The future of the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood took center stage Thursday at the latest Charlottesville City Council town hall meeting.
“People have been living in this neighborhood for thousands of years,” said Bill Emory, a community activist and former planning commissioner. “But often we are in the center of the crosshairs.”
Emory said his neighborhood has spent many years asking city government to address pedestrian safety, reduce traffic speeds on neighborhood streets, and to eliminate industrial zoning.
“We’ve asked that planning and zoning be used to conserve our natural resources and our way of life,” Emory said. “But still we feel threatened.”
Odors from the nearby Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant surfaced early during Thursday night’s discussion, which was held at the Woolen Mills Chapel on East Market Street.
“I’ve lived here 21 years and I think the last two months may have been the worst in that time,” said Karl Ackerman. He asked the council to develop a metric to quantify the level of odor, suggesting that the city pursue the purchase of electronic nose technology.
Councilor Kathy Galvin, the council’s representative on the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board, supported that idea and said she would bring it up at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 30.
“Maybe we can send a formal letter to the RWSA board that firmly states this is a serious concern,” Galvin said. She said the RWSA is having to phase in odor control mitigation measures because of their high cost. In 2007, a report from Hazen & Sawyer put a $33 million price tag on reducing odors at a 99 percent level.
Fairway Avenue resident Kyle Savage requested the council pursue traffic calming on his street because many people use it as a cut-through.
“You get people flying down the street and it is not safe,” Savage said. He presented data that showed about a fifth of traffic on his road exceeds the speed limit, as well as a slideshow depicting specific examples of gaps in the neighborhood’s sidewalks.
“This data is extremely valuable because you are bringing up safety issues,” Galvin said.
Other residents briefed the council on efforts to introduce traffic calming on Meade Avenue.
“Is there any way to increase the visibility that it’s a 25 mph zone?” asked Kathy Stone, a new resident of the street. “Is there a way for the police to work with businesses to ask them to slow down? I don’t want my 4-year-old creamed.”
Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said he would ask his staff to try to step up enforcement of the speed limit.
“We’re hearing at every town hall that there are one or two streets like this,” Galvin said.
Emory is publishing a history of the Rivanna River on his website dedicated to the Woolen Mills. He took the opportunity to ask the council to emphasize the potential of the waterway as part of the city’s future.
“We’re really hoping that this council and the council that will be seated in January will be the one that recognizes the importance of the Rivanna River,” he said.
Councilor Dave Norris commended Emory for pushing the city to think about the river as an asset to be preserved and uplifted.
“We’ve been sort of trying to figure out what’s the tangible first step we can take,” Norris said. “I like the idea to have the city fund an inventory of the assets up and down the river.”
Councilor Kristin Szakos said former circus grounds north of Riverview Park would make a good amenity for the city.
“There’s only so much we can do but if we plan for it we can take advantage of it when opportunities arise,” Szakos said.
Galvin said if the river becomes more of an asset, then East Market will need to be redesigned to handle additional traffic.
“We have to think about that connection between downtown and the river,” Galvin said.
Other residents also wanted the council to continue opposing a second bridge over the Rivanna River south of Free Bridge to relieve congestion. The city’s two representatives on the Metropolitan Planning Organization took that stance last month.
“Charlottesville can be a livable city with a neighborhood like ours without being degraded by more roads,” said Bill Langford.
“Ultimately, that is not going to happen without the permission of the city,” Norris said.
Mayor Satyendra Huja told Langford to become involved with a committee organized by the MPO that is examining potential routes. That group is being facilitated through a $250,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
Residents also praised the council for its stance in demanding the Rivanna Pump Station be moved to the wastewater treatment plant rather than replaced in place.