About 40 people filled the basement at First Baptist Church for the event to hear how the five candidates seeking three council seats responded to questions from the association and area residents.
“What do you think about Midtown’s role as a connector between the University of Virginia and the downtown?” asked Ellen Bassett, an urban and environmental planning professor at the University of Virginia who moderated the debate.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin, a Democrat, said it was an important physical connection that everyone can see and feel.
“But it’s also a connection that transcends many market levels,” Galvin said. She said local residents use the street for its services and many people come to Charlottesville via the Amtrak station.
Additionally, Galvin said the street is in a historic area that connects the United Nations-designated World Heritage Site at UVa with one of the nation’s only successful pedestrian malls.
“When I think about Midtown, I can’t help think about the 27 percent poverty rate that we have in Charlottesville,” Bellamy said. “I’m hoping Midtown can serve as a source of jobs for many of the people who live in poverty and want to be self-sufficient.”
“I am on this corridor every day, all the time, both to walk to my office on South Street, and when I teach at UVa, I walk there or I take the bus,” Signer, a Democrat, said. “It has a lot of our hopes and it has a lot of our anxieties.”
Republican Anson Parker also lives in the area and asked the attendees to raise their hands if they live in the Flats at West Village.
None did so.
“The last few years of development have really affected the corridor in a way we don’t like,” Parker said. “I think West Main has become a dumping ground for a lot of development we don’t want.”
Libertarian Scott Bandy took the opportunity to praise businesses on West Main Street.
“There’s a balancing act going on, and I’ve witnessed it personally,” Bandy said. “I am so proud of the businesses that have withstood the ravages of what has gone on here.”
West Main Street has been the subject of several planning studies over the year. The city has paid $340,000 for a study to inform how the road might be reconfigured to accommodate cyclists, widen sidewalks or expand bike lanes.
Candidates were asked specifically how the city can enhance the pedestrian experience in Midtown.
Bellamy called for balance in planning that respected all modes of transportation.
“This is the staple of our community and we need to make sure that places like First Baptist Church have the parking they need,” Bellamy said.
Signer said he believed that the city could rely more on staff than hiring consultants for studies.
“We’ve got a full city staff and we have a full $160 million budget,” Signer said. “We have a staff whose job it is to build our sidewalks.”
Parker, who neither drives nor bikes, called Charlottesville a great town for walking.
“I do hope that we can beef up public transportation and maybe make it more convenient, as convenient as possible, because we want fewer drivers,” Parker said.
Bandy said he had spent the last week reviewing the recently approved bike and pedestrian master plan for Charlottesville.
“I’ll hand it to the coalition of cyclists of Charlottesville,” Bandy said. “They’re quite active but I think the citizens of Midtown are more active, and I don’t think they’re thrilled that bike lanes will take over parking spaces on West Main.
Galvin said West Main Street is a “success story” in terms of how the process can work for change, adding that the council will take up first of two readings a rezoning for West Main to lower future building heights at the request of residents.
However, the future of the streetscape project is still evolving and the next council will make the final decision.
Election Day is Tuesday.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
01:00 – Introduction from Ellen Bassett