Residents of the Greenbrier, Meadowbrook Heights and Rugby neighborhoods had the chance Thursday to ask the City Council questions about what’s happening in Charlottesville’s local government.
The Our Town series began in 2010 as a way for councilors to hear from the public in a less formal setting than council chambers. Speakers are not restricted to the usual three-minute time limit.
“This was started as a sincere effort to gather opinion and input,” said Mayor Mike Signer.
There was applause when new traffic engineer Rashad Hanbali was introduced at the beginning of the meeting.
“We’ve been hearing about streets at every single one of these meetings and it’s gotten to the point where citizens are taking matters into their own hands,” said Councilor Bob Fenwick, adding that residents are clearing foliage that’s blocking views and placing their own safety signs.
Michael Barnes, president of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association, said the top three issues in his community are park maintenance, sidewalk concerns and traffic.
“We asked the city for a traffic study and went through the procedure for Meadowbrook Road a year and a half ago and we were told we were waiting for the new traffic engineer,” Barnes said. “We could maybe use a traffic day where your staff could come out on a Saturday and engage with the neighborhood.”
A long conversation was sparked by one woman who said she was “sick and tired” of development.
“We don’t want the historic nature of this city changed,” said Beth Kariel. “I care about the future generations and I care about preserving the historic nature of this city.”
Fenwick encouraged attendees to get involved with local government.
“It is a concern to me that we’re losing the character of Charlottesville,” he said. “If new buildings are going to be nice architecturally, that’s OK. But all we seem to have are a lot of big boxes.”
Councilor Wes Bellamy said he doesn’t want Charlottesville to turn into Atlanta, where he grew up. However, he said there is room for some development to provide more housing opportunities.
“Our city to a certain extent is still segregated not just in terms of race but in terms of income,” Bellamy said. “I wanted to live in a neighborhood like yours, but I couldn’t. How do we bridge the gap and find a happy medium in which this city as a whole becomes all-inclusive and representative for everyone?”
“We’ve got to get the rules of development right,” Galvin said.
Signer said this council has heard concerns about development and has taken action.
“We voted to lower building heights on West Main Street,” Signer said, referring to a decision in March to eliminate the ability of developers to ask for additional height through a special-use permit.
One woman asked for the council to reconsider the ban on truck traffic on the John W. Warner Parkway, observing that they are using neighborhood streets instead. The truck ban was one of several conditions for the council’s support for the roadway in the early 2000s.
One person asked what the city is doing to cull the overpopulation of deer.
Fenwick said this has been an issue at several meetings.
“We have discussed rifles, we have discussed bows and arrows and we have discussed birth control,” he said. “I don’t know if we have a plan.”
Signer said there will be a work session on the issue July 18 with representatives from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“I’m prepared to move forward on a culling strategy but we need everyone to be comfortable with it,” he said, adding that there are many factors to consider.