When Charlottesville’s City Council adopted a Comprehensive Plan in August 2013, one of the goals was to select specific areas to be master planned to guide future development within the city’s 10.4 square miles.
“This is something that has been on the radar for quite a while,” said Missy Creasy, acting director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department.
However, the city Planning Commission indicated recently that it wants to spend more time formulating a prioritization method before selecting which neighborhood should be the subject of the next small-area plan.
Charlottesville has completed two small-area plans since the Comprehensive Plan was adopted. They are the $145,000 Strategic Investment Area and a $340,000 study of West Main Street.
The council approved the Strategic Investment Area in December 2013, but the future of the West Main plan is unclear after Mayor Satyendra Huja said in mid-January that he would vote against it.
A subcommittee consisting of planning commissioners and members of the city’s PLACE design task force have discussed the next small area, but did not come to agreement.
“It was determined that a broader discussion was going to need to take place outside of a smaller group,” Creasy said.
In the absence of a recommendation from either the council or the subcommittee, outgoing Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert recommended proceeding first with a plan to work with Albemarle County planners on the area north of the U.S. 29-250 Bypass interchange.
Tolbert suggested the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission also would be involved and that the scope might include future planning for a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road, as well as a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive.
Both projects are to receive $10 million each in the next six years for planning and preliminary engineering as part of the Route 29 Solutions package.
“The area possesses considerable potential for new place-making because of road network and traffic pattern changes, the development of Stonefield and future redevelopment of the Kmart site and Michie Drive [public housing] site,” Tolbert wrote in a report.
Additionally, Kroger has filed a site plan with the city to move its Hydraulic Road store to Seminole Square. That may come before the city Planning Commission later this year.
However, commissioners said they felt it was necessary to look first at the interests of neighborhoods that feel threatened by development.
“[Hydraulic] may be a priority area but I’m not sure that a lot of neighborhoods around there would say it’s going to really impact them unless you somehow develop better pedestrian access,” said Commissioner John Santoski.
Commissioner Kurt Keesecker gave a presentation at a recent work session that called for any small-area plan to be based upon improving infrastructure that would concentrate on connecting the central core of downtown with outlying city neighborhoods.
“The higher-picture view is the one we’ve all been yearning for,” Keesecker said. He added that the commission needs a mechanism to evaluate which area should get attention and that no one area should be prioritized yet.
“[Hydraulic] sounds reasonable but if you don’t put it into context of all the other things and criteria it seems like we need to at least list how we are going to prioritize our valuing of any of these different points in the city,” he said.
But Michael Barnes, president of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association and a former Albemarle County planner, said he would welcome a small-area plan given the amount of change that is coming.
“Now that the Solutions 29 road improvements envision rebuilding several roads in the area, it would seem that the city and the county should hurry up and decide what the future should look like, before [the Virginia Department of Transportation’s] road plans start to limit their options,” Barnes said in an email.
Barnes said he would like to see Hydraulic Road’s intersections with Brandywine Drive and Michie Drive be made more safe for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. He said the commercial strip could be connected to the city’s new Meadow Creek Stream Valley Park.
Commissioners said it is important to get the small-area planning process right to protect neighborhoods as more people choose to settle in the city.
“Whatever the secret sauce is, we kind of got it and we’re going to continue to be approached by people,” Keesecker said. “Can [we] take that energy and funnel it to a place that makes those places better and at the same time helps preserve the quality of the places that we love?”
Santoski said he supports Keesecker’s approach because neighborhoods deserve a greater role in the planning process.
“One of their concerns is that if you’re going to keep those neighborhoods as a vital part of the whole city, they need to be involved because they have a lot different outlook on what the city should look like than the development community,” Santoski said.
Councilor Kathy Galvin said she admired Keesecker’s work.
“The diagram is letting us start to see the areas that need to be protected,” she said.
Creasy said the city is moving to involve neighborhoods more. The City Council initiated a study Feb. 2 on whether to require a pre-application meeting before developers can submit their plans.