The Hedgerow property is located to the west of the U.S. 29 and I-64 intersection Credit: Credit: Albemarle County

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has asked county staff to draw up new plans for a future entrance and parking area for the proposed Hedgerow Park after questioning a $2.4 million cost estimate to access the project from U.S. 29.

“We think we have a Cadillac here and we’re not really asking for a Cadillac,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “There is an opportunity to re-look at this.”

The 340-acre is a gift from the late Jane Heyward. Supervisors accepted the property in March 2015 from the Nature Conservancy, a group that held the mountainous terrain since her passing.

Since the land was accepted, Charlottesville held a design process for the nearby natural area which surrounds the Ragged Mountain reservoir which is on 980 acres of city-owned property.

City Council voted in December 2016 to allow bicycles on some trails at the natural area, a move opposed in court by a Board of Supervisors concerned about water quality issues. A hearing on that matter is set for Dec. 6 in Charlottesville Circuit Court.

A project to open up a park at Hedgerow had been listed in the county’s capital improvement program but had previously not been ranked high enough to qualify for funding.

During this year’s budget cycle, supervisors funded a feasibility study on what would be needed to open up Hedgerow Park with trails that suitable for bikes, horses and pedestrians. 

The firm W.W. Associates was hired to develop a scope for a parking lot for 40 vehicles, six equestrian trailers, toilets and a potential pavilion. The property was to have been accessed from U.S. 29, a highway with a 60 m.p.h. speed limit.

The original idea had been to use an existing nine-foot driveway available to the county through an easement on adjacent land.

“The shared entrance that we originally assumed and planned on has been recommended not to be the way we access the park,” said Blake Abplanalp, a project manager in the county’s department of facilities and environmental services.

Abplanalp said the existing road is not wide enough to accommodate horse trailers and there are concerns about flooding.

W.A Associates instead recommended a new 24-foot entrance on county-owned land to the east.

Either way, the Virginia Department of Transportation would require either entrance to be preceded by a 12-foot wide and 400-foot long deceleration lane. That would also require an additional ten feet of shoulder to minimize stream impacts to Moores Creek, which runs parallel to U.S. 29.

A new entrance creek would require a bridge to cross Moores Creek. The study recommends a bottomless culvert arch to withstand flooding from 10-year and 25-year storms.

Because any new stream crossing would be in the floodplain, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would need to grant their approval. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might also need to be consulted for possible impacts to wetlands.

“There is a significant amount of agency coordination [required],” Abplanalp said, adding that makes it difficult to predict how long the approval process would take.

Additionally, the parking area would be in the stream buffer which Abplanalp said would not be in compliance with the county’s ordinance.

“It has to meet the standards of a passive recreation access and the county presently does not consider a parking lot passive recreational access per the ordinance,” Abplanalp said. “We will have to make a submission and provide justification.”

Abplanalp said W.W. Associates estimated construction and design costs of $2.4 million for the new entrance. Of that figure, around $625,000 would be for the VDOT-related requirements, $235,000 would be for the bridge and around $120,000 to relocate parts of Moores Creek.

Supervisors felt the estimate was too high.

“I want to get it down to a manageable amount so we can seriously look at fundraising,” said Supervisor Liz Palmer. “I liked it back when it was under $500,000.”

Supervisor Ann Mallek said she wanted to see cost estimates for a park that would not require parking for the horse trailers.

“I cannot go forward and decide anything about this until I see how that is broken out,” Mallek said. “Not every park needs to be for every use and to have this use be for hiking and biking is incredibly appropriate.”

Mallek also said that eliminating the parking lot for trailers would move the parking lot out of the stream buffer.

Palmer asked if the study or county staff had looked at other entrances to the land from other roads to the east. For instance, the eastern portion of the county’s 330 land is adjacent to property owned by Sweetspot of Albemarle and accessible via Shephards Hill Road. That land had been a site looked at by Deschutes Brewery for their east coast brewery.

Abplanalp said he had not done so and the estimate could change based on that direction.

“I’d like to hear more about that,” Palmer said.

Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested the estimate could increase to as much as $3.5 million due to inflation and the number of current construction projects going on in the area.

“We have locations where $3.5 million buys a high degree of recreational value,” Randolph said. “$3.5 million of engineering at Ragged Mountain with separate trails for bicycles and if we look at [Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority director] Bill Mawyer’s remarks on siltation that doesn’t have an impact on water quality, there you have a recreational facility right next to the urban area for both the city and the county.”

Other supervisors were not willing to assume the cost would increase that much and that Randolph’s comments were premature.

“We haven’t had the discussion yet about whether this board would authorize $2.4 million so I think we’re jumping ahead,” Palmer said.

Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council wanted to know how the future Hedgerow Park would be accessible to residents of the county’s urban ring.

“It’s disappointing that this park project has seemingly moved ahead of or certainly moved faster than other park and trail projects that would directly serve the growth area,” Werner said. “The county has a growing urban population and the Comprehensive Plan calls for investment within the growth area. The urban community is clamoring for recreational amenities that they can bike or walk to.”

Werner said the county can improve its economic development prospects by investing in trails.

McKeel pointed out that the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation has given an $180,000 grant to the PEC and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to plan for a regional greenway network.

Dan Mahon, the assistant director of the county’s parks and recreation department, said the county has known about this possible donation for many years and it would be a major part of the greenway network.

“We’ve been in the pre-design phase for this property for a number of years, I’d say ten years, when we first started mapping it and exploring it,” Mahon said, adding a more formal study needs to take place to get it ready for the next stage.

Between now and November, Mahon will create a citizen engagement process for the park.

“It’s not just bikers and hikers but there will be folks interested in historical issues,” Mahon said. “The natural and cultural heritage of the city is remarkable and there’s a lot that can be valued there.”