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City Council holds first work session on capital spending

Charlottesville City Council is taking its first look at capital projects for the upcoming fiscal year.

The council held a virtual work session Thursday to discuss the budget for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1, 2021, focusing on its Capital Improvement Program.

The city is operating on a $191.2 million budget for fiscal 2021, which started July 1. The spending plan is largely in line with the fiscal 2020 budget as officials had to cut back on plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget includes the first year of the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program, which sits at about $124.1 million. It includes $25.8 million for the current fiscal year, which was significantly reduced because of the pandemic.

Big-ticket items expected in the budget are the school division’s reconfiguration project and a planned downtown parking garage, which is part of an agreement with Albemarle County to keep county courts downtown and to construct a new co-located General District Court.

The garage has preliminary estimates around $10 million.

The city is planning to construct a mixed-use building for the parking garage and is considering adding residential units at the top of the structure. Adding the use would potentially increase the cost by $5 million before any units are even constructed. Economic Development Director Chris Engel said the price increase would be practically unavoidable.

“Barring some technology being invented, it’s hard to believe anybody could get around that,” he said.

Councilor Lloyd Snook asked about pursuing a public-private partnership to cut costs and allow more design flexibility. Engel said if the city doesn’t continue with the current plan, it will not meet deadlines within the agreement.

Per the agreement, 90 parking spaces would be dedicated for county use. The city is required to start construction no later than May 1, 2022, and have the spots available by Nov. 30, 2023.

If the city doesn’t meet deadlines, it must provide 100 dedicated spaces in the existing Market Street Parking Garage. The county will then pay the city to regain ownership of its half, minus half of back rent for the time the city owned it, and have sole use of the property.

Engel said the existing Market Street garage probably only has about 20 to 25 years of use left before it will need to be demolished and the new structure will essentially replace it.

Councilor Michael Payne asked if the city ever considered meeting the “bare minimum” of the agreement.

“We are, it seems, making a conscious policy decision over the courts agreement that we are prioritizing parking spaces,” he said.

Engel said a smaller structure would be less efficient and costs more per space for construction.

Another discussion point was accessibility improvements at the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial.

Access to the memorial has been a growing concern since it was redesigned in 2015 with the construction of the John W. Warner Parkway.

Potential fixes range from $20,000 to address inclines on a trail to the memorial to a $2 million parking lot and pedestrian bridge.

Councilor Heather Hill said she didn’t support a large investment while the city had to deal with other large expenditures.

Another project could be a potential roundabout on Fifth Street to improve traffic safety, which could cost $3 million to $4 million.

The city is also considering how to support affordable housing. A recent proposed housing plan recommends providing $10 million a year toward housing.

Councilors plan to create a list of priorities to guide capital spending for the upcoming year.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and work session on the plan on Dec. 8. Council work sessions are planned in the coming months, with a proposal set to be presented on March 1 and adopted by April 13.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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