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City planners propose abandoning parking structure proposal

Charlottesville planners don’t support the city’s proposed capital spending plan and want to partially abandon a planned parking structure downtown.

The Planning Commission recommended that the City Council not adopt the proposed Capital Improvement Plan during its meeting on Tuesday.

The commission also voted 5-1, with Commissioner Lisa Green abstaining, to recommend that funding for a proposed parking structure be reduced and the city seek other options.

Since the commission is advisory, the vote doesn’t commit the city to any plan.

The city is operating on a $188.8 million budget for fiscal year 2020, which started July 1. It included one percentage point increases to the meals and lodging taxes.

The proposed $127.9 million Capital Improvement Program, which covers five years, includes $35.8 million for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1, 2020. The council approves a five-year capital spending plan each year, but only dedicates funding for one year at a time. Further years are included as projections.

The proposal for fiscal year 2021 is a $403,500, or 1%, increase over the adopted CIP for fiscal 2020. From fiscal 2019 to 2020, the CIP rose $12 million, or 51%.

Most of the big-ticket proposed items for fiscal year 2021 were projected or previously planned projects.

The CIP includes $4.9 million for the first part of the city’s commitment to construct the garage under an agreement with Albemarle County to keep county courts downtown.

The garage will be constructed at Seventh and Market streets on property currently home to the Lucky 7 convenience store and a Guadalajara Mexican restaurant.

The proposed structure would have 300 parking spaces and 12,000 square feet of retail on the ground level. The preliminary cost estimates for construction is $8.5 million.

If the city doesn’t meet construction deadlines, according to the agreement, it must provide 100 dedicated spaces in the existing Market Street Parking Garage or return ownership of Albemarle’s half of the purchased parcel to the county, pay the county the other half of the appraisal value and give the county sole control of the whole property.

Resident Jake Mooney said the existing lot is never full and the city should just give it to the county.

“A 300-space garage on that site is such a bad idea that we shouldn’t be discussing it,” Mooney said during a public hearing. “Building new parking is climate change denial. It’s as simple as that.”

Green, who is a county employee, said that the city should at least give a shot to other ideas.

“I am not suggesting that we don’t keep that agreement,” Green said. “But I do think there is something else besides a massive parking garage that goes in that area.”

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg, who has been a vocal opponent of the parking garage, said that the structure exacerbates climate change.

“It’s morally wrong at any dollar amount,” he said.

Stolzenberg recommended that the council reduce funding and explore “creative solutions,” such as a public-private partnership and a structure that may not take up the entire parcel.

Prior to its vote, the commission held a joint hearing with the City Council on the proposal. Nearly all of the 23 speakers opposed portions of the proposal.

For example, the CIP includes $800,000 for the Affordable Housing Fund, but many speakers said that’s not enough.

“Charlottesville’s a wonderful community, but it’s becoming a community for the wealthy,” said Elizabeth Emrey.

At first glance, the plan may appear to cut funding for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority redevelopment of the city’s public housing stock from $3 million to $1.5 million.

City Manager Tarron Richardson, however, has said that the $3 million allocated in the last fiscal year hasn’t been used yet and the commitment of $15 million in total funding remains the same.

The CIP extends that $15 million total to a six-year span by investing $1.5 million in fiscal 2021 and $1.5 million in fiscal 2022, followed by $3 million for the next three years.

According to city documents, CRHA has $3.4 million in unused funding available for redevelopment.

The CIP doesn’t include allocation to the Affordable Housing fund in future years, but the commission wants to see at least $3 million committed in the next two years.

Many people spoke against reductions in planned funding, although city officials have emphasized that the changes reflect leftover funds. Therefore, additional money wouldn’t be allocated if it’s already available.

“There have been a lot of things that have been funded for a lot of years,” Mayor Nikuyah Walker said. “We don’t have the metrics in place to know if they’re benefiting the community.”

Richardson’s latest proposal eliminates $1.25 million planned for street milling and paving; $300,000 for new sidewalks; $325,000 total for Parks and Recreation; $200,000 for bicycle infrastructure; and $100,000 for the school division’s small Capital Improvements Program.

A few speakers advocated for more investment in bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“Some of the most dangerous roads I’ve been on, the least safe I’ve felt, is on these Charlottesville and Albemarle County roads,” said city resident Andrew Jones.

The commission voted to tell the council that proposed funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is insufficient.

The plan includes $125,000 for a Downtown Mall threat and risk assessment study. The recommendations from the study would be implemented through fiscal 2023 at about $2.4 million.

However, the commission voted to recommend that the implementation be removed from the planned budget.

The proposal includes $5 million to construct a new Belmont Bridge. Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates made a motion that the funding be reduced, but it was not seconded. He also suggested several other cuts that weren’t supported by the commission.

On March 2, the city and school division budgets will be presented to the City Council.

Final approval is expected by the council on April 14.


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