Council wants more public input on streets review, delays on whether to hire consultant

The Charlottesville City Council agreed Monday to gather more public input before writing new rules for how the city’s street network should be improved to accommodate new sidewalks, street trees and bike lanes.

A move to create a new master transportation plan called Streets That Work has been underway since the beginning of the year, but city staff decided to slow the process down so it can line up with a parallel study of the city’s zoning code.

“We’re thinking we back up and make sure we’re all on the same page before we get into the bigger parts of this,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

The council agreed in February to adopt a “complete streets” policy and allocated $50,000 to pay the Toole Design Group to help coordinate implementation.

At the same time, the PLACE Design task force began work in September on an audit of the city’s zoning code to see if it met the goals of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted in 2013.

City staff asked to get more public input to make sure that the vision behind both review processes is clear.

Tolbert said the plan calls for additional density to be concentrated on corridors and for single-family neighborhoods to be protected from development.

“We want most of those corridors to be walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented, but let’s go through a process and make sure we’re all on the same page,” Tolbert told councilors Monday.

Staff will meet with neighborhood representatives over the next six weeks to get more input on problems with specific streets. The new process is expected to give stakeholders more time to talk through potential conflicts.

For instance, West Main Street is a highly traveled road and traffic is beginning to spill over onto neighborhood streets in Fifeville and Starr Hill. Also, members of the Tree Commission are concerned that the city’s utilities rules prevent placement of new street trees.

The community process will begin in mid-December when the city holds a series of meetings across Charlottesville. These would be modeled after the 2006 Neighborhood Design Day, which informed recommendations that made their way into the 2007 Comprehensive Plan.

“We had five or six locations all over town and we did the same thing at each one of them but it gave people an opportunity to be in their neighborhood and come talk,” Tolbert said.

An advisory committee will be formed to guide the process. The council agreed that a member of the development or business community be appointed alongside a planning commissioner, a member of the Board of Architectural Review and representatives of several citizen groups.

The new Streets That Work plan is to be delivered to the council by July.

Councilors agreed to reformat the process, but declined to approve up to $100,000 to hire a consultant to coordinate the public input between the code audit and the street review.

One councilor said she was not certain if more public input would be useful at this time.

“We keep going out there and we get the same information over and over,” said Councilor Dede Smith. “I’d hate to see our resources be used … to just repeat the same that we’ve already done.”

Councilor Bob Fenwick, who was the lone vote against the new streets policy, said he believes the city has already paid for too many studies.

“It would probably be of value to pull the old plans off the shelf and see what’s in there that we can use so we don’t end up duplicating things,” Fenwick said.

Meanwhile, the city’s environmental office is working on a water resources management plan to build new stormwater infrastructure using the proceeds from a recently enacted stormwater utility fee. That public outreach campaign will begin in the spring.

The city also is waiting to see the results of a $340,000 comprehensive study of public infrastructure on and around West Main Street. The Rhodeside & Harwell streetscape also is intended to suggest possible changes to that corridor’s zoning in the wake of several high-profile developments.

No time has been scheduled for the council to be presented with that study.