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The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be briefed next week on dozens of suggestions on how to use $1.4 million set aside for small infrastructure projects in the county’s urban area.
“Part of the project is getting people together to talk about what matters most to them and what would make a difference in their quality of life and the way they can experience and enjoy their neighborhood,” said Lee Catlin, the assistant county executive.
The one-time pot of money for the Neighborhood Improvement Funding Initiative comes from the $8.6 million budget surplus from fiscal year 2016.
In February, supervisors said they wanted to see what projects would come forward before deciding how the fund would be divided among the county’s seven growth areas. Each area has a group of appointed citizens who advise the board on the needs of urban neighborhoods.
“They wanted their community advisory committees to be the leading edge of figuring out how those projects should be prioritized,” Catlin said.
Those groups spent March and April brainstorming ideas. Each of the seven advisory committees was paired with a planner to identify projects, including ones that may have been explored previously.
“We had lists prepared with all of the projects that Albemarle County was aware of that had been priorities from the past, and those were pulled from the master plan implementation lists and the un-funded portions of capital improvement program,” said Emily Kilroy, Albemarle’s community engagement specialist.
Cynthia Neff, the chairwoman of the Places29-Hydraulic Committee, said some of her group’s members initially expressed skepticism, but the process has been productive.
“Our two meetings with the brainstorming were some of the most productive meetings we’ve had because we talked about things we never talk about it,” Neff said. “It was a great discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly in our neighborhoods.”
After the brainstorming sessions, committee members and urban-area residents were asked to vote in an online survey for their top priorities. Potential projects were grouped into those that might cost less than $50,000 and those that are above that amount.
Catlin said pedestrian connectivity emerged as a theme in the projects, with several calls for sidewalks and trails.
“Placemaking kinds of activities also rose to the top,” Catlin said. “The more expensive ones were larger transportation-oriented ones, such as large sidewalk improvements and large streetscape projects.”
The southern urban area is known to the county as 5th and Avon. That group’s top choice in the smaller category is a study to improve pedestrian connectivity in the area between Sherwood Farms and Redfields. Another top choice was an idea to plant trees along Avon Street near the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
A crosswalk and pedestrian signal at Cale Elementary School was the 5th and Avon community’s top priority for projects that might cost more than $50,000. A trail to the future Biscuit Run State Park also ranked high on that list.
The Crozet community had the most participation of any of the growth areas. Improvements to Crozet Park received 340 votes and was the top low-tier priority. For the higher tier, 274 people selected improvements to The Square, and 273 want to develop Western Park, a planned amenity that has not yet materialized.
The top low-tier priority on Pantops is improvements to bus shelters in the area, and their top higher-tier priority would be walkability improvements, such as street lights and a crosswalk on Route 20.
For the Places29-Hydraulic area, the top project under $50,000 is a clearing of the sidewalk at the intersection of Commonwealth Drive and Greenbrier Drive. Their top higher-tier priority includes sidewalk improvements to allow neighborhood students to walk to Albemarle High School, Greer Elementary and Jack Jouett Middle School.
For the Places29-North area, 40 people selected amenities at Albemarle High School as the lower-tier project and 30 selected construction of the Northtown Trail as the higher-tier project.
Bus stop enhancements received 226 votes by the Places29-Rio area to be the top lower-tier priority and pedestrian improvements on East Rio Road received 146 votes for the higher-tier group.
The Village of Rivanna submitted no projects under $50,000. A study to find ways to control erosion on the Rivanna Greenway Trail received 49 votes in the higher category.
The fund was created because many of these projects would not score highly in the process by which capital projects are funded in the county.
Catlin acknowledged that the funding will not cover all of the projects but this process could be a beginning for some of them.
“The fact that there’s $1.4 million is a great step forward and something that we’ve never done before,” Catlin said. “But it’s not a huge amount of money when you talk about seven urban areas with a long list of projects.”
Catlin said some of the larger projects could be paid for with special tax districts if supervisors and the community desired. There also might be the opportunity for some of the smaller projects to be taken on by clubs or nonprofit organizations.
Supervisors will be asked to weigh in on the list at their meeting Wednesday. There will be another round of voting after supervisors are briefed on the projects.
Any of the projects would ultimately need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors to receive money from the fund.