After a full year of planning and nine public meetings, the Charlottesville City Council has adopted a master plan for the eastern half of McIntire Park that calls for the existing seven-hole golf course to eventually be replaced with a botanical garden.
“We believe the process was really open, very lengthy, and allowed for lots of public input,” said Jennifer McKeever, chairwoman of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The plan recommended for approval by both the advisory board and the Planning Commission called for the golf course to be closed by January 2020. However, in response to the council’s wishes, the course will now be closed by the end of 2016.
“We are proposing at this time that that date be effectively move forward by three years,” said Brian Daly, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
Staff is proposing curtailing golf immediately by closing the course on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays after 2 p.m.
Councilor Dede Smith suggested that no golf be permitted on those days at all. She also suggested removing one hole every year beginning this year to pave the way to a more passive recreation area.
“That way it would make it easier to have to let go of the golf as we know it,” Smith said.
However, other councilors did not agree.
“We are making a decision to eliminate the golf course,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja. “We’re saying that clearly.”
Parks staff will begin a process to determine how to replace the low-cost golf services currently offered at the park.
A “family activity center” will be created in the northern section of the park. That could include a playground, a picnic area and a spray ground.
In July, the council was not supportive of a proposal to build a small rectangular field as part of the center.
“Council did not have a support for the [synthetic] turf field or a [lighted] athletic field in the northern end of the park,” Daly said.
McKeever said her board wanted councilors to reconsider their removal of the rectangular park.
“The board wants a synthetic field with lights and all of our studies indicate that is a need for the community,” McKeever said, adding that an athletic field would draw more people to the park.
The executive director of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville–Albemarle also asked the council to reconsider its stance on the field because it would provide another venue for the 5,000 families who play the sport.
“This will be a great space for members of the community to play in unstructured play,” said Bill Mueller. “We know the courts can be built beautifully and cleverly without detriment to the north end of the park.”
Daly said one compromise would be to create a “sport court” that would not necessarily use a synthetic field.
The council agreed to defer a decision about the exact form of the family activity center after an architect is hired to develop scenarios.
“Let’s remove any reference to open play area and task the landscape architect with designing a family activity center that doubles both as a low-intrusive recreational space and welcome suggestions about a less intrusive sport court,” said Councilor Dave Norris.
“It wasn’t my intention to do away with a pick-up field but I do think that the sentiment of council was that we wanted this to be as sustainable and as green as possible and synthetic turf is not compatible with that approach,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
Smith, who voted against the plan, said she was opposed to any active recreation areas on the east side of the park.
“It makes me nervous when I see more activity come on to this side of the park,” Smith said. “If we’re going to have active things on this side, concentrate them and put them all by the road.”
The core of the proposed botanical garden will be located at the confluence of two streams in the northeast of the park. The garden would then grow as soon as golf leaves the park.
Members of the nonprofit McIntire Botanical Garden applauded the vote and hope to begin work to move in as soon as possible.
“It is my hope that a large portion of the site will be designated for the botanical garden,” said C. Colston Burrell, a member of the garden group’s board of directors.
“I do think it’s important when we’re talking about planning for the future of the garden that we specifically name the McIntire Botanical Garden group as the one we will be working with,” Norris said.
The McIntire Skate Park will be moved from its existing location to where the wading pool and playground are currently located. The wading pool will close permanently after next summer.
“A system of trails will be created to allow pedestrian, bicycle and other non-vehicular access to the park and to points beyond,” Daly said. “The passive area includes the hilltop near the center of the park.”
The master plan only contains conceptual details that will be fleshed out as a site plan is developed. The parks department will issue a request for proposal for a landscape architect sometime in the fall.