The future of one of the most significant intersections in Albemarle County and Charlottesville was the topic Wednesday at the first public meeting for a new planning initiative.
“We can start to get your feedback on Route 29 and the Hydraulic Area to produce a land-use plan within that general area,” said Chip Boyles, the executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
“It’s important to determine what the future land uses will be because they will determine what the future traffic patterns will be, whether it’s car, bicycle, pedestrian or mass transit,” he added.
About 60 people gathered around tables at Jack Jouett Middle School to learn about a pair of plans currently underway in the area around the intersection.
Richmond-based Kimley-Horn is conducting a review of the potential redevelopment opportunities in the area. Baker International is working on possible changes to the transportation structure at the intersection itself.
Three quarters of the intersection are in the city of Charlottesville, and the fourth is in Albemarle County.
A 2004 study of the area called for many projects that later were incorporated into the Route 29 Solutions package, including the Best Buy ramp and Hillsdale Drive Extended.
That study also recommended a grade-separated interchange, but the Route 29 Solutions package approved in June 2014 by the Commonwealth Transportation Board only included $10 million for preliminary engineering of the area.
The Route 29 Solutions package also included $10 million for a southern extension of Hillsdale Drive to Holiday Drive. That project is on hold, pending the results of the transportation study.
Whatever transportation projects come out of the process will have to be approved by the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board. To get funding, they will need to also go through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process.
But the land-use study will come first.
“Because it’s a developed area, we thought it would be good to look at the land use first and then look at the transportation after that,” said Sal Musarra, project manager with Kimley-Horn.
The northeast corridor currently features the asphalt parking lot used for the Kmart plaza, which will be redeveloped in the next few years, as well as a former used-car dealership that is currently vacant. The southwest corridor features a Holiday Inn, a gas station and several other buildings, including a car repair shop.
There are several trends in land use that should be considered while the studies are conducted, Musarra said. Younger generations are seeking places to live closer to where they work, and retail stores are closing across the community. That could present opportunities for new development.
“There’s over 100 acres of paved parking in the study area,” Musarra said. “We’re realizing that land’s too expensive to be sitting there just for cars.”
One possibility would be to allow future buildings to be taller, which would allow for more space and provide higher return for property owners.
One person thought that might be counterintuitive.
“Increasing density in that area seems to be antithetical to easing the traffic flow,” said Steve Forister, a county resident.
Musarra said the land-use plan would not recommend taller buildings if the transportation system couldn’t handle it.
Several residents used the opportunity to call for greater connections for bikes and pedestrians throughout the whole community, not just the study area.
“We have almost no bike trails outside the urban area,” said David Pedrick, a Hollymead resident. “It would be nice to have a plan that would envision bike lanes over the next 20 years.”
“We don’t just need a better way for pedestrians and bikes,” said David Stackhouse, a member of the board of the Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club.
Boyles said the TJPDC is working on a regional bike and pedestrian plan and added that the topic is part of a small-area plan being conducted for the Rio Road intersection. A public meeting for that project is scheduled for May 11 at the 400 Albemarle Square.
One city resident took the opportunity to ask for a grade-separated intersection similar to the one at Rio Road.
“Streets like my own are deeply impacted by the dysfunction at Hydraulic,” said John Hossack. “Just get this road right. It’s a high-volume junction, and it always will be.”
“Right now, we do not have any predetermined notions of what the transportation solutions will be, but it will come out of the panel,” said Dave Covington, an engineer with VDOT.
City resident Tim Wallace called for the low-income housing sites on Michie Drive to be integrated into the plan and said that they deserve to have a walkable community.
Nancy Hunt, a member of the county’s Places29-Rio committee, urged the panel to truly plan for a 50-year horizon.
“It seems the underlying planning principle is millennials and that they want to live where they work,” Hunt said. “How do you rationally plan not based solely on who the millennials are this week, but who they are going to turn into when they have kids and when those kids go to school?”
Michael Barnes, the president of the Greenbrier Neighborhood Association, said his community’s needs should be brought into the study.
“I think you all have a challenge to look at those systems a little [more broadly], otherwise these people who are talking about connecting north and south won’t get there,” Barnes said.
The next public meeting is Aug. 23, but the advisory panel will meet Thursday. The panel meetings can be viewed on VDOT’s website.