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City planning panel recommends Cherry Avenue for detailed study
Cherry Avenue looking west, August 26, 2016
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Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Fifeville residents have grown concerns about traffic backing up on Cherry Avenue
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Josh Mandell , Sean Tubbs | Sunday, August 28, 2016 at 5:03 p.m.

The Charlottesville Planning Commission has recommended that the Cherry Avenue corridor be selected for a small-area plan to help its neighborhoods cope with looming development.

“I agree with Cherry Avenue being the higher priority … not only because of the pressures, but combined with the derelict buildings and open lots that are there just waiting for redevelopment,” Commissioner Jody Lahendro said at a recent meeting.

Other areas considered by the panel for the next small-area plan were Woolen Mills and the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road.

The city’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan has a goal to “enhance the sense of place throughout Charlottesville” in part by creating these small-area plans.

In recent years, the city has conducted two such studies and allocated significant funding to implement their recommendations.

The firm Cunningham Quill Architects was paid $190,000 to develop a plan for the 330-acre Strategic Investment Area, located south of the Downtown Mall. The capital budget for the next five years allocated $1.29 million to this area.

The firm Rhodeside & Harwell has been paid about $475,000 to develop a plan for the West Main Street corridor. The City Council has allocated $10 million for implementation over the next five years, though the project has a roughly $30 million cost estimate, including undergrounding utilities.

The five-year capital improvement program adopted by the council in April allocates $50,000 annually for work on other plans. The commission toured the three areas this summer to get an on-the-ground look at existing conditions.

In June, they toured Cherry Avenue during the afternoon rush hour just weeks before land was cleared for Fairfield Inn and Suites on previously forested land.

A significant expansion of the University of Virginia Medical Center and the new hotel are expected to bring more traffic to the street.

“With Cherry, it does strike me that’s a street that’s about to come under immense pressure,” said Brian Hogg, UVa’s non-voting liaison to the commission. “The completion of those two projects has the potential to influence that street because it’s a regular path of travel.”

The Fifeville Neighborhood Associated created a 20-page survey of the community and has formally asked for the Cherry Avenue area to be studied next.

Their “community visioning report” recommended lowering the speed limit to 25 mph, adding more street trees and making zoning changes to encourage more affordable food and housing options on Cherry Avenue.

The commission voted, 4-1, to prioritize Cherry Avenue. Commissioners Cory Claiborne and Taneia Dowell were not present.

Commissioner Genevieve Keller voted against the plan. She argued that a study of Cherry Avenue should be part of a larger examination of community zoning in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville’s planning manager, Missy Creasy, said the city lacks both the money and staff time to oversee a more comprehensive effort at this time.

“I hesitate to do that because it’s hard enough getting staff time just to do Cherry Avenue,” she said.

Creasy said staff might be able to devote a few hours a month to work on the Cherry Avenue plan and that other planners already are devoted to other initiatives, such as updating design manuals to comply with Streets That Work. The city’s urban designer, Carrie Rainey, is fully dedicating her time to working on the West Main Street plan.

The commission discussed the possibility of hiring a consultant to create the plan. Creasy said soliciting bids and choosing a winner would take six to eight months.

“We can’t wait a year to do Cherry Avenue,” Lahendro said.

Commission Chairman John Santoski acknowledged that there is neither funding nor a clear path to how the plan will be created and implemented, but he said it was important for the commission to set a priority.

“Somehow we need to send a message to City Council,” Santoski said, adding that he would write a letter to elected officials asking for more resources.

City Planner Brian Haluska suggested the next step for Cherry Avenue could be to have a city planner meet with the neighborhood.

“Part of the issues that I see coming from the neighborhood relate to information about zoning and about how these changes have happened,” Haluska said. “Let’s talk a little about the issues and the concerns because there may be some education about the actual rules.”

The two other locations toured by the commission eventually will be studied.

Commissioners agreed that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission should take the lead on a small-area plan for the intersection of U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road.

“It makes sense for the [TJPDC] to do this because they’ve been so heavily involved in U.S. 29,” Keller said. “It makes a good transition project for them because they have background knowledge.”

The City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors signed a series of memoranda of understanding in the spring. One line item indicated that the two localities would collaborate on a small-area plan for Hydraulic-U.S. 29 to help improve the transportation network.

Several planning commissioners said they were unaware of the agreements. The council approved them at its meeting May 16 when county Supervisors Diantha McKeel and Liz Palmer were present.

Bill Emory, who campaigned for Woolen Mills to be selected for the city’s next small-area plan, supported the choice of Cherry Avenue. He took the tour in June.

“Going from there and coming back to the Woolen Mills was like going from purgatory to paradise,” Emory said. “They really have many more issues than we’re facing.”

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