Walker seeks more support from UVa as Brandon Avenue project moves forward
The Charlottesville City Council has requested more details about the financial value of streets that will be conveyed to the University of Virginia to assist with a redevelopment project.
“I’m thinking about some of the work that we need to do in town,” Mayor Nikuyah Walker said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “If there’s a value to [the land] that is beneficial for UVa to actually pay for, that money could be directed to some of the causes that we need funding for.”
UVa has requested that the city transfer ownership of Brandon Avenue and a portion of Monroe Lane and 15th Street. The land will be used for the redevelopment of the area into a “green street” with student housing, academic facilities and a new student health center.
“For some time now, the University of Virginia has been developing a master plan,” said Acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson. “They are planning on what they are referring to as a ‘model green student community.’”
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the conveyance in November.
“Most of the land parcels adjacent to Brandon Avenue are currently owned either by the University of Virginia itself or the University Foundation,” Robertson said.
In total, the city would vacate 44,475 square feet on Brandon Avenue and another 14,298 square feet on Monroe Lane.
Walker wanted to know what the value of the land would be, but City Manager Maurice Jones did not have that information on hand at the meeting.
“We can certainly get our folks in the assessor’s office to get us a number,” Jones said.
The city was unable to provide a value Wednesday in response to a request from Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Walker said if there was a value to the land, the city could perhaps sell the land instead. She suggested any funds from UVa could help pay for affordable housing programs.
At the council meeting, Jones said Brandon Avenue will continue to be a street and that would limit its financial worth.
“You wouldn’t be getting necessarily market value for that but there might be some minimal amount of money that it’s worth,” Jones said. “Then you have to weigh that with the cost of maintaining that road at this point, and I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of money out of it.”
However, Walker cited an example where the city of Houston sold certain streets and utility easements last year, earning nearly $2 million in the process.
“They used it to help close a deficit,” Walker said. “The value of those streets was significant, so I was just thinking along those lines.”
Robertson said the value of the land also will be reduced because of existing utility and transportation easements.
“One of the requests that staff has made is for there to be significant bicycle and pedestrian connections,” Robertson said. “There is some proposed consideration for the [right of way] the city is giving up. Whatever value we’re looking at would be adjusted to the extent there may be an easement in favor of the city.”
Councilor Mike Signer asked if UVa had made a financial commitment to the $31 million West Main Streetscape project. In October, the council agreed to split the plan for new bike lanes, street trees and other urban amenities into multiple phases to help pay for the project.
“It is something that they have made a commitment to provide some assistance,” Jones said, but he offered no details.
UVa did not provide a response to a request for information about its financial participation in the West Main project.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said the city will no longer have to maintain Brandon Avenue, which would mean a reduction in expenses. She also said the green street will be a model for the community.
“That is something that’s been talked about in our Streets That Work policy as an ideal,” Galvin said. “It is also, I think, valuable that the university will be doing this, not at our expense, but at theirs.”
Walker said she wants to find ways for UVa to contribute to the community.
“If [the land] is being gifted to them to be able to see their vision through, then if there’s a way for them to contribute to the city and some of our needs, that’s what I would ask and try to figure out,” Walker said.
Jones said he would provide information about UVa’s existing contributions to the city before the second reading of the request. The agenda for the next council meeting will be published next week.
Signer said UVa’s financial contribution to the West Main project could be seen as an equivalent investment in the city.
“If they’re getting something valuable for them and just getting it for free and there’s no negotiation, that would seem odd perhaps,” Signer said. “My perception is that they did in fact decide and there was a lot of negotiation … to step up and contribute significant monies to the capital costs.”