Albemarle PC endorses Botanical Garden of the Piedmont

The Botanical Garden of the Piedmont has cleared a technical hurdle to its future existence in a portion of McIntire Park that is within Albemarle County. 

“The proposed activity has been determined as a public use… by our zoning administrator,” said David Benish is a development process manager with the Albemarle County Community Development. “Public uses are permitted by-right in all zoning districts. However, if the proposed public use is not identified in a Comprehensive Plan, a review for the proposal’s compliance with the Comprehensive Plan is required, and that’s a state code requirement.” 

The Botanical Garden of the Piedmont leases land from the city of Charlottesville for their future facility on about 14.7 acres. Three of those acres are within Albemarle County.

“The specific site you can here on the map is 950 Melbourne Road,” Benish said. “It’s the southwest corner of the intersection of Melbourne Road and the John Warner Parkway.” 

The red asterix marks the spot that is within Albematle County (Credit: Botanical Garden of the Piedmont)

Benish said the uses proposed are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.  

“We see Botanical Gardens as a feature not uncommon to public parks and it is consistent with the city’s East McIntire Park Master Plan and although that plan is part of the county’s plan, it did play into the baseline designation for this area as a public park and open space,” Benish said. 

And that’s exactly what the nonprofit group that is planning the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont wants to achieve. 

“The garden is being planned as a place for everyone to learn, play, explore, relax, and gather,” said Jill Trischman-Marks is the group’s executive director. “The garden will be a community asset that’s open to the public year-round and will combine accessible outdoor community garden rooms and interior garden spaces.” 

When built, there will be no admission fee for the main gardens, but revenue will come from renting spaces for events. 

“The garden will also include smaller areas to serve as outdoor classrooms for exploration and learning such as our children’s discovery garden, our aquatics garden, and across the stream, our tree canopy walk,” Trischman-Marks said. 

The section that will use land in Albemarle County will contain the parking, the Garden Pavilion, and the children’s discovery garden. The latter will be the first garden to be constructed at the whole facility. Trischman-Marks said an architect has not yet been selected, but prospective respondents to a request for proposals will visit the area soon. 

Negotiations began with Charlottesville Area Transit for a public transit stop and talks are also going on with Jaunt. Trischman-Marks said she may be getting help from the National Park Service. 

“I actually found out today that the National Park Service program, the [Recreational, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program], is actually going to provide us with 20 hours of support services this spring because nobody could tell me what I need to document in order to prove that I need a bus stop,” Trischman-Marks said. 

Trischman-Marks said she thought access to green space should be a priority for transit. The federal assistance will help with documenting how many people are using the garden. 

In the meantime, the garden is preparing to handle things on its own for its own events.

“At past events we have shuttled guests to the garden from Charlottesville High School when it wasn’t in session and we plan to use this strategy in the future,” Trischman-Marks said.

The site of the garden was a former leaf dump for the city of Charlottesville. Trischman-Marks said they’ve been able to reclaim the space since 2019 by removing native invasive species and creating the first few trails. They now have over 470 volunteers assisting them with the work. (corrected, 7:51 p.m., 1/13/23) 

Commissioners had a few questions. Lonnie Murray wanted to know about the parking. 

“Have you considered low-impact development and about using permeable paving and other ways to mitigate stormwater?” Murray asked. 

Trischman-Marks said she was excited to talk about the parking which will reclaim water for other purposes.

“What you see in the center is actually a rain garden so all of the water from the parking lot will drain into this central area,” Trischman-Marks said. “It will filtered and go under the garden where it will also capture rooftop water from the buildings and then go through a series of water falls so that it can also be aerated.” 

Commissioner Luis Carrazana noted that there have been issues with birds striking the glass at the Piedmont Family YMCA built in the western side of McIntire Park. 

“You had a beautiful image there with a lot of glass and timber and a beautiful structure,” Carrazana said. “But if you just look into some of the mitigations for birdstrike glass, there’s plenty of technology out there that really works well.” 

Commissioner Julian Bivins said he was hopeful a transit solution could be found. 

“It is not unknown to my colleagues that I continue to be sort of gently annoyed that all of the green spaces in the county are drivable,” Bivins said. “None of them except for one park in the district that I happen to represent, and that’s the Charlotte Humphris Park, can you walk to. I’m going on record saying yet again that for a community that claims to be this place of grace, you can’t get to any of those places for quiet solitude or meditation without driving a vehicle.” 

No one spoke during the public hearing and the six Commissioners voted to find it in accord with the Comprehensive Plan. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the January 13, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon. The podcast version of this particular segment contains a little more sound than the written narrative.

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