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Councilor Galvin seeks action plan for Strategic Investment Area

The Charlottesville City Council has asked planning staff for an action plan to speed up implementation of the Strategic Investment Area, a guide to the development of 330 acres south and east of the Downtown Mall.

“After two years of delay, it is time for action,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin in an interview.

The plan was developed by the firm Cunningham Quill in 2013 and adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan in February 2014.

“Since that plan was provided to City Council, there hasn’t been adequate coordination in terms of implementation of the plan, coupled with the fact there was a transition period going on at Neighborhood Development Services,” said Alexander Ikefuna, who has been NDS director since August.

One of the major near-term recommendations in the adopted plan was for the city to review zoning in the study area to determine if it was compatible with the SIA’s goals.

Another was to begin design for new streetscapes for Second Street and Monticello Avenue.

None of those steps has occurred and the new action plan could spur them to move forward if adopted.

In January 2015, then-NDS Director Jim Tolbert presented the council with an implementation plan that requested certain actions be completed by certain dates. For instance, staff was to have begun work on a form-based code for the SIA area by March 15, 2015.

After the presentation, then-Mayor Satyendra Huja said that date and others were not realistic. They were subsequently removed from a resolution supporting implementation.

While many implementation steps have not begun, Ikefuna briefed the council at its meeting earlier this week on what he said were accomplishments in the SIA area.

These include securing a preliminary funding recommendation from the Virginia Department of Transportation for the $ million East High Streetscape project, which is in the northeast section of the SIA.

A project to build a new public staircase at the end of Garrett Street leading up to Ridge Street was advertised for construction bids, but Ikefuna said there was no response.

“We are going to re-advertise the bid, and hopefully this time around we will be able to get a construction project,” Ikefuna said.

The city has received 11 bids in response to a request seeking an urban design firm for a new Belmont Bridge.

Ikefuna also said private investment at the Ix Art Park has resulted in a center for cultural ac-tivity.

“I think it’s a major asset in the SIA area,” Ikefuna said. He also touted the partnership with the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative to use art to engage with the community.

Ikefuna said the development of Burnet Commons III on formerly-owned city land is another sign of progress.

The Piedmont Housing Alliance received $340,000 from the city to help plan for the redevelopment of Friendship Court. The Albemarle Home Improvement Program is rehabilitating 19 single family owner-occupied homes in the SIA area with city funding.

The city is also working with the Urban Agricultural Collective of Charlottesville on a grant application from the Kresge Foundation to provide $75,000 to ensure the continued existence of gardens and farm plots on Friendship Court land as well as public housing property.

Ikefuna suggested a work program that includes convening an implementation team for an April meeting and placing the Garrett stairs up for bid again by August. Staff also would focus on supporting the Friendship Court redevelopment project and “strengthening” the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

“What we are recommending to council is realistic that we’ll be able to implement,” Ikefuna said, adding the city does not have the resources to hire a housing development specialist to focus on the SIA.

Galvin brought her own action plan to this week’s meeting that would advance some of the major recommendations from the original SIA plan. She would start a discussion in April on cre-ating an overlay district with action to be voted on by council within nine months.

“We cannot address the needs spelled out in the SIA plan without a strategy and a timeline that deliver specific, measurable results,” Galvin said. “That’s what my model action plan does.”

Galvin also wants swift action on certain streets, like the intersection of Ridge Street and Monticello Avenue, that includes putting out a request for proposals for work as early as May.

The council unanimously adopted a resolution requiring Ikefuna to develop a new action plan based on Galvin’s work for first reading by the council March 21, with a second reading April 4.