Around a hundred people packed into a room at the Ix Art Park Monday for a progress report on the city’s Strategic Investment Area plan, a conceptual vision to direct future development south of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
"We're going to build our neighborhood, alright?" said Pete Armetta, the president of the Ridge Street Neighborhood Association.
The firm Cunningham Quill was hired by the city of Charlottesville to craft a master plan to guide development on 330 acres south of the Downtown Mall. The document was added to the city’s Comprehensive Plan in February 2014.
The area is home to three sites owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
The Piedmont Housing Alliance is seeking to redevelop Friendship Court as a mixed-income community that still retains federal subsidies for 150 units.
The owners of the Ix property are also preparing redevelopment plans.
One city councilor said the planning process captured much of what neighborhood residents want to see happen.
“Many of you have already told the city what intersections and what streets you wanted improved,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
However, Galvin admitted the city has not done enough to implement the plan since it was adopted, but that may be changing.
"This year the council decided to aggressively pursue the implementation of the SIA plan," said Alex Ikefuna, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Last week, City Council agreed to allocate $80,000 from the SIA’s capital fund to restore the Daughters of Zion cemetery on 1st Street. The city has also re-bid a project to build a new public staircase connecting Garrett Street and Ridge Street.
The northeast boundary of the SIA is also slated for new infrastructure.
A $5.6 million project to improve the intersection of East High Street and Lexington Avenue is one of three projects that qualified for funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation. The Commonwealth Transportation Board will make their final decisions in June.
“If we get that funding that’s going to be a pretty good shot in the arm in terms of streetscape improvement including pedestrian access,” Ikefuna said.
While Ikefuna said the plan is not intended to displace or relocate anyone, there are some in the neighborhood who remain skeptical.
The Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Authority conducted two urban renewal projects in the 60’s and 70’s that razed the Vinegar Hill neighborhood as well as the Garrett Street area now being planned through the SIA.
Resident Deirdre Gilmore said she does not want the city to repeat history.
“My concern is that you are all going to redevelop regardless,” Gilmore said. “We want to be part of it because for me right now, if I walk through the old neighborhoods, they are not our neighborhoods anymore.”
The Piedmont Housing Alliance is currently in the process of developing plans to rebuild Friendship Court. A conceptual plan may be unveiled as early as June, according to CEO Frank Grosch.
“The bedrock principle for us at Piedmont Housing is no displacement of current residents during redevelopment and permanently once the project is complete,” he said.
The median income at Friendship Court is $10,800 according to Grosch. Residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent and the rest is covered U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers.
“We’re also looking to create other layers of affordable and workforce housing as part of the redevelopment but bedrock for us is to absolutely keep 150 families that live at Friendship Court now,” Grosch said.
Lena Seville, who ran for City Council in 2015, said she was concerned the garden run by the Urban Agricultural Collective of Charlottesville would be displaced when Friendship Court is redeveloped. She was also concerned that Pollocks Branch would not be day-lighted on that property.
Grosch responded that Pollock Branch is 16 feet below the ground as it runs through the Friendship Court property and it would be difficult to remove the box culvert through which the stream has run for several decades.
“The SIA plan does discuss daylighting Pollocks Branch but not on the Friendship Court site,” Grosch said. “We’re trying to work first not to displace any residents but we’re very mindful of working in the context of the SIA.”
Grosch also said the UACC gardens will still have a home but they might not be in the same location.
Another change is that the CRHA has just hired a new executive director. Grant Duffield will begin the position on May 23 after serving as deputy director of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. Previously he was city manager of Tega Cay, South Carolina.
The CRHA has been without an executive director for several months following the resignation of Constance Dunn.
Gilmore said public housing sites have had problems for on for years.
“I have no problem with you all redeveloping our land as long as we are at the table and as long as we have housing,” Gilmore said.
Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. He can be reached at email@example.com or (434) 260-0763.