By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Charlottesville Planning Commission took its turn this week to review the draft master plan for the eastern side of the McIntire Park . The master planning process, which began last summer, has seen significant community input and debate over the park’s primary use.
“We only get one opportunity to do this right, so I hope it’s going to be done right,” said Genevieve Keller , chair of the commission.

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In May, the city’s Parks and Recreation advisory board voted 7-2 to recommend a plan that would phase out the existing golf course by 2020. Instead, land will be set aside for a botanical garden .

“I think that the botanical gardens are a good thing and I think that will get a lot of use,” said Commissioner Lisa Green.
Following that group’s recommendation, the concept now features a rectangular field at the northern end of the park. That field will be fenced in, lit and made of synthetic turf.
Brian Daly , the city’s director of Parks and Recreation, said 2020 was selected to give First Tee of Charlottesville time to find another place to play.
Green asked why First Tee couldn’t be moved quicker to Pen Park , where the city’s other golf course is located.
City trails planner Chris Gensic said the 2020 deadline would set a long-term direction and allow enough time to figure out the logistics. The idea has not been studied in detail.
“We don’t know the implications of saying it will move to Pen Park yet,” Gensic said. “That could be a huge financial cost. It might not. It could mean taking away a ball field to add golf course space… We don’t know the answers today.”
Planning work will continue after the plan is adopted by the City Council . Daly said one issue would be to figure out how the garden will function.
“We’re still not sure if that is going to be accomplished through a public-private venture or a land lease or some sort of city partnership with [ McIntire Botanical Garden ],” Daly said.
The plan will also feature several sections of park that will be left open for people to decide for themselves what they would like to do.
Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky said she wanted to make sure that the passive recreation areas would be available for a variety of uses such as flag football.
“The community has been so engaged with this process and there has been so much good thinking that has gone into the uses,” Sienitsky said.
But the reviews weren’t all positive.
“I think there have been some real missed opportunities in the way this has happened,” Keller said. “We know [the park] is a historic resource and we know it was a designed park… but no one did a thorough evaluation of the historic resource potential of the park.”
For instance, Keller said the golf course may be significant because it is one of the last remaining “pasture” golf courses in the country.
However, Keller said she does support the park because it will allow for more activity.
“I grew up here… and brought up my family in North Downtown and I can probably count on two hands the number of times I took my children to the park because it was just a place to drive by,”  Keller said.
The Planning Commission did not take a vote on the master plan deferring to city’s Parks and Recreation advisory board’s recommendation. The City Council is expected to have a public hearing on the plan on July 2.

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