Category Archives: Urban Design

Regional Transit Partnership talks park and ride, future bus types, and CAT changes

(This article originally appeared in the July 4, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

If you’re interested in driving less, and you want to know what’s happening to improve transit, a good place to start is the Jefferson Area Regional Transit Partnership. The group consists of representatives from Charlottesville Area TransitJaunt, and the University of Virginia Transit Service, as well as elected and appointed officials. It’s also a place where people can comment on transit issues.

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Crozet Master Plan talk turns to implementation; Crozet Plaza update

(This article is adapted from the June 21, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Albemarle Planning Commission will next take up the Crozet Master Plan at a work session on Tuesday, June 22. At the June 9 CAC meeting, committee members and participating residents got a presentation on the implementation of projects intended to bolster Crozet’s urban character. They also had the chance to comment on the plan update to date.  

But first, the implementation projects. The master plan is a large overview of the entire area, and further studies are suggested. The draft implementation chapter shows a list of ten potential topics ranging from a Downtown Neighborhood Architectural and Cultural Study to a stream health study for Parrot Branch, a local waterway. Initial feedback has already been submitted and planner Tori Kanellopoulos gave the rundown for how planning projects scored.

“The top ranked projects were the Crozet Avenue Shared-Use Path feasibility study, the Three Notch’d Trail feasibility study, and the Route 250 West design guidelines,” Kanellopoulos said. “And then the policy projects were also ranked and the top priority was updating residential zoning designations to allow for more preservation of natural resources.”

Potential capital projects were also ranked. Kanellopoulos said the highest ranking projects are the completion of Eastern Avenue, downtown Crozet intersection improvements, and sidewalk connections. 

Let’s hear more about that Three Notch’d Trail.

“Lately there’s been a lot more focus and attention on the potential Three Notch’d Trail which would ideally connect from the Blue Ridge Tunnel along Crozet and over to Charlottesville,” Kanellopoulos said. “A feasibility study would look at this alignment and there are opportunities to partner with [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and the Planning District Commission and trails groups to look at the feasibility study for the alignment.” 

Supervisor Ann Mallek said later in the meeting that VDOT planning may not have staff to conduct that feasibility study this year, but community work can be done now to prepare for that work possibly in 2022. 

“And the other blessing that goes along with that is 2022 is when [Virginia] is going to take over the rail access right of way from CSX and therefore that increases greatly the possibility that we will be able to have a trail beside the rail,” Mallek said. 

Another “catalyst” project now in the implementation chapter is Western Park, which has long been called for in the plan and for which the county received 36 acres in 2010 as part of the Old Trail rezoning. A master plan for that project was created in 2018 that identified three phases. The first is recommended for funding, a decision which would be made by the entire Board of Supervisors during the budget process.

“This phase one would include the access road with parking, a playground, and additional support of infrastructure and utilities,” Kanellopoulos said.

Committee member Sandy Hausman noted the rankings were based on responses from fewer than a hundred people. 

“I wonder if anybody feels like this there needs to be a bit more outreach, like a mass mailing to everyone who lives in Crozet,” Hausman said. “It just feels to me that this is a relatively small group of people who tend to be paying attention to this stuff and everybody else will be unpleasantly surprised in a year or two when things start happening.”

Committee member Joe Fore said he wanted to see all three phases of Western Park listed as catalyst projects, meaning they would be prioritized first.

“I think just given the fact that it’s been in the works for so long, that the phases of at least getting started, the land is already there,” Fore said. “I understand it’s expensive but it’s not an Eastern Avenue or Lickinghole Creek bridge expensive.” 

Fore also said he would support the creation of a special taxation district to help pay for new infrastructure. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has previously been briefed on how service districts or a “business improvement district” could be levied in certain areas to fund amenities. 

“I looked through currently, and this may be a comment for the full draft, there’s only one mention of service districts in the entire draft and that’s in reference to funding ongoing activities and services at the plaza and downtown,” Fore  said. “But I would like to see maybe a little bit more and maybe a full suggestion saying maybe this is something we should explore in Crozet to fund some of these capital projects so we’re not constantly having these be projects are ten years out.” 

The Board of Supervisors last had a formal presentation on service districts at their meeting on December 7, 2016. (presentation) (story)

Fore has looked up the section of Virginia code that allows for the creation of such districts.

