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City planning officials see no urgency for Hydraulic Road plan

The Charlottesville Planning Commission will not recommend that the city conduct a small-area plan for the area surrounding the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29.

“I believe that, compared to the other small-area plans, this would be least prioritized,” commission Chairman John Santoski said. “I don’t think we want to invest a lot of time and energy in a small-area plan here when we have other places that we know need the attention.”

The city has conducted small-area plans for West Main Street and the so-called Strategic Investment Area south of the Downtown Mall.

Commissioners visited the area around the Kmart shopping center on Tuesday in the third in a series of tours of potential locations for the city’s next small-area plan.

In May, the members of the appointed body visited a small portion of the Woolen Mills neighborhood, and in June they took a walk down Cherry Avenue.

The Hydraulic area had been selected out of a belief that the city could help guide redevelopment of several properties, but the city’s planning manager said that is no longer as pressing.

“When this area was originally denoted for a small-area plan as part of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan, things were in a different spot,” said Missy Creasy.

“At that time, there was talk about the [Kmart shopping center] redeveloping with a town center kind of approach, but the property owners have backed off of that at this point in time,” she said. “The Kmart lease has a few more years on it, and once that runs out, there is interest in using the existing structure for additional commercial space.”

The owner of the property is Peyton Associates Partnership, according to city records. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

Creasy said another reason not to proceed is uncertainty over future transportation improvements in the area.

The Virginia Department of Transportation currently has allocated $10 million each for study of a future grade-separated intersection and a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That money is not available until 2019, and it is possible a future administration could reprogram the funds to other projects or other years.

“We don’t know how far down the line that is and how that will affect things, so that’s another thing to keep in mind,” Creasy said.

VDOT has issued a notice to proceed for the northern extension of Hillsdale Drive. Some commissioners are concerned that the roadway will not do enough to promote a higher tree canopy, walkability or bike access.

“VDOT did not get enough right of way to really do much in the way of trees, unfortunately,” said Commissioner Jody Lahendro, who is also on the city’s Tree Commission.

“They have a wide sidewalk that accommodates runners, bicyclists, walkers and everybody on one pathway, which is not efficient, with minimal shade,” Lahendro said. “It was a real opportunity for us that has been lost.”

Creasy said Hillsdale Drive could end up fostering change in the area, but it will take time to determine how.

“We’ll get the Hillsdale Connector in there, and we hope that it’s going to be an economic development generator because there will be two sides of the road and availability to bring [buildings] closer into the street,” Creasy said.

Creasy also said that Dominion Virginia Power had at one point talked with the city about moving its operations on Hydraulic Road, but the company since has backed off on that possibility.

“They decided they liked their operations, so they’ve expanded here,” Creasy said. “We’re not anticipating that’s going to be anything in the near or long future.”

The Kroger on Hydraulic Road will move to a larger facility in Seminole Square shopping center, but Creasy said they plan to lease their existing building to a non-grocery retailer.

Commissioners walked down Hydraulic Road toward Michie Drive, where there are many apartments that are targeted toward low-income families. The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority has 23 units on Michie Drive within proximity of the area.

At this point of the tour, commissioners watched as a young family crossed a busy Hydraulic Road at a point with no crosswalks.

Creasy acknowledged there are many challenges for pedestrians in the wider area.

“Honestly, our belief is this area is always going to be that way in some respect because this is our big commercial corridor,” Creasy said. “There are things that we can do, though, but it will be very incremental and long-term.”

Creasy said the site plan for the new Kroger does show a pedestrian connection between Seminole Square and the city’s new Meadow Creek Valley linear park.

Despite also placing it as a lower priority, Commissioner Genevieve Keller said the area could be a long-term opportunity to work on regional planning efforts.

“I think it’s an opportunity to collaborate with [Albemarle County] in the event of a transportation improvement,” Keller said. “This is an area, geographically, that is of interest to the city, county and the University of Virginia.”