Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: Build more housing, tax abatement, and a Squirrels’ history

Good morning, RVA! It's 31 °F, but dang if highs won’t hit nearly 70 °F today. Too cold to ride a bike this morning, perfect bike-riding weather this afternoon: The Story of Spring.

Water cooler

I don’t typically talk about the Board of Zoning Appeals, even though this is Richmond’s premier zoning and rezoning daily email newsletter. But today the BZA will hold a public hearing to consider an application for turning the Lee Medical Building on the southwest corner of Monument and Allen into 63 apartments (PDF) (1:00 PM, City Hall, 5th Floor Conference Room). If I understand it properly, the current office building doesn’t fit the existing zoning (R-6, single-family attached residential) and, after altering the building, the new, proposed apartments wouldn’t fit the existing zoning either. So off to the BZA we go. Councilmember Gray is against these apartments and distributed a letter to residents in the area—on official Council letterhead, even!—citing concerns over parking, traffic, a negative impact on property values, and the vague threat of “student housing.” These apartments are an opportunity to take an existing structure in a walkable, bikeable, close-to-transit neighborhood and convert it to over 60 places for folks to live! Richmond needs more, denser housing, and we shouldn’t squander any opportunity to create it. The thing that I can’t get over is that literally one block away there are MASSIVE apartment buildings on both the northwest and southeast corner of Monument and Lombardy, yet somehow we all survive. Anyway, if the above was too wonky/boring, read more about how the particulars of zoning work against creating a thriving neighborhood in this wonderful and human-readable thread from Twitter user @SmithNicholas.

Here is something to Officially Keep Your Eye On™: On Monday, Council’s Organizational Development committee heard a presentation from VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis on the City’s tax abatement program. You can read Mark Robinson at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s summary of the meeting, read CURA’s full report.pdf) (PDF), or listen to audio from of the presentation. I haven’t read through the report or listened to the audio yet, so I have lots to learn on the subject. However, I do hear, from smart people, that while we work on ways to increase the City’s revenue (aka rolling back the Recession-era tax cuts) we should definitely look hard at also reforming the City’s tax abatement program.

Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense says Virginia Union University is looking to develop the Budget Inn property across the street into something commercial, mixed-use, or residential. My vote goes to mixed-use; The area needs some more retail, but, as I discussed a few paragraphs ago, we should never pass up a good opportunity to build a a bunch of homes for humans. This would, of course, necessitate a...rezoning!

The General Assembly will wrap up their 2019 session today. The hands-free driving bill will most likely not make it back to the floor for a vote, so that’s a bummer. Michael Martz at the RTD says Speaker Cox will, however, allow a vote on some regional transportation tax increases to pay for improvements to I-81 💸. It’s hard not to get frustrated by legislators working together to find millions of dollars for highway improvements, yet laws to make those highways safer die due to politics. Switching gears: If this tax package passes, I wonder if there’s a better chance for the Richmond region to get it’s own dedicated transportation funding stream in the future—but for both roads and public transportation?

On the eve of opening night, the RTD’s John O’Connor has a fun oral history looking back across 10 years of Flying Squirrels and how they ended up in Richmond.

This morning's longread

The Sherpa Of New York

I learned so much, including that I never, ever want to be a mountaineer.

Centuries earlier, the Sherpa people had come over the mountains from Tibet to northeastern Nepal, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Westerners pulled them into carrying their loads up the peaks around them. They lived largely cut off from the rest of the world, and they were perplexed by the foreigners who came to risk near–certain death to reach the summit—a word that didn’t exist in their language, because they couldn’t conceive why anyone would climb a mountain for its own sake. In time, their roles as porters became synonymous with the name of their ethnic group, which actually means “people of the east,” but by mid-century they started to gain recognition for their own mountaineering skills.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

Good morning, RVA: Podcasts, barbecue, and opening night

Good morning, RVA: Take action!, refugee services, and then-and-now photos