“It’s a pretty broad statute as I read it,” Fore said. “Things like sidewalks, roads, programming, cultural events, economic development, beautification and landscaping. It’s a very broad statute. It seems to me you could raise money for most of the kinds of projects that we’re looking at.  When we look at the list of priorities and say, yikes! Where are we going to get all the money for this? Well, rather than say let’s raise taxes on everybody in the county, you might be able to say let’s raise funds specifically from Crozet that would stay in Crozet for some of these projects we want to see in Crozet.”

CAC member David Mitchell is skeptical of the idea and said it would lead to Crozet receiving fewer direct funds from the county.

“Over time we will start to be looked at by the other Supervisors as ‘they have their own money, they can do their own thing’ and you’re going to slowly over time lose your share of the general fund,” Mitchell said. 

Supervisor Mallek agreed.

“I would really discourage our citizenry from burdening themselves because I think David is right,” Mallek said. “We need to go to toe to toe, to say, this is a need that’s been on the books.”

Mallek singled out the Eastern Avenue connector road that will provide north-south travel. A major obstacle is the cost of a bridge required to cross Lickinghole Creek. 

“We have made all of these zoning changes prior to 2007 that were counting on that bridge and we absolutely have a moral obligation to build it,” Mallek said.

Eastern Avenue is ranked #8 on the county’s transportation priority list and there was an update in May. There’s not yet a full cost estimate on what it will cost, but engineering work is underway. 

“This project is currently being evaluated through an alignment study and conceptual design which is funded through the Transportation Leveraging Fund in the [Capital Improvement Program],” reads the update. “The alignment report was presented to the Board in January and the preferred alignment was selected. This project is being considered for a Revenue Sharing Grant application.”

Allie Pesch, the chair of the CAC, said she wanted Eastern Avenue to be the top implementation priority.

“I like seeing Eastern Avenue at the top of that list,” Pesch said. “That is a priority for everyone in our area and just so overdue.”

After this discussion of implementation, county planner Rachel Falkenstein turned the conversation to the working draft of the master plan. The draft that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at their work session on Tuesday incorporates feedback from the June 9 CAC meeting. (download the draft

“We still have a couple of steps to go before we get to our public hearings and we’ll continue to accept feedback and make revisions to the chapters and to the content,” Falkenstein said. 

A work session with the Board of Supervisors will take place in August. (Watch the CAC meeting on YouTube)

A few days after the CAC meeting, the Downtown Crozet Initiative held a public meeting to talk about a 30,000 square foot plaza intended to be located at the former Barnes Lumberyard. The plaza would anchor a mixed-use building and a hotel through a public-private partnership. The idea involves construction of a connector road using revenue-sharing funds from VDOT. That process requires a local match. 

Frank Stoner is a principal at Milestone Partners which seeks to redevelop the space. They’re putting up $2 million to serve as that match. 

“This project started in 2014,” Stoner said. “We developed this road plan in 2016, 2017. Most of the design elements of the road have been resolved. We felt strongly and I think the community felt strongly and the county felt strongly that the streets had to be appropriate for the small town that is Crozet and not be a highway through the middle of downtown which is kind of where VDOT wanted to go with it.” 

In all, VDOT is providing $2.49 million in funds for the road improvements. Milestone is paying $2 million and donating the land for the plaza and roads. The Downtown Crozet Initiative will raise $1.6 million or more to program the plaza. Albemarle County has contributed $1.6 million in cash to the project, and will provide another $1.6 million in rebates through a process known as tax increment financing. (read the June 2019 performance agreement)

Stoner said the idea is to build an urban plaza, not a park. 

“And most importantly we wanted this plaza to be the heart not just of the neighborhood but the Crozet community,” Stoner said. 

CreditDowntown Crozet Initiative

VDOT is contributing $2.5 million and the Downtown Crozet Initiative is seeking to raise over a million in private funds. 

“Which will be used to fund essentially the furniture, fixtures and equipment, sculpture, artwork, seating, all of that kind of stuff that goes in the plaza,” Stoner said. 

The designs aren’t close to final yet, but Stoner wanted to get feedback from the community. There are also no identified tenants for any of the spaces yet. 

“We haven’t really been in the position to take commitments because there have been so many unknowns because of the VDOT plans and then we had some stormwater issues we had to work through and so it has just been one obstacle after another,” Stoner said. 

Stoner said if all goes according to plan, construction could get underway next year. To Stoner, success means making sure it’s a place to expand what already makes Crozet Crozet.

“If we can’t create a place that’s affordable for local businesses, then we’re not going to succeed,” Stoner said. 

