Thursday, February 21, 2008

Soapbox Derby Registration Open

Saw this on the front page of the FLS website. The Free Lance-Star classic soapbox derby registration is now open. Race date is June 14th.

There are options for anyone age 9 up to 17. Three car classes, and apparently for 5 years in a row this is has been the largest local soapbox race. Get your registrations in early (before April 23rd) and enjoy a discounted fee. Plus there are car clinics as early as April 13 (also 27th and May 11th).

Check out for all the details.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

City Zoning Update

Part 2

For a link to my first rant click here.

Last night city council met with the planning commission on the update to the city's single family zoning ordinance. Hopefully readers will see more detailed coverage in the FLS which also attended, along with at least one other resident, city council, planning commission, and members of the planning department.

It was a study in why politics is sometimes quite difficult. You could see the dilemma council faces of doing something, but with each alternative, they may restrict good development. For example, if you pick a height of 27ft, in some neighborhoods it will fit right in. While in other neighborhoods, someone would say they have done nothing to fix the problem because all of the houses are one story and this allows 2.5 stories.

I would probably loosely group the discussion into two or three buckets.

One group expressed interest in coverage, and wanted to make sure that owners were still allowed to make reasonable additions without having to get a special use permit.

The second group was interested in height, and quickly ran into concern that height in one area didn't match other areas. They also recognized that be fair, new construction in the flood plain is required to be elevated, and that elevation will quickly exceed other homes constructed before the flood rules.

The remaining discussion was around how this may impact values, and does this hold down value. Again, a double edged sword. If values are held down, perhaps that helps maintain affordable housing, yet that comes at the expense of existing homeowners. Some commented that affordable housing should be a separate issue. There were also examples given of houses that meet and don't meet the new ordinance. The public may be surprised that many large homes can still be constructed even under the new rules, especially where multiple lots are combined.

I think they glossed over a change that previously allowed construction in older neighborhoods to set front and side yards based on two lots on either side. The new rules state that setbacks are now going to be based on averages from the entire block and the entire facing block, with no allowance for different zoning in those blocks.

On the one hand there are constituents demanding something be done for preservation, on the other you have constituents demanding their right to have their dream home in a city they love. If the result is something that no one likes, is that the result of good negotiation, or has it been a waste of time to fix what could be considered only an assault on the visual senses? Apparently one owners castle is another owners eyesore.

All said, it was a good meeting, and gave me much more to think about as far as background and what alternatives were considered. For anyone that thinks these guys have an easy job, come attend one of these meetings.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I argue with myself and give you my opinion on why the city might want to implement some of these changes.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A unique tour of Kenmore

This morning my wife and I took a very unique tour of Kenmore, the home of George Washington's sister and husband. The foundation has setup a website ( that details all of the work going into restoring the home and outbuildings. The behind-the-scenes restoration tour takes about 2 hours and is available by calling (540) 370-0732 or visiting .

On this tour, you get a history of why the home was constructed, how it was sold through several families, and the hard times that resulted in changes to the original plantation. The restoration has revealed some interesting facts, such as the unique wall paper in one of the rooms. Who would have thought that wall paper could be so expensive. The tour takes you into othe new underground center of the geothermal HVAC system that maintains the home's temperature and humidity. You get to see a recreation of the kitchen building, and take a tour around the exterior with a discussion of the battlescars of the civil war.

Then into the basement, where they are still storing some of the restoration parts. The foundation is taking great care to save any components removed during the restoration down to hunks of wood. The tour then continues to the main floor where you can see, up close, the incredible detailed plaster work in the ceilings, walls and overmantels. Finally we go upstairs to see the two front rooms. Interestingly, the home has shutters, but rather than being on the exterior, are contained on the inside of the windows. These shutters fit easily on the lower floor. To allow the shutters to fit upstairs, they fold over one time to fit against the space between the wall and the window. I was also very impressed with the simplicity of the exterior compared to the elegance inside.

The foundation is now working on the details of how to furnish the house. It's going to be a daunting process, but compared to the work that had to go into some of the detail work inside, shouldn't be a problem for this group.

Thanks to John who was a wonderful guide, and put up with the many questions about details of the house. I recommend this tour to anyone interested in learning a little more about the history of Fredericksburg.

(for pictures, visit the websites at the links, they are much better than what I could get today)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Brrr... The Rappahannock is 41F

This morning I went down to the city docks to participate in a polar plunge to support the Wounded EOD foundation.

