Local Police, Stream Health, and Entrepreneurs at CCAC

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Captain Byers speaking at the November CCAC meeting. Photo: Mike Marshall.

A Safe Community

The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) heard from Captain Darrell Byers, the dynamic Blue Ridge district commander for the Albemarle County Police Department, at its November 14 meeting. Capt. Byers said he came “bearing good news” for Crozet residents: “You have a very low crime rate and no particular crime trends in this area,” he said, “and that’s awesome.”

Byers grew up in North Garden and attended Western Albemarle High School. He is a second-generation police officer, and worked for the U.Va. police department before moving over to the ACPD, where he has served in every division including internal affairs and as a detective sergeant during the Hannah Graham investigation. He’s glad to be back in western Albemarle. “When I was promoted to this position, I was ecstatic,” he said. “I know people!”

Byers described for the CCAC the three phases of “geographic-based policing” used by the ACPD.

“Phase one was getting officers used to policing differently—getting out of their cars and conversing with community members, having some good positive engagement,” he said. “In phase two, we’re building the capacity of the police department, making sure we have enough people in the right places—such as school resource officers and officers patrolling the streets—and we’re working on decreasing our response times for calls for service.”

The Blue Ridge district encompasses over 500 square miles of territory in southern and western Albemarle County, from Scottsville all the way to the northwest county line and from the city boundary at Canterbury Hills to the western border. “When we started measuring [in 2013], our response times were seven minutes and above in the urban ring, and now we have them down to about three minutes,” said Byers. “In the rural area, we brought it from over fifteen minutes down to seven.”

Phase three of geographic-based policing is a decentralization process whereby several satellite facilities are being established for a semi-permanent police presence in various areas. “We have one in Old Trail that’s not always manned,” said Byers, “but if you see a police car parked outside you should by all means stop in and say hello. And we have one on the south side at Yancey Elementary.”

When asked by a CCAC member what in particular “keeps him up at night,” Byers’ answer was likely informed by his nineteen years of police work in this area. “In all honesty, I worry about the unrest in our neighboring jurisdiction,” he said, referring to the city of Charlottesville. “What bothers me is that we may get a call for a request for mutual aid there . . . and their policies and procedures are not at all akin to ours. We are very prudent in the way we do our jobs, but the citizens there have a dislike for the police, and our practices would not be appreciated at all.”

Byers encouraged citizens to take advantage of the department’s CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) program, in which residents can have police personnel evaluate a home or place of worship for possible security deficiencies. He also exhorts citizens to follow the department on Twitter, and to join in the “9 p.m. routine” of going out to their cars, removing any valuables inside and locking the doors, especially during the upcoming holiday season.

Incentives for Healthier Streams

David Hannah, Natural Resources Manager for Albemarle County, presented a set of draft proposals to help improve stream health in the development areas of the county, along with Chief of Special Projects Bill Fritz and County Engineer Frank Pohl. “Our intention is to be consistent with the county’s growth management policies,” Hannah assured those in attendance. “We don’t want to expand growth area boundaries, and we want to keep the rural area rural.”

The thirteen proposals included new or revised regulations, such as lowering the 10,000 square foot threshold for the area of land-disturbing activity required to invoke erosion and storm management regulations, and increasing fees for Water Protection Ordinance violations. Several CCAC members spoke in favor of increased enforcement of the latter, though the officials acknowledged that the current system is based on citizen reports or complaints about discharges and it’s difficult for limited staff to identify all violations.

Many of the proposals centered on creating positive incentives for commercial developers to do their part to improve stream health, as they are often the major contributors of sediment to the waterways via land grading. “Sediment gets in water and floats—it gets suspended and is difficult to remove,” said Pohl. An example of a violation might be a construction site where a silt fence has failed. 

Of the 147 active development projects in the county, about 14 are in a “non-compliant” or “warning” status. “No site is perfect,” said Pohl. “There has been a lot of rain this year, but whenever violations have occurred, most operators have been very responsive. We have a lot of good, quality contractors in this area, but excessive rains can be a challenge for even the best.

“Lots of our goals involve sediment, which is the primary problem in the county,” said Hannah. TMDL, or total maximum daily load, is the measurement by which a waterway is judged to be impaired. “Four streams in the county are at such as subpar level of quality that the DEQ (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) says they need a sort of ‘diet for pollution,’” he said. Overall, 46 segments of streams in the county are classified as “impaired.”

When asked what letter grade he’d give to our county streams, Hannah summarized the currently available data. “A group that used to be called Stream Watch, that has now joined with another organization and is called the Rivanna Conservation Alliance, has done eight water quality assessments over the last fifteen years,” he said. “In the first seven, roughly two-thirds of the streams they sampled did not meet state standards for aquatic life, though the most recent assessment was a little bit better. But I can’t really say it’s a passing grade right now.”

The incentive-based proposals involve allowing density bonuses for voluntary developer actions such as establishing stream buffers or increasing already existing buffers, posting permanent signs that identify stream buffer areas in neighborhoods, and planting locally native trees in excess of zoning requirements. “We understand that doing these types of things costs money for developers, so we try to provide incentives so it’s a win for both them and the county,” said Pohl.

For (lots of) additional information on county stream health, visit albemarle.org/streambuffer.

Listen, Learn, and Grow

Local businessman and entrepreneur Rich Pleasants unveiled plans for two new divisions under the umbrella of the company he founded, Pleasants Industries, Inc. The first is a Renewable Energy Academy, which he says will launch in the spring of 2019, and the second, focused on innovation, research, and development, will be dubbed Mid Atlantic Innovation Labs.

Pleasants said that both will be housed in a new 6,400-square-foot building planned for construction on the former Greenwood Chemical site, a few miles west of Crozet, repurposing land that has remained dormant for decades.

Rich Pleasants played videos about his business at the CCAC meeting. Photo: Mike Marshall.

“We have been working with the EPA and DEQ for two months now and are in the process of acquiring the property,” he said. “It’s 33 acres of land, and we plan to make it a park-like setting, operating completely off the grid. We’ll have no septic, no well. We will pull water out of the air with atmospheric water generators and will collect water off the roofs. We’ll use solar and wind to power the building and store energy in batteries.”

Inside, the Renewable Energy Academy will “prepare citizens, young and old, to meet the needs of a fast-growing renewable energy workforce as well as make their communities and the earth a cleaner safer place for us all,” according to the company website. Using a combination of social media and classroom-based instruction, field trips, hands-on interactive activities, and partnerships with other educational institutions, students of all ages will learn to be “SMEs” (subject-matter experts) on all aspects of renewable energy.

“Our mantra is to listen, learn, change, grow, understand, innovate, and build, and to support global innovation through local expertise,” said Pleasants. New division management will include his wife Holly as chief financial officer, and 11-year-old son Ketner as director of youth training and development.

Pleasants explained that Mid Atlantic Innovation Labs will initially operate from a dedicated space inside the Academy, and will train people on the use of technology such as the Internet of Things, Blockchain, and the global logistics market. In addition to the Greenwood site, the company plans to open facilities in Detroit, Tallahassee, Austin, and Pueblo domestically, as well as in Senegal and Northern Ireland over the next two years.

Video of this and past Crozet Community Advisory Committee meetings is available at crozet gazette.com./#video. The committee meets next on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at 7 p.m. at Crozet Library. 

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