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Regional leaders seek public comment on $276.4 million in transportation investments

The Central Virginia Transportation Authority is seeking feedback on a funding scenario for approximately 30 projects planned for the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan, the City of Richmond and the Town of Ashland.

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Local leaders across Central Virginia will soon make funding decisions committing four years of regional revenue worth an estimated $276.4 million to improve local bike, pedestrian, bridge and highway infrastructure, but first, they want public input.

The Central Virginia Transportation Authority is seeking feedback on a funding scenario for approximately 30 projects planned for the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan, the City of Richmond and the Town of Ashland.

The public comment period is open until Thursday, April 28, 2022. Comments may be submitted online and during the public hearing at 8:30 a.m. on April 29 at PlanRVA, located at 9211 Forest Hill Avenue, Suite 200 or by joining the Zoom Webinar and submitting questions via the Q&A dialog box.

“The upcoming infrastructure investments will improve the mobility and quality of life for residents, while laying an important framework for transportation planning in our region,” said CVTA Chairman Frank J. Thornton, a member of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. “We want to ensure everyone in our community has an opportunity to engage in the process. We are encouraging people to share feedback about what projects are most important to them.”

Established by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020, the Authority directs funding for priority transportation investments across the region.

PlanRVA – a regional organization focused on community development, emergency management, the environment and transportation – provides staffing to assist the Authority in its administration, project evaluation and prioritization, and other identified needs.

Projects in the current funding scenario include the Commerce Road Fall Line Trail Phases 1 and 2, Interstate 64 Ashland Road interchange, Interstate 95 & Route 10 interchange, Bottoms Bridge Park and Ride and several other highway and road improvements throughout the region.

The CVTA’s finance committee recommended the proposed funding allocation after reviewing five scenarios. CVTA scored and ranked projects based on their expected impacts and an evaluation of benefits compared with costs.

The CVTA will meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday, April 29 to hold a public hearing and vote on the projects to be funded.

In addition to providing feedback, the public can review the proposed funding scenario and learn more about the CVTA at planrva.org/transportation/cvta/.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.

Business

Greater Richmond Convention Center marks 20 years serving region

Since 2003, the complex has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments, and other events, bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

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Virginia’s largest meeting and exhibition venue celebrates two decades of welcoming events and visitors to the Richmond Region this year. The Greater Richmond Convention Center officially opened on February 28, 2003, as cheerleaders from across the country flipped in the American National Cheer and Dance Championships in the building’s exhibit hall.

Since then, the GRCC has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments and other events bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

The GRCC replaced the 62,000-square-foot Richmond Center, which opened in 1986. Stretching across a six-block area, the 700,000 square-foot GRCC incorporates some of the steel and pillars from the original facility.

Construction for the project began in 1999 and was supported by a $10 million investment from former Governor George Allen and the regionwide transient lodging tax.

“It is the best example of regional cooperation in the history of this whole area,” said late Lt. Gov. John H. Hager during a 2002 press conference.

The Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority – a political subdivision of Virginia with representation from the city of Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties – oversaw the financing, development and construction of the GRCC. The Authority’s 25th anniversary is this year.

We’re immensely proud of the legacy and the positive impact the Greater Richmond Convention Center has had on tourism,” said Lincoln Saunders, City of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer and Chair of the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority. “Millions of people are introduced to the Richmond Region through events and competitions that are hosted at the facility every year. These visitors support our economy by shopping at our small businesses, eating at restaurants and visiting attractions.”

To examine the viability of the GRCC, regional leaders commissioned a feasibility study by C.H. Johnson Consulting in 1999. The researchers projected hotel tax collections to reach $30 million by fiscal year 2020. Hotel tax collection revenues reached $30 million by fiscal year 2019.

Throughout the GRCC expansion phases, groups were welcomed to the region to use completed portions of the building. About 1,200 women from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were the first to use the facility’s new ballroom during a three-day conference in May 2001.

When the GRCC was officially completed in 2003, Richmond Region Tourism had booked 18 conventions through 2008.

Interest and bookings have experienced a dramatic uptick over the years. During its last fiscal year, the GRCC hosted over 180 events.

