The preparations for next year’s Charlottesville budget began this week when the Planning Commission met to establish funding priorities for the capital improvement program.

“The role of the Planning Commission is to guide development and development activities in the city,” said Alexander Ikefuna, the city’s new director of neighborhood development services. “It’s like a watchdog.”

The capital budget for the current fiscal year includes about $8.2 million in funding for projects considered to be Planning Commission priorities. These range from $1 million to implement the McIntire Park master plan to $50,000 to conduct a new small-area plan.

“Small-area planning came out of our initiatives and we’ve been shepherding it through the process,” Commissioner Genevieve Keller said. “We need to be forward thinking about what we want to see getting on the chart to get some attention in future years.”

The city has completed two plans so far.

The Strategic Investment Area, or SIA, cost the city $190,000 but there are currently no construction documents and the City Council has not selected specific recommendations to implement. The current fiscal year has reserved $250,000 for the project.

The $340,000 West Main streetscape study has twice been rejected by the council and will be the subject of a future work session. The capital budget has reserved $6.5 million for the project over the next five years.

City departments also have begun submitting requests for next year’s capital improvement budget. The Planning Commission has the job of reviewing requests to see if they fit with the commission’s planning priorities.

“We look at the Comprehensive Plan and we like to make sure that there’s funding associated with goals and objectives,” said Dan Rosensweig, the commission’s chairman. “There was a time when the Planning Commission kind of rubber-stamped it a little bit. We’ve been a little bit more active in looking at it and reviewing it.”

Commissioners spent the majority of a two-hour budget work session Tuesday discussing potential locations for the next small-area plan.

That plan has been discussed for at least two years but the City Council has made no decision about which part of the city to review next. The budget anticipates spending $50,000 annually on small-area plans over the next five years.

Commissioner John Santoski suggested the commission should get ahead of additional congestion that could occur when Fifth Street Station opens in Albemarle County just south of the city.

“It’s such a gateway into the city and it seems to be that’s something we should be focusing on,” Santoski said.

Commissioner Jody Lahendro said he believes the city should conduct a small-area plan for the area around the planned Hillsdale Drive extension.

“This is being designed now and we don’t have a small-area plan,” Lahendro said. “It’s a road going through all of this asphalt, and I look at the master plan and it’s just more asphalt. I don’t see any plans for adding trees and landscaping.”

In February, the council opted not to select an area.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations about which comes first and which comes next, and that seems to change around quite a bit as development moves around,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.

“And then we have these other initiatives underway that have made it difficult to jump into a new plan,” she added.

In addition to West Main and the SIA, those initiatives include Streets that Work, an audit of the zoning code and creation of a green infrastructure plan.

Another looming study is the resumption of discussions on the replacement of the Belmont Bridge. That project stalled after a long community discussion about the perceived shortcoming of the last design.

Lahendro said small-area plans need to integrate all of the other planning initiatives.

“We’ve got streets that work information out there, the pedestrian and bike information out there,” Lahendro said. [Small-area plans] are a way to apply them to a particular area and focus ourselves.”

It is unclear if staff would conduct the small-area plan or if a consultant would be hired.

Ikefuna said the commission should concentrate more on what capital projects it wants to see go forward rather than funding for
more planning initiatives.

“For the most part, [the budget] is talking about capital projects — roads, sidewalks, street lights and things like that,” Ikefuna said. “The emphasis on planning initiatives seems to be consuming a lot of your time.”