Architect Kathy Galvin said she believes smart urban design choices create great cities. As an incumbent on the Charlottesville City Council seeking a nomination in the Democratic primary, Galvin knows it’s the voters who get to make the next choice.
It is not just the design details of buildings, but her interest in everything — from sidewalk widths to bike lanes, from street trees to the location and availability of housing, schools and jobs — that Galvin said makes her passionate about charting a course for Charlottesville’s future.
Given a chance to serve another term, Galvin said she wants to improve community engagement, the schools, and fix the development process that has led to buildings like The Flats at West Village.
“We are poised to make changes soon so that we don’t have another problem like The Flats,” Galvin said in a recent interview. “What we’ve learned is that our existing regulatory framework isn’t working.”
Galvin voted in favor of The Flats, a 595-bedroom student-oriented housing project which ranges from five to eight stories on West Main Street. She said its design is nothing like the plan that initially came before the council.
“We’ve got zoning, design guidelines and a Board of Architectural Review … and those are three safeguards that typically work for communities to ensure that the development you get matches the character of the place that you want to protect,” Galvin said. “All of that failed.”
Galvin said she feels a real “sense of urgency” for the council to get the zoning right on West Main Street.
“To think that we can just kick this down the road is really a little bit myopic,” said Galvin, who also said she generally wants to see studies reviewed and implemented in a timelier manner. “You make a plan not just for the sake of a plan, but to build it.”
Whether it is West Main Street or the Strategic Investment Area around the Ix property, Galvin said the city’s engagement with all neighborhoods also needs to improve.
“We haven’t done a good enough job of cultivating a shared vision,” she said.
Galvin said it was a valiant effort to get 300-400 people involved in community meetings on these projects, but too many people felt left out of the process.
“When you talk to a lot of the lower-income or African-American members of the community, they didn’t feel like they were included,” Galvin said. “A passion for community engagement that is holistic and equitable has got to permeate every department in our city government.”
She said she thinks the current council has not been a “unified voice” in support of the Strategic Investment Area, especially when it cut the project’s implementation budget.
“Typically a local government would invest in infrastructure as that jumpstarts the redevelopment,” Galvin said. “It’s important that council tell the city manager … we want to preserve the character of the neighborhood, build new character and tap into the potential of this former industrial site, and the current residents, so that this becomes a vibrant thriving community.”
Galvin, who previously served on the School Board, said she will push for a stronger partnership with the city schools. She said some important decisions will have to be made soon regarding school facilities if enrollment continues to grow.
“My job as councilor is to make sure that that backbone of our economy — the public education system — is strong, it keeps attracting new talent, it keeps growing talent from our own base and that it’s equitable,” Galvin said. “That means we invest in the neighborhoods as much as the schools invest in the children from low income neighborhoods.”