Extension of Water Street will include trees and other amenities

Growing trees and improving the environment are important enough to be included in the City Council’s vision statement. Yet new housing developments create challenges for the city’s vision of “a community with a vibrant urban forest, tree‐lined streets and lush green neighborhoods.”

At its meeting earlier this week, the council appeared to find a win-win, thanks to engaged residents and a willing developer.

“There was a long negotiation, and we came up with a good plan,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services. “Generally, everybody left happy.”

The council unanimously approved a $356,525 streetscape plan for Water Street Extended that will now include more than 100 trees, bike-friendly tree grates and 17 parking spaces. The street and a pedestrian trail will extend toward the location of the Beer Run restaurant along the railroad tracks and near the coal tower.

A member of the city’s tree commission initially discovered the plan’s lack of street trees. The matter was then brought to the attention of the PLACE Design task force.

“PLACE is the city’s consultative body on public space design, which includes streets, and has architects, landscape architects, planners and developers, many trained in sustainable design,” Councilor Kathy Galvin wrote in an email.

“The problem starts with a code that is out of sync with our Comprehensive Plan,” she said.

Galvin has been a proactive voice for the inclusion of street trees in new developments. The lack of trees planned for Water Street brought up zoning and sidewalk concerns, two issues Galvin said she hopes to resolve.

“Our zoning ordinance requires street trees, unless the zoning requires a zero build-to line,” Galvin said.

A zero build-to line means the public sidewalk meets the wall of private property, thus the private property is flush with sidewalk and street. The portion of Water Street parallel to the Downtown Mall is an example.

In addition to zoning, Galvin has commented on the need for wider sidewalks to allow for the inclusion of street trees and improved pedestrian paths.

“In Charlottesville, the typical sidewalk width is 5 feet,” she said. “[The dense] zoning districts are the most intensely developed with high pedestrian traffic, necessitating sidewalk and tree planting areas between 10 to 15 feet.”

“When you have a zero build-to line with a narrow sidewalk, there is no room for street trees,” Galvin added. “That needs to change, and that’s why I submitted a context-sensitive street resolution in October.”

Galvin’s proposal is an effort to change design guidelines and it is expected to be discussed by the council at its first meeting in February.

City officials said the majority of the funding for the Water Street project was transferred from money set aside to put a traffic light at the intersection of Michie Drive and Hydraulic Road.

City Walk under construction near future Water Street extended

The city benefitted from coordination with the developer of City Walk, Riverbend Development, who will complete the work for 20 percent less than the staff’s estimated cost, and the services of a PLACE task force member who consulted pro bono on the Water Street streetscape improvements.

Mark Watson, a PLACE member and director of project development at the Piedmont Housing Alliance, coordinated with many city departments to create the plan.

“PLACE resolved a similar situation on Elliott Avenue, and is about to work with staff on issues revolving around Cherry Avenue,” Galvin said. “All of this is provided at no charge to the city.”

Riverbend Development will complete the new streetscape plan as construction continues on City Walk.