In April 2020, the firm Downtown Strategies unveiled their report on a Downtown Strategic Vision for Crozet. Stoner suggested interested parties might take a look. (take a look)

Nearby there is a separate VDOT project to rebuild the existing Square to add sidewalks and address ongoing stormwater issues. (watch the June 14 presentation)

UVa making plans for Ivy Garden redevelopment

(This installment was originally posted in the June 9, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met earlier this month. One of the items on the Building and Grounds Committee’s agenda was approval of a master plan for the redevelopment of Ivy Gardens, an apartment complex between Old Ivy Road and Leonard Sandridge Road that was built in the late 1960’s. 

University Architect Alice Raucher explained the purpose of creating a master plan. 

“It is in general always good to have a plan and physical master planning helps to set priorities to inform future plans,” Raucher said. “It often aligns limited physical resources with often equally limited financial resources and provides the opportunity for broad University and community engagement to create a shared vision.” 

Ivy Gardens is made up of 17 acres and has 440 residential units close to North Grounds, Darden, the School of Law, and the Miller Center for Public Affairs, and the Center for Politics. 

“In 2016, at the direction of the University, the Foundation purchased Ivy Gardens and although its structures are aging, the property is currently income producing with units that primarily house our graduate students in a low-density, automobile-oriented development,” Raucher said. 

The proposed redevelopment plan would increase the number of units to 718 and would add about 46,000 square feet of academic space and 69,500 square feet for commercial uses. The latter would be clustered in a new Town Square that would front onto Old Ivy Road. To the immediate north would be a Residential Commons with different kinds of housing types. In the middle would be a Central Green. A pedestrian bridge would cross Leonard Sandridge Drive, allowing safe passage to Darden and the Law School. 

Source: University of Virginia Office of the Architect
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council agrees to bridge funding for belmont bridge

(This article originally appeared as a segment in the May 18, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The main event at Council’s meeting on May 17, 2021 was direction to proceed with a plan to use millions of funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to cover another cost overrun for the long-planned Belmont Bridge replacement. The project was put out for construction bids in February with a $31 million cost estimate. According to the city’s Urban Construction Initiative manager Jeanette Janiczek, that wasn’t enough money. 

“The lowest responsive, responsible bid can be awarded with existing project funds, however there is a need for additional funding, $4.2 million, to cover contingency, construction inspection services, VDOT oversight, as well as utility relocation,” Janiczek said. 

VDOT has suggested adding funds from its bridge maintenance account, something referred to as State of Good Repair. Janiczek said possible reasons for the higher estimate include inflation, increases in material costs, and potential issues related to the pandemic.

Janiczek said one choice would have been to remove items from the project, such as a pedestrian tunnel on the southern end. 

“Any of these options would result in us having to rebid the project,” Janiczek said. “This adds at least a year in time but most importantly it doesn’t fulfil the commitments we’ve made to the public as well as the Board of Architectural Review.” 

Janiczek if the appropriation of the VDOT goes forward in June, construction could begin this summer. Another public meeting will be held when the contractor is hired to explain how traffic will continue to use the bridge during construction. 

“So once they submit their baseline schedule, we’ll release that to the public and let people know what to expect during construction,” Janiczek said. 

Asked by Council if the project costs could increase, Janiczek said many of the prices for materials would be locked in as soon as the construction contract begins. 

City Manager Chip Boyles said he thought construction costs would increase as the federal government prepares to make billions of investments in infrastructure projects. That’s why he r

“If this project is delayed, we’re already seeing very substantial inflationary projections into the near future,” Boyles said. “If President Biden’s infrastructure package that is in Congress is approved, you will see multiple fold of capital projects underway. If this had to be rebid, I would say that we would end up with less product and at least the same amount or more of the cost.” 

The second reading of the appropriation will be on the consent agenda for Council’s June 7 meeting. They’ll next meet on May 25 to have a work session on the 7th Street Parking garage followed by a May 26 joint meeting with the city School Board on the reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools. 

Council adjourned their meeting before 8 p.m. something that newcomers to city government should never ever expect. 

