By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, July 24, 2009

The

Albemarle County Planning Commission

has conducted another review of the draft

Places29 Master Plan

. This time their attention was focused on Chapter 8, which lays out a series of steps of how the master plan’s recommendations could be implemented. The Commission’s latest deliberation took place during their meeting on July 14, 2009.


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Commission revisits chapter on implementation

The main subject of the latest work session was a further review of Chapter 8, which details how the Places29 Master Plan will be implemented. An updated list of 58 transportation and other infrastructure projects now features more detail as well as preliminary cost estimates. The Plan does not tally up the total amount for these projects, but Charlottesville Tomorrow has calculated around $352 million in improvements recommended to be begin within the next 10 years.




Download the Places29 Implementation table dated June 23, 2009





The various elements of “Project 5”
are depicted in multiple colors, and would be built over time. The area
in red is the proposed grade-separated interchange for Hydraulic Road
(click to enlarge)

“Project 5” consists of nine individual projects, mostly in the

City of Charlottesville

, that were recommended as part of a previous study called 29H250. Some of the projects, including the building of a second lane for the on-ramp to the Route 29-250 Bypass in front of the Best Buy, are already awaiting construction funds. Future improvements in “Project 5” include a partial reconstruction of the existing 29-250 interchange,  the widening of Route 29 between Hydraulic Road and the 29-250 Bypass, and a grade-separated interchange at Hydraulic Road. Together, the projects have a preliminary cost estimate of $84 million in 2010 dollars.

Another high priority project is the widening of Route 29 to six lanes from Polo Grounds Road at the South Fork Rivanna River to

Hollymead Town Center

. This carries a preliminary cost estimate of nearly $30 million.

Commissioner

Tom Loach

(White Hall) wanted to make sure that the plan is presented in such a way as to not give false expectations to the community that infrastructure will definitely be built just because these projects are listed in a master plan. He said the

Crozet Master Plan

called for improvements to be made to

Jarmans Gap Road

, but the County has not yet saved up enough secondary road funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to begin construction. He repeated a request made at the previous meeting on Chapter 8 to list all potential funding sources. He noted that the implementation table shows “responsible parties” for each project and suggested that the table also list percentages of how much each party would contribute to the project’s cost.

Julia Monteith (University of Virginia), a non-voting member of the Planning Commission, said it was unusual to include cost estimates in a comprehensive plan. She suggested changing the language to “magnitude of costs” in order to give a sense of how much each project might cost.

“There are really more [like] cost guidelines if anything,” Monteith said. “The amount of volatility in terms of getting projects costed in the last five years has been flying all over the place.”

Commissioner

Linda Porterfield

(Scottsville) objected to including cost estimates from UNJAM 2035 in the document, saying that doing so would confuse the public.





Commissioners Tom Loach (White Hall) and Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett)

Commissioner

Bill Edgerton

(Jack Jouett) said he wasn’t sure that any of the cost estimates were valuable information, given that in some cases, the cost of right-of-way purchase is left out of the estimate. For instance, Edgerton noted that the estimated cost of

Hillsdale Drive

is listed at $30.5 million, even though negotiations over right-of-way have not yet been held. He said the value of Places29 was to be a vision document that lists projects that will help the County’s transportation problems.

But Loach said the implementation table needed to list cost estimates, because the Board will at some point need to make decisions on how to raise additional revenues to pay for necessary infrastructure.

“The implications of these dollar values may become important vis-à-vis local taxation that may occur,” Loach said. “We have to have some estimates on what [transportation projects] are going to cost us so we can start making policy on how we’re going to get that money in lieu of the situation in Richmond.”

Commissioner

Don Franco

(Rio) said he had no problem with including the cost estimates, because Places29 is a transportation plan as well as a comprehensive plan update.

During public comment, Jeff Werner of the

Piedmont Environmental Council

said the Commission needed to be very careful in being specific about what estimates are used. He said many of the projects called for in Places29 are not fully designed, but pointed out that the Western Bypass isn’t either. He said proponents of the Western Bypass are going to use cost estimates contained in Places29 in making an unfair comparison.

“We have no idea what something is going to cost until it’s been designed and contractors have responded with bid,” Werner said. “The most important thing that you all need to do in this is establish a new transportation policy that allows effective and efficient use of transportation dollars.”

Chairman

Eric Strucko

(Samuel Miller) said it was important for the Commission to explain the goals of Places29 to the public.

“This is indeed a plan, a long-term vision,” Strucko said. “Not everything is going to be built next year. These are costs that will be spread over decades and we have to determine the priorities. The challenge of the community is to come up with the resources to make the plan viable.”


David Benish

, the County’s Chief of Planning, said staff would make sure the definition of “estimated costs” would be clear that the numbers are not solid, but are more along the line of Monteith’s suggestion that they be order of magnitude.


Commission debates role of Western Bypass in Places29

Following a previous work session on Chapter 8, staff was directed to change how the Places29 draft refers to the

Western Bypass

. Here is the revision made before the July 14, 2009 work session:

A Note about the “Western Bypass.” The US 29 North Corridor Transportation Study has shown that the set of transportation improvements recommended in this Plan will be an effective and efficient means to address existing and future transportation demands for all users of the US 29 Corridor during the 20-year implementation timeframe. While the Western Bypass would have served most of the regional traffic (the 12% of drivers moving through the Places29 area without stopping), the Bypass would not have helped local traffic (64%) or served many of the subregional vehicle trips (24%). An alternative route from the 250 Bypass north to Greene County that would have functioned as a longer bypass to the west of US 29 was considered during the early phases of the Places29 transportation modeling, but such an alternative route would have been significantly more expensive and, most importantly, would not have served

more than about 12 – 20% of the traffic on US 29.

