Seeing Red: Safety measure or cash grab?

With the arrival of Charlottesville’s first red light cameras comes the end of an honor system between drivers that has existed for decades, at least at one tricky intersection. Now it’s come to this: tickets for red light running will be generated by machines, not cops. Welcome to the world of 21st Century law enforcement.

But is this a legitimate effort to promote traffic safety? Or simply a cash grab by a private company and local government? More importantly, will the cameras actually stop red light running or simply have local drivers seeing red?

At a press conference last month announcing the installation of four red light traffic cameras (capable of taking photos and “situational” video footage of vehicles, not drivers) at the intersection of Rio Road and 29 North, County officials emphasized it was an effort to “increase traffic safety” at the dangerous intersection.

It’s an idea that has been discussed for nearly a decade, and after the Virginia General Assembly READ MORE


Conflicting tales: The unfolding tragedy at the VQR

Nearly three months after Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey took his own life, stories are still being penned about what the tragedy revealed about the troubled inner workings of the award-winning magazine: charges of favoritism, spiraling spending, poisonous tensions between staff members, and the hot-button suggestion that the magazine’s editor, Ted Genoways, bullied the 52-year-old Morrissey in the last few weeks of his life.

Documents recently made available to the Hook show that Genoways was burning through VQR’s endowment, hiring an intern for a key office role without going through the usual state procedures, and— perhaps most surprisingly— planning to take advantage of the intern-turned-employee’s million-dollar-plus donation to another program to save his own struggling enterprise.

Meanwhile, as the official UVA investigation into the management of the magazine continues (web update: the report was issued shortly after this story was posted), two recent stories have taken a different tack: casting Genoways, not Morrissey, as the hapless victim of a reckless rush to judgment. READ MORE

Tale of Woe: The death of the VQR’s Kevin Morrissey

On John Casteen’s last official day in office as the president of the University of Virginia, a tragic story, one fit for the pages of the award-winning literary journal that he nurtured, began to unfold.

That Friday, July 30, the managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, 52-year-old Kevin Morrissey, took his own life. Since then, UVA has shrouded VQR behind a wall of silence, changing the office locks, launching an audit, and even routing all incoming telephone calls to the University’s public relations office.

A Hook investigation reveals that behind the staid, Thomas Jefferson-designed exterior of VQR’s headquarters swirl allegations of financial recklessness, conflicts of interest, and a bizarre pattern of management-by-email that drove a staffer to quit. Some say there was also a pattern of bullying that may have pushed a fragile man into tragic oblivion. READ MORE

Rooms with a View: New Monticello boss opens rarely seen rooms

Monticello was designed for the pleasure and architectural curiosity of its owner, but as a new tour and exhibit will show, it was also designed for the enslaved workers who moved about the house relatively unseen, serving food, changing linens, and emptying chamber pots.

On Tuesday, May 25, Monticello boss Leslie Greene Bowman and staff gave the press a sneak peek at rooms that have never been opened to the public. It’s all part of a new “behind the scenes” tour that will launch June 11, accompanied by a new exhibit in the cellar level called “Crossroads,” all to shed light on the intersections between Jefferson, his family and guests, and the enslaved workers.

“We’re trying to make Monticello a more lively and entertaining experience,” says Susan Stein, Monticello’s senior curator.

Indeed, during Tuesday’s tour, reporters were led through the…Read More

The Chang effect: Wooing palates, breaking hearts— and why he left

Last fall, word that a famous Szechuan chef had quietly set up in Charlottesville had foodies salivating. There was a small newspaper mention and online chatter from groupies who track his every move, but after a March 1 story in the New Yorker, diners went into a feeding frenzy.

“We were surprised that it became so popular so fast,” says restaurant co-owner John Rong during a lunch time interview last week. “We noticed business going up after the story in the Hook, too, but when that story in the New Yorker come out…”

Indeed, sophisticated palates from Richmond and D.C. began making pilgrimages to Taste of China, where— even on cold winter evenings— lines could be seen snaking out onto the sidewalk of the north wing of Albemarle Square Shopping Center.

What was happening?

Read More

Tao of Poo

cover-worrellwater-sludgeplOn May 27, Governor Tim Kaine (D) presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for a $40.3 million upgrade of the Moore’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which one attending official called the “next step in addressing the impact of humans on the natural ecology.”

Of course, it’s a welcome upgrade, but is it really the “next step”? What if there were a company right here in Charlottesville that makes a waste treatment system designed to look like a beautiful garden and mimic a tidal estuary, a system that purifies wastewater without chemicals, emits no odors, and comes at a fraction of the price of systems like Moore’s Creek?

Too good to be true? Let’s find out (more)

Waste Wars

cover-murf-1Way back in February of 2008 I wrote about Peter Van der Linde’s new state-of-the art recycling facility out at Zion Crossroads. Since then, the story has become quite interresting…a story about a man who may have a solution to our waste woes, the same man being sued by our own waste authority….