Proposed apartments for Fifeville draw attention to planned railroad underpass

(This article was originally a segment in the May 11, 2021 Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Tonight, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will have a joint public hearing with the City Council on a rezoning on a cul-de-sac on the western edge of Fifeville.  A property owner on Valley Road Extended seeks the rezoning and a special use permit to build four apartment units on just under two-thirds of land. The applicant is proffering $48,000 to build a portion of sidewalk and have suggested it could be part of a larger network. (meeting info)

“Sidewalk improvements along the new parcel frontage along Valley Road Extended that ultimately may be incorporated into a more robust pedestrian and bicycle improvement network if the multi-use tunnel under the railroad right of way, as called for in the [2015] Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan,” reads the narrative.

The narrative references a map on page 38 of the plan that depicts many desired projects throughout the city. One of them is this underpass at the northern end of Valley Road Extended.

However, there is no active project planned for such a tunnel at this site to occur, according to city Communications Director Brian Wheeler. In all, there is a distance of 4,500 feet where the railroad bisects the Fifeville neighborhood from the University of Virginia without a pedestrian or vehicular crossing, between Shamrock Road and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. 

The University of Virginia is also not planning for a tunnel at that location, according to its non-voting representative on the Planning Commission. After the city agreed to hand over right of way for the Brandon Avenue corridor, UVA agreed to study for a railroad crossing and settled on a different planning concept closer to Monroe Lane and Paton Street. However, they are not pursuing a crossing at this time but will work with the city on an easement should it choose to proceed.

This map is Charlottesville’s 2015 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan and can be found on page 38. (download the plan)

UVA Panel Endorses Hotel and Conference Center Design

(This article was originally published in the March 6, 2021 installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors met yesterday and approved the schematic design for a new hotel and conference center, as well as an athletics complex. The $130.5 million hotel project will be located near the new School of Data Science within the emerging Ivy Corridor. (meeting packet)

“A mixed-use hospitality, convening, and social destination in this central location will provide a catalyst to achieve these strategic goals set by the President’s Emmet Ivy Task Force,” reads the staff report. 

Those goals include supporting the Democracy Initiative, an initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences and other institutions.

The University and its real estate foundation have been purchasing land along Ivy Road for many years to assemble enough space, including the Cavalier Inn. That structure was demolished in the summer of 2018 and the place where it stood will remain undeveloped according to a 2020 site plan. 

The hotel will have 215 rooms and 28,000 square feet of space for conferences. It will wrap around the existing parking garage. 

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Area Smart Scale projects recommended for funding in fourth round

A data-driven application process has recommended funding for several major projects in the area, including $24.6 million for improvements at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road. This also includes nearly $8 million for the third phase of the West Main Streetscape in Charlottesville. Both are recommended for funding under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process, which ranks projects according to a series of metrics including congestion relief, public safety, and economic development. 

Source: Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

Albemarle and Charlottesville are both within VDOT’s Culpeper District. 

“Culpeper gets a total of 20 projects recommended for funding for a total of $166.9 million dollars,” said Chad Tucker with the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment. 

Smart Scale was put in place after nearly $230 million was spent on several projects to address congestion on U.S. 29 including construction of Berkmar Drive Extended and a grade-separated intersection at 29 and Rio Road. Smart Scale is now in its fourth round and nothing is final until the Commonwealth Transportation Board takes a vote in June. Under the recommended scenario, the Hydraulic project received the highest score in the Culpeper District. 

“That will really augment the investments that have been done at Rio in helping to keep traffic moving efficiently and safely along the U.S. 29 corridor in the Charlottesville,” Tucker said. 

Projects recommended for funding in Albemarle include $11 million in Route 250 East Corridor Improvements, $8.5 million for safety improvements at the intersection of Old Lynchburg Road and 5th Street Extended, a roundabout at the intersection of the John Warner Parkway and East Rio Road, and a $7.5 million for a roundabout and other safety improvements at the intersection of Route 20 and Route 53.

Projects recommended for funding in Charlottesville include $5 million for a project to increase safety on Ridge Street, $6.1 million for improvements at the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenuea second phase of multimodal improvements on Emmet Street, in addition to phase 3 of the streetscape.

Council has been waiting for the results of Smart Scale before making a long-term decision about the future of the West Main Streetscape, which was broken into multiple phases in 2017 after a previous Smart Scale application to cover the whole cost did not qualify for funding in the second round. A portion of the project was covered in the third Smart Scale round. 

A roundabout at Troy Road and Route 250 in Fluvanna County has also been recommended for funding. 

“I think Culpeper did a very good job of having targeted improvements that are addressing safety in congestion hotspots throughout the district,” Tucker said. 

More on this as the weeks and months continue. For a more complete picture, be on the look-out for a story from Allison Wrabel in the Daily Progress.

