet and telephone for almost four days last week.

A 90 hour Comcast service outage that began Friday July 29, 2012 at approximately 9:00 p.m. caused problems for some Woodbrook residents. The outage was triggered by a storm, known as a derecho,  that swept through much of Virginia and its neighboring states.

To obtain a better understanding of the effect of the almost four day Comcast outage, we surveyed Woodbrook residents by email on Tuesday July 3, 2012 just moments after Comcast restored service to the neighborhood. Residents were asked to report on the services they lost; cable, Internet or telephone, and to comment on how the outage affected them.

34.1% of respondents said that they lost telephone service for over 90 hours.

Of the approximately 40 homes responding to our survey it’s not surprising that 88.7% reported that they lost cable TV service. Comcast is the primary supplier of cable TV service in the neighborhood. In the remaining two service categories, 54.6% of respondents reported that they lost Internet service during the outage while 34.1% lost telephone service. Almost 80% of residents said they contacted Comcast about the outage with roughly a third of those reporting that Comcast was helpful when they called. Resident Lee Freudberg echoed the frustrations of many residents during the outage, “Comcast service has improved considerably over the years, but their responsiveness to this outage was virtually nil. I called at least once daily. If they had provided at least some explanation of what was going on, updates, etc., even if recorded, I would have been less frustrated,” said Freudberg.

We also asked residents if they felt that their safety had been compromised during the outage, with 11.2% indicating they did, or roughly a third of residents that have their telephone service with the company. Keep in mind that temperatures were near the 100 degree mark during most of the outage. Resident Marlene Hopkins said “safety is a big issue, especially with the heat and when all three (phone, cable and Internet) are provided by Comcast.” Jenny Mathews said, “I only really minded that the telephone didn’t work. What about people who have no cell phone? This sort of thing makes me want to change telephone service.”

For many residents, cell phones were only helpful for out-going calls.

While many residents used cell phones as a backup for lost telephone service, this solution was only helpful for out-going calls as many residents do not publish their cell phone numbers. Cristiane França who was out of the country at the time of the outage became concerned when she lost contact with her father who was house-sitting for her. “I sent emails that he could not check and called from out of the USA and could not get through because the phone was not working,” said França. “He was also not able to contact anyone,” she added. França eventually contacted her father through a neighbor. “About 4 days without being able to communicate with my father as well as him not being able to contact anyone else was very disturbing,” she said. Another resident reported that “Expected calls from doctors and therapy centers were not received.”

The loss of the Internet was of more concern to some.  Clayton and Ann-Rodes Savage reported that they “have a home business that [they] could not access.” Kathy Welch, who telecommutes, reported that she was “unable to work for two days.”

Some residents are reconsidering their service arrangements.

The outage caused some residents to reconsider their service arrangements. Resident Denise Benson said, “The length of time we didn’t have cable or Internet has made me seriously consider changing internet provider and canceling my cable.” One neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous said, “At least we don’t have Comcast for our Internet, so we were able to track news and weather updates through our Internet. We would have been totally “in the dark” (literally and figuratively) if we had everything through Comcast. We thought about switching Internet and phone over to Comcast recently, and we are so glad we did not.”

Not all the responses to our survey were negative. Resident Susan Wilson’s comment, “I am very grateful for all the Comcast and Dominion workers who labored under unbelievable conditions to restore our services in as timely a manner as possible,” was echoed by several neighbors. Lynanne Wilson reported that, “Our phone (a good old plugin land line) was always available (Century Link) despite the power outage.” Our own tests showed that Century Link kept their telephone and Internet service up and running during the entire power outage.

Santa Run 2011

Since 2005, the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department has joined forces with the North Pole to show Santa Claus around the neighborhoods it serves. The Santa motorcade is expected to arrive in Woodbrook Thursday, December 22nd between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. There will be candy for the children.

A Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department engine decked out for Santa’s Run

This year Santa’s motorcade will include the department’s brand new Engine 82, a state-of-the-art fire engine that includes side air bags, stability controls, anti-lock breaks and hydraulic tools to help with car accidents.

Listen to my interview with Santa Run organizers Captain Drew Lawrence and Fire Fighter Jeff Bogden for The Charlottesville Podcasting Network.

New for this year will be a food drive. Residents wishing to contribute to the food drive are asked to gather at major intersections in their neighborhood to make their non-perishable food donation. Food items can also be dropped off at the STVFD station on Berkmar Drive.

Click here to learn more about this year’s STVFD Santa Run.

Presidential Motorcade Passes by Woodbrook Neighborhood

Approximately a dozen Woodbrook residents gathered at the corner of Woodbrook Drive and US29 to view the Presidential motorcade as it departed Charlottesville on October 29, 2010.

Prior to the arrival of the President’s motorcade, US29 had been cleared of all traffic leaving it eerily quiet. All access in and out of Woodbrook was blocked for about 30 minutes at 6:30 p.m. then again at 8:30 p.m. in anticipation of the motorcade.

About a dozen Woodbrook residents gathered to view the Presidential motorcade. Watch the motorcade pass the entrance to the Woodbrook subdivision in this four minute video.