From USA Fencing tournaments and ice dancing competitions to offshore wind conferences and comic conventions, the GRCC has hosted various large-scale events since it opened.

“The convention center is a shining example of regional collaboration,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “The success of the convention center demonstrates how investing in tourism results in positive economic development for our entire region. Richmond Region Tourism and its partners are committed to working alongside our community to continue tourism’s positive momentum.”

The GRCC went through extensive upgrades to modernize the facility in 2020.

GRCC’s technological and cosmetic improvements include new LED lighting and RGB color lighting, monitors, digital signage, and a new digital sound system.  Its interior spaces were updated with new tile, accents, paint scheme, and pub-style tables and seating. The facility also features a new executive lounge and a renovated food court and service desk.

Today the GRCC features 178,159 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 30,550 square foot grand ballroom, and 50,000 sq. ft. of additional meeting room space.

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Downtown

Animal welfare advocates disappointed bill to declaw cats failed

House Bill 1382 would have made the declawing of cats a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill failed to advance when it was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

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By Cassandra Loper

A proposal to outlaw the declawing of cats, a procedure that animal rights advocates call cruel and unnecessary, failed to advance from a House subcommittee last month.

House Bill 1382 would have made cat declawing a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

The bill is important because cats’ claws are natural and used for stretching, marking territory, balance and more, according to Molly Armus, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Declawing cats is actually an “incredibly painful procedure,” according to Armus.

“I think it’s up to us, as people who are taking these cats into our homes, to learn more humane and less invasive ways to manage scratching,” Armus said.

An onychectomy, or declawing, is a surgery that includes 10 separate amputations, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, according to its website.

Declawing is typically performed for convenience, according to the Animal League Defense Fund. Many people declaw their cats to prevent scratching, its website states.

“Localities around the nation, a couple of states, including our neighbor Maryland, have passed a declawing ban,” said bill sponsor Del. Gwendolyn Gooditis, D-Clarke, in the committee meeting.

New York and Maryland are the only U.S. states that have outlawed declawing. Multiple U.S. cities have passed declawing laws, with the most located in California, according to PETA.

“Declawing cats means, look at your hands, it would be the equivalent of your fingers and your toes being chopped off at the first knuckle,” Gooditis said.

The procedure can cause impaired balance, as much as a person would after losing his or her toes, according to PETA. Declawed cats may have to relearn how to walk.

“It’s a removal of that last bone,” Gooditis said.

Susan Seward, a lobbyist for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, or VVMA, testified against the bill in the committee meeting. The VVMA strongly opposed the bill, Seward said.

“I think one of the unintended consequences would be setting up a really unpleasant and adversarial relationship between animal control and veterinarians, and that is certainly not a relationship we want to diminish,” Seward said to the committee panel.

Alice Burton, program director for nonprofit animal welfare organization Alley Cat Allies, said the organization was disappointed the bill failed.

Alley Cat Allies mission is to protect and improve the lives of cats. according to its website. The organization operates a trap-neuter-return program to help stabilize the cat population. A cat is transported to a veterinarian, spayed and returned to its original location.

It’s an act of cruelty to declaw cats, according to Burton, who was an animal control officer for 15 years.

“They no longer have their nails as a defense, so their first instinct is to bite,” Burton said. “So all of a sudden they’ve got these bites on their record, which obviously does not bode well for them.”

Declawed cats also struggle to use the litter box because the litter hurts their paws, she said. Many cats who have been declawed will stop using the litter box and soil where they aren’t supposed to, Burton said.

“I would say most of the time these negative effects lead to these cats being surrendered to the shelters or rescue groups,” Burton said. “They would, in most cases, be deemed unadoptable and they would be euthanized.”

There are many other humane options out there, according to Burton.

Humane alternatives to declawing include trimming a cat’s claws regularly, using deterrents such as double-sided tape on furniture, rubber caps for the nails and providing a variety of scratching options, according to Alley Cat Allies.

“We’re not giving up,” Burton said. “We’re going to come back and keep fighting.”