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation

Design panel shows tentative support for mural for Starbucks on West Main

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has indicated at a preliminary review that it would support a mural on the side of 1001 West Main where Starbucks wants to open a new pick-up only franchise.   

“It’s one of our latest new formats of a store that we’ve been rolling out,” said Ena Yang, a designer with Starbucks. “We have three stores that are open. Two in New York City and one in Toronto, Canada. This particular store we do not have any seating. Our lobby space is only 300 square foot where the customers are encouraged to pick up their order and be on the go.” 

At issue before the BAR was whether the east-facing wall that slopes down 10th Street should be adorned with a colorful mural. The building in question is a former auto repair shop that is a contributing structure in the West Main Architectural Design Control District. Historic preservation planner Jeff Werner said there were some restrictions 

“Anything within a mural that is interpreted as a Starbucks related or coffee related could be interpreted as a sign so be very careful with the artwork so that it doesn’t come across as ‘come in here and buy coffee,” Werner said. 

Yang said there would be no images to promote coffee. Chair Carl Schwarz said he supported the preliminary design of the mural. 

“This is an interesting part of town where you can have a lot of color and excitement and it’s not going to distract from anything historic,” Schwarz said. 

Werner encouraged representatives from Starbucks to reach out to the community and to be ready for comment. Yang said they would do so. 

“I understand it is a very prominent location and it’s a very busy intersection,” Yang said. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We are Starbucks. We are a global company. We want to make sure that what we put on a building of this size and at such a prominent location could be messaging that represents Starbucks. As to getting some of the community involvement, I would love your advice and guidance on what are some of the steps we can take to ensure this mural really speaks true to the community.”

Yang said the next step is to continue working with the artist in a way that will not cover up any of the existing windows. 

Credit: Concepts Studio at Starbucks

Council briefed on ways to slow down Fifth Street Extended

Charlottesville City Council spent about an hour last night discussing ways to address speeding concerns on 5th Street Extended, a four-lane highway that heads south from downtown Charlottesville that has seen more residential neighborhoods built over the years. 

One person concerned with recent crashes on 5th Street lives around the intersection at Bailey Road. 

“I walk on 5th Street almost everyday,” said Kristen Lucas. “I bike to work sometimes on 5th Street. And I walked out my door when there was a crash and someone had passed away on 5th Street and I strongly support changes to 5th Street to make it safer not only for drivers but also for pedestrians and bikers and those that are living on this road.” 

Lucas and about 1,400 other people signed a petition to ask Council to push for changes to the roadway. She said she wanted more than for the city to limit the speed, and she supported roundabouts and other traffic calming measures.

Traffic engineer Brennen Duncan wrote a report that outlined how vehicular speed has played a role in the five fatal accidents that have taken place in the past four years. 

“It’s my assertion that there’s really not a speeding problem with the posted speed limit of 45 but I have said in my report to Council that we do have a corridor that allows for higher speeds for those that want to break the speed limit,” Duncan said. 

Duncan’s suggestions for short-term solutions include reducing the speed limit to 40 miles per hour and additional lighting. Mid-term solutions could be informed by studies such as a 2018 study of the entire 5th and Ridge Street corridor.  

Joan Albiston of the Willoughby neighborhood singled out a specific intervention that she favored. 

“I have read the traffic engineers report for 5th Street and I would like to thank them for their recommendations to make 5th Street safer,” Albiston said. “In particular I would like to thank for recommending a flashing yellow area in place of a green light.”

These would be for permissive left-hand turns. Duncan explains the logic behind adding these flashing yellow lights. 

“Nothing changes about the functionality,” Duncan said. “You’re supposed to yield on a green ball anyway but it really has been found that it alerts drivers more they are supposed to yield in that condition.”

For a mid-term solution, Duncan is recommending a roundabout just north of Bailey Road. 

“What the roundabout would do is really put a damper on [high speeds] right in the middle of the corridor where drivers are forced to slow down,” Duncan said. 

Duncan said that 18,000 vehicles use the roadway every day, and more efforts need to be made to get people out of their cars and onto buses. He said there could be as many as 500 more residential units in this area in the several years if undeveloped property is built upon. 

The mother of a man who died in a motorcycle crash had the chance to address Council about the issue. 