The USGS reports that the Rappahannock River is a toasty 40.8F/4.9C this morning. I will attest to their accuracy. With a 3ft river height, the folks from and the Fredericksburg rescue squad had plungers go down the ramp and into the water. They brought out BOAT 1 to mark the farthest point swimmers should go to, and let me tell you that it was a challenging swim in the frigid water. Everyone was in great spirits, and many smiles were seen between the shivers after the chilly dunk in the water. The crowd cheered after each group of five plungers.

The Fredericksburg water rescue team was there to make sure everyone was able to get out of the water safely. The Dahlgren EOD truck was there with their bomb disposal robot. They also brought their bomb disposal suit to show how much gear is required in their line of work.

The morning's activities were topped off with awards for the top costumes, and an award for the top group. The wizard of oz group easily took the group award. Dorothy chose to watch from the sideline, and looked much warmer than the rest of her crew.

Before the day started, about sixty people had preregistered. I saw a steady stream of signups throughout the morning. The organizers seemed to have good support from local businesses. The best donation may have been two PODS which were converted to changing rooms.

Arriving a little were Natasha and Jessica from Fatty J's, in their tutus. After a brisk swim out the the boat, one of the tutu skirts has to be rescued from downstream. It was the only rescue of the day.
The excitement was contageous and at the end of the event, several of the member of the rescue squad took a dip in the water. Funny, they had the best towels of anyone there.
Plans are to make this an annual event. Here's to hoping that next year they can reach the full 100 participants.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bogey's sets an example

I could have titled this post "Another good use of incentives" but you might have thought I was talking about the Kalahari project again.

I always like to point out when I see a business doing the right thing. Bogey's Sports Bar, next to the ice park in Central Park, is now offering FREE rides from 7pm till 1am with partner Fredericksburg Limo. This is both to and from the following locations every Thursday, Friday and Saturday:

Belmont at Cowan Place at the visitor's center
UMW clock tower
Caroline St city visitor's center
Homewood Suites (next to the Expo Center)

I'm curios what F'burg Limo would charge if you want a ride from somewhere else in the city. If I find out I will post it here.

The info I received also stated a disclaimer saying neither Bogey's nor Fredericksburg Limo are responsible if you do something stupid like driving drink after they drop you off. So don't be like a Hollywood celebrity, let someone else take the wheel.

Take a plunge for charity Sat.

A charity event is going on at the city docks this weekend to benefit the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation. Yes, you too can jump into the river on Sat for $40 (up to 100 people will be allowed).

I hope to be there around 9 for registration, so come on out and join the fun. Or have some fun watching us freeze.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Does Out-Of-Scale equal "out of character"

Tonight I attended the Fredericksburg City Planning Commission meeting which voted to send an ordinance change to City Council related to residential zoning. I am going to try to get the latest edits to this ordinance, as several edits were made tonight which I do not have in this copy from last week. The biggest edition is measuring from the base flood elevation if the lot is in the 100yr zone.

Basically, the Planning Commission was addressing item #8 on their agenda "prohibiting new development (single family houses) that are out of character with existing neighborhood structures." I agree that what they ACTUALLY fixed was what was defined in a memorandum as "Out of Scale" houses.

Let me try to state what I believe the zoning does NOT do.
a) It does nothing to limit style of housing. I would argue style has as much if not more to do with character than size
b) It does not restrict any non-single family home built in that zoned area. This greatly affects the changes they have implemented for the C-T commercial transitional zone, where it is by-right to allow single family homes next to commercial (one example is a telecommunication building).
c) According to a survey done by the city, generally all homes fit within the boundaries set by the new ordinance. In the FLS article on 12/11, the home on the corner or William and College Ave. was identified as a structure that is out of character, it would probably still fit within the 27' tall and coverage limits.
d) It sets two limits on coverage, with a 40' wide lot being the dividing line. Would this mean a 39' wide lot is suddently more valuable (due to more future potential) than the 40.1' lot next door?
e) It puts subjective measure into code (78 sec II.1.3 "...have an adverse effect on the neighborhood")
f) Does not consider porches or decks, both of which effect water runoff and the ability for land mass to soak up excess rainwater during a storm. This is one of the only arguments I can come up with for limiting coverage.
g) Does not grandfather in any resident that has not already submitted a building plan

Here is what this ordinance does
1) Futher limits free market economics on many residentially zoned lots in the city
2) Creates extra burden on the taxpayer and property owner to obtain special use permits where they may not have been necessary before
3) Only marginally considers property value. There is the potential here for devaluing properties that are only slightly larger than 40'.
4) It limits a single family home to 27' in C-T whereas any other by-right structure can be 40'.
I have several questions.

