Charlottesville Breaking News

Controversy veers: Belmont Bridge fence could pose bike hazard

Controversy has erupted again on the Belmont Bridge, and this time it's bicyclists who might be getting the short end of the sidewalk, as a new fence– designed as a safety boon– could be creating a safety hazard.

"That pushes the bicyclists further out out into the traffic," says safety expert Dean Sicking. "That would be a concern for me."

Sicking explains how the fence, erected in late May to keep pedestrians from walking over the Bridge's crumbling eastern sidewalk, has been located so close to the vehicular lanes that the natural tendency of a passing bicyclist is to steer away from such an obstacle– and out into motorized traffic.

Belmont Bridge has two vehicular lanes on its eastern side but no lanes dedicated exclusively to bicycles. And that's why Sicking, who directs the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska, isn't sure the fence was a good idea.

"The concern I would have," says Sicking, "is that it might make a biker shy away from the fence and be more likely to be hit by a car."

Researcher Sicking provided safety tips in the wake of a group of fences built inside tunnels in Boston's "Big Dig." There, the fences were blamed for deaths and grisly, dismembering injuries that might not have happened with horizontally-oriented bars.

He says the Belmont Bridge fence might...

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Water down: Lots of rain but still below average

After a dry winter that brought less than half the average precipitation, fears of a drought à la 2002 have been averted by a very wet spring and what's been, to this point, a wetter than average summer season, according to state climatologist Jerry Stenger.

Those spring showers "made nothing short of a huge and very welcome difference," Stenger says, noting that 17 inches fell between late March and late June, bringing groundwater levels up from "disturbingly low" to the normal range throughout most of the area.

With June bringing 90 percent the average precipitation and a soggy, thunderstormy July hitting 150 percent of average rainfall at mid-month– measured at the McCormick Observatory– Stenger says the Charlottesville area ground water is in good shape and overall rainfall for the year has rebounded to reach 10 percent above average.

That's not the case in other places around the state, where rainfall hasn't been so plentiful.

In the Tidewater area, for instance, certain localities have already implemented water use restrictions to stave off supply problems, Stenger says, noting they're now "at the mercy of hit or miss thunderstorms."

But if this area's groundwater's in good shape, there are a few downsides to the ample rainfall.

"Lawns are overgrowing with reckless abandon, and with plenty of areas that don't dry out, mold spores are having a field day," says Stenger, suggesting that rain may actually be somethin...

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Feeder bear

This bear visited the yard of John Clem in the Key West neighborhood.

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Smooth move: Restaurant Week opens in style

Charlottesville Restaurant Week kicked off Monday night with a bang. Over at Brookville Restaurant, co-owner Jennifer Pendleton, who'll be marrying her chef-partner Harrison Keevil later this year (congrats!), says they "did awesome, about 50 people, which is great for us on a Monday." Plus, she says the phone has been "ringing off the hook all day." A lot of large groups have booked, like 14 and 12 tops, so she says things are filling up fast. But you might have a chance Sunday. 

Over at the Blue Light Grill, Bang!TEN, and the C&O Restaurant it was the same story.

"There have been calls all day long," says the C&O's Lindsay Bell, who was managing the packed house on Monday. "We've had to reserve seats in the Bistro, which are usually for walk-ins. Sorry, but we're booked for the entire week." Hey, you never know, give them a call and they might squeeze you in. Tip: request a late seating. 

"We saw people we've never seen before, and a lot of people from out of town," says Bell. "Where do they hear about this?"

Bell said everyone appeared to be having a good time, though no one wanted to sit outside on the steamy night. 

"The kitchen has got it down now," says Bell. "Everything went real smooth."...

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Preservationists 'speechless': Pre-permit Ingleside demolition raises ire

It sounds like a joke.

"I tell ya, the county's historic preservation codes are so weak," the comedian says, "you can apply for a demo permit after you've demolished your old house." Bada-boom!

But it's no joke. 

Recently, when County historic resources planner Margaret Maliszewski received a demolition permit for the house at Ingleside Farm on Garth Road, she wanted to save or at least document the two-story, circa 1938 structure that had been mostly recently renovated by renowned local architect Floyd Johnson. When Maliszewski called the contractor to confer about what she thought was an upcoming demolition, she was informed that the house had already been taken down.

"We estimate that two or three buildings were demolished in the past two years before the permit was approved," says Maliszewski.

And those are the ones they know about.

"We have no system for tracking the number of buildings that are demolished without permits," she says. 

The County's Historic Preservation Committee supports the documentation of historic structures prior to demolition, and tries to do as many as they can each year, but when property owners choose to demo places on their own, there's little the County can do. 

"The Committee was speechless upon learning of its demise," says committee member Steven Meeks of the Ingleside farmhouse, "because we had no opportunity to document the structure before it was destroye...

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