“My name is Binta Rose and my son was one of the fatalities on 5th Street Extended,” Rose said. “I had some concerns about that roadway as well. Even though speed may have contributed to his fatality I just had a question about the, I know that you guys are talking about some lighting in the area, and I know that the cars that pull out of the driveways there. My son driving down that road, an SUV pulled out into the traffic so he tried to avoid the vehicle and he hit a tree.”

Rose said the crash happened at night when there was no lighting. She also said she wants the roadway’s character to be less of a speedway. 

Council agreed to the lower speeds and the flashing yellow light. For other solutions, Council will further discuss the topic at a budget work session on the capital improvement program budget on Friday that begins at 1 p.m. 

Council to discuss future of $49 million West Main Streetscape

This article is the kind of in-depth article made possible through subscriptions and Patreon contributions. It was originally posted on the Charlottesville Community Engagement newsletter page. Coverage of the September 30 work session will be posted shortly.

The cost estimate for a multi-phase project to add wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and other urban amenities on West Main Street has climbed to $49 million, up from a figure of $31 million anticipated three years ago. 

The funding would go to implement a streetscape plan in development since 2013 that seeks to fulfil turn-of-the century visions of a West Main that would bring in more tax revenues through additional economic activity enabled through bigger buildings. 

“The corridor’s long promised overall redevelopment has been beset by fits and starts, with only a modicum of benefits to show for decades of effort,” reads page 70 of an influential study from December 2000 that set up a rezoning in 2003 that set the stage for several multistory buildings that now define the corridor. 

The current City Council will be briefed on the status of the project at a work session that begins at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.  

“No other corridor in Charlottesville has been studied as well and as often as West Main Street,” the 2000 Corridor Study continues. Local planners refer to as the “Torti Gallas” study after one of the planning firms hired to do the work.

It has now been a fifth of a century since that document was published. In the past ten years, several developers have invested in the city by building well over a million square feet in building space on West Main. 

But what about the public realm? 

The view from the middle of West Main Street, September 28, 2020

Background and context for community engagement

No other roadway in the past ten years has transformed as much as West Main Street, which has seen construction of more than a half-dozen multistory buildings in the past eight years. There are hundreds more apartment units and hotel rooms, bringing more people to sidewalks, and bike lanes. 

To understand all of the changes on West Main, refer back to the 2001 Comprehensive Plan and page 3 of the urban design chapter. That plan copied language from the 2000 Corridor Study verbatim.  

“The West Main corridor is the most important link between downtown Charlottesville and The University of Virginia, between ’Town and Gown’. West Main Street links extraordinary physical, social and economic variety. The corridor ranges from a physically intact retail street to open parking lots and abandoned auto-oriented, service facilities. Though originally part of a continuous route into downtown Charlottesville, modern highway engineering and 1970’s urban renewal has cut West Main Street off from what is now Downtown. There is near universal appreciation in the community for the recent pedestrian streetscape improvements and the reconstruction of the Drewary Brown Bridge. However, the corridor’s long promised overall redevelopment has been beset by fits and starts, with only a modicum of benefits to show for decades of effort, the bridge not withstanding.”

In September 2003, Council rezoned West Main Street to allow for higher density as a way of increasing property tax revenues. This was done as an alternative to reversion to becoming a town in Albemarle County, which had been discussed in the late 90’s as a way to reduce the city’s financial obligations. Instead, the Torti Gallas report pointed the city in the direction of becoming more populous. It was understood there would need to be infrastructure to support more people.

To guide that infrastructure, a conceptual plan had been created by the firm LPDA in 2010. In October 2012, then-NDS Director Jim Tolbert told the PLACE Design Task Force that this document was not intended for direct implementation. They recommended a new study.

2010 LPDA plan

Rhodeside & Harwell is an Alexandria-based landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm hired in the summer of 2013 to conduct a full review of the street at a time when the city was anticipating construction of several large-buildings. They began work in October 2013. City Council endorsed the preliminary design schematics in May 2017

Despite years of planning to make the street a more welcome place for pedestrians and cyclists, no new public infrastructure has been built on West Main Street until this year when a long-planned water line along Roosevelt Brown Boulevard was replaced at a cost of $1.16 million. 

That project is separate from the multimillion West Main Streetscape which was split into four distinct geographical phases in October 2017 in order to help secure funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation to complete financing for the project. 

Now, a relatively new City Council will hold a work session Wednesday to better understand what is going on with the streetscape project, which was last before elected officials in November 2019. 

