The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission obtained a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help both communities coordinate areas of common interest as each updates its Comprehensive Plan.
The Charlottesville Planning Commission spent Tuesday giving TJPDC staff input on its vision for key areas such as the Woolen Mills and the Rivanna River.
“We want to know how the city sees these areas and ideas you may have about working with the county to get goals for the comprehensive plans,” said Summer Frederick, project manager for the One Community initiative.
The Woolen Mills neighborhood is predominantly in the city, but there is a large industrial park on county land to the south across the railroad tracks.
“This is a particular neighborhood where what happens on one side will affect the other,” Frederick said. “This is an opportunity for you to think about what happens on the city side.”
A land-use map that showed the Comprehensive Plan designations for both communities was a surprise to some of its members.
“I didn’t really think about where that line is and I had not heard a county perspective on the industrial issue,” Commissioner Michael Osteen said. He added that the industrial park in the county was only accessible by city streets.
Many residents of the neighborhood have asked that the city re-designate industrial land in the city to residential or a less-intense use.
Commission Chairwoman Genevieve Keller said she understands those concerns but added she wants to keep an open mind about future land uses because the Woolen Mills neighborhood is close to Pantops and Interstate 64.
“It developed as an industrial neighborhood,” Keller said. “Could we have an innovative investment industrial zone because at the moment there is interest in entrepreneurship in the city? What if someone reinvented textiles manufacturing? Would that be objectionable?”
Frederick had also sought input on shared areas adjacent to U.S. 29 and U.S. 250. Commissioners did not place a high priority on those areas.
“With development at Fifth and Avon, maybe there won’t be so much focus on having to get up to U.S. 29,” said Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky. “I see the future land use of this community being not necessarily tied to 29 because other options are emerging.”
“I wonder if the whole area between Old Lynchburg Road and Route 20 should be a theme because we know there will be the Fifth-Avon connector,” Keller said.
Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said he was concerned that Avon Street in the city will have more traffic once people are using it and the Bent Creek Parkway to get to the Wegman’s planned for the Fifth and Avon Center.
The group also spent some time talking about finding ways to make the Rivanna River more accessible. But first they debated what that would actually look like.
‘We’ve said we want to make the river more of a focus, but what does that mean?” Commissioner Lisa Green asked. “I think there are five different answers. That’s the place to start.”
“If I go there, I walk there or I’m biking through but I’m not staying there,” Sienitsky said “A focal point would be adding some activity along the river to get people to stay and spend time.”
Osteen suggested pedestrian bridges to connect the two sides of the river. Sarah Eissler Rhodes, a TJPDC transportation planner, said the city and county are already planning two pedestrian bridges, as well as a transit-only bridge south of Free Bridge.
However, Green said she did not want to increase access to the point where the natural beauty is compromised. She noted that she frequently spends time at the river to hear loons and see other wildlife.
“When you start to build there and have live music, that all goes away,” Green said.
“I think this is the first discussion where there have been more pointed things articulated about the river,” said Missy Creasy, the city’s planning manager. “It seems like this could go in a good direction.”
Another area discussed was Gasoline Alley, a stretch of Rio Road north of the city’s Greenbrier neighborhood. There are a handful of gas stations and limited commercial development on the county side.
“The county has their vision but it always seems like a one-sided coin to me,” Keller said. “The city side developed with residential character and it doesn’t seem feasible to change that at this point.”
Commissioners discussed whether it would be feasible for the county to further develop the commercial aspects in order to provide Greenbrier neighborhood residents shops and restaurants to walk to.
However, several commissioners pointed out that Rio Road will likely get busier once the Meadow Creek Parkway is fully completed.
“I’m not so sure this is a walkable neighborhood like Belmont,” Green said.
These themes will be further discussed at the next joint meeting of the city and county planning commissions on Sept. 18.