“There really is nothing in the history of town and city building that requires a reservoir to be in a natural area,” said City Councilor Kathy Galvin. “In fact, many great cities have reservoirs that are major, major recreation centers.”
“I believe there’s value in having a natural area,” Fenwick said. “The fact that this was made into a natural area to me was great because it showed we are progressing and understand that value of these places.”
The natural area opened up in 1999 under management of the Ivy Creek Foundation. However, Charlottesville owns the property and took back control of the land after the Ragged Mountain Reservoir was expanded by a new dam.
“Over the past year, staff has used the city’s adopted park master-planning process to engage community input and opinion regarding the permitted uses at Ragged Mountain,” said parks director Brian Daly.
“In my 11 years on staff, this issue has engaged more comment than any other,” he added.
In October, the parks and recreation advisory board voted 6-2 to allow bikes on some trails in the natural area. A month later, the Planning Commission was split between leaving the area as is and allowing biking and running on some trails.
Before the council’s public hearing began, Fenwick raised a concern that an Albemarle ordinance related to protecting the water supply might prohibit cycling on the property. City Attorney Craig Brown said that could be one interpretation, but the Board of Supervisors could be inclined to overrule it.
“We have had a discussion about who has jurisdiction in this case,” Brown said. “The statute does give the city jurisdiction and says you can impose rules and regulations by ordinance.”
Brown said Albemarle officials could be asked to weigh in before City Council is scheduled to hold its second reading.
Fenwick made a motion to delay action until after the city received an official ruling from the county. Bellamy seconded the motion, but it failed on a 2-3 vote.
“It’s about time for the council to weigh in on its opinion and the direction it wants to give to this process,” Galvin said. “Any further delay has a chance of just making it much more murky and complicated.”
Forty people spoke at the council’s public hearing.
“Ragged Mountain is only one of two natural areas,” said former Mayor Kay Slaughter. “For those who want more activities, over 70 miles of bicycle trails currently exist in other county and city parks.”
Annette Dusenbury, a member of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club, urged the council to open some of the trails to cyclists.
“Cycling is how I enjoy the outdoors and nature,” Dusenbury said. “I also feel like with shared use, you would unite many groups who all care about the area, and I feel like we all respect that there are precious, fragile areas that need to be protected.”
After the public hearing, Szakos made a motion to open up the trails to cyclists and runners. She said enabling more people to use the park would help more people realize the importance of protecting the environment.
“I think we all do agree that nature is wonderful and that children should be in nature,” Szakos said. “I think if we really thought it should be a pristine wilderness area, we should say there should be no children because that would keep people out of it.”
Galvin said the reservoir’s water quality would not be threatened. She called the reservoir an urban amenity that is within biking and walking distance of many neighborhoods.
Signer said he “enthusiastically” supported the shared-use ordinance but acknowledged that many of his mentors supported keeping the natural area for hiking only.
“There are a lot of issues like that in a city like this where there are people of good faith who are going to disagree,” Signer said.
However, Bellamy supported Fenwick in part due to comments he heard during the public hearing.
“Based on my calculations… I had 21 for shared-use and 18 [favoring] it staying the same,” Bellamy said. “What really came to mind for me was hearing from individuals from our elder population.”
Bellamy said he was convinced by arguments that seniors that the area is one of the only places left for quiet reflection.
City Council will hold a second reading at its meeting on Dec. 19.