The previous Council voted to remove the Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea Statue at the intersection of West Main, Ridge Street and McIntire Street. Such an idea was anticipated in the conceptual plan put together by Rhodeside & Harwell.

Wednesday’s meeting

The objectives for Wednesday’s meeting are “to provide a high level overview of project history, current status, [and] associated costs (project development, construction and maintenance).” 

The materials clearly state the event is “NOT intended to discuss design details.”

Another objective is to seek direction from Council on their continued support for the project, budget input, and the future of the statue. Another topic is value engineering, which is a process that seeks to reduce costs by substituting materials and finding other ways to provide the same function at a lower price. 

A new update on the project was made available this week. Prior to that, information about the West Main Streetscape has been hard to come by. The front page of a dedicated website for the project has not been updated since May 2017.  Elsewhere in the site, there is a reference to when the schematics went to the Board of Architectural Review for a presentation in April 2018.

Slide from April 2018 presentation to Board of Architectural Review

Tracking the progress to date

Until the packet for this week’s meeting was available, the most recent update available is from the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, which has traditionally managed transportation projects in Charlottesville. In April, a project update list described the status of the West Main Streetscape. 

“Scope being finalized for Phase 1,” reads the ‘status’ section of the update for the project. “Value engineering scope also being finalized for Phases 1-4; pre-application for Phase 3 has been submitted to VDOT for Smart Scale funding.”

Smart Scale is the name of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s main funding process, which ranks projects across the state by how they would meet a series of criteria. In the first-ever round, the city was successful in securing funding for three streetscape projects. 

In the second round, the city applied for $18.3 million in state funding and pledged $11.7 million in city funds to cover the $29,968,42 cost estimate. This application provides a glimpse into the overall vision. 

“West Main Street is an emerging, mixed-use corridor, which has seen significant private reinvestment in recent years,” reads the project description. “To keep pace with the evolution of the street and the adjacent neighborhoods, the City has recognized the need to create a new vision for the corridor- one that captures the needs of both today and the future. This vision has been translated into a plan that will improve the economic vitality of the City, improve the environmental sustainability of the corridor, and provide multi-modal connections to surrounding areas of the City.”

However, the project was not funded. 

In October 2017, Council agreed to split the project into four geographical phases to improve the chance at securing funds. The Smart Scale system favors smaller projects as well as projects that can demonstrate money from other sources. 

For the project’s first phase, the city applied for funding through a revenue-sharing program VDOT offers. They were successful in securing funding for Phase 1, which would run between Ridge Street and 6th Street. VDOT’s database breaks that down as $588,000 for preliminary engineering, $500,000 for right of way, and $11.5 million for construction.

In the third Smart Scale round, Charlottesville was awarded $2 million for the second phase of the West Main Streetscape, which covers 6th Street NW to 8th Street NW. The project has a total cost estimate of $12.7 million according to the VDOT database. The city also received $2 million in revenue-share funding for this phase. 

The city recycled elements of the first application in making the second, repeating the need to “keep pace with the evolution” of the street. 

“West Main Street provides a critical transportation linkage between the University of Virginia and the City’s Downtown,” reads the application for VDOT Smart Scale funding for that phase. “A community-focused design process has yielded solutions that improve the safety, efficiency, and aesthetics of the street.”

As a reminder, that community-focused process was the one led by Rhodeside & Harwell, with a public process that last had a dedicated meeting on December 18, 2016. 

Image included in public handout on West Main Phase 3

In the third Smart Scale round, the city was successful in an application for $12.7 million for Phase 3 which has this technical description. 

“Reconfiguration of West Main Street between 6th Street NW and 8th Street NW to widen sidewalks, improve bicycle facilities and increase safety for all users through this corridor,” reads VDOT’s Smart Scale page on the project. “Also included – landscaping/street furniture/historic interpretation.”

This August, the city formally submitted an application for $7.9 million for Phase 3 between 8th Street NW Roosevelt Brown Boulevard/10th Street NW. The current Council sanctioned that request. 

“To address increased travel demand/capacity, on-street parking will be reallocated to improved bicyclist/ pedestrian facilities, bus shelters added, pedestrian crossings improved, the latest ADA standards met, while improving aesthetic and safety of this important corridor,” reads an informational sheet on the application. “The signal at Roosevelt Brown Boulevard will be replaced, street furniture added, historic interpretive signage included as well as enhanced landscaping.”

Various city applications refer to a community-led process but the Rhodeside & Harwell work is not named or described. None of the current elected city officials were part of that experience or the decision to split the project into four phases. 

