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Will 2019 be the year of change in Charlottesville?
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Will 2019 be the year of change in Charlottesville?

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Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia spent much of 2018 trying to move on from the turbulence and tragedy of 2017. As Charlottesville ushered in two new city councilors and prosecuted the perpetrators of the deadly Unite the Right rally, the county wrestled with the location of its courthouses, welcomed a new county executive and schools superintendent and pushed to develop the long-awaited Biscuit Run Park.

In the coming year, the city and county voters will head to the polls amid statewide elections, UVa will seek to continue raising funds around the bicentennial, the schools hope to increase equality and access, and the courts will continue to weigh charges in several cases related to the white supremacist rallies.

UVa inaugurated its ninth president as it, too, dealt with the fallout of the rallies, and it continued its two-year bicentennial celebration, which will wrap up next year. And in March, the men’s basketball team will try to overcome the madness of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

Below is a look at what lies ahead.

Charlottesville

As the calendar flips to 2019, Charlottesville City Council will have spent the last two weeks mulling over its eight-hour retreat that turned into an airing of the grievances between councilors, the media and those who speak at meetings. The new year will be a test to see if the panel can come together and work past its differences.

In January, council will begin crafting its fiscal year 2020 budget in earnest. It will make several difficult decisions as it works to create more affordable housing and increase pay for police officers. Also on the table are the city’s comprehensive plan update and its five-year capital improvement program.

The new year also will see the opportunity for a major power shift on council as three seats are up for election — those held by Democrats Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer and Wes Bellamy. None of the incumbents has made an announcement about their plans for the future.

Albemarle

In 2019, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors also will face some tough funding decisions around staffing, projects and growth.

One of the board’s top strategic priorities for the next two years is to expand and promote the county’s parks and amenities. Approximately $5 million in Atlantic Coast Pipeline mitigation money is designated for Albemarle’s future Biscuit Run Park, and about $12 million will be included in the county’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan for bike and pedestrian infrastructure and additional parks projects.

Growth will continue, as certificates of occupancy and building permits issued in the county in the third quarter of 2018 were already outpacing the past five years. Additional small and large housing development projects will continue to make moves into 2019. With that growth comes concerns from some residents about traffic congestion, increasing school enrollment and changes in how areas look.

Economic growth efforts, with assistance from the county’s economic development department and economic development authority, will continue. The county’s work with WillowTree as it moves to Woolen Mills and Perrone Robotics will advance, and additional code-named projects are in the works — “Patriot,” “Bronco,” “McIntosh,” “Shark,” “Hawk” and “Bengal.”

Half of the supervisors — Norman Dill, Ann H. Mallek and Rick Randolph —also are up for re-election. None has announced plans to seek another term.

Virginia

On Jan. 3, the 116th U.S. Congress will convene, giving Virginia several new lawmakers, including Denver Riggleman, R-5th, and Abigail Spanberger, D-7th. But in November, the political focus will narrow as all 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and 40 state senators will be up for election.

The only incumbent in Central Virginia to announce he will not seek another term in office thus far is Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton. And the state will see new leadership in the House during the upcoming General Assembly session, as Fairfax’s Eileen Filler-Corn takes the reins from Charlottesville Del. David J. Toscano as minority leader. The Republicans’ 51-to-49 advantage, however, could change after the November elections and possible court-ordered redistricting. The GOP also has a 21-19 lead in the Senate.

High on the list for the General Assembly is a two-year state budget. Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal, which is based on higher state revenues created by federal tax reforms, has been met with hostility from GOP leaders.

Aug. 12, 2017

The shadow of the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally continues to loom over the Charlottesville courts.

On Jan. 14, a three-day trial will try to answer whether members of the City Council were acting legally when they voted in 2017 to remove the statues of two Confederate generals. Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore has previously ruled that the councilors can be held personally liable for their votes if it is determined they acted illegally. The case hinges on whether the statues are considered war monuments, which would lend them protection under Virginia law.

The statues have been a contentious topic for years, and the fight over their removal was the catalyst for 2017’s white supremacist rallies, including Unite the Right, during which counterprotester Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police troopers were killed.