Can I still built a porch under a cantilevered 2nd floor? If so, can I cantilever the entire upper floor so that the base of my house is only part of the overall area?

Can I build any style of structure as long as it fits into the mold of coverage and height?

Can I increase or decrease the pitch of my roof so that the average height between the eve and the peak is less than 27'? This is the code measures 27'. I have always like the idea of a monolythic dome (note the sarcasm here before anyone states I'm building a new home).

Is it fair to allow a 40' telecom building to dwarf a single family residence at 27' next door?

Tonight there was discussion of measuring homes in the 100 yr flood plane starting at the base flood elevation. Does that mean that if I want to add a few feet of margin to my design, that I have to take those feet out of the max 27' height.

As written, I cannot support this ordinance change. If you agree with me, please sign this petition ( I also ask that you email other city residents the link to get them to sign. The City Council has a working session next week with the Planning Commission to iron out some details. I ask them be very cautious on this one. The definition of downzoning is here, and I believe this would apply.

I took the time to lookup Charlottesville's, Lynchburg's and Roanoke's zoning laws, and they are nowhere near as restrictive as this proposal. I would consider these other localities to be in similar historic nature a Fredericksburg.

Charlottesville City Code (see chapter 34) check out Sec. 34-353. Dimensional requirements--By district. Wouldn't it be nice if all city code was documented this clearly.
Roanoke City Code (see chapter 36.2) their coverages go up to 50, 60 or 70%
Lynchburg City Code (see chapter 35.1)

If I am wrong on this, please by all means let me know how this specific change would impact any "large out of character" house that someone has disagreed with. I'll even look up the lot data if you have a specific question on an address.

I have seen a number of these large homes in the city, and I think many are quite beautiful. Some I would not have built for myself, but then part of being a city is recognizing the diversity that is around us. Please help me to show that we want to protect that diversity and sign up here.

Rail Funding - Is it all it's meant to be?

Bacon's Rebellion: The 21st Century Railroad Revolution has a great article about the new rail funding bills.

Last night at the Fredericksburg city council meeting there was a representative from Virginians for High Speed Rail. He is visiting all of the counties and cities along the major rail corridor along I-95 pushing support for the rail funding bills.

I used to work for Norfolk Southern, and left on good terms. I have to say that I have only glanced over the legislation and funding. What concerns me is the technical challenges of moving both heavy rail traffic, and light rail or high speed rail. Heavy rail tends to move at slower rates, and has much more tolerance for less than optimal rail. High speed rail requires attention to smooth, optimally adjusted tracks. Riding the VRE from Fredericksburg to DC every day is a testament to how bad the tracks are in this area.

Two rail projects have been implemented along this corridore in recent years. A new 3rd track was added at L'enfant station, and they build a new bridge north of Quantico to give 2 full tracks through that area. BOTH of these new tracks are used by heavy freight, and not the commuter trains. The most pristine tracks have been built for the trains that need them the least, whereas commuter traffic is left using the beat up old tracks that reside next to all of the train stations. The benefit to commuter rail has been fewer delays waiting for the commercial traffic.

I worry that this new legislation and funding is not the windfall for high speed or simple commuter trains as is being discussed. It may benefit auto traffic by decreasing long haul intermodal traffic, but I wish we could get serious about public transpotation rail around the busiest metro areas.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

City Council Meeting attendance?

I have a question, do people watch the city council meetings on the fredericksburg government channel instead of coming out to the meetings to listen to the discussions? I find it quite interesting talking to people in the audience. In localities where I've lived before, there was almost always a contingent of 10-20 folks that attended and had a discussion of ideas.
Do people here listen to the meeting and then just send their questions to their council members? Tonight coucilwoman Girven raised several questions about past information that were sent to her. I know that when I have emailed my council member I normally get a response back by email in a few days. I guess this is a pretty good substitute for being there in person. I would be interested to know how many people are out there watching (contact me here if you don't want to comment).

FYI - congrats to UMW for 100 years! That's quite an accomplishment for the university. For those that missed it, the UMW alum on council presented a nice gift to UMW of a framed aerial view of the city.

