A view of the Rivanna River from Free Bridge

The future of the Rivanna River corridor is once again in the spotlight as a potential venue for increased cooperation between Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville.

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors and the City Council held a joint meeting to identify common ground on a host of community topics.

“We really are one community and I think our citizens and our people who live in both the city and the county look at us that way,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “Many of them don’t even know where the lines are.”

The last time the two groups held a joint meeting was in 2010, when Del. David J. Toscano brought city and county leaders together to defuse a budget squabble and identify areas for more cooperation.

Russ Linden, the facilitator of this week’s meeting, said that this was a different situation.

“This kind of meeting often takes place after or in the middle of a big problem,” Linden said. “‘You folks are not doing that.’ You’re saying, how do we move forward in a positive way as opposed to waiting until there’s a crisis.”

Albemarle Board of Supervisors & Charlottesville City Council at joint meeting – July 2, 2014

A major theme of the meeting was the need for more coordination of land use along the boundaries between the city and the county. The discussion focused on development along the Rivanna.

“There are a number of cities around the country that have made a river their centerpiece,” said Councilor Bob Fenwick. “If this is one of those things that can be managed and planned properly, it could be very beneficial for our community.”

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd pointed to a major development between Route 20 and Free Bridge Lane, near Darden Towe Park.

“They’re just beginning to clear the site for it and they’re going to build all along the river,” Boyd said. “I think it would help if the city just realized what kind of development’s going to be put along the river.”

The Riverside Village development, approved by the Board of Supervisors last fall, could include between 31 and 69 housing units and as much as 46,000 square feet of commercial space.

“One of the exciting features of it is that the building which is closest to the river is actually going to be focused towards the river,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “This is the first thing I’ve seen around here where someone has turned their front to this resource.”

Councilor Kristin Szakos expressed concern about the level of communication between the city and the county on the Riverside Village development.

“I heard about it in the paper and it borders on the city,” Szakos said. “I think all of us would probably like to hear about stuff like that before it gets in the paper.”

Szakos emphasized the importance of maintaining open channels of discussion.

“If we’re planning to have a park and a national wilderness area and suddenly you guys build a development on the other side of the river, it’s huge,” she said. “So we really need to be communicating well.”

Supervisor Liz Palmer said that a key part of that communication would be determining how much of the area around the river should remain undeveloped.

“It would be nice to get together on how much ought to be green space and how much shouldn’t be green space and where that is,” said Palmer.

The two groups worked together to identify a plan of action moving forward.

Fenwick suggested that a first collaborative step might be convening representatives from each of the committees working on Rivanna River issues to share their current actions and future plans.

Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said that process would be “easy to get started.”

“I think what we need is some sort of a vision for what we want along that river,” Boyd said. “Do we want development? Do we want rural? That’s got to be a starting place.”

Councilor Kathy Galvin called for more long-term collaboration between city and county staff, as well as between the council and the board.

“The elected come and go,” Galvin said. “For the long-term health of the community, a culture of collaboration of our staffs is just as important.”

Galvin summed up the theme of the discussion, asking the council and the board to “watch the borders” and work together to coordinate development along the boundaries between the city and the county.