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Albemarle supervisors ask City Council to defer Ragged Mountain vote
Map of proposed trails at Ragged Mountain Natural Area, December 6, 2016
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Credit: City of Charlottesville
The map of proposed trails was adjusted at the request of City Council.
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Sean Tubbs | Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 7:56 p.m.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has asked the Charlottesville City Council to “indefinitely” postpone a vote on whether some trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area should be opened to bicycles.

“The county’s existing regulations applicable to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area do not allow biking,” supervisors wrote in a Dec. 15 letter to City Council. “The express purpose of the county’s regulations is to prevent pollution of the public water supply.”

Supervisors want city staff to provide information on how water quality at the reservoir would be protected before proceeding with a vote currently scheduled for next Monday night.

“Our hope is that the two bodies will work together to assure compatibility between the two ordinances prior to council’s vote,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer, the board’s chairwoman. “In order to protect water quality, the county ordinance only allows hiking and fishing at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.”

The city owns the land, but all 980 acres are within Albemarle County.

The Ivy Creek Foundation managed the property since it opened to the public in 1999, but the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department took it over after the Ragged Mountain Reservoir was expanded.

The department has spent the last year studying the possibility of opening the natural area to cyclists with trail-building assistance from groups such as the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club.

In October, a majority on the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Advisory Board endorsed opening some of the trails to cyclists and runners, but the Charlottesville Planning Commission was split on the idea when they discussed the matter in November.

Councilors are scheduled to vote Monday on an ordinance permitting bicycles on some trails at the natural area.

"After conferring with my colleagues and our staff, we are planning on moving ahead with the agenda as planned and discussing this item in next week's meeting," said Mayor Mike Signer in an email.

Three out of five councilors indicated support for opening the trails to cyclists after a public hearing earlier this month. However, Councilors Wes Bellamy and Bob Fenwick both said they wanted to wait until the county weighed in.

“Since the park isn’t going anywhere, it is an issue of respecting the County Board of Supervisors and their constituents,” Fenwick said Thursday. “Just because there is a difference of legal opinion on the governing legislation, there is no justification for a pre-emptive move on the part of the city.”

Councilors are also scheduled to approve a new map depicting trails that was adjusted at the council’s  request following a public hearing earlier this month.

Changes to the map were requested, including allowing cyclists on a southern portion of the natural area near a floating bridge that crosses the reservoir. They also asked that the trails be revisited once Albemarle County opens the future Hedgerow Park south of the reservoir.

The county currently has no plans to open that land due to a lack of financial resources, but Fenwick said changes at Ragged Mountain should be made in context with planning for Hedgerow.

“There are several opportunities right in front of us for the city, the county and the University of Virginia to collaborate on a joint parks venture,” Fenwick said, noting that the Hedgerow property is scheduled to be discussed in early 2017 by the Planning and Coordinating Council.

City Council and the Board of Supervisors will hold a joint meeting on Jan. 5.

Cycling activist Chris Gist called the supervisors’ request a delay tactic.

“The county has had over a year to weigh in on the issue and said nothing until council appeared to be ready to give the green light for multiuse,” Gist said.

Gist said most reservoirs in Virginia have multiuse trails and that there is no evidence that cycling will pose a threat to the water supply.

However, the county does not want to take any chances.

“The board recognizes the rights of the city as the landowner and the unique state law that allows the city to extend its regulatory and enforcement powers into the county,” the letter continues.

“However, because [the natural area] is located within the county, it is also subject to the county’s authority to protect public water supplies through regulations or otherwise,” supervisors wrote.

This is the latest in a string of disputes between the city and the county. A majority of supervisors support the idea of relocating the county’s courthouses from downtown Charlottesville.

The two localities also disagree on the alignment for the second phase of a sewer line known as the Schenks Branch Interceptor.
 

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