Construction takes place 

At the time of the first Rhodeside & Harwell tour of West Main Street in October 2013, there were several large buildings in the planning process that had not yet been built. 

Since then, the Draftsman Hotel, Battle Building, Flats at West Village, The Standard and the Lark on West Main all have been built on the western side of Drewary Brown Bridge where Phase 3 and Phase 4 will eventually be undertaken. 

The eastern side of the bridge has seen construction of the Marriott Residence Inn and Six Hundred West Main, Earlier this year, the Hotel Quirk opened and Council recently approved another apartment building at 612 West Main Street.

Several buildings along West Main have been built without the benefit of utility relocation. A good chunk of the $49 million estimate is to place these lines underground.

Recall that the Smart Scale application for Phase 1 and Phase 2 stated the goal is to keep up with development.

 “This vision has been translated into a plan that will improve the economic vitality of the City, improve the environmental sustainability of the corridor, and provide multi-modal connections to surrounding areas of the City,” reads the application.

Some infrastructure in this area has recently been replaced. A $1.16 million project funded by utility ratepayers that replaces an older cast iron water line was completed this August.

“This project will eliminate a problematic railroad crossing on 9th St NW, as well as improve the connectivity to the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Urban Water Line at the intersection of 9th St NW,” reads that project’s description on the GIS viewer. 

The size of the line increases water capacity to handle a growing population. 

“The second phase of the water line project will be installed ahead of the West Main Streetscape and will move forward regardless of whether the streetscape happens,” said Lauren Hildebrand, the city’s utility director late last year.

Hundreds of pedestrians now live in large apartment buildings that have been constructed in this section of West Main Street.

The water main replacement has been anticipated for years, as was the construction of the apartments. Yet infrastructure under the planning control of the city’s NDS Department won’t be built for some years to come, with completion currently not anticipated until some time in the 2030’s. 

According to a staff email sent on December 10, 2019, Phase 3 is not scheduled to be advertised for construction until 2030. Phase 4 is not intended to be advertised for construction until 2035.

Further cost increases

The estimates for the West Main Streetscape were last shown to public officials during the last budget cycle. Since then, costs have increased. 

Materials provided for the meeting have raised the estimate for Phase 1 to $16.7 million, up from the $13.9 million presented during the development of the last budget. The preliminary engineering is now listed as $1.7 million, $863,835 million is set for right of way acquisition, and $4.3 million is allocated for utility relocation. The Construction estimate is now $9.8 million. The city has obtained $3.27 million through the revenue-sharing program and there is a locally required match of $13.4 million. 

The second phase now has a cost estimate of $13.5 million with $1.2 million in preliminary engineering, $383,488 in right of way acquisition, $4.6 million in utility relocation, and nearly $7.3 million in construction. Another $2 million in revenue sharing has gone to this project, as well as the $2 million in Smart Scale funds. The local match is $7.1 million. The materials state that another $2.4 million in funding needs to be identified. 

Phase 3, for which the city states it has asked for $10.4 million in Smart Scale funding, will surely have a cost increase in the future. That’s because the line item for utility relocation has not been filled out yet. Construction for this phase is estimated at $8.6 million 

Phase 4, which currently does not have any identified funding source, has a total estimate of $9 million. This is the section from Roosevelt Brown Boulevard to Jefferson Park Avenue. However, the budget is more precise than Phase Three. Preliminary engineering is estimated at $1.4 million, right of way acquisition is at $574,808, utility relocation is at $1.27 million and construction is estimated at $5.8 million.   

Local funds have gone to pay for a master plan for the overall corridor, which includes design development and schematic design. 

UVA involvement?

The materials include a March 2018 letter from Pat Hogan, then executive vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Virginia, committing support to the project.

“In the interest of supporting progress toward a safer and more bike and pedestrian friendly community, the University has set aside up to $5 million in support that we are prepared to provide to the City for its projects adjacent to the University Ground,” Hogan wrote.

Earlier that year, UVA had requested the Council convey property to allow for the construction of new infrastructure to support new buildings on Brandon Avenue, including two new dorms and a new student health facility. However, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked they pay the fair market value of the property. 

“If Council decides to seek payment for Brandon Avenue (with a fair market value of $539,000) we are able to cover that purchase price from the funds that we have previously set aside,” Hogan wrote. “The remaining portion of our $5 million funding commitment will remain available for the West Main Streetscape project.” 

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