Charlottesville City Council briefed on parkland acquisition

Since 2009, Charlottesville has spent $ million to increase the size of its park system by 147 acres, according to information presented recently to the City Council.

“The acquisition of these lands has provided permanent protection for some of the last stands of mature forest in the city and the Rivanna Trail system,” said Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreation department.

Prior to 2009, the city had not acquired any new parkland since 2001.

City parkland now makes up 14 percent of Charlottesville’s 10.4 square miles.

Daly said the city’s parkland spending spree came after a 2006 needs assessment that surveyed residents about how they would like the park system to develop.

“The top four things that came out of the study were walking and biking trails, neighborhood parks, nature centers and wildlife habitats,” Daly said.

While the council recently has been increasing its investments in parks, many of the acquisitions have come through donations.

For instance, the Great Eastern Management Co. donated 18 acres behind the Seminole Square shopping center that has become part of the new Meadow Creek Stream Valley Park.

The city also will soon close the acquisition for replacement land in Albemarle County to make up for acreage lost at McIntire Park to accommodate the Meadow Creek Parkway.

“The deal when that road was agreed to was that land lost would be replaced and we are getting 59 acres of land,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s trails planner. The property stretches from the Charlottesville High School football field up into the county.

The city also has acquired land to expand Jordan Park on both sides of Moores Creek, including land in Albemarle.

“This has the site of the original Hartmans Mill,” Gensic said. “We hope that this park will not only preserve natural area in the stream valley, but we could do some really nice historical interpretation, as well.”

Quarry Park has been expanded by 12 acres, and Gensic said a ribbon-cutting for the addition will be held within the next month.

The city also now owns the only contiguous parcel within city limits that is south of Interstate 64.

“We are working on plans to connect Monticello Road with Old Monticello Road, which comes up to Michie Tavern,” Gensic said. “It is still paved and laying in the woods defunct up to a certain point.”

Gensic said that will require drilling a tunnel underneath I-64, something that will take multiple years to plan and fund.

Councilor Kathy Galvin wanted to know if the parks department has begun considering how to daylight Pollocks Branch. Exposing that waterway and turning it into an urban greenway is a key component of the city’s Strategic Investment Area study.

Daly said staff was already discussing the project.

“There are a couple of opportunities that we probably will be bringing to you in the next few months that may be rather simple to deal with,” Daly said.

The city also owns land in Albemarle County, such as the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.         

The Nature Conservancy is in negotiations with the county on the donation of 356 acres south of I-64 that is contiguous with the Ragged Mountain land.

“Once this land becomes available and is in the public domain, because of its contiguous nature to the Ragged Mountain properties, we probably need to go through a master planning process for all of the lands together,” Daly said.

Councilor Dede Smith expressed concern that the land would become a multi-use park, something at odds with the purpose of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

“That particular part of the city-owned land is a very protected area from a floral point of view,” Smith said. “There are huge stands of ladyslippers and some very interesting floral communities. As those discussions go forward, if they want to have more invasive uses, we should at least be in the conversation about overflow into our land.”

Daly said the original property owner’s donation to the Nature Conversancy was predicated on it being used as a natural area.

Councilors also were briefed on efforts to preserve urban forests.

“Over the past five years, we have planted over a thousand trees and they are not saplings,” Daly said.