PACC-Tech briefed on Fontaine plans

The Three Party Agreement calls upon the three entities to cooperate on planning in areas of mutual interest. According to the document, Area B land is that which “lies at the boundaries of or between the University and either the City or the County and on which the activities of any or all three of the parties might have an effect.”

Since 1986, elected and appointed officials have met quarterly as part of an entity known as the Planning and Coordination Council.

“Area B will be designated a ‘study area’,” the document states. “The City, County and  University will work with each other to try to develop a master plan for the study area perhaps by  beginning with its most critical parts. The intent is that the results of the cooperative study will be made a part of the Comprehensive Plan of each body.”

The three parties have rotated the meetings every year since then. In 2018, it has been Albemarle’s turn to host the meetings. The PACC-Tech Committee met on October 18. One of the topics was a new master plan for the Fontaine Research Park. The park dates back to the mid 1990’s and currently has 580,000 square feet of office space.

“The University [has] purchased the property in its entirety,” said Alice Raucher, the University’s Architect. “We’ve always owned a portion of it alongside the UVA Foundation, but we purchased the balance of it this past year.”

Raucher said the University sees a near-term potential to expand to 1.1 million square feet.

They have hired the Baltimore firm of Ayers Saint Gross to work on a plan that looked at capacity buildouts and provide a future layout for the park.

“What we think a near-term potential for square footage is about 1.1 million gross square feet,” Raucher said. “We think the current and future uses are clinics and research and offices and it will stay that way primarily for research at the Health System, but with more amenities.”

Raucher envisions turning some of the space into a place where you can have a cup of coffee or have lunch. Right now, people have to leave the area for these types of services.

Raucher said the study is being done to create new spaces for clinics that are currently in older facilities on Central Grounds. Moving them away would reduce vehicle trips headed in that direction.

“We certainly want to move a lot of the walk-in or drive-in visits,” Raucher said. “We know its a traffic issue and there’s older facilities down there so one of the options is to look at Fontaine.”

Raucher said there is a perception that Central Grounds and Fontaine Research Park are far away from each other, but she said that’s not the case.

“We really want to acknowledge the fact that Fontaine is so close in,” Raucher said. “There’s a bike-ped trail that connects you to West Grounds. We’d like to bolster that connection in developing this.”

The near-term plan would include construction of a new parking structure along Fontaine Avenue on currently undeveloped land. This would eventually replace surface parking elsewhere that would be reclaimed for office space.

Raucher said the Fontaine structure could also serve as satellite parking for athletic events.

“It allows us to move parking away from the center and start building the connective tissue in a way so that you can park once and use our University Transit, CAT or JAUNT to get around,” Raucher said.

A 250,000 square foot research and academic building and a 250,000 square foot clinical building would be built as replacements for the West Complex at the UVA Medical Center. A new public space would be created as well in the middle of the research park.

545 Ray C. Hunt would be demolished as part of the near-term plan. It would be replaced with a new way to get around the park.

“What we’re thinking about is imposing a rational structure,” Raucher said. “Instead of the middle green that currently is not occupied because that middle central green is actually in back of the buildings. The front of the buildings face the parking lots. We would impose a Main Street, essentially, allowing that to be a walkable, drivable Main Street.”

Raucher said construction is far from imminent and it would be phased when it does occur.

“This is a master plan,” she said. “There’s no project associated with this yet. We’re sharing our initial plans.”

Raucher said the University will complement the Fontaine Avenue Streetscape project currently being conducted by the city. That project spans from Jefferson Park Avenue to the city limits.

“We would then take the sidewalk from that point and bring it into Fontaine Research Park to aid that connectivity,” Raucher said. “The other important note is the bike-ped trail route to our science and engineering area and West Grounds goes through Piedmont Housing [complex]. The more we develop these connections, the more ability there is to walk and bike and not have to drive.”

Raucher said Piedmont Housing is currently a very low density site but there are plans to alter that in the near future.

“If anything, that would be a great place to think about other types of residential that would be able to do cross Fontaine,” Raucher said. “We’ve had our eye on that for quite a while.”

