SECOND IN A SERIES
In the two years since the city of Charlottesville adopted the Strategic Investment Area plan, perhaps the most visible sign of activity is a large mural painted on the side of a wall at the Ix Art Park.
“We did the mural ‘Dream Big’ and we did it 80 feet by 40 feet so that nobody can miss it,” said Ludwig Kuttner, one of the owners of the Ix property.
Kuttner has embraced the spirit of the SIA plan, a 271-page guide for infrastructure projects to support the redevelopment of properties south of the Downtown Mall. Kuttner has invested a lot of money in implementing an early version of a civic plaza called for in the plan.
“For us, the SIA isn’t about an architectural plan for this community,” said Susan Krischel, Kuttner’s business manager. “It’s about creating an environment and a place where people want to come, and that’s where it has to start.”
But some in the community are concerned how open the place is to people who currently live in the public and subsidized housing sites that are uphill from the Ix Park.
“It feels disconnected and it’s a strange juxtaposition that the housing community that’s been there for some time is perched right above this crazy place where it’s changing,” said Todd Neimeier, the operations director for the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville.
“What we tried to do was create a space where everybody was welcome and cross the racial barriers and economic barriers and use gardening as the mechanism for doing that,” said Neimeier, whom many people know as Farmer Todd.
Neimeier doesn’t live at Friendship Court, but spends a lot of time in the gardens both there and at Sixth Street. He said the Ix community so far feels separate from those two places.
A series of fences and trees between Ix and Sixth Street means people who visit the plaza can’t currently see the public housing site. A staircase leading up to the Sixth Street site is painted like a piano, but stops halfway up the hill.
That may begin to change.
In addition to creating the park, Kuttner has encouraged the public to use the property to get from Elliott Avenue to Monticello Avenue with several signposts marking Second Street Southeast, even though that section of the road is technically private property.
“You’re going to be bringing new people into a neighborhood and area where people already feel as if they live in a city where people are pushing them out.”
Kuttner also wants the city to use some of the money set aside in the capital improvement budget to improve Second Street to make it a beautiful walk between Monticello Avenue and the Downtown Mall.
“What we think needs to be jumpstarted is the connectivity,” Kuttner said.
A public-private partnership between the city, the James River Association and Skeo Solutions could provide another connection. The Walkable Watersheds project might build a pedestrian pathway between a dead end of South First Street and Monticello Avenue.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin said that when Friendship Court is redeveloped, she wants it to include new roads or pathways to bring back the city blocks eliminated during the Garrett Street urban renewal project in the 1970s.
“The [Friendship Court] block is almost 12 acres but the average block size in downtown Charlottesville is two and a half acres,” Galvin said. “A block that big is a barrier to access.”
But a big question among some residents of the two neighborhoods is whether they will be able to remain in the area — or will that prove to be too big of a dream.
“It’s not just connectivity and green space and all these other terms,” Councilor Bob Fenwick said. “This is home for people and we have to maintain that.”
The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority currently is without an executive director, and a master plan for redevelopment of all of its 376 units is now five years old.
“One of the first things that I did when I assumed office in 2012 was take a tour of the public housing site,” Galvin said. “There is mold. There are air quality issues. The mechanical systems are just ancient. From a physical plant perspective alone, we must do something.”
Incoming Councilor Wes Bellamy also wants to address redevelopment of public housing, but said everyone needs to proceed cautiously and respectfully.
“You’re going to be bringing new people into a neighborhood and area where people already feel as if they live in a city where people are pushing them out,” Bellamy said.
ABOUT THE SERIES
as appearing this week in The Daily Progress
Monday: The Strategic Investment Area
Tuesday: The beginnings of a new civic plaza
Wednesday: Mixed-use, mixed-income — mixed feelings