Commissioner Edgerton didn’t think staff went far enough to emphasize that the Western Bypass is no longer under serious consideration.

However, Porterfield said

a recent letter from the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

that called for prioritizing the Western Bypass over Places29 referred to a claim that VDOT has already millions for the road. She asked the Commission if they really wanted to kill a project that she thought could receive funding.

Other Commissioners told her that the debate is long over for the Western Bypass. Chairman Strucko said the bypass would destroy neighborhoods, would pass to close to County schools, would touch the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, and would be ineffective.

“It’s a bypass that bypasses nothing,” Strucko said. “The development has moved up 29 North. It is designed for through traffic that isn’t really a substantial percentage of what is U.S. 29 now. What is on 29 now is Charlottesville and Albemarle County residents.”





Places29 calls for the Rio Road/U.S.
29 intersection to be converted to a grade separated interchanges that
would be connected to a series of ring roads

But Porterfield pointed out that the Chamber is opposed to grade-separated interchanges. Loach acknowledged that, but said the Commission is responding to policy decisions made by the Board of Supervisors, who have chosen to prioritize those improvements over a Western Bypass. Edgerton’s concern was that the

U.S. 29 Corridor Study

could recommend repurposing some of the right-of-way that VDOT already owns for the project.

Benish said in talking with consultants from Parsons Transportation Group, the firm hired to conduct the study, he feels confident they will not recommend using the full bypass. However, Benish said there could be a recommendation to use at least some of the right of way.

“They’re looking at two tandem improvements, that actually is a variation on a theme for the interchanges at Hydraulic and Emmet Street,” Benish said. This concept would “extend the parallel road concept all the way into the [UVA] North Grounds.” He said he want the Commission to make changes in the plan until the full corridor study was released.

Edgerton called for the history of the community’s opposition to the Bypass to be included in the note. Strucko and Joseph agreed, and said there is a long history of County policy-makers opposing the bypass. Benish suggested making a single reference to a 1990 resolution signed by the MPO opposing VDOT’s planning efforts for the Bypass. Commissioner Franco suggested leaving the note alone until the public hearing to get the public’s opinion on the bypass.

Benish said staff would list a chronology that backs up a firm stand against the bypass.

Porterfield said the Chamber is concerned that grade-separated interchanges will hurt businesses in the County. Benish said the plan intends to minimize impacts to businesses, but acknowledged that there will be some impacts.  He said he would revise Chapter 8 to reflect that the intent is to minimize impacts on businesses.


Uptown area to be de-prioritized

Staff had previously shown the Commission a version of the plan that indicated a priority was to create a new mixed-use “Uptown” area near the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport and the University of Virginia’s North Fork Research Park.

Porterfield said she was concerned that it may be too early to consider developing an “uptown” area near the airport. That same concern has been expressed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.  Joseph said that it will be necessary if and when the North Fork Research Park begins to develop further. However, Benish said that he would be open to de-prioritizing the Uptown area as long as the goal of creating a small area plan for the location is left intact.

“We’ve always seen [creating the Uptown area] as a long-term process,” Benish said. “The main thing we’re trying to make sure we’re doing now is that in order for something to evolve like a Downtown Mall, it kind of has to have the bones to develop.”


Lee Catlin outlines the public review plan for Places29

Lee Catlin, the County’s Community Relations Manager, told the Commission how the County plans to involve the public in the final stages of the Places29 Master Plan’s adoption. She said the fall will offer an opportunity to reintroduce the master plan to the community and people who have recently moved to the County.

“We want to have a chance to review with the public significant changes that are in the plan since the time they saw it before,” Catlin said. The final draft of the complete Places29 will be released to the public on August 11.  The public hearing on the complete Places29 Master Plan is tentatively scheduled on October 13.

Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) asked if the public process would specifically address the business community. In particular, she reiterated that the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce is opposed to some of the transportation elements of Places29.

Catlin said that before August 11, she would be meeting with Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum as well as other business leaders to get their feedback.  She also said that any individual or representative of an organization would have the opportunity to speak at the public hearing.

Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) asked if it would be a good idea to “kick-start” the public awareness in some way. Places29 began in 2005, but Morris noted that few people seemed to be paying attention.

“We have seen the attendance dribble, dribble, dribble and I really thought we would have quite a few people here tonight,” Morris said. He noted that around 40 people had attended an event that the Piedmont Environmental Council had held on Places29 the night before

Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) suggested holding more than one public hearing on Places29, given that interest groups will likely direct their members to attend the hearing.

“I’d hate for us to be sitting there at 1:30 in the morning on October 13th and us trying to make a decision,” Edgerton said. David Benish, the County’s Chief Planner, said there was no expectation that the Planning Commission make a recommendation to the Board immediately after the public hearing.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) suggested holding the public hearing in some location in the Places29 area, perhaps at Hollymead Elementary School. Chairman Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) agreed, and reminded the Commission that they have held remote hearings for the Biscuit Run rezoning, as well as the Crozet and Village of Rivanna Master Plans.

One remaining item for the Planning Commission to decide is whether to expand the growth area on the western side of U.S. 29 north of the South Fork of the Rivanna River. That issue will come before the Commission on August 11, 2009.


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