The Charlottesville School Board has voted 4-1 to grant an easement of 9 acres near Charlottesville High School to construct the County’s portion of the

Meadowcreek Parkway

. The matter now goes to the City Council, who will vote on the easement at its next meeting. The approval caps a month in which a Board elected to guide the City’s educational system was asked to weigh in on a transportation matter.

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School Board member Juandiego Wade, who works as the County’s transportation planner, recused himself from the meeting and left the room. Another member, Alvin Edwards, left the meeting shortly before the public comment period after suffering an allergy attack.

The item first came before the Board on

April 3

as an information item, and was deferred following a presentation at the

April 17 meeting

. Ten people spoke against the resolution at the May 1 meeting including long-time opponents of the Parkway and neighbors who objected to the at-grade intersection with Melbourne Road.

After the public comment period, the Board discussed the matter for an hour and a half before taking a vote. They asked several follow-up questions from their previous discussions.

City School Board Members Colette Blount (left) and Kathleen Galvin (right)

Colette Blount, who openly spoke out against the Parkway at the April 22 meeting of the City Council, asked City Planner Angela Tucker to give a history of the funding of the project, and asked what environmental review had been performed to date. After Tucker answered, Blount expressed her dissatisfaction with the answers, and said she did not feel comfortable voting without more information.

Tucker said she wanted to assure the School Board that all three components of the Meadowcreek Parkway are being pursued legally, and that all of the necessary environmental reviews required by state and federal authorities are being conducted.

At the Board’s meeting on April 17, much time was spent trying to plot out a location for a future trail to connect the high school to the linear park. Kathleen Galvin had expressed the concern that students would have to cross the parkway at-grade to get to the north-south trail. After that, she met with Chris Gensic and Dan Mahon, trail planners for the City and County respectively.

“We talked about the various ways that there could be additional east-west connections in addition to the controlled intersections at streets,” Galvin said. She passed out a rough diagram that listed where these might be. Gensic said a lot more engineering work would need to be conducted, but that there were several places where a future trail could go. That prompted Blount to call for a second postponement of the resolution because there were too many “what-ifs” to resolve.

Dan Mahon (left) and Chris Gensic (right)

Dan Mahon said the linear park would be able to serve as both a recreational trail as well as a way for people to commute on bikes to the City. He pointed out that the draft Places29 Master Plan shows an uninterrupted pedestrian trail all the way up to Hollymead, as well as connections to the Rivanna Trail. Gensic said he was still working on the funding to connect a new bike trail for the Route 250 bypass to the Meadowcreek Parkway trail.

Blount asked if it were possible to build the linear park without building the road. Mahon said it was his understanding that the proposed trail system was created as the Parkway shrank from 4 lanes to 2 lanes. Tucker said the Parkway was designed to balance all modes of transportation. Galvin said she appreciated “the more progressive attitude” but said she was bothered by how the Meadowcreek Parkway separated the trail from the high school.

“It’s still the Rubicon, it’s still separating one half from the other without east-west connections,” Galvin said. “We’re left here hoping that a culvert can be transformed at some point, hoping we can get a bridge. It needs to happen concurrent with construction of the parkway.”

Tucker said nothing in the Parkway’s design precluded the future construction of any additional east-west bridge, but that they could not be added at this time.

“What happens if they are added now is that the schedule of this project and the funding for this project, which are also considerations that factor into project development also get disrupted,” Tucker said. “At some point, we are directed to move forward with the design.”

Board member Llezelle Dugger asked where City Council was in its approval process. Michie said the City Council approved a temporary construction easement for its portion with conditions. Tucker said two of the conditions remaining to be met are Council approval of a storm water management plan, as well as Council approval of the interchange design for the Route 250 bypass and the Meadowcreek Parkway.

Michie asked Jim Tolbert, Director of the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services, why the Parkway’s intersection with Melbourne Road was not grade-separated. Tolbert said that decision predated him, but Tucker said it was thought to be too expensive.

Michie asked if the federal earmark money of $27 million could be shifted to another City project if City Council chooses an at-grade interchange rather than a grade-separated one. Tucker said her staff had found out that if the interchange project does not move forward, the funding would be shifted to another federal project elsewhere in the state.

Galvin wanted to know if City Council could overrule the School Board if it voted to deny the easement. Michie said it was his view and Llezelle Dugger’s view that the Board’s consent was necessary, to a point.

“If we put in a condition that we say is contingent on this and City Council doesn’t adopt that that contingency, I think that would be a legal battle,” Michie said. “We would have some legal standing to argue about if it wasn’t done, but it’s not a slam dunk… I think with the proposed resolution that we’re all on the same page.”

Blount said she had received over twenty e-mails from people opposed to the resolution, but only one contact in favor. She expressed her wariness over giving away land near the high school.

“As a member of the School board, when we’re looking at property that the school needs for our children… Charlottesville City is a tiny City and we do not have land up for grabs,” Blount said. “We do not need to assist the County in their traffic woes.”

School Board member Leah Puryear made a motion to cut off debate, given that the Board has spent two meetings discussing the issue. The motion failed, and the discussion continued.

Michie said he had mixed feelings about the Parkway, but that the decision to proceed was made by City Council, people elected to make transportation decisions. He said he felt the opponents of the Parkway should direct their attention to Council, but that the Board should vote to grant the easement.

“This land has always been on the chopping block for the Meadowcreek Parkway,” Michie said. “There’s no surprise… we should have never put a field on it because at all times when this property was purchased, it was known that was the land for the Meadowcreek Parkway.”

Michie added that Charlottesville High School was built in a neighborhood, an atypical location for a school. He said the Parkway could be a way to connect the school to the heart of the City, and that high schools are often built around busy roads.

Galvin said she could see the benefits of the Meadowcreek Parkway for the regional road system, but suggested that the 50 acres of County land might one day be necessary to grow food. She said she would support the road as a way to improve connectivity, but was offended that the Board wasn’t consulted earlier.

Llezelle Dugger said it was important to maintain a cooperative attitude with the City Council, given that the Council is the primary funder of the City’s school system.

Leah Puryear said she was not elected for transportation issues, and that she would follow the will of Council. She said the City and County erred in not constructing a ring road when it had the chance, but that the School Board had to move on and get back to its regular agenda.

Blount said she felt rushed into making a decision, and said there were too many unresolved questions.

“The City has been considering this for decades, and we were given just a month,” Blount said. Galvin called for a joint work session with City Council. VDOT’s Brent Sprinkle said he was unsure if another month’s delay would have an effect, given that the City is not holding a work session on the interchange design until after a June 4, 2008 work session.

Galvin made a motion to amend the resolution to require that the School Board’s granting of the easements is conditional on the construction of pedestrian bridges at half-mile intervals up and down the whole length of the Parkway. That motion failed. Her second motion was to require that the School Board be regularly updated on efforts to build the east-west pedestrian connection. That amendment passed after a great deal of wordsmithing.

With the amendments out the way, the resolution passed 4-1 with Blount against. Next stop, City Council.

Sean Tubbs

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