Councilors and commissioners inspect map for small area plans

Charlottesville’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan calls for detailed efforts to help ensure the infrastructure is in place for a more urban environment.

However, elected and appointed officials do not have consensus on which part of the 10.4-square-mile city should be targeted for a costly “small area plan.”

“We don’t have money trees yet, so we have to prioritize where we start,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.

In all, 10 such plans are called for throughout the city. On Tuesday, staff asked members of the City Council and the Planning Commission to give their initial thoughts on where to focus.

The $145,000 Strategic Investment Area study, a blueprint for future development in an area of central Charlottesville south of the Downtown Mall, is the template for the plans.

The city is also currently in negotiations with a firm to produce a $350,000 study for West Main Street. That work also will include suggestions about how to alter the intersection of West Main, Ridge Street and McIntire Road.

But what comes next?

“Where’s development most likely to occur in the next five years that we need to get ahead of?” asked Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

Councilor Kathy Galvin called for an approach that prioritizes investment in areas that can generate more property tax revenue, which could then be funneled to pay for infrastructure.

“That’s the missing information,” Galvin said. “It would be good to know which ones would give us a high rate of return.”

One possible location for a small area plan is the Emmet Street corridor north of the U.S. 250 Bypass.

“The Kmart lease is up in a couple of years and those property owners want to redevelop,” Tolbert said. Several hotels in the area are up for sale, and the Seminole Square shopping center has several vacancies, including the former Giant grocery store.

A small area plan for the River Road-Rivanna River corridor likely would draw upon work done earlier this year at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture’s week-long design contest called the Rivanna Vortex.

“Whatever we do there will have to be coordinated with [Albemarle] County because the river corridor has two sides,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said previous plans for the High Street corridor suggested the city focus on medical offices and other supporting businesses for the former Martha Jefferson Hospital.

But now that the former site is being redeveloped as office space for the CFA Institute and other businesses, the underlying zoning needs to be changed if the city wants development.

“We’ve seen people come in with plans for development and walk away frustrated because the ordinance is such that their plans don’t work,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said a plan for the Woolen Mills neighborhood would help guide future development as individual property owners decide to do something with their land. On one side of Market Street is industrial zoning, a fact that concerns some Woolen Mills residents.

“As those properties redevelop, what are they, and what do they look like, are both important pieces,” Tolbert said. He added that a Woolen Mills plan also would include design standards.

As residential development is being built on West Main Street, there could be pressure on the Cherry Avenue-Roosevelt Brown area to respond with supporting commercial enterprises. For instance, there are approved site plans for several mixed-use buildings south of the UVa Medical Center, and some residents of the Fifeville neighborhood are concerned about encroachment.

“We’ve had a lot of conversation with the neighborhood about backing the zoning down, but really re-thinking how that whole area works from a transportation and land-use standpoint,” Tolbert said.

Another potential plan would be for the Fontaine Avenue corridor. The council adopted the recommendations of the Renaissance Planning Group in the 2000s, but the only new development since then has been the city’s new $14.5 million fire station.

“The fire station took into account that development plan — to provide for an extra setback if we ever get the funding to do [transportation improvements],” Tolbert said.

A Rose Hill plan might help harmonize the conflict between industrial and single-family residential zoning that exists in pockets of the neighborhood.

A plan for the Fifth Street Extended corridor could address how that area will change once the Meadow Creek Parkway is completed, bringing additional traffic through the area.

Though each planning commissioner and councilor was asked to place dots around the area they would like to see prioritized, there was no clear consensus of where the next plan should be developed.

Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said he wanted to prioritize areas that could help make the core of the city as walkable as possible.

“I’d like to see a chain of parks,” Keesecker said.

One councilor said the city could use this process to achieve one of its aspirational goals.

“Something that intrigues me is that some of these corridors have very wide streets right now,” Dede Smith said. “How can we make a model of a ‘complete street’ for bikes and pedestrians?”

Galvin said she was concerned that previous plans, such as a 2000 report from the firm Torti Gallas that looked at all of the city’s corridors, were put on a shelf and not realized.

“We all have to be really committed that these plans get implemented,” Galvin said. “Otherwise, another 13 years will go by.”

Tolbert said much of the Torti Gallas report was not fully implemented because the market was not there to support it.

“You can only do so much in a given market no matter what,” Tolbert said. “Developers are only going to invest so much money.”