One of several major transportation projects intended to make Charlottesville an easier place to bike or walk passed a milestone last week. In 2017, the city was awarded $8.6 million in Virginia Department of Transportation Smart Scale funds for a project at the intersection of Barracks Road and Emmet Street. The design public hearing was held on July 7, 2021.
“The purpose of the project is to improve the operational performance of the Barracks Road and Emmet Street intersection while also enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities serving the adjacent neighborhoods,” said the narrator of a presentation shown at the virtual meeting. (watch the full presentation)
The work will include a new northbound right-turn lane on Emmet Street, an additional west-bound left-hand turn lane on Barracks Road, upgraded traffic signals, increased medians, and a shared-use path up Barracks Road. Part of the work will involve something called a “pedestrian refuge” to allow slower walkers to cross Emmet Street and take a break.
“The scope of bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Barracks Road were less somewhat less defined which provided an opportunity to involve local citizens in the early planning and decision-making process,” the presentation continued.
One man expressed concern that this plan seemed to have come from nowhere and that it may not actually work.
“This has been a long time question for me about Charlottesville and planning and development,” said Joel Bass. “How do we actually develop in this town without working with [the University of Virginia] and getting feedback from them on their plans?”
Bass said what was needed from westbound Barracks Road was a right-hand lane.
Before we hear from city staff, some background. In 1986, Albemarle, Charlottesville and UVA signed a Three Party Agreement and until 2019 there was a public body known as the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) where projects and planning were discussed in the open. Since late 2019, a private body called the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee meets and those events are closed to the public. This LUEPC group last met on June 25, 2021 and there is one page of minutes. (read those minutes)
Back to the Barracks/Emmet project. There is a steering committee that includes a member of the UVA Office of the Architect and those meetings are open to the public. Kyle Kling in Charlottesville’s public works department.
“In our department, we meet quarterly with the University to discuss projects the city is administering as well as projects that the University has throughout their Grounds and during those conversations we always discuss how things will trend during the future and how projects may supplement each other so that coordination is ongoing,” Kling said.
Two other Smart Scale projects are in the planning states to the south on Emmet Street. The Emmet Street Streetscape had its design public hearing in December 2019. The Commonwealth Transportation Board just approved $20.6 million in funding for a second phase of that project that would span between Arlington Boulevard and Barracks Road.
There was some concern at the public hearing about the shared-use path that will travel about a third of a mile up the hill on Barracks Road to Buckingham and Hill Top roads. Gregory Kastner was appreciative to get a dedicated facility, but had a question about how that fits into a larger network.
“As you’re on the bike lane coming up the road, how does that transition to the current sidewalk?” Kastner asked. “With it ending at Hill Top, there’s still a fair bit of up to go where the rider is going to be going pretty slow and it really wouldn’t be a great place to get dumped out on the road.”
Kastner said he hoped the scope of the project extended up to Rugby Road where the hill flattens.
Kling said in the short-term, a sharrow would be painted on the road in the short-term as VDOT has strict rules about extending Smart Scale projects past the boundaries outlined in their initial application.
“I do know that there are some plans in the works on the city’s end to kind of continue bike and pedestrian upgrades further into town along this stretch,” Kling said.
About another two-thirds of a mile up Barracks Road is another Smart Scale project to address the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue. That project has also not yet begun.
Next steps for the project include final approval by City Council this summer and completion of the design in the winter of 2022. If all goes according to schedule, construction would begin in the spring of 2023.
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)
“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 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.
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)
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.
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.
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  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.
Charlottesville City Council has voted 4 to 1 to endorse the adoption of the Starr Hill Vision Planinto the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In November 2018, Council used $500,000 from its Equity Fund to pay the nonprofit New Hill Development Corporation to create a small area plan. Alex Ikefuna is the deputy director of the Neighborhood Development Services department.
“Planning Commission and staff worked together,” Ikefuna said. “Originally it was a small area plan that because of the contents and the efficiencies in the land use it was agreed with the consultant that it would be submitted to the Planning Commission and subsequently to the City Council as a vision plan,” Ikefuna said.
In the previous installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, we listened in on the Albemarle Architectural Review Board’s discussion of the Fontaine Avenue entrance corridor. The ARB also discussed another roadway that connects to the University of Virginia on roads that travel through both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.
The ARB reviewed the urban portion of 250 West from I-64 to Old Ivy Road, and touched on the continuation of the roadway into Charlottesville.
The next time you walk, bike, or drive along Fontaine Avenue in Albemarle County, think about possible futures. Much of the land is owned by the University of Virginia or its real estate foundation. The road itself is one of Albemarle’s Entrance Corridors, and as such is under design guidelines of the Architectural Review Board.
“The majority of the land is either owned or controlled by the University,” said Fred Missel, director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation. “Some land, primarily Foxhaven Farm, Morey Creek, Observatory Hill, are all being held for long-term needs of the University.
One item on Charlottesville City Council’s consent agenda for the March 15, 2021 meeting were the recommendations of a task force for how a small pool of federal funding should be spent in the Ridge Street Neighborhood.
The group is suggesting that $25,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money be spent on traffic calming and another $220,000 be spent on three sidewalk projects. As part of the traffic calming, speed limit signs would be installed on the old section of Ridge Street.