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Next steps for West Main detailed in Charlottesville capital budget

The debut of Charlottesville’s next capital improvement program budget gave a glimpse into the future of several multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects, including a new design for West Main Street.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission was shown a plan Tuesday that totals $18 million for fiscal year 2016. Budget officials are also projecting a five-year capital budget of nearly $87 million through fiscal year 2020.

Before any funding for the plan takes place, the first step is to release a draft recommendation created by a committee made up of staff, citizens and planning commissioners.

One of the City Council’s priorities is to develop a design for a new streetscape for West Main that would include new street trees as well as reconfigured parking spaces and bike lanes. Utility lines also could be placed underground.

City officials are waiting for the firm Rhodeside & Harwell to produce a schematic for the corridor, which has experienced a construction boom in the past few years.

“We know there’s going to be a large operational impact once that project is completed,” said Ryan Davidson, the city’s budget analyst.

Next year’s capital budget calls for $1 million to begin implementing the plan, but the five-year budget shows a total of $11 million.

“This is our best guest at this point because it’s still in the draft design phase,” Davidson said. “More than likely, we don’t think this is going to be enough to do the entire project.”

The plans are slated to be presented to the public at a Dec. 18 City Council work session at the Water Street Center.

“The next phase is for construction documents, and we do not have an estimate on how much that will cost,” Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services said in an email.

The money for those blueprints could come from the $750,000 set aside in this year’s capital budget for design of the West Main streetscape. Rhodeside & Harwell will be paid $340,000 to develop the schematic.

A new item in the capital budget is an investment of $6.5 million over the next two years to help keep Albemarle County’s courts in downtown Charlottesville.

Earlier this year, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors indicated a willingness to move the courts complex to a location in the county.

However, the city is negotiating with county officials to share an expanded general district court on the site of the Levy Opera House in Court Square.

“This is one of the options with all the courts studies to keep the courts downtown as opposed to moving them somewhere else in the county,” Davidson said. “They are still in preliminary talks, but this is our best guess at what the city’s portion would be.”

There also is an additional $5 million set aside over the next five years to build public infrastructure in the so-called Strategic Investment Area immediately south of downtown.

Last December, the firm Cunningham Quill unveiled a vision to redevelop 330 acres around Friendship Court, several public-housing sites, and the Ix warehouse complex.

However, commissioners pressed for more details about what the city’s investment would actually be.

“The report from Cunningham Quill had a list of priorities in the back that basically listed high priorities,” said Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said. “I want to confirm that’s what we’re funding.”

The SIA plan was the city’s first exercise in creating a detailed master plan for a portion of the city.

The five-year program calls for an additional $1 million in small-area planning between now and 2020. However, the council has not yet decided what area of the city should receive a master plan next.

The city has also not spent any of the $300,000 earmarked in the current year to conduct another small-area plan.

“We’re in the midst of a number of long-term planning processes right now and some of those will inform the small area plans,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager.

Those planning processes include a new green infrastructure plan, a new plan for bike and pedestrians infrastructure, and an audit of the zoning code to see if it supports Comprehensive Plan goals.

The draft capital program also calls for just over $2 million to be spent on replacement fire trucks. Davidson said the fire department is looking into purchasing smaller vehicles which could both increase their fleet and allow for the city to build narrower streets.

Not all projects that have been recommended to receive the full amount requested.

The Department of Parks and Recreation had requested over $5 million in the five-year program to upgrade the eastern side of McIntire Park. Instead, they are only recommended to receive $2.5 million in the draft budget.

The draft five-year program only includes $750,000 for design of a reconfiguration of Buford Middle Schools in fiscal year 2019. The schools had requested a total of $20 million to begin construction.

The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library had requested the city contribute $8.7 million to a renovation of the Central Library on Market Street. However, the city’s CIP committee did not recommend funding.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the capital improvement program in December. The plan is then slated to go before City Council in March, and its adoption is expected to occur in April.