Image from sketches of West Main streetscape Credit: Credit: Rhodeside & Harwell

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has endorsed an $18.2 million capital improvement budget for the next fiscal year, but also asked the City Council to consider adding more money for new street trees and to encourage the fire department to transition to smaller vehicles.

The five-year capital plan totals $87 million through 2020, though councilors will only adopt the first year of funding when they adopt the total budget in early April.

The draft plan for next year allocates $25,000 for “urban tree preservation and planting” but the city’s Tree Commission had asked for more.

City budget analyst Ryan Davidson explained why a capital improvement oversight committee did not recommend granting their request.

“It is not a reduction but level funding from the previous year,” said Davidson. “We feel that’s adequate for what we can keep alive.”

Davidson said paying to plant more trees also would require the city to hire someone to help make sure the new trees survive, and the committee had to take the impact to the city’s operating budget into account.

“This is the first year I have been here that we’ve considered the impact of ongoing operating costs that come with additions to the capital plan,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

Tolbert also pointed out the $11 million allocated in the capital plan for a new streetscape for West Main includes money for street trees to be planted there.

The council will hold a work session Dec. 18 to review the West Main plan created by the Alexandria-based consultant Rhodeside & Harwell.

The capital plan also anticipates spending about $6.5 million over the period to contribute to a shared district court with Albemarle County.

Davidson said the money in the capital plan is there as a placeholder though no official decision has been made by either the council or the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

“The funding there is the city’s portion of the cost of co-locating the Albemarle and Charlottesville general district courts at the Levy Opera House to keep all the courts in one place,” Davidson said.

One commissioner signaled her support.

“I want to be supportive of that because it builds on generations of investment in Court Square,” said Genevieve Keller.

Nearly $4 million would go to public safety including an upgrade to the 800-MHz radio system used by emergency services.

The five-year capital plan would allocate $2 million toward replacement fire trucks.

At its meeting in November, the Planning Commission had asked for more information on the types of trucks that would be purchased.

Many commissioners, including panel Chairman Dan Rosensweig, have called for smaller vehicles so city streets could be made narrower and thus more safe and welcoming for pedestrians.

Fire department staff responded in a memo to the commission.

“In order to go to smaller apparatus we would have to add additional resources, including specialized apparatus and hiring more personnel in order to get an effective firefighting force on the scene of a fire or other emergency,” wrote fire department officials, adding that city budget trends do not look favorable for hiring more personnel.

Rosensweig said he wants the city to have a broader discussion on the topic.

“This conversation has to happen between council and the fire department,” Rosensweig said. “Every year we get to this same point.”

Davidson said there were about $58 million in unfunded requests over the five-year period.

“It was the most eye-opening thing I’ve done since I’ve been on the Planning Commission,” said Commissioner Lisa Green, who served on the capital committee this year. “There’s just not the money to do it all. If you add some money to one thing, it has to come from somewhere else.”

There is also $1 million in the capital plan between now and 2020 to create new small area plans such as the West Main study. The council will prioritize planning areas at a work session in January.

Bill Emory, a Woolen Mills resident and former planning commissioner, called for his neighborhood to go through the small area plan process in order to satisfy city and Albemarle County goals to develop the Rivanna River corridor.

“As a neighborhood, we ask that you consider place-making,” Emory said. “We ask that you deal with the underlying zoning in the corridor.”

The commission also approved a special-use permit to allow the Blue Ridge Cyclery to operate a storefront in the Coca Cola Building on Preston Avenue. The permit was required because the new location will be more than 4,000 square feet.

“We looked both within the county and the city,” said owner Shawn Tevendale. “We’re very focused on the bike accessibility of the location.”