Ikefuna said the city has also submitted a capital improvement program request for a Fontaine West project that would further build out the streetscape.

The UVA Foundation owns land nearby in the northwest quadrant of the U.S. 29 / I-64 intersection. The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning in July 2011 allowing for office space, but the project has not yet been built.

Is PACC-Tech a place to talk about affordable housing?

Ikefuna gave an update on the city’s affordable housing initiatives at the meeting.  Council recently authorized the spending of $200,000 to develop an affordable housing strategy, but he said the problem could not be addressed without regional cooperation.

“The issue of housing cuts across a good [amount] of land use in the city, county and UVA and the city cannot address that particular issue alone,” Ikefuna said. “It is true that UVA is a major economic engine locally but the impact on affordable housing is huge.”

Ikefuna said the three groups should be meeting together to solve the problem of housing for those with very low incomes. He said high demand and low housing supply has priced many out of the market. Ikefuna called upon UVA to do more to address the issue.

“I think the University and the city have both been very supportive along with the county on transportation and transit because as we know affordable housing isn’t just composed of the housing itself but also what they call the affordability index which is housing plus travel,” said Andrew Gast-Bray, the director of the county’s community development department.

In other words, people who have long commutes spend more on transportation costs, making their seemingly affordable housing situation less so.

Gast-Bray said the county is seeking ways to build more transit-friendly housing types that would be attractive to faculty.

“The county has been creeping along a little trying to wait to make sure we understand what’s really missing from the housing picture so that we don’t build something that’s not necessary,” Gast-Bray said. “But we are sensitive to these issues.”

Gast-Bray then asked if the existing planning bodies set up by the Three Party Agreement are the appropriate venues to discuss housing issue.

“One of the bright spots of PACC-Tech and PACC is the ability of the three entities to talk, but it was set up for land-use,” Gast-Bray said. “Are there other opportunities to talk?”

Gast-Bray pointed out there is also the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Regional Transit Partnership, two entities that are convened to deal with transportation issues.  Ikefuna said a more holistic discussion was warranted.

“You can’t discuss land use without the other variables,” Ikefuna said. “Two of them are transportation and housing. Transportation and land use inform each other.”

Raucher said the scope of PACC-Tech is limited.

“If it’s land use that’s fine,” Raucher said. “If it’s policy, we’re not the PACC.”

Raucher said the Regional Housing Partnership would be a better forum to discuss the cost of living in the area.

“I think there are a lot of discussions going on and it’s a question of how the information gets shared,” Raucher said. “We can specify areas that are good for mixed-use and ideal for residential. I agree [with Gast-Bray] that that there’s no point in having mixed-use and transit if you don’t have the residential.”

Raucher said PACC-Tech can suggest what land uses should be in various parts of the community but actual policy must come from PACC and other bodies.

Gast-Bray said PACC-Tech could be a body where all the issues get discussed.

“Do you think that in that context we could look at [it] as opposed to siloing all of the different subject matters?” Gast-Bray asked. “At some point it would be nice to have something to show the nexus between where transportation, land use, housing, economic development and green infrastructure come together.”

Raucher said information does get shared because so many PACC-Tech members also serve on other bodies.

“We don’t design in a vacuum,” Raucher said. “We do design with the city and the county and all  of the issues that you’re doing in mind.”

Raucher pointed out UVA’s new president, Jim Ryan, has convened a task force to discuss regional issues.

“[That] would include wages, housing, education, health care and other matters that come up,” Raucher said. “All the discussion that has been happening has been taken seriously. There’s not going to be a quick fix to anything but I think with the initiation of this broad working group, they’re going to identify some of the top issues and then take that further.”

At the meeting, Raucher said construction of a 350-bed student dormitory is underway on Brandon Avenue and a request for qualifications is out for a second residence hall of similar size.

“This is starting to chip away at the upperclass housing deficit that we experienced due to state-mandated enrollment growth,” Raucher said. “Pretty soon we will have 700 beds online and then there’s in the capital plan another project for a site yet-to-be-determined for another 300 or so beds.”

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