City Council Recap - May 26, 2020

Unlike other city council meetings that have occurred this year, this one occurs on Zoom. The public is only able to view four screens at a time, most members have their video cameras off when not speaking.

The meeting opens with an invocation given by Rabbi Michael E. Knopf of Temple Beth-El. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting moves on to the citizen comments. There are no awards or presentations.

Citizen Comments

Since this meeting is being held electronically, citizens are encouraged to provide their comments by email. However, if a person wants to make a public comment, they are instructed to call the City Clerk’s Office or send an email with a request no later than 10:00 am the day of the meeting.

Most of the comments for this meeting are regarding the Short-term Rental Ordinance (ORD. 2019-343) which was removed from the agenda. However, the council motioned to let them speak. The first comment comes from Thomas Courtney who attended a previous meeting at 4:00 pm. He is providing further information about the data and the implementation process. There are 723 operations of short-term rentals in RVA.

Tyler Rackley also comments on ORD. 2019-343 and expresses his gratefulness to the council for continuing the conversation for thirty more days. The main issue with the ordinance is regarding the principal occupancy requirement. Polling has concluded that 80% of operators in RVA rent out of a second home, not their principal occupancy. They want to be compliant with the city but also come to a solution both sides can agree on.

The next speaker Stacy Van Cherry uses the data provided by Mr. Rackley to emphasize that the ordinance as-is will decimate 80% of short-term rentals in the city. They draw people to the city. She also discouraged the council from leaving the ordinance as is. Some members of the council were thinking of passing it as is and returning to it a year later. However, Ms. Van Cherry expressed that this was not a feasible idea. Most operators would have to sell the furniture in their short-term rentals and convert them to long-term. Asking them to potentially change back a year later is unreasonable.

Allan Charles Chipman then joined the call to speak about Res. 2020-R034. He mostly emphasized the importance of public input. A representative from the Partnership for Smarter Growth, Sebastian Shetty, was also present at the meeting to speak on it as well. The council had already voted to defer the vote as the group wanted, but Mr. Shetty went ahead with their planned statement. Like Mr. Chipman, he asked that the public be given time to provide their input. Also, that the benefits to the community be identified.

Agenda Review & Amendments

For the public to see the agenda as the items are being mentioned, one of the council members shares their screen.

Chis Hilbert opposed the agenda. He wants a vote on the short-term rental ordinance to occur and does not believe the extra 30 days are necessary. The ordinance has been worked on for more than a year, so he does not support any amendments to the current draft of the ordinance. He stated matter-of-factly that many of the short-term rental operations in the city were not following a legal business model.

Kimberly Gray brought up the numerous emails she received regarding the paper withdrawn by Mayor Stoney about the C-PACE legislation the council adopted. She recommended moving forward with it using a third-party provider instead. Kristen Larson provided a follow up to the C-PACE program. She is planning to introduce an amendment to the original ordinance which would allow the program to be extended.

Stephanie Lynch responded to Council Member Hilbert’s disapproval of the agenda regarding short-term rentals. She is committed to working with both sides during the 30 days to reach a compromise.

Public Hearing on Consent Agenda

Phil Gardner joined the Zoom meeting to speak on Item 29 Res. 2020-022. Council Member Larson thanked him for appearing for public comment.

Regular Agenda

Item 38 Res. 2020-R015 was the first item on the consent agenda. The resolution calls for the modification of the Commission of Architectural Review’s decision to approve the demolition of a certain area of George Mason Elementary School. The citizen who wished to comment in support was not on the line.

Cynthia Newbille, the council president, was able to meet with the Richmond Public Schools Superintendent and city staff regarding this issue. Funds have been made available, $75,000 to be exact, to memorialize the historic portions of the school.

Jason Kamras, the Superintendent of RPS, joined the meeting to also express his support for the demolition and re-emphasize that the removal of the structure will not compromise the historical elements. It will allow the students to have the same outdoor amenities that other schools have.

Council Member Gray stated that this issue should have been solved beforehand. The Commission of Architectural Review opposed the demolition. Council Member Larson also expressed concerns about the planning. She also mentioned that it was unfair to ask residents to preserve historic buildings, but not preserve their own.

The Council voted to adopt Item 38 Res. 2020-R015 with only Larson, Tramell, and Gray opposing.

They also voted to amend Item 08 Res. 2020-087 to the June 08, 2020, Council Meeting.

Reports or Announcements by Members of the Council

Michael Jones 9th District

  • provides more information for small businesses regarding PPE kits

Ellen Robertson 6th District

  • Began with a recognition of all those that have given their lives for the country

  • The Metropolitan Fund was created to help women and minority owned business during COVID pandemic, applications due Friday.

  • There is a special election June 23. No absentee ballots will be accepted, but curbside voting is available.

  • The Richmond area has not received the level of response to the Census as originally expected. If population count is not correct it could result in a loss of funds for the city,

Kristen Larson 4th District

  • The Forest Hill Neighborhood Association is continuing to meet

  • A small supply of masks and sanitizer were received by her office to be distributed to senior community.

Stephanie Lynch 5th District

  • Acknowledged the death of 9-year-old Markiya Simone Dickson which occurred over a year ago because of gun violence. In Richmond, there has been a 32% increase in gun violence since 2019 and ½ of all crossfire deaths involve young children.

Kimberly Gray 2nd District

  • Council Member also addressed the gun violence in the city with a personal anecdote that took place the night before. A shooting occurred right in front of her and resulted in a gun being thrown in the middle of the street that was thankfully recovered by Richmond Police.

  • The long-term place for Camp Kathy residents in hotels should be made available and planning to put them in a permanent shelter

Reva Trammell 8th District

  • Richmond International Airport is one of the backbones of the city, compared to last April travel to the airport has been down by 95%.

  • Working smoke alarms are vital to safety and a check by the fire department is free of charge

Andreas Addison 1st District

  • Emphasized that wearing masks in public is a sign of respect for others

Chris Hilbert 3rd District

  • Expressed disappointment that masks have become a political statement. Once again bringing up that it is a sign of respect and regard for someone else’s health.

Cynthia Newbille 7th District

  • Looking for feedback regarding Phase 1 of reopening

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