Voting Lines

Did you vote today? I was voter #199 at my location today. I was pleasantly surprised to find a line when I arived. I'm glad that a larger number of voters are taking an interest in the primary this year. Competition is always a good thing.

Through the years of working in some pretty high tech industries, I've developed an eye for efficiency. Today's voting was not one of our outstanding moments. There were six (SIX!) voting boxes, yet the bottleneck was having only one station validating voter registration. There were another 3-4 people walking around and directing people. I hope this was due to only having two sets of rolls printed at this precinct.

Those of us waiting got to speak to each other, and laughed about the fact there was a line for the primary. Luckily the # of people in line fit in the heated building. You know it's cold when there aren't any party folks outside trying to sway your vote at the last minute.

At least our lines were in a gym, check out the photo on the FLS site about where somepeople were directed to stand.

Get out and vote.

Update 5pm: Line is now wrapped inside the building. Delay is about 20min.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Signs, signs, Everywhere there's signs

The City of Fredericksburg has started a project to re-sign the directional indicators around the city and add signs where they are needed. These new signs have a nice modern look to them, with arrows in addition to highlighted attractions. They don't quite have the contrast as some other localities, and a few signs are in dark locations, but all-in-all, I applaud the city for undertaking this task.

However, you wonder if the group installing the signs were given any leaway on placement, or what to do with old signage. Take a look at this location at William and Hanover streets. Putting a new sign behind the old historic downtown sign doesn't do anything to help drivers visiting the city coming north on William.

This is what the sign looks like for anyone wondering.

Roof blows off of Cafe New Orleans

The high winds today have taken a toll on the roof of Cafe New Orleans on William St. I came out of Hyperion, and the flashing lights of the cop car got my attention. I could see yellow tape blocking off part of the block. Everyone was standing there wondering if there was a fire as the ladder truck had been brought out. Then we saw the roof lifting off of the building. Hopefully they will be able to contain any damage. I was able to get a few snaps before having to head home for a previous engagement.

Some of the bricks from under the lip of the roof had given way and were on the street. Didn't see any injuries.

[update] the roof did not come off, and thanks to some quick work was nailed back down but will require some rework to finish.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kalahari Update

It looks like Kevin Gullette (Director of Economic Development) has uploaded a new page that consolidates a lot of the city's information on Kalahari and the Celebrate VA South development. He even links to the comprehensive plan and JumpStart program.

They finally published the whitepapers from the police department, fire dept, and public works (water). They even linked ot the minutes from the Jan 8 council meeting.

Open Gov't!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ale House of Fredericksburg

Today we get to see the incentive package for Ale House of Fredericksburg. Thanks to Emily Battle of FLS for pointing out that this is now on the city website.

Here's the breakdown, they're getting 25k from JumpStart for improving the building, and after the first year they get a rebate on certain taxes they paid. Then they can get back UP TO 49.5k over years 2-10. If I read it correctly, it's capped at 5.5k for each of those years. There is one statement that says 5.5k per year or 50k whichever comes first. I'm not exactly sure how that compares to a later statement that says "not more than $5,500".

Let me be the first to bring it up. Say you read it here first: Does a "Beer Garden" fit with the character of the city? I have eaten at Capital Ale House in Richmond and very much enjoy the atmosphere. In their letter, they detail expansions they have made to the original establishment by creating a music hall and beer garden, meaning an outdoor seating area. I'm certain that in the next weeks you'll see an editorial in the FLS railing on how this isn't the type of business we want in our historic downtown. I would invite these commentors to come to the city council meetings and LISTEN to what is being said by this company and our own development people. And don't just visit on the hot topic nights, visit when the regular items are being discussed so that you can understand the challenges faced by the city. This company is renovating a building and actually contributed to helping the city maintain its downtown area. This is a great thing, and should help attract future small businesses that don't need that big box store space.

Variety, this has been a regular topic of discussions related to the future of the city. Lets not forget that every investment advisor tells you to diversify your portfolio. Thanks to the econimic engine of this city for exploring all types of businesses. Sure, some of us are going to dislike a few, but others are going to embrace them. When I go out, I like to have a choice of places to go, and I only see this getting better in the coming years.

