The newly formed PLACE Design Task Force will weigh in on new ideas for the Belmont Bridge replacement project and an integrated streetscape along West Main Street as two major development projects are under review.
“We’ve got hopefully two projects that are going to be ready to break ground very quickly [on West Main],” said Jim Tolbert, the Charlottesville’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, at Thursday’s task force meeting.
On Tuesday, the Planning Commission will consider a special use permit for the 595-bedroom Plaza on West Main Street. Charlottesville City Council is expected to make its determination at a meeting soon thereafter.
Later this month, the Board of Architectural Review will consider a certificate of appropriateness for the proposed 133-room Marriott Residence Inn at the corner of Ridge McIntire Road and West Main Street.
“From what I’ve been told by one of their representatives, if they get approval, they’re ready to go,” Tolbert said.
The West Main Streetscape is a conceptual design to add landscaping, benches and other features to make the road more welcoming to pedestrians. Both the hotel and the Plaza will involve making some of those improvements although the overall streetscape design has not been finalized.
“I don’t want the Plaza and the hotel to do something that we may come back in say six months and say it’s not what we wanted,” Tolbert said.
Richard Price, an architect and task force member, said the streetscape needs to be done right.
“The design of the Plaza intersection [onto West Main] is a major piece of work that needs a very good and thorough integrated design and engineering to figure out how to make it work,” Price said.
Price also said the streetscape should address the complexity intersection of Ridge McIntire and West Main.
Tolbert responded that the streetscape could provide an opportunity to radically transform that intersection by removing two whole lanes of traffic.
“I think we’ve got a lot of wasted asphalt on Ridge McIntire between Preston and Monticello,” Tolbert said. “I know that a true traffic engineer is going to tell us you can’t take away two lanes of traffic, but that’s if we don’t care about peak hour level of service, which I think is irrelevant.”
City Councilor Kathleen Galvin said she could support that idea.
“[Ridge McIntire] is two lanes going in, and two lanes going out, and then it is four lanes in the middle,” Galvin said. “That makes no sense. That could turn into a nice pedestrian area.”
The PLACE task force will also be the first public body to review a redesigned Belmont Bridge. The initial concept produced by MMM Design left some members of the public and City Council dissatisfied with its vision for connecting Belmont to Downtown.
Earlier this year, filmmaker Brian Wimer sponsored a design contest to solicit alternative designs. The entire University of Virginia School of Architecture participated in the contest as part of a one-week project.
After the contests, Tolbert met with top officials in the School of Architecture and the original designers. The design firm SiteWorks, owned in part by task force member Pete O’Shea, was hired as a subcontractor to produce two new concepts.
“They went through every one of the presentations and we talked about what were the things we could bring [into a new design],” Tolbert said. “What are the things that are good? What are the things that are maybe good ideas but are so far out that we’re not ready for them?”
The two bridge proposals will come back before the task force at their next meeting Dec. 13. The city’s bike and pedestrian safety committee will see elements of the new bridge at their meeting next week.
Council will eventually select an alternative that will then go before the BAR for a final design review.
Additionally, the task force has been charged with looking at impediments to development. Tolbert gave an example of the existing conditions of the intersection of the U.S. 250 bypass and High Street.
Tolbert said the city’s policies on development have kept businesses from redeveloping its corners.
“Because of all the vehicular traffic there, the businesses are all auto-oriented,” Tolbert said. “Our new model of development calls for … forcing buildings to the front and relegating parking and access to the rear. We have people who are willing to pay a million and a half dollars for that site and produce a lot of revenue for the city, but they don’t want to build that model.”
Price said that is to be expected.
“Any redevelopment project is going to require somebody to be first,” Price said. “It’s difficult to build a building that is designed for a pedestrian-friendly environment if you’re the only building there.”