The motorcade was preceded by a spotlight-equipped helicopter moving northward along the roadway. Following that, a dozen police officers on motorbikes, riding in formation, roared northward in both the northbound and southbound lanes. A few moments later a second wave of police officers on motorbikes cruised by. Finally, the motorcade, approximately 20 vehicles in length, passed the Woodbrook entrance.

President Obama was in Charlottesville in support of Democratic candidate Tom Periello’s bid for reelection to Congress on Tuesday.

Stink Bugs Invade Woodbrook

Stink Bug
Stink Bugs, like the one pictured above, have invaded Albemarle County.

There’s an invasion going on in Woodbrook right now. The Asian Stink Bug has arrived. These pesky little creatures work their way into porches, garages and occasionally find their way inside our homes.

Woodbrook resident Gerald Petencin sent us this story about the Stink Bug invasion in Albemarle County. You will also find a lot of good information on combating these pests here.

What are you doing about this problem? Tell us your Stink Bug story in the comment section below.

Woodbrook Residents Elect New WCA Officers

At their annual picnic held Sunday, Woodbrook residents elected two new members and returned four others to the board of the Woodbrook Community Association.

The new WCA board of directors. From left to right: Susan Reed (President), John Donnadio (Vice-President), Allison O’Grady (Co-Secretary), Cristiane França (Co-Secretary), Steve Vondra (Co-Treasurer) and Bonnie Morgan (Co-Treasurer). Reed, Donnadio, O’Grady and França return from the previous board.
Residents enjoyed a tasty buffet.

Woodbrook Elementary School’s new principal, Lisa Molinaro, spoke briefly to the gathering. “Especially today, where we are big and motropolized, the idea of neighborhood schools are hard to come by” said Molinaro. “To be able to lead in a school where the community is literally in our back yard is something that I’m inspired by,” she said. “I want you guys to know our doors are always open, whatever I can do to support the whole Woodbrook community, I will certainly do my very best.” she concluded. Molinaro invited members of the Woodbrook community to participate in school activities. “I’ve got lots of little kindergarteners who love to be read to,” she said. Molinaro went on to invite all Woodbrook residents to attend school PTO meetings if they wish to do so. The meetings are held on the last Monday of every month.

Fire truck tour

Captain Jack Shakhsheer, with the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department, thanked the WCA for the invitation to join residents at today’s picnic. “[We love] showing off our trucks,” he said referring to the fire truck tours that took place earlier in the afternoon. “If you all ever need us, feel free to call 911 — we’re always happy to help out.” he said. “Thank you for making us a part of your community,” he added. “If you guys ever need anything we’re located right down the road, [dial] 911 [or] 973-1717.” he said.

Rio District Supervisor Rodney Thomas

Rio District Supervisor Rodney Thomas then took questions from neighbors. “We are looking for businesses that will be good for this neighborhood and good for the entire county,” he said responding to a question about Albemarle square. When asked about development in the new Stellar One property, Thomas indicated that at present there are no applications pending before county staff for any major restaurant franchises. “I’d be glad to help with it,” said Thomas referring to a question about restoring the Woodbrook Neighborhood sign at Woodbrook Drive and US29. Thomas added that Woodbrook residents would likely be required to pay for the new sign. “I’ll talk to [Mr.] Logan and I’ll open the door, but I would like to have someone from the [WCA] step in and take care of it.” he said. “I’ll do anything I can to help you to get the sign back up,” he concluded.

WCA co-secretary Cristiane França then led a contest in which residents competed for prizes in several categories including longest resident (43 years), most children attending Woodbrook Elementary School (4) and newest resident (August). All attendees received a coupon for a free Sandwich Meal courtesy of Chick-fil-A.

WCA President Susan Reed

WCA President Susan Reed then addressed the group on a number of issues affecting Woodbrook residents. She confirmed that neighbors wished to continue receiving crime reports by email. “I would like it if the neighborhood didn’t have to foot the whole cost for that,” said Reed referring to replacing the Woodbrook Neighborhood entrance sign. “I really do feel that the people who knocked it down — that should be their dime to fix it.” she added. Reed reminded neighbors to check the credentials of any door-to-door solicitors and to call 911 if anything seems suspicious. Reed went on to invite neighbors to sign up for a committee of their choice “We think it would be helpful to have some committees for some of this stuff instead of expecting the four officers to do it all,” said Reed. Neighbors applauded loudly in appreciation for Reed’s service as president during the past year.

Several neighbors also expressed their appreciation for this blog.

A moon bounce was provided for the kids.

Ideas for next year include restoring the Woodbrook entrance sign, a review of power problems and a visit by local police to address crime issues. Neighbors were reminded that ticks have caused two recent cases of Lyme disease in the neighborhood.

The event was held in the Woodbrook Elementary School cafeteria. Approximately 40 Woodbrook residents enjoyed the luncheon that included grilled chicken and baked ziti provided by WCA Vice-President John Donnadio. Residents also took advantage of the time to renew friendships with their neighbors.