So before anyone points out these 2 words in the Ale House letter, let's think about what this really means - adding to the vitality of a downtown area. I can only hope that Ale House of Fredericksburg is already thinking about future upgrades and expansion and that maybe we'll get a Music Hall and Biergärten (it sounds more authentic spelled that way doesn't it).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I'm going to put together this page to link to all of the city flyers and Kalahari publications related to bringing the resort to Fredericksburg in the Celebrate Virginia South tourist zone. For instance, I have not been able to find the original Silver/Kalahari mailing anywhere online. As the city releases more info on their incentives package, I'll try to come back to this site and update.

Kalahari is already starting to advertise for the Fredericksburg site. On their main website it is link #3:

Incentive Letter to Fredericksburg City:

If you pull up the city comprehensive plan, you can see that this zoning is consistent with the long term planning of the city.

Oh, and in case you're interested, there are two Appendixes that go along with the comprehensive plan. Appendix B includes traffic analysis (hopefully this will be updated again soon):

These images are of the mailer Silver and Kalahari sent out to area residents. It has the business reasons for building the area. Kalahari's business execs will be studying these, putting together their business plan for their banks, and making sure that this is a sound financial decision for them.

Take a closer look at page 4:

This is what the city reports the area zoning. Most of CV is C-SC (shopping center). Some areas are still zoned R-1.

In response to an editorial in the Free Lance-Star on 2/6 that sarcastically talked about what conventions would come to this new attraction, I offer this video of surfing at the other resorts. That editorial seemed to think that Harley riders are all tattooed thugs, not realizing that many Harley riders these days are doctors and lawyers, most with families. Let's take an honest look at what it realistically will bring to the area. I hope this includes surfing competitions.

Surfing Video:

Finally, next we need to put some energy into evaluating the post Kalahari decision, we should start putting together the impacts the region needs to deal with.

  • Increased competition for hourly workers
  • Treatment of 50,000 gallons of chlorinated (or other chemically treated) water from the park
  • The impact of putting that water back into the Rappahannock (pH modification)
  • Replacement of the missing landscaping (runoff from the parking lots and buildings can impact local ecosystems)
  • Light Pollution
  • Improving traffic flow (diverting traffic to Celebrate Virginia through roads best designed to handle out of town traffic, updating signage, removing bottlenecks )
  • Added services Health/Medical/Police/Fire

This list is in no particular order, and it should grow as more info comes in from businesses and city departments.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

HOT lanes and traffic

I've been reading a lot of articles and editorials about HOT lanes and their potential pitfalls. There seems to be a growing population that would rather are the state pursue some alternative. Let me add a stick to the fire...

If the state were to improve I-95 by widening the entire thing, wouldn't that just further encourage urban sprawl? Suddenly land in Caroline might become prime commuter area. And no matter how far they improved 95, the problems would follow!

I have seen where the state is exploring bus transport. Great idea, public transportation, how original. But it requires lanes for buses to bypass the slow vehicle traffic. I do see how having the HOT lanes could provide for this. Right now there are a few bus services in Fredericksburg and spotsylvania, but they have to deal with congestion all the way to dale city.

The answer to our problems should lie in incentivising drivers to get off the roads, she the way to do that is either through a complete public transport system, or some type of HOV or bus lanes. This area has a unique market driven system of slugging based just on the HOV lanes. Here I would say that the original plan has succeeded in getting vehicles off of the road.

When we moved back to the area, one of the deciding factors on where to but was the availability and cost of commuting. I am happy that we chose the city of Fredericksburg with its train station and variety of bus services.

I am deeply concerned that we are quickly developing huge tracts of land. While we are not setting aside enough natural area to support wildlife and our ecosystem. And if you don't want to hear about nature, think about where will our grandchildren build their new homes? All of this comes back to thinking about what is best for the road system. As we make improvements, can we make the incentives such that we preserve the population centers, and manage growth in a way that is intended.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fredericksburg History

The monthly publication Front Porch has a great article this month that details some of the historic sites around town.  Mostly focused on the Washington family.

Fredericksburg City Water Dept.

Ok, I've got to give kuddos to the F'burg city water department. We had a break in the water main on our street Saturday morning. The guys were here checking it out in the morning, and showed up with the heavy equipment by about mid day. I talked to the crew when they were taking a break, and found out they were actually waiting for the utilities guys to come mark all the lines surrounding the break. We had water back on that afternoon.

Now for the amazing thing. That break was on Sat, and on Sunday they came by with a water truck and spayed down the entire road. All the dirt and crud from the digging has now been washed away and we have a clean roadway again. That's service!

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