As the city of Charlottesville continues to develop a new streetscape for West Main Street, the pastor of First Baptist Church wants elected officials to consider how the 350 members of his congregation arrive every Sunday.
“We have to have parking so that the people who sit in the pews can get there,” Hodari Hamilton said. “If we don’t have parking, we will not exist.”
The city has paid the firm Rhodeside & Harwell $340,000 to study the West Main corridor to create a plan for wider sidewalks, bike lanes and other amenities to make the area safer and more attractive.
There are currently about 90 on-street parking spaces on West Main, according to Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Several alternative scenarios were shown to members of the city’s West Main steering committee last month.
Under one alternative, called a “revised woonerf,” parking would be reduced to 47 spaces between Eighth Street and Ridge-McIntire. In a “side cycletrack” alternative, there would be only 28 spaces. In a “multi-use boulevard” scenario, there would be between 70 and 80 spaces.
Hamilton and two other members of the church told the City Council on Monday that they favor scenarios that would retain on-street parking on West Main.
“If we limit the parking, you are essentially saying as stewards of the city that our members can no longer come to our church,” Hamilton said.
“We have many senior citizens in our church who need close parking,” said Joy Warren.
Consultant Dena Rhodeside says her team has identified as many as 4,000 existing and potential parking spaces within 600 feet of West Main Street not including the hospital’s parking garages. Some of these spaces are not currently available to the public.
One business owner said he hopes the council will leave West Main the way it is.
“If I see parking spaces leave West Main Street and vehicular traffic slow down or diminished, I will go away and cannot stay on West Main,” said Tobey Bouch, owner of a pawn shop.
Their comments were welcomed by one city councilor.
“It is important we have your feedback on West Main so that something is not imposed on the West Main corridor by people who don’t live there or people who don’t have businesses there,” Councilor Bob Fenwick said.
Councilor Kathy Galvin, a proponent of conducting small area plans to help guide infrastructure, encouraged the church members and Bouch to keep an open mind.
“City Council put in place a planning process so we can get ahead of the growth,” Galvin said. “This is very much the time for you to get involved.”
Galvin said she understood concerns about parking, but that growth is having an effect on the corridor that must be addressed as more sites are redeveloped. Construction is currently underway on the Flats at West Village; a multistory hotel; and the University of Virginia’s children’s hospital.
“People have been killed on their bikes, and people have been killed trying to cross West Main Street,” Galvin said. “We all need to realize we’re all in this together and trying to work at a solution together and your voice is being heard.”
Mayor Satyendra Huja said he would like to slow down the planning process for the streetscape.
“I have had opportunity to see the plans and in my mind they are not there yet,” Huja said. “They need to work more on it, and not just the parking.”
City Manager Maurice Jones said he and Galvin have met with officials from First Baptist to hear their concerns.
“We are continuing those conversations because we are concerned about parking,” Jones said. “We still have a lot of work to do on those plans, but we’re not sure that even the best scenario is going to accommodate parking needs into the future.”
Jones suggested that a parking garage might be needed at some point in the future.
“Part of what we’re trying to do now is to identify those opportunities,” Jones said.
Tolbert confirmed in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow that more time has been added to the process.
“We are just adding a little time to process what we have heard in the meetings, and may have more public input,” Tolbert said.
However, he said there is no timetable for when a recommendation for a streetscape alternative will go before the council.