What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?

Why is the main local trash authority suing the man who has offered a solution for the local waste disposal problem? And why is that man paying investigators to find out what words are spoken at the entrance booth of the authority’s favorite trash station?

It’s all part of an ongoing waste war. And before it ends, there’s a chance that the private citizen– unless he’s vanquished in court– may have beaten government at its own game.

Before you toss this newspaper in the recycling bin (we hope that’s what you’ll do after reading it), let’s talk trash with Peter Van der Linde.

A ‘real player’
“The landfill of the future just came to town,” says Van der Linde, a slender, soft-spoken man whose voice sounds not unlike a friendly wizard in a fantasy film, but although it might seem like magic, his new $11 million recycling facility near Zion Crossroads isn’t imaginary. It really does turn trash into cash.

“In the last seven years or so, these separation machines have really been perfected,” says Van der Linde. “I did a lot of research on them, and I believe this one I bought is the ultimate machine.”

Inside a 100,000-square foot steel-framed building, one of three such structures on the site, a 15-man crew is running a state-of the-art recycling machine, a $3.2 million device that can sort up to 100 tons of construction and demolition debris and curbside recyclables per hour. (more)

Wasted revenue? Authority realized in 2005 station didn’t track origins

As reported in a recent cover story [“What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?”], there’s a waste war raging with distrust, lawsuits, and even spying.

The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority is suing Peter Van der Linde, who recently opened a major recycling facility in Zion Crossroads (right next to the RSWA-sponsored facility), to retrieve millions in fees the outspoken hauler allegedly avoided paying by lying about the origins of his trash. However, Authority documents recently obtained by the Hook show that the Authority may have been fleeced by its own partner in trash. (More)

Recycle this! Van der Linde steps up tone

Recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde, who opened an $11 million state-of-the-art recycling facility in Zion Crossroads last December, recently did a round of local radio interviews, drawing attention once again to his ongoing legal battle with the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, which has filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against him.

“If this doesn’t bother you, nothing will,” declared former Republican City Councilor Rob Schilling on his WINA radio program, saying he was “disgusted” by the Authority’s action against Van der Linde. “It’s wrong in every single way.” (More)

COVER- King of the Road: The unstoppable Wendell Wood

A few weeks ago, we contacted developer Wendell Wood to ask if he would respond to rumors that he was building a palatial mansion in Southern Albemarle County. When he called back, he didn’t want to talk about his house, though he neither confirmed nor denied the rumors. He just changed the subject.

“Why would you want to write about some house I’m building?” he said. “The real story is the expansion around NGIC and how it’s going to bring 1,500 new jobs to the area. Now that’s a story.”

Wood offered instead to show us his new 122,000-square-foot high-security office building adjacent to NGIC, the National Ground Intelligence Center, on Route 29, which he plans to lease to the federal government when the new structure is completed in March. As is often the case with big developments, getting approval on the project was not easy.

As is also often the case, Wood got his way.

For four decades the developer has been buying up land and, as he puts it, “making things happen” along 29 North in a kind of real estate chess match that has become his life’s work. Wood uses a simpler analogy, comparing land buying to eating a pie.

“You take one piece, then you come back and take another, then another,” he says, “but it’s that last piece of pie that is the most valuable.”

But he’s clearly oversimplifying; he has had a hand in developing nearly everything familiar along 29 North, from the the Barracks Road Shopping Center to Fashion Square Mall, Wal-Mart to the Hollymead Town Center, and the NGIC, to name just a few. And it has made him rich. In 2001, Virginia Business Magazine listed him as one of the 50 wealthiest people in Virginia with a net worth of $160 million. MORE

Poet to Architect: Remaking the way we see things

In 1996, when poet Lisa Williams began working for architect William McDonough and German chemist Michael Braungart as they wrote their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, she didn’t know much about environmentalism or ecology. All that was about to change. As Williams helped craft the language of the book, its ideas about the creative processes of nature and how humans can redesign industries using nature as a model began to ignite her imagination.

“I was tremendously inspired by their revelatory description of nature,” says Williams, a former MFA student at UVA, who now teaches poetry at Centre College in Kentucky, “as well as by particular images and pieces of information I came across.”

Cradle to Cradle goes far beyond the idea of recycling and reuse, advocating instead for the complete elimination of waste in the manufacturing process– its title is a take on “cradle-to-grave analysis,” the study of a product’s life-cycle. For example, the book itself is “treeless,” made of a polypropylene synthetic that looks and feels like paper, and which can be as easily recycled as a yogurt container.

In essence, the book embodies its premise– that designers can create products, manufacturing systems, buildings, and developments that mine the intelligent designs of nature– such as nutrient recycling and the unique power of the sun– to allow commerce and nature to benefit from each other. Read more