The Albemarle County Planning Commission has agreed with the Charlottesville Planning Commission that the Woolen Mills area and the Rivanna River should be the primary focus of a joint meeting later this year.
“I would urge us to concentrate on these two and really take this on as something we can bite into with our peers in the city,” said Commissioner Richard Randolph.
Randolph’s comments came during a July 24 work session on desired land use and transportation goals in the Comprehensive Plans for both Albemarle and Charlottesville.
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is using a $1 million planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate the review of communities’ documents.
As part of that process, the TJPDC separately approached both commissions to find out their positions on four specific locations of potential common interest.
“Those were the neighborhood of Woolen Mills, the L-shaped corridor that runs down U.S. 29 into the city and then out through the city on U.S 250 east to Pantops, the portion along Rio Road nicknamed Gasoline Alley and the Rivanna River,” said Summer Frederick, the project manager for the TJPDC’s Many Plans, One Community initiative.
County commissioners had many things to say about the future of the Rivanna River.
“I think both the city and county are missing a great opportunity by not taking advantage of the recreational aspects of the Rivanna River,” said Russell “Mac” Lafferty.
He suggested ways to make it easier for people to float on the water, either in a canoe or an inner tube.
Commissioner Cal Morris said he felt the Woolen Mills neighborhood and the Rivanna River should be jointly studied in order to see if more bridges could be built across the waterway. He served on a task force that examined alignments for an Eastern Connector.
“One of the things that came out loud and clear was the possibility of a bike-pedestrian bridge across the Rivanna River that would tie into the Pantops area as well as Riverview Park,” Morris said. “It would just be a way of facilitating people who want to get into the city to work.”
Lafferty said he wanted county trails planner Dan Mahon and city trails planner Chris Gensic to appear before the commission for a briefing on the idea of a pedestrian bridge.
“[Trails] are critical to this area and it has ramifications in the health part and also has ramifications for visitors,” Lafferty said. “I know of people who will actually determine if they are going to a city [based on] what kind of recreational facilities they have.”
Julia Monteith, the University of Virginia’s senior land use officer and ex-officio member of the commission, said she wants to find out more about how industrial properties on the Charlottesville side of the river along High Street can be redeveloped.
“If you’re all talking about this together, it’s a common reality in cities that there have been areas that have turned their back to the river, and [let’s] think about how we can open those properties and make more opportunities for people to access the [river],” Monteith said.
Lafferty pointed out that the flood plain is a barrier to redevelopment of properties along the river.
“That makes a lot of the land unviable for commercial use or perhaps other uses you would consider permanent,” Lafferty said.
However, Commissioner Don Franco said there is undeveloped land on the county side of the river between Darden Towe Park and Free Bridge.
“Most of it is out of the flood plain and there is a road there and it has decent pedestrian access,” Franco said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to change our vision on how to deal with the river.”
However, Morris wondered if that would be a desirable location, given that the city has industrial development on the other side of the river.
“In that area, we’ve tried to encourage restaurants that would overlook the river, but you take a look at the opposite side and you have truck repair plants,” Morris said. “It’s going to be hard to change that around.”
The commission was also interested in coordinating conversations about the Woolen Mills area, which is in both the city and the county.
The main road in the Woolen Mills neighborhood is Market Street, which travels through Charlottesville before dead-ending just over the Albemarle County line. Properties in that section are shown in the county’s current Comprehensive Plan as industrial.
“There are residential properties that would not lend themselves to becoming industrial properties,” principal planner Elaine Echols said. “There are houses right now and there is value in historic preservation aspect of it. What we have recommended up to this point is that the best way to preserve the structures themselves is to leave [them] as a residential designation but to recommend those be made available for use by small businesses.”
The county Planning Commission also agreed with the city Planning Commission that the “L-shaped” area would be better handled during the update of the long-range transportation plan, with Free Bridge being one exception.
“Unless we look at some kind of eastern bypass … we will continue to have a bottleneck there,” Lafferty said. “There’s very little we can do at Free Bridge because once it gets into the city, it’s constrained by the roads that leave from the sides. However many lanes you put down Pantops isn’t going to make much difference unless you can divert some of the traffic.”
The county Planning Commission also agreed with city commissioners that Gasoline Alley does not merit special attention at this time.
The city and county planning commissions’ joint meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18.