The City Planning Commission has voted 3-1-1 to approve a motion establishing that the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway interchange at the Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road is consistent with the City’s 2001 Comprehensive Plan. The vote came after a public hearing in which participants were asked to limit their comments to whether the interchange fit in with the Plan.

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The agenda item before the Commission charged the body with determining if the general or approximate location, character and extent of the proposed Interchange is substantially in accord with the City’s adopted Comprehensive Plan or part thereof.

That language was too loose for Commission Vice Chair Bill Lucy who served as chair of the meeting because Chairman Jon Fink was ill. Commissioner Michael Osteen was also absent.

When asked by Bill Lucy if the Planning Commission would get the chance to weigh in on the project again, City Attorney Craig Brown said he believed this was the only opportunity for the Commission to  do so.

Jim Tolbert of Neighborhood Development Services reminded the Commission that City Council is the body charged with coming up with a selection. Council is scheduled to select a design at its meeting on July 2.

Before action is taken on the moving forward with a design, there needs to be a determination of consistency with the comprehensive plan, said Tolbert. He also told Commissioners that the Meadowcreek Parkway was not under consideration at the meeting, because the two are considered to be separate projects.

The Commission considered the project on the basis of the 2001 Comprehensive Plan because they’ve yet to adopt a new Comprehensive Plan. The Commission reviewed that document at its pre-meeting.

Jim Tolbert of Neighborhood Development Services said: “It’s important to note that while the interchange itself is not in the Comprehensive Plan, there are many things about an interchange that are consistent.” For instance, he said the ultimate design alternative will offer a great deal of pedestrian connectivity, something envisioned in the 2001 version of the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan also asked for more work to be done to relieve traffic congestion on the Route 250 bypass.

Several people spoke during the public hearing, which was also attended by four members of the City Council.

Patrick Kelly spoke on behalf of American Legion Post 74. The group opposes any plan that would affect the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, which is located at the site of the interchange. “Why is the destruction of this memorial not absurd? Is the community ashamed of service and sacrifice?” he asked. Kelly said the memorial was the first civic memorial to the Vietnam War constructed in the country.

Independent City Council candidate Peter Kleeman told Commissioners the interchange did not fit with Section 10 of the Comprehensive Plan, which addresses local transportation goals. One goal is to reduce single occupancy vehicle travel from 61 percent to 50 percent by making more options available.

“As I look at the project development to date, it does not promote options, improve the quality of life, and it impacts valuable cultural resources.”

Morgan Butler heads the Charlottesville-Albemarle Project at the Southern Environmental Law Center. He urged the Commission to strongly consider the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and not to rush to a decision to make a quick judgment.

“Based on some of the recent steering committee meetings, there is significant concern among some members that access to McIntire Park in the preferred alternatives are  inadequate and that proposed pedestrian and bicycle crossings are unsafe and unworkable,” Butler said.

He added that current alternatives don’t take mass transit into consideration. Butler told the Commission that the Metropolitan Planning Organization should be consulted on the design alternatives and that three-dimensional models should be built to make sure the public knows what to expect.

Collette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association said she was concerned that Commissioners were evaluating consistency with the plan without all of the data before them.

“The Comprehensive Plan talks about how the Neighborhoods are affected environmentally, and noise is an environmental issue.” But she says the project team has yet to make any data on additional noise available on their website.

Bob Hodous serves as the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s representative to the interchange Steering Committee. He says because the interchange will improve safety at the intersection, it is compliant with the Comprehensive Plan. He also said the Steering Committee has a “strong desire to improve pedestrian and bicycle access along McIntire Road” and that McIntire Park will benefit from improve access for motorists as well.

Planning Commissioner Michael Faruggio, who serves on the Steering Committee, said there is no thought of consideration of paving over or hiding the Vietnam Memorial. He also said the interchange plan involves a bike path that will lead from Rio Road to Downtown, and that pedestrian and bike crossings will be grade separated. Faruggio also insisted that the noise concerns will be addressed as Project Team RKK refines the plan. “What we’re doing now is better than what’s currently there,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Cheri Lewis, who also serves on the Steering Committee, said she felt the Commission had enough information before them to make a decision.

“I don’t believe we need detailed design drawings to make this decision, I believe the staff report hits the points and that this design as it currently is plainly in accord with our Comprehensive Plan.” She said integrating biking and walking is a major demand of the Steering Committee to the Project Team.

But Bill Lucy expressed concern that the Commission had not had enough time to consider the interchange, pointing out that the panel had not even had time to hold a work session.

“There was no guidance in terms of arranging for this meeting as to whether we would act tonight or not.”

Lucy questioned whether the meeting would be of any consequence, especially because the Commission is still in the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan. But most importantly, he said he felt the interchange design was not far enough along to determine whether it’s character was consistent with either version of the Comprehensive Plan.

“Given the unusual nature of the staff work and the lack of prior discussion clearly raises some questions about this timing, and it does seem like a rush. It may because the Planning Commission is considered of no consequence.”

Commissioner Mike Faruggio put forth a motion which read: “The general approximate location, character and extent of the proposed interchange is substantially in accord with the City’s adopted Comprehensive Plan or part thereof. Reasons for approval are found in the 2001 Comprehensive Plan under Chapter 10, Transportation, on pages 37, 5 and 19, as well as the Parks section, asking for or requesting greater access to parks.”

Commissioners Faruggio, Lewis and Hosea Mitchell voted to approve, and Bill Lucy voted against. Commissioner Jason Pearson abstained because he said he did have enough information to make a decision.

Timeline of the meeting:

00:00 – Introduction
01:02 – Vice Chair Bill Lucy introduces the public hearing
01:56 – Jim Tolbert of Neighborhood Development Services establishes the parameters of the discussion
04:09 – Owen Peery of RKK Engineering, Project Manager of the Route 250 Interchange Project explains the project to date
18:53 – Jim Tolbert of Neighborhood Development Services describes the meaning of “consistency” in terms of the Comprehensive Plan
21:28 – City Attorney Craig Brown answers questions regarding the legal binding of the Plan and the process by which a design alternative will be selected by City Council and resulting discussion among commissioners
30:25 – Public hearing begins
31:03 – Patrick Kelly of American Legion Post 74
35:03 – Peter Kleeman, Independent candidate for City Council
38:11 – Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center
41:24 – Colette Hall, North Downtown Neighborhood Association
45:05 – John Conover, Member of the 250 Interchange Steering Committee
47:53 – Tim Hulbert, President of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce
50:17 – Bob Hodous, Chamber’s representative to the 250 Interchange Steering Committee
54:54 – Commissioner Mike Faruggio, member of the Steering Committee, gives his report and rebuttal to the public comments
57:54 – Commissioner Cheri Lewis, member of the Steering Committee, gives her report and rebuttal to the public comments
1:03:08 – Commissioner Bill Lucy expresses his concern about the process and explains his no vote
1:08:30 – Commissioner Mike Faruggio makes a motion, and Commissioners discuss
1:14:15 – City Councilor Kevin Lynch, member of the Steering Committee, explains what he sees as the Commission’s charge
1:17:06 – Commissioners take vote, with Faruggio, Lewis and Hosea Mitchell voting for, Jason Pearson abstaining, and Bill Lucy voting against