Charlottesville planning commission takes first pass at capital budget

The Charlottesville Planning Commission started its review of the city’s capital improvement budget Tuesday.

City departments submitted more than $9.5 million in projects for next fiscal year, but a committee of city employees is recommending funding only $2.1 million.

“There are still many unknowns, including how city revenues are projected to perform, and how additional state and federal cuts will impact the city,” said Ryan Davidson, the city’s budget analyst. “We are very concerned about a larger [capital plan] without an additional revenue to pay for it.”

The committee did not recommend $ million in funding for implementation of the recommendations made by the Strategic Investment Area study, nor did it recommend spending $1.5 million to conduct small-area plans.

Discussion of the capital program kicks off at a time when the City Council is considering changing the way infrastructure is planned.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller said the commission, the PLACE Design Task Force and the City Council all have been discussing how to coordinate infrastructure planning.

“Is there a way to put some contingency in the [capital plan] so that work in an area is doubled up so that streets, water, sewer, sidewalks, street trees are all done at the same time so we’re not scatter shot over the city?” Keller asked.

She asked that the commission re-prioritize the criteria for the committee next year so that “small-area plans” did not rank near the bottom of the list.

Planning manager Missy Creasy said the council and staff can find “creative ways” to fund implementation.

“We’re going to get through the SIA, get final recommendations, and the steering committee will go back to the table to say, ‘here are the things that we need to do,’” Creasy said.

For instance, Commissioner Kurt Keesecker suggested moving money from a category called “economic development” initiatives into the SIA.

The draft budget would fund several streetscape projects, including $750,000 for one in the Martha Jefferson neighborhood.

Bruce Odell, president of the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association, attended the work session to learn more.

“We are really in the dark,” Odell said. He said he wanted to make sure the scope of work addressed traffic issues generated by new development on 10th Street, as well as the redeveloped Martha Jefferson Hospital site on Locust Avenue.

Several projects are recommended for funding in the five-year plan, including $4.5 million toward renovation of the Charlottesville Circuit Court. The city also would contribute $ million over five years to the regional police firearms range under consideration in Albemarle County.

Commissioner Lisa Green, who works for Albemarle County as a zoning inspector, said the project has not progressed far enough along to need capital funding next year.

“If it’s not going to happen this year, that’s money that could be used this year somewhere else,” Green said. The CIP anticipates spending $325,000 on the firing range next year.

The five-year budget also projects about $3 million to help implement the master plan for the eastern side of McIntire Park and $2.5 million to renovate Tonsler Park. Also included is $8.2 million toward the Charlottesville Housing Fund over the next five years.

Aside from a neighborhood drainage program, funding to address stormwater runoff will be removed from the capital improvement program because the council opted to raise funding for the city through a fee that goes into effect next year.

Staff also has proposed doubling the amount allocated to sidewalk repair to $400,000 annually to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Several initiatives are not recommended for funding, such as $1.7 million for relocating the City Market. In December, the council will consider a request for proposals for private firms to develop the city-owned lot in a way that would accommodate commercial development and a permanent market.

Staff also did not recommend advancing renovations for the Central Library on Market Street.

“Since this is a joint city/county project, this should be reflected in both jurisdictions [capital] plans,” Davidson said. “Currently, this project is not reflected in the county’s capital budget.”

Other unfunded requests include $500,000 to replace the Belmont Spray Park in 2017 and a $300,000 request to implement a new Meadowcreek Valley park that was master planned this year.

Next year’s proposed capital plan also has $ million for replacing fire trucks.

Commissioners said they wanted more information on what that would entail.

“When we are looking at the replacement of these vehicles, are we looking at them in terms of how we’re designing streets?” Green asked. “We don’t necessarily need the biggest fire truck just because we can buy it.”

Davidson will gather more information before the Planning Commission’s next regular meeting, set for Dec. 10.