Preparation continues for McIntire Botanical Garden
Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 8:36 p.m.
Park Design workshop to be held tonight
As Charlottesville plans a new look for the eastern half of McIntire Park, a nonprofit organization is working with the city to make their collective dream of a botanical garden a near-term reality.
“It is hoped that by 2016 a lot of the trails inside the park will have been built to take visitors into the botanical garden area for the very first time,” said Helen Flamini, president of the McIntire Botanical Garden.
The organization was founded in 2008 when planning for the east side of McIntire Park got underway. After the City Council approved a route for the John W. Warner Parkway that traveled along the eastern edge of the park, Flamini’s group wanted to secure a spot for their project inside a park that would be opened up by the project.
“Our board for the last seven years has had its focus on achieving community awareness about the botanical garden,” Flamini said.
Now that the parkway is open, officials are implementing a master plan the City Council adopted in September 2012 that will eliminate a nine-hole golf course by the end of 2016.
The conceptual design for the garden will be among the items on display tonight at a design open house for the master plan. The McIntire Skate Park, the network of trails and other park amenities also are among proposed items that will be shown.
If the council approves the design in March, work can begin on building the necessary infrastructure to support the garden.
“First and foremost, access to the northern portion of the park needs to be constructed,” said Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreations director. “The current schematic design shows parking and infrastructure that would be required first for vehicular access.”
The city entered into a partnership with the nonprofit in September 2013 to manage the garden. The two groups are negotiating a memorandum of understanding that describes the responsibilities of each.
The draft document states that the nonprofit will be responsible for designing the garden, creating construction plans, establishing curatorial policies, recruiting volunteers, and providing educational opportunities. They will also need to raise funds for the project.
The city would be responsible for approving designs, overseeing construction, maintaining the infrastructure for the park and providing a “base level of maintenance.”
The latter would include “general cleanup, mulching where appropriate, basic pruning, establishment watering and pest control activities.”
The draft memorandum is not expected to be a major discussion point at the open house.
“The draft at this time is very loosely formed and intended to be a guide and framework for moving forward, not a down in the details specific document,” Daly said, adding that many things will change in the coming months as the details are finalized.
A man who was part of a different group that wanted to create a botanical garden in the area has been critical of the way the agreement has been negotiated.
“I feel significant decisions that affect the management of the botanical garden in McIntire East, such as the memorandum of understanding, have been discussed privately and would be better done in a public advisory committee,” said Lonnie Murray, who also is an elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.
However, Murray said he has recently met with a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors to discuss his concerns.
“I feel way more confident that going forward that the process will be more open, transparent and inclusive,” Murray said.
Murray has also raised questions about the garden’s design. In response, Flamini said many of the decisions about how the garden will be laid out have yet to be made.
“Once the designs have been adopted by the City Council, there will be opportunities for much more involvement from the community in the way of volunteers, in the way of an advisory committee, and as we move into our fund-raising and capital campaign,” Flamini said.
Flamini said she hopes the organization can begin fundraising by the end of the calendar year. She estimates the cost range could be between $5 million and $20 million.
An unnamed tributary that flows through the area will be restored and the design of the garden will be informed by how that is implemented.
“The uniqueness of having a stream located in this area, particularly one that has eroded over the years, presents a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities,” Flamini said.
Flamini also said the garden will have an emphasis on native species.
“Appreciating the flora and fauna of the area promotes the history of our area, particularly in this time of climate change,” Flamini said. “It is important to try to maintain some of the native species that been here and might be in danger.”
Daly said the garden could expand to other areas of the park, but that would be determined as the conceptual stage makes way for the creation of a design.
“As time goes by, other areas of the park may become locations for certain plant collections, demonstrations, natural interpretive areas and the like,” Daly said. “The management and care of those areas may be a city responsibility, the non-profit’s responsibility or some combination.”
The design review open house will be held at 6 p.m. in the Parks and Recreation Office at 501 E. Main St.
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