A 2006 schematic showing the elements that would be incorporated into the YMCA’s planned 70,000 square foot facility ( Source: Piedmont Family YMCA)
The City Council has approved the first reading of a lease agreement with the Piedmont Family YMCA to build a 70,000 square foot fitness and aquatics center in McIntire Park. The approval came despite several speakers who voiced their opposition to the project in a public hearing. The City will continue negotiations with the Y and with Albemarle County to determine what privileges each jurisdiction will be entitled to under the terms of the agreement.
Council has been considering the issue for months as part of its efforts to guide the future of City run pools. The City has entered into a ground lease with the Boys and Girls Club to rebuild Smith Pool at Buford Pool as a warm water facility with a handful of dedicated swim lanes. That leaves the future of Crow pool still up in the air.
City Manager Gary O’Connell said the land in McIntire Park would most likely come from one of the existing softball fields. An exact location will not be determined until after the City’s Parks and Recreation Department completes a master plan for McIntire Park.
Before the public hearing, Kurt Krueger, chair of the Piedmont Family YMCA’s Board of Directors, explained to Council how changes have been made in five areas to accommodate the City’s condition.
Most of the thirteen people who spoke at the public hearing were against the project.
Collette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association pleaded with the City to “leave the McIntire Park a green space” and that she would prefer the YMCA be built at Piedmont Virginia Community College. Many agreed with Hall as the public hearing continued.
Lisa Goff represented the 36 members of the CHS Swim and Dive Pool and asked the Council to secure a guarantee that six lanes would be dedicated to the team. The team currently has that many lanes at Crow Pool. Current CHS swimmer Irene Euen said it’s very difficult to train in cramped conditions that she predicted would occur at the proposed YMCA competitive pool. Crow Pool is currently closed because of the drought.
“Cutting back to five lanes would force cuts in the high school swim team,” Goff said, adding the team size is currently constrained by lane availability.
Lisa Grove and Sandra Stamp questioned the high cost of repairs cited for Crow and Smith Pool, and said the numbers were being manipulated. City resident Downing Smith urged Council to retain operational control over anything that they continue to fund. City resident Elizabeth Kutchai said she thought the County should build its own pools if County residents want to swim.
Others spoke out against the project because of the loss of parkland. City resident Naomi Robert lamented how McIntire Place is no longer a place where families can have picnics. During the City Council’s general public comment period, DeDe Smith remarked that it seems to be getting easier for Council to approve of using parkland for other purposes.
But other people spoke in favor of the project.
Scott Brown, chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said the YMCA proposal is about much more than pools, and that city residents will gain access to much. City resident Anne Hemingway urged support for the project, as long as the CHS swim team get six lanes. Mark Saunders, father of three swimmers, said he supports the project because the City will get a much better fitness facility that it can afford.
Under the terms, the City and County would both pay $1.25 million to help defray the construction costs of a competitive 10-lane swimming pool at the facility. Mayor Brown asked Krueger why the YMCA would try to accommodate three County teams and the City’s one swim team for the same amount of money.
Krueger said those details needed to be negotiated, and would be done so if the first reading of the lease could be approved.
Councilor Kevin Lynch said the project would only make sense for the City if it can save money, but that without six lanes dedicated for CHS swimmers he could not support it. Lynch also said he would not mind if the deal project were built at PVCC, but that CHS students would benefit if it were next to their school. Lynch also said he thought the existing punch-pass system was a money-loser that needed to be reformed, no matter what happens with City pools. Lynch added that he also wanted to guarantee there was a transit element of the project.
Krueger acknowledged that aquatics is an important component of the proposed facility, but urged Council to consider that the new center would provide other fitness amenities, such as a track, a gymnasium, and a warm water pool. He also reminded Council that the YMCA will pay for all of the operational expenses of the pool.
Councilor Julian Taliaferro listed several concerns with the project. He said he was not convinced CHS students would get priority, and that he was not pleased there was no concrete cost estimate nor a site plan. Taliaferro also questioned whether low-income residents would seek the scholarships, seeing that they will have to show two pay stubs and a tax return to prove their need. Taliaferro also said that he was not comfortable ceding control over such things as hours of operation to the YMCA.
Krueger reminded Taliaferro that the City Council would get to appoint two Board members, and that the Board would be comprised of half City residents within a year. He also said that the YMCA needed to have some amount of flexibility when setting its policies. Krueger also pointed out that much of this would be covered in the use agreement. He went on to say that there will be no site plan or cost
Councilor Dave Norris , a supporter of the YMCA project, asked Parks Director Mike Svetz a series of questions about the benefits of the YMCA compared to the option of having the City completely take funding responsibility for Smith and Crow pools.
Mayor David Brown said the YMCA was making progress with the issue, and pointed out that he had support from Norris and Lynch. Councilor Hamilton said that she agreed with many of the people who spoke at the public hearing, and could not promise that she would vote for the deal on second hearing.
City Attorney Craig Brown said the issue should not come back before Council for a second reading until after all of the details in the lease are finally negotiated. City Manager O’Connell suggested that two members of Council take part in the negotiations.
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