Monthly Archive for January, 2012

VA Supreme Court Takes Away Planning Commission Power

A recent Supreme Court of Virginia ruling has rendered Virginia planning commissions pretty much useless, Kurt Walters writes for Charlottesville Tomorrow. Kent Sinclair, an Albemarle County resident and UVA law professor, was unhappy after the Albemarle Planning Commission provided his neighbor with a critical slopes waiver that allowed a 103-foot-tall communications tower to be built on their land. Sinclair sued and, in Sinclair v. New Cingular Wireless PCS et al, the state’s highest court ruled that, under the state code, planning commissions simply do not have the power to provide waivers to violate zoning ordinances. Instead, planning commissions must simply approve or deny, then leaving it to elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors to grant (or not) waivers.

The filing deadline for legislation for the already underway 2012 General Assembly session has come and gone, so if the legislature is going to take any steps to address this, it won’t happen in 2012.

Occupiers Convicted of Trespassing

The seventeen Occupy Charlottesville members who refused to leave Lee Park hav been convicted of trespassing, Samantha Koon writes for the Daily Progress. The park closes after 11 PM, and though allowed to remain for weeks, their permit was finally non-renewed. Some protesters refused to leave, and were arrested. They were fined $100 apiece, which can be paid outright or covered via community service. The group member who stripped off her clothes and read a statement of protest during the arrests had the charges of indecent exposure against her dropped, with Judge Robert Downer finding that it was a non-sexual political statement and therefore protected expression.

City, County Leaders Not Really Talking About Reversion

Yesterday, Graham Moomaw wrote in the Progress that brand-new city councilor Kathy Galvin had suggested the city look at becoming a town in an e-mail to other members of Council and several city staffers the day before. Galvin thought that might be a solution to the problem of funding education if Del. Rob Bell’s proposed budget amendment becomes law, since it would cut $2.6M from city schools’ $68M budget and give that money to county schools. Interviewed recipients of the e-mail said that they didn’t entirely understand what she was proposing. Then, today, the paper’s Aaron Richardson talked to members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, who agree that reversion to town status would be a difficult, drawn-out process that probably isn’t going to happen.

What makes this storyline awkward is that there’s not actually a proposal on the table for reversion. Instead, the nascent idea of a single councilor, presented in the form of an e-mail to a small group of colleagues, is being exposed to wider criticism long before it’s reached the point of thoughtfulness that would allow it to withstand that criticism, or even have a useful discussion about it. I think there are a couple of possibilities as to what this is about. The first is the simplest explanation—Galvin sent an e-mail, the Progress got lucky and got a copy, and they’re turning it into rather a larger story than the facts justify. The second is perhaps more fun. Note that the Progress says only that they “obtained” the e-mail. Normally if they get something via a FOIA request, they specifically point that out, so that omission is noteworthy. If Council is looking for a cudgel to use against the county on the school funding issue, leaking an e-mail about reversion is one method of accomplishing that. It remains to be seen which is the case.

Judge Dismisses Panhandling Lawsuit

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon has dismissed the lawsuit brought against the city on behalf of panhandlers, Samantha Koon reports for the Daily Progress. (See instead CBS-19’s story, if you don’t have Progress access.) Attorney Jeffrey Fogel filed the lawsuit after city council passed a law prohibiting solicitation of people doing business with vendors or within 50 feet of the crossings. Government’s ability to limiting free expression is generally constrained to time, place, and manner restrictions, and those limitations must be content-neutral. Fogel’s argument was that those restrictions are not content-neutral, because they specifically prevent people from asking for money. Moon ruled that these are merely place-based restrictions, because people are still free to ask for money outside of those areas.

Beleaguered Children’s Mental Health Facility to Be Demolished

Jefferson Trail Treatment Center for Children is going out of business, and the building is being demolished, CBS-19 reports. You might remember Jefferson Trail under any of its prior names, which it kept changing every time they were found to have beaten or raped their young patients: Millmont Center, Brown Schools, or Whisper Ridge. They changed their name three years ago after the director of operations pleaded guilty to attempting to have sex with one of the children in her care. (For more on how terribly that kids were treated at the facility, see examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.) But I’ll say this for Jefferson Trail: there’s no evidence that they ever abused their patients while they operated under that name. So, uh…good job?



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