Five Points Farm Market

5 11 2009

While I was attending the opening of the Herman Court Condos, I had the pleasure to meet Bev Sell, the General Manager of the Five Points Community Farm Market. After a lengthy discussion, I learned a lot about the farm market, what they do, and how they do it. She also told me about current happenings. For example, from 4PM – 7 PM Wednesdays – Fridays, you can get dinner for 2 for only $10. No, that’s not a typo. You can get food such as applewood smoked chicken with seasonal vegetables, beef & sausage chili over rice with a fresh garden salad, and meat loaf with creamy mashed potatoes with gravy and seasonal vegetables. You get two dishes for $10. On top of the deal, all the food is a fresh and as local as you can get. To make it better, every Friday in November you can get a pound of steamed shrimp for $9.95. They sell a variety of fresh, local seafood. Recently, they also had the Green Alternative store move in. If you have never been there, I strongly urge you to go support them and support our local economy and farmers.

Five Points Community Farm Market
2500 Church Street
Norfolk, VA 23504
(757) 640-0300

farmmarket[at]verizon.net

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Norfolk Cruise Terminal – Best Year Yet

4 11 2009

That’s right. I said Best Year Yet. But how can that be? The Virginian-Pilot’s October 21st article said that the number of ships calling to Norfolk is the lowest since it opened. Along with that, the number of total passengers is down. How can it be the best year? Despite the Pilot’s best attempts to print yet another slanted article portraying a Norfolk project in a negative light, it is their own data from which I base my idea.

I draw my conclusions based on the fact that while the number of ships and passengers has declined, the total number of passengers per ship has increased drastically. I think that the increase in passengers per ship makes our Cruise Terminal more efficient, thus increasing total revenue per ship. That is why I think that it is more important to have more passengers per ship than it is to just have a lot of ships coming in.

NumCruiseShips

Number of Cruise Ships (2010 Estimated)

TotalPassengers

Total Passengers (2010 Estimated)

PassPerShip

Number of Passengers per Ship (2010 Estimated)





Finally, High Speed Progess

2 11 2009

Source of Image: The Virginian-Pilot

Finally, with only months left before the deadline, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization has voted to push for High Speed Rail to the Southside, terminating in Downtown Norfolk. The vote was unanimous among those in attendance. Nay-sayers might say that it doesn’t really mean that there is support, since four of the Peninsula cities went unrepresented but they had their chance. They obviously did not think that it was important enough for them to need to go. I have to say, however, that the Mayor of Hampton, Molly Ward, should get some sort of reward. Fhe was quoted as saying, “You do whats best for the region and the commonwealth. You don’t make any progress when you just say no.” That was definitely a show of regionalism. If only our other localities had mayors that were smart enough to speak out publicly and say that it wasn’t just about what was good for their city, but instead it was about what was good for the region. Good job Mayor Ward.

This move is not the final say, however. It will not be final until the Commonwealth Transportation Board votes on the issue. If it passed the Board, it opens the door to High Speed Rail to Hampton Roads. This new High Speed line will terminate near Harbor Park, where a proposed multi-modal station would be built where High Speed Rail, Light Rail, and local buses could meet. All is not lost for the Peninsula, however. Under this plan they would receive upgrades to their current rail service.

Please contact the CTB and urge their support of this option. You can email Carol Mathis, the Assistant Secretary to the Board with your comments.





Just Say NO to Federal Courthouse Plan

29 10 2009

Once again, the Federal Courthouse is trying to expand into the ex-Granby Tower site. And, once again, we need to fight any plan that takes land off of the tax roles. The General Services Administration (GSA – they are in charge of federal construction projects) already has a plan that is acceptable. The plan that I am referring to would construct a 7-story addition in the middle of the current building:

FedCourtHouseTower

Norfolk Federal Courthouse - Tower Alternative

In fact, not only does this option conserve land and fit in better with an urban environment, this alternative is actually less expensive than building on the Granby Tower site. Let’s back up for a second. If you had not heard of this project before or have forgotten, there were five alternatives considered. They are called the Southern, Western, Northern, Eastern, and Tower Alternatives, with the name referring to the location of the annex in relation to the current building. Here are diagrams of the first four, showing where they would be located what method would be used to connect them:

FedCourtHouseAlts

Off-Site Alternatives for the Norfolk Federal Courthouse Annex

As you can see (or if you can’t, click the picture for a larger version), the Southern and Eastern Alternatives each close a road. In fact, the Eastern Alternative called for closing an entire block of Monticello Avenue. That left two other off-site options. The Northern Alternative would demolish the Greyhound Station and have to find a way to cross Brambleton Blvd. The easiest of these four is obviously the Western Alternative, which is to put the annex on the Granby Tower site. While this seems like a good idea, lets look at the final option that was researched by the GSA: an on-site addition. This on-site addition would be in the form of a tower on top of the current building. This final alternative is actually more cost effective than the next most plausible (Western Alt.). Here is the cost breakdown:

FedCourtHouseCosts

Source: Draft Environmental Assessment for the Walter E. Hoffman United States Courthouse Proposed Courthouse Annex Norfolk, Virginia - GSA 2006

The GSA must work together in order to build consistently with local goals. This is not my opinion, this is fact. According to the GSA’s Urban Development/Good Neighbor Program,

“The core mission of the Urban Development/Good Neighbor Program is to provide GSA regional offices and their stakeholders with the technical, training, and outreach resources they need to implement good neighbor principles in the business practices of the Public Buildings Service. Those principles are:

  • Locate new owned and leased federal facilities in places that support local plans;
  • Design new facilities to create outstanding federal workplaces and support neighborhood urban design goals;
  • Renovate existing federal properties to improve their public spaces, create positive First Impressions, and encourage stakeholders to improve neighborhood conditions;
  • Manage federal properties to encourage public use and openness; and
  • Participate in neighborhood physical and management improvement efforts around federal properties.”

Take note on two of those in particular. “Design new facilities to create outstanding federal workplaces and support neighborhood urban design goals” and “Renovate existing federal properties to improve their public spaces, create positive First Impressions, and encourage stakeholders to improve neighborhood conditions.” Building a mediocre 5-story building across from the current building does not support our urban design goals and taking property off of the tax roles absolutely does not improve neighborhood conditions. Despite the failure of Granby Tower, the site still holds the potential for success. Currently, it is still being taxed. The GSA is the reason why Granby Tower failed. The GT would have been under construction but instead the GSA said that they might want the site. If they had gone with the tower in the first place, we would have both. Please contact the GSA (Region 3) at (215) 446-5100 and let them know that you deserve a quality project. Tell them that the City deserves the Tower Alternative for the Walter E. Hoffman United States Courthouse Proposed Annex.





More Money for a New HRTA

14 10 2009

I think it is agreed by everyone that 86 years is too long to wait to finish our roads. The first attempt at the HRTA was to utilize the following taxes/fees:

  • $10 automobile inspection fee
  • 5 percent tax on automobile repairs
  • Grantor’s tax of 40 cents for every $100 of assessed value when selling a home
  • Motor vehicle rental tax of 2 percent
  • One-time vehicle registration fee of 1 percent
  • Annual vehicle registration fee of $10
  • 2 percent gas tax

The hardest thing to think about is what you can charge for without making people feel put out or overwhelmed. I think that any fee/tax needs to benefit those who drive cars that wear lightly on the roads and cost those with heavier vehicles more. Virginia should raise overall registration fees for vehicles. Right now, there is only an $11 dollar difference in fee cost for registering a small car ($38.75) versus a a heavy truck (7,500 GVW – $49.75). Compare this to someplace like D.C., where the same comparison shows that a small car costs $72 and a similarly sized truck costs $300. Don’t get me wrong, if VA raised our rates that high I think a revolution would be necessary, but we should go higher. These rates would be applied statewide. Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia’s collected fees would go to our respective Authorities. The rest of the state’s collections would go right into the capital budget of VDOT. While we are re-evaluating fees, we should consider a discount for fuel economy. I was thinking 30 mpg would be a good start. This would encourage people to buy more fuel efficient cars which are usually lighter and wear less on the roads.

The next source of revenue is one which makes most people cringe. I am talking about the gas tax. Nobody wants to pay more for gas. Interestingly, those that oppose it the most are usually the same people that either drive gas-guzzlers or drive hours each way for their daily commute. I know that it will be tough. For me, for you, for everyone. We need to raise the money. I think an additional 5 cents would be a good start. It would put VA right around the national average (we are below it now) and well below the national maximum. If we had raised the rate when the prices started going down, the effect would have been near unnoticed.