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Downtown

House panel kills watered-down GOP bill on retail marijuana sales

In a nod to the political reality that the Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to legalize retail sales of marijuana this session, a Republican lawmaker encouraged his colleagues to just ask the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to start drawing up rules for a retail marketplace that legislators could look at next year.

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By Graham Moomaw

In a nod to the political reality that the Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to legalize retail sales of marijuana this session, a Republican lawmaker encouraged his colleagues to just ask the state’s Cannabis Control Authority to start drawing up rules for a retail marketplace that legislators could look at next year.

Speaking before a GOP-led House of Delegates subcommittee Tuesday night, Del. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex, said he’s never been a big fan of sanctioning recreational marijuana use. But, he added, Virginia’s refusal to allow retail marijuana sales — while making marijuana legal to grow at home and possess in small amounts — has created public safety risks from unregulated products that are more widely available than ever.

“If we do nothing, we have a problem on our hands,” Hodges said. “And we need to protect the citizens of Virginia from the illicit market.”

Greg Habeeb, a former Republican delegate turned lobbyist who represents the Virginia Cannabis Association, said the watered-down bill should be entirely uncontroversial and something even Gov. Glenn Youngkin could support, despite the administration’s reluctance to get behind legal weed sales.

“All this bill does is says the [Cannabis Control Authority], that you all have propped up and funded, should do its job of advising you guys of what a market could look like next year,” Habeeb said.

The vote on the bill was far from unanimous. It failed 5-2, with Republicans opposing it and Democrats supporting it. The same subcommittee also rejected a different Republican-sponsored bill that would have actually established a retail marijuana market rather than planning how it could be done in the future.

The Democratic-led state Senate is still working on its own marijuana sales bill, but the action in the House Tuesday evening is a strong sign the 2023 session will be another year of deadlock on the issue.

As he made a motion to block the legislation that simply asked the cannabis board to begin drafting rules for how a retail marketplace would function, Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, said the bill didn’t do anything to address illegal or dangerous products currently being sold in Virginia.

“We do have several bills moving forward that address that,” Runion said. “So I think that needs to be our focus.”

Runion did not lay out a case for why the General Assembly can’t pass both bills, moving toward a retail marketplace while also cracking down on largely unregulated products like hemp-derived delta-8, which can still get users high even though it’s technically not marijuana.

The Youngkin administration is backing legislation to impose stricter regulations on businesses that sell those products, with a particular eye toward protecting children from THC-infused edibles that often come in colorful but confusingly labeled packaging.

Because the hemp regulation bills appear to be moving forward in the Senate, there’s still a chance advocates could try to tie the two issues together. The Youngkin administration has pushed back against that approach.

“The decision on whether to legalize retail sales and whether to clean up harmful hemp products hopefully should be considered separately,” Parker Slaybaugh, chief deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry, told lawmakers at a committee hearing.

Numerous representatives from the cannabis industry have insisted the two topics can’t be separated, arguing the state’s problem with unregulated intoxicating products is a direct result of lawmakers’ failure to set up a state-sanctioned market with safer, legal products.

A lobbyist for Jushi, a company that has one of Virginia’s few licenses to sell medical cannabis but also sells recreational products in states that allow them, emphasized that nothing in the scaled-back, one-page Hodges bill would cause any new dispensaries to open.

“We do things incrementally in Virginia,” said Jushi representative Hunter Jamerson. “I think this is that incremental approach.”

The status of two hemp regulation bills in the House was unclear as of Wednesday afternoon, when both were surprisingly voted down 11-9 in the Courts of Justice Committee. The committee is not yet done with its meetings, so the legislation could still be revived for another vote.

Linking the marijuana and hemp bills together could force the two sides to negotiate a deal later in the session. However, it could also raise the possibility of failure on both fronts if Democrats refuse to support standalone hemp legislation and Republicans insist on blocking retail weed sales.

On the Senate side, the major cannabis bills are pending in the Finance and Appropriations Committee, which is set to meet Thursday. At the urging of progressive activists, the Senate marijuana bill was amended to give Virginians incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses an opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by the courts. Some Democrats have insisted on that provision, which supporters see as a matter of fairness to Black communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition.

The crossover deadline for each chamber to finish work on its own bills is Tuesday.

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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