After Heyer’s death, the statues were covered in black tarps, which the city said was done to mourn  her death and the injuries caused by James Alex Fields Jr.. Two men — Brian Roland Lambert and Christopher James Wayne — were charged with destroying the tarps on several occasions and convicted in Charlottesville General District Court in March. Both men appealed their convictions and will have trials in circuit court in February.

Fields was recently convicted on a swath of charges, including first-degree murder, and will be formally sentenced in Charlottesville Circuit Court on March 29. He also will face a federal jury on more than 30 federal hate crime charges, for which he could be sentenced to death.

Tyler Watkins Davis, one of four men charged with beating DeAndre Harris on Aug. 12, 2017, faces a malicious wounding trial on Feb. 11.

Corey Long, who sprayed an improvised flamethrower on Aug. 12, was convicted of disorderly conduct in June and sentenced to 20 days in jail. He appealed his conviction to circuit court and is scheduled for a Jan. 24 trial.

Schools

For local schools, conversations about equity will continue into the new year as both school boards look to vote on policies designed to tackle the issue.

The Albemarle County School Board has said it will approve an anti-racism policy early next year. Drafted by high school students, the policy is designed to address systemic issues in the division.

In Charlottesville, the School Board has started discussions about implementing an equity policy to guide the division’s decisions. Additionally, the board is sifting through community feedback on equity, prompted by a critical New York Times-ProPublica story published in October.

School construction and capacity issues will not go away in 2019 as the boards continue to work on long-term solutions. Charlottesville is considering a reconfiguration of Buford Middle School and creating a centralized preschool center. The plan carries an expected price tag of more than $55 million.

Albemarle is looking to expand Albemarle Tech, the new high school student center established this school year as a solution to capacity issues at high schools, and to build another, similar center.

Last year, the School Board tussled with the Albemarle Board of Supervisors over a $145 million request for capital projects. The division ended up receiving $5.4 million, part of which is going to buy land for the new high school center.

In 2019, the School Board will have to work with the Board of Supervisors on funding the new center’s construction. The division is hoping to open the facility in August 2021.

UVa

2019 will wrap up the University of Virginia’s two-year-long celebration of its bicentennial. U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and James Madison laid the school’s cornerstone in 1817, and the school received its official charter in 1819.

Many bicentennial events have been focused around fundraising and engagement; the school will kick off a $5 billion fundraising campaign this fall and President Jim Ryan hopes to unveil a strategic plan. Some efforts also have contained projects to examine the school’s past and manage ongoing fallout from the white supremacist rallies, such as the president’s commissions on slavery and segregation.

UVa hopes to finish the $7 million Enslaved Workers Memorial in the fall. The memorial will include a circular stone wall, open at one end, with the names of nearly 1,000 known enslaved people who lived and worked at UVa etched on its inner wall. Researchers estimate that as many as 5,000 enslaved African-Americans worked on Grounds from UVa’s construction through the Civil War.

A new cohort of UVa administrators will have to deal with expansions in Northern Virginia, frustration with UVa contractors’ wages, and keeping faculty and staff wages competitive as salaries rise nationally. In fiscal year 2019, the university hopes to hire 50 new faculty members to offset 50 expected departures.

Final Four?

Virginia men’s basketball fans need no reminder how last season ended.

The Cavaliers had one of the greatest regular seasons in school history, finishing with a 31-2 record while winning the ACC’s regular season and tournament championships and earning the No. 1 ranking in college basketball’s major polls for the first time since 1982.

Virginia made the wrong kind of history in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers were hammered, 74-54, by UMBC in Charlotte, sending shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Wahoos have shown no adverse effects from that historic loss this season. UVa is off to an 11-0 start heading into Monday’s home game against Marshall and is ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The real tests for Virginia start now as ACC play begins next Saturday with a home matchup with Florida State.

Most of the key players from last year’s team, including Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, are again leading the way for the Wahoos this season and seemed determined to use last year’s heartbreak as fuel for a deep NCAA Tournament run this season.

Will Virginia find redemption in March and reach the Final Four for the first time in the Tony Bennett era?

Stay tuned. 

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