The next touchy subject that nobody wants to talk about but most kind of know in the back of their minds that they would be beneficial in the long run: tolls. Hampton Roads has a number of proposed Public/Private Partnerships brewing right now. Each of them has something in common. Tolls. If our area could fund more road projects like the Chesapeake Expressway, we might get further. For those of you that may not know, the CE was funded by a loan from VDOT and by bonds, both of which are repayed through tolls. These tolls don’t need to be high. They can be simple 5 or 10 cent tolls on heavily traveled thoroughfares. A toll as low as 5 cents would only cost the average commuter $1 per month. As low as this seems, a 5-cent toll on, hypothetically, the I-64/264 interchange, could generate $6 million per year. Or a 20-cent toll on the Midtown Tunnel, which would generate $5 million/year. A 5-cent toll on the HRBT, the Midtown, the Downtown, the High-Rise, and the MMBT could generate a combined $7 million per year. All of these are hypothetical of course, but if we looked at small tolls that wouldn’t hurt anybody but would collectively raise enough money to matter, we might be able to get somewhere. After our projects are built and paid for, we could keep the tolls low (around $.05) and perhaps only toll in one direction, so that we can continue to pay for maintenance. All of these tolls would be collected completely electronically and could be billed monthly or paid online.

All of these proposals are hypothetical. They are just a sample of what we should do. We can no longer rely on state or federal money to pay for our roads. While I find that deplorable on multiple other levels, we have to keep thinking about our future. Remember: No Transportation = No Economy = No Jobs. Our roads are as important as water and electricity.





A New Hampton Roads Transportation Authority

13 10 2009

The HRTA was created as an effort by the General Assembly to give Hampton Roads what it so desperately needs: a dedicated funding source for major highway construction. However woefully inadequate this funding was, it was a start. Using the latest cost estimates (and including the HRBT), there are an estimated $14.6 billion worth of “high priority” road projects in Hampton Roads. The HRTA would have raised an estimated $170 million per year. It stand to reason then, that without outside help, the total amounts would not be covered until the year 2095. By then, of course, we will have reverted back to farms and bartering because of a lack of connectivity.So we have tow problems. First, how can it collect money and second, how can it collect more money.

The reason the initiative failed was due to the lack of research by the GA. They should have known that a non-elected body could not tax. There are two possible solutions to breath life back into the HRTA. The first is that the GA could impose the fees and taxes and then earmark them to be devoted to the HRTA. The GA, however, being made up mostly of those that lack the testicular fortitude of a flea, refuse to take leadership of anything above cashing their paychecks. The second and slightly more plausible solution would be to create an HRTA board that we actually got to elect. If each city’s residents got to elect the representative to serve on the board, then theoretically, it would be constitutionally acceptable for it to levy taxes. The problem with this, however, is that the board might deteriorate into a bunch of whiny kids wanting to get the most for their city. I think a practical solution would involve making sure that the mission plan of the board is written clearly enough to make it impossible for them force one issue over another. They would also need both an end strategy and a process to get other projects added to the end of the list.

The second issue is how would they collect more money. I will save that for the next post.





MacArthur Center’s New Policy

8 10 2009

As I am sure that you have heard by now, MacArthur Center is going to be enacting a new policy on October the 19th. This new policy will require adult (21+) supervision of anyone under the age of 18 after 5 PM. At first, I had mixed feelings about this new policy. I remember when I was 16 and 17. I would not have wanted to go to the movies with my girlfriend and my mom. Forget hanging out with my friends too. Its nothing personal to my wonderful mother, it is just normal for teens to want to have some degree of independence and responsibility. On the other hand, I also remember other kids at 16 or 17 and younger. Everyone knows who I am talking about. Those kids that shout at each other from different floors. Those that may be affiliated with a gang trying to start trouble. Those that take advantage of a more crowded evening setting to get a five-finger discount in their favorite store. These are the kids that they are trying to keep under control. It just happens to be easier to restrict the group in general than to fight each case independently, which often lead to arguments about it being ‘fair.’

Overall, while I dislike blanket rules, I support MacArthur Center’s attempt to keep it from going the way of Military Circle Mall, where I no longer feel safe due to large groups of kids hanging out at night. Even if the feeling is just a perception, I know that many people will not show somewhere that they perceive is bad. I applaud the Mall for taking a measure to prevent the continuation of a trend instead of waiting until the damage has been done. Good job MacArthur.