What does the Rivanna River mean to you and how could your interaction with the river be better?

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission posed this question Friday afternoon to approximately 15 people at a work session in the Albemarle County Office Building’s Lane Auditorium. The event, which was a part of the 2018 Rivanna River Renaissance Conference, began the second development phase of the Rivanna River Corridor Plan.

“Sometimes, policy is written, and sometimes, policy is reflected in the history of actions. I would say we have the latter,” said Peter Krebs, community outreach coordinator for the Piedmont Environmental Council. “The river is a backyard playground with informal access.”

In 2016, Charlottesville and Albemarle decided to create a formal plan for the area’s riverfront. The TJPDC began the first phase of developing the plan — collecting existing conditions of the river — a year ago.

The city and county contributed $7,500 each to the first phase. The estimated budget for the second phase, which will include outreach, research, and drafting the plan, is $75,000.

“It’s already apparent to us that there are very different visions for this river. There are some who feel that we should leave it alone, don’t touch it,” said Will Cockrell, TJPDC’s director of planning. “There are others who see it as more of a recreational corridor. … There are others who we heard who wanted to develop the corridor.”

Attendees seemed to want to balance all three visions. Ideas ranged from a policy banning plastic bags in the area to pedestrian bridges to breweries.

“I think because it doesn’t go through our downtown, unlike a lot of the cities that do this sort of process, the future of it should stay green,” said Gabe Silver, co-owner of the Rivanna River Co.

Still, Silver said, the area could handle a half-mile of riverfront development without harming the environment. Silver suggested that development could go along River Road, a mixed-use and industrial area in Charlottesville immediately north of Free Bridge. Businesses currently there include AutoZone and Charlottesville Truck Repair.

“[River Road] is a huge opportunity because it’s all impervious surface. It’s all degraded already,” he said.

Albemarle Supervisor Liz Palmer raised the question of how to fund transportation and infrastructure improvements like those proposed in the work session.

“Because cities and counties in Virginia and other places get their money from property taxes, we’ve got to get more buildings per acre on those empty parking lots in order to pay for the things we’ve got to pay for, like bridges across rivers and bridges across [U.S.] 29. It’s all about money,” Palmer said.

Cockrell prompted the audience to consider how community partnerships could fit into river redevelopment. Former Roanoke City Manager Bern Ewert spoke during the first half of the conference about Roanoke’s river project. Roanoke asks volunteers to help build and maintain their trails.

FLOW: The Rivanna River Arts Festival, which is organized by Chroma Projects and the Rivanna Conservation Alliance and sponsored by Albemarle, among others, is a local example of such partnerships. The festival took place Saturday with a series of art installations and performances between Darden Towe and Riverview parks.

TJPDC is accepting input for the Rivanna River Corridor Plan at http://tjpdc.org/rivanna-corridor/.

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Collectbritain, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.