East Side of McIntire Park Schematic Plan Credit: Credit: Mahan Rykiel

Charlottesville’s City Council has approved a new design for the eastern side of McIntire Park, a 75-acre space that will include a botanical garden, skate park and enhanced access for pedestrian and bike traffic.

“This design is the outcome of many months of community input, public open houses and a presentation to council this past December,” said Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The council voted 4-1 late Monday to endorse the plan, with Bob Fenwick voting against, citing objections to the cost.

“This is not a need,” Fenwick said. “This is a want. I can’t support this when we have bridges to be fixed and roads to be paved.”

However, Fenwick did vote to approve a design for the new McIntire Skate Park, which will be on the southern edge of the greater park.

Other councilors said investing in the park would help improve the quality of life in Charlottesville.

“This will be our Central Park in many ways,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja.

“This really has been something we’ve been planning, so it’s not an impulse buy,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos. “We are just at that point where the rubber meets the road and we’re starting to talk about money.”

The park will be centered around a “great lawn” in the middle of the property. Other features approved are a network of trails, space for a botanical garden and a children’s play area.

The initial cost estimate to implement the plan is $5 million, according to Daly. However, the proposed capital improvement budget currently being reviewed by the council only allocates $2.5 million over the next five years.

Daly said the funding gap is not an obstacle to getting started on implementation.

“Our next step is to get back with the design firm and begin to develop the actual construction documents, make material choices, look at specific cost estimates and make a phasing choice,” Daly said. “The critical thing from our perspective is opening the park back up and making the connectivity that this plan envisions.”

Daly also said the cost of implementation may be lower if the trails are built by city parks staff.

The park is bordered by Melbourne Road to the north, the John W. Warner Parkway to the east and the railroad to the west.

Steve Kelly, an architect with Mahan Rykiel, said the park will serve as a junction between existing bike paths and walkways throughout the city. He also said the design could expand the footprint of the botanical garden that will be within the park.

“The botanical garden portion is just on these eight acres but we thought this whole park in a sense could be a botanical garden,” Kelly said. “As we restore these areas for public use, they are to be restored with native plantings that represent the different zones of the Piedmont landscape.”

The design was last before the council in December. Kelly was directed to refine a pond located in the northern section of the park.

“We tried to provide a large water body near the future botanical garden’s visitors center and we tried to make it as large as it could be so that it could serve some program functions, as well as be aesthetically pleasing,” Kelly said

Three natural streams flow into one waterway that eventually leads to Schenks Branch, which flows south toward downtown Charlottesville along McIntire Road.

The new park design will replace the golf course that has been in the park since the 1930s. While the council set a deadline requiring the course to close by the end of 2016, Daly said it will close within the next few months so the trails can be built.

Some of the soon-to-be-former golf course holes will be memorialized with new uses.

“One of them is for a sandbox play area and the others are for sculptural opportunities,” Kelly said.

The children’s play area is in a natural setting without playground equipment.

“These nature play areas change over time so it’s a really great way to get involved with nature,” Kelly said. “We thought we could actually add a stream that goes through the nature play area so that children have a chance to play with water.”

The council also discussed the memorandum of understanding under which the McIntire Botanical Garden and the city will build and operate that amenity. The nonprofit group will raise funds for support buildings and other amenities.

Huja said he wanted to ensure a city representative was on the nonprofit’s board of directors.