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Council makes some decisions on West Main streetscape

The Charlottesville City Council has agreed to remove many of the design elements from a West Main streetscape concept created through a $340,000 study.

For instance, two turn lanes will not be eliminated and bike lanes will be level with the roadway instead of at the same grade as the street’s sidewalk.

The council made its decisions last week at a joint work session with a steering committee that has been shepherding the plan.

“We wanted to make sure there was clarity about the concerns or the considerations that council wanted to share with the steering committee,” said Missy Creasy, assistant director of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

The firm Rhodeside & Harwell began work on the project in October 2013 and unveiled a plan in December that would have cost $30 million to fully implement.

Among other things, the firm’s design would have placed all utility lines underground, removed 33 on-street parking spaces and replaced several mature trees.

Mayor Satyendra Huja was critical of the plan in January and a council majority sent it back to the drawing board.

To begin last week’s meeting, councilors were asked to say what they think about the plan.

Kathy Galvin said she liked the “decluttering” of the sidewalk by undergrounding the utilities. She also said she liked having clearly defined crosswalks at all of the intersections and improving the tree canopy by planting new trees.

One councilor does not favor the plan at all.

“It’s a beautiful street,” said Bob Fenwick. “A lot of trees. It’s working well now. Emergency vehicles can use it. It just seems to me that we are taking a street that is of critical importance to our town and trying to do too much at one time.”

Under the draft plan, pull-off areas for buses would have been removed to make way for more sidewalk space.

“I really like the bus dropping off [passengers] in traffic so they can go faster and don’t have to wait for traffic to come out,” Councilor Kristin Szakos said. “I like the trees and I’m a little anxious about cutting down trees to plant trees.”

However, other councilors did not agree.

“There were points at which the patrons of the bus had to cross the bike lane or disembark into a bike lane,” Dede Smith said. “We shouldn’t have a conflict between a passenger and a bike.”

Smith said she wanted to keep two current features on West Main — the right-turn slip lane onto Ridge Street and a lane to allow eastbound traffic to turn left onto Fourth Street. The council agreed.

During the meeting, the facilitator polled councilors to see if there was support for various elements.

A consensus of councilors said they want on-street parking on only one side of the street at any given time. They also agreed to keep the bus pull-offs and said they want to explore the idea of relocating utility poles one block away. 

The council also agreed to support the eventual study of a parking garage somewhere in the area.

The council has up to $500,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget to spend on West Main Street.

Fenwick said the steering committee needs to be told how big the budget would be for the overall streetscape project before it begins its work.

“That’s going to be critical so this thing doesn’t fall apart one more time when we’re getting toward the end,” he said.

Creasy said the ultimate price tag will depend on what the steering committee recommends.

“We kind of have to know generally what the pieces of the puzzle are in order to make that work,” she said. “The steering committee has been [assembled] to look at the best way for the community to put West Main Street together.”

Peter Castiglione, co-owner of Maya Restaurant and a member of the committee, said he recommended spending some of that money on repairing the existing sidewalks to make them level. That would buy time for the city to come up with a master plan for the street’s future.

“I don’t want to see this money go to more consulting and studies,” he said. “I’d like to see some action.”                

The next meeting of the steering committee has not been scheduled.

The council will hold a work session on downtown parking Thursday. The Planning Commission will consider a rezoning for West Main on Oct. 13.