The Charlottesville City Council has voted 3-2 to approve a ground lease for the Piedmont YMCA to construct a fitness and aquatic center in McIntire Park. The new facility will be built on one of the existing softball fields, though the exact location and size will not be determined until after the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department conducts a new master plan for McIntire Park.
Outgoing Councilor Kendra Hamilton and Councilor Julian Taliaferro voted against the proposal. The approval came despite Hamilton’s request that the lease only move forward with a 5-0 or 4-1 vote.
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“We have always held that standard on things that involve the park,” Hamilton said. “For the history that I’ve been on Council, with Meadowcreek Parkway issues, we have been able to achieve that consensus. [Here] we have not gotten that consensus either in the community or on Council.”
If Council does not approve a plan for the facility by May 20, 2008, the Piedmont YMCA will proceed with a proposal to build on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Under the terms of the lease and use agreement, the Piedmont YMCA will lease space in McIntire Park at a cost of $1 a year for the next four decades. The facility will contain a fitness center, a gymnasium, a track, classrooms, locker rooms, as well as a family aquatic center. As part of the negotiations, the City and the County will both be able to appoint two members to the Piedmont YMCA’s Board of Directors.
The YMCA will also commit to providing financial assistance to those who can’t afford to become members. All families living below federal poverty guidelines will be admitted for free. City Parks and Recreation Director Mike Svetz suggested using the criteria that if a family has children that qualify for a free lunch, they’ll qualify for free membership.
Albemarle County will contribute $2.03 million, regardless of whether the YMCA will be built in the park or at PVCC. The YMCA will conduct a capital campaign to pay the balance for construction. If the City agrees to pay $1.25 million, the YMCA will make sure the competitive swimming pool has at least six lanes, and Charlottesville High School will get priority access to those lanes for the two hours immediately after school.
Kirk Krueger, chair of the Piedmont YMCA, said that the organization would try to seek an additional $1.25 million from the County which would go towards building even more lanes.
The lease also contains language that gives the City the right to halt construction if those activities disrupt the park. The City Planning Commission and City Council will have to approve a site plan. However, the lease says the approvals “shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
The lease also specifies that the new facility will enhance existing events held in the park, such as the Dogwood Festival, Earth Day and the annual fireworks at the Fourth of July. The YMCA will also seek to “offer programs and services that will take advantage of McIntire Park’s inherent assets.”
When the facility opens, the user agreement states that City and County families will be charged $72 a month. Individuals would pay $48 a month, seniors over the age of 62 would pay $43 a month.
The lease anticipates that the City will extend the CTS bus line that runs down Rugby Avenue to the Park.
Councilor Kevin Lynch voted for the proposal, but said he would still prefer the YMCA to be built at McIntire Park. He said he was initially skeptical, but his opinion has changed over the past year.
“I was willing to entertain this site because of the potential it has as a cooperative project with Charlottesville High School,” Lynch said. “And, I believe that in the past several months of negotiations the YMCA has been a good faith partner.” He said that while most of the conversation has been about the impact on City pools, CHS students will benefit from having additional athletic facilities within walking distance.
Hamilton acknowledged that the proposal has improved throughout the negotiations, but that she could not support it. She thought Council was rushing through negotiations, and was not looking at the bigger picture.
“We are looking at a short-term problem, a ten-year problem, perhaps. We have specific needs for high schools and pools right now,” Hamilton said. “But we’re committing to a 40 year program, and once we alter the park, we alter the park for all time. I don’t think that we’re thinking big enough.” She went on to suggest that the City should get together with the County and the University to build a larger, regional facility, without using the YMCA as an intermediary.
Councilor Taliaferro also said there were too many unanswered questions for him to support the proposal, citing the lack of an exact location.
Lynch asked Hamilton what it would take to earn her vote. Hamilton said if she were remaining on Council, she could likely vote for the proposal and then participate in the final negotiations.
Krueger said he would be willing to participate in further negotiations to expand the project, and would aim towards building a 12-lane facility.
“By having the City and the County at the table at the same time, there is a reasonable opportunity here to have a facility exactly like you’re talking about,” said Krueger. “It’s just a matter of covering the capital fees to build it, and the operating costs to run it.”
Hamilton pointed out that the larger the facility, the larger the impact on McIntire Park.
Councilor Dave Norris said he was excited about the plan, which would construct a new facility without overly burdening taxpayers.