In a series of meetings Thursday, residents had an opportunity to provide direct feedback to consultants working on a six-month study that could one day shape the future of central Charlottesville.
Architects and transportation experts from Cunningham Quill Architects took a 90-minute walking tour starting at the Ix warehouse complex and wrapping around Friendship Court and several Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority properties.
Experts heard concerns about jobs, housing, cut-through traffic and buried creeks. Some feedback surprised them, particularly when an idea was floated to connect First Street South to Monticello Avenue behind Crescent Halls.
“If this was opened and connected as grid from a car perspective, would that be a problem or would that just increase traffic?” asked Lee Quill with the study team.
“That would be a major problem,” echoed several of the almost 20 people who joined the walking tour. Residents then explained the challenge of morning commuter traffic cutting through city neighborhoods and along Elliott Avenue and Ridge Street.
“So this is very interesting, we were all about connecting this as a full street. Seriously, we said let’s bring them all through,” noted Quill. “If you had not shown up today, you’d be telling us later, ‘What were you thinking?’”
However, residents said they were very interested in improved connections for bicycles and pedestrians, and noted that the signage near Crescent Halls today warns people to stay off the property.
Charlottesville’s City Council hired the firm for $145,000 to develop a neighborhood plan for the area between Avon Street and Ridge-McIntire. Dubbed a “strategic investment area,” it includes potential sites for redevelopment such as the Ix building, Friendship Court and public housing properties. The boundaries also extend to include Ninth Street Northeast up to the former Martha Jefferson Hospital.
Lee Quill, Cunningham Quill Architects
Quill said after the tour that he was pleasantly surprised by the feedback.
“It’s about getting to a better level of understanding of the issues,” Quill said. “The only way you get there is by direct dialogue with members of the community. We walked that area with members of the steering committee and those issues didn’t come up.”
A proposal that was more warmly received involved exposing a buried creek and eliminating other terrain features that separate neighborhoods. The consultants said Powells Creek runs under the Ix property and the playing field and garden at Friendship Court.
“One thing we have noticed is the way the creek used to come through this area,” said study project manager Heather Daley, standing along Elliott Avenue. “The topography has really been changed over time with the expansion of the original textile mill to put the creek underground.”
Alex Ix, a member of the family that managed Frank Ix & Sons, said on the tour that he had always known the creek as Pollards Branch.
“There are plans that Gabe Silverman and [Oliver] Kuttner have that they never got around to doing,” Ix said, referring to the team that is redeveloping his old property. “They wanted to open up the creek and have it free flowing, not underground.”
“This has become kind of a basin, and it could be a really great opportunity to do some creative stormwater management and to make it into something a little bit more public and with a civic look to it,” Daley said.
Signs discouraging cut-throughs at Crescent Halls
Joy Johnson, vice president of the Public Housing Association of Residents and a member of the city housing authority’s board, said her goal for the study could be described in three words.
“We need jobs,” said Johnson, who was one of 30 people who came to an evening open house that followed the tour.
Johnson also said residents need to be told how they would be able to stay in their neighborhoods while redevelopment is taking place.
Charlottesville’s director of economic development, Chris Engel, said the study would address the jobs challenge and be much more than just streets and streams.
“The hope is to find some physical sites conducive to employment,” Engel said. “That might mean incentives to locate employers here, or just showcasing the opportunity. Ideally, we want more jobs in this area.”
“In the perfect world you would create a situation where the people who live in public housing can walk to a decent job,” Engel added. “This process will try and address that.”
Daley said her firm would return in May with three scenarios that would get additional public input opportunities.