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Council to hold work session on Vietnam memorial access

Charlottesville officials will hold a work session about ways to address accessibility issues at the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial before taking action.

The City Council decided to hold a work session after hearing a report from a working group during its meeting Monday.

No time frame was decided for the meeting, but Mayor Nikuyah Walker said it would likely be in the first part of 2020.

The working group was formed in May after one of the memorial’s founders wrote a letter to the council that blasted city staff for not correcting problems.

The memorial, built in 1966, was the first in the country dedicated to those who died in the Vietnam War.

When the John W. Warner Parkway was constructed in 2015, the memorial was redesigned to fit at the corner of the parkway and the U.S. 250 Bypass.

Access to the memorial has been a growing concern since it was reconstructed.

City staff contend that some of the accessibility issues were caused because the memorial was raised about 12 feet, which increased the incline needed to get to the site and added difficulty for people with mobility concerns.

Veterans contended at Monday’s meeting, however, that the memorial hasn’t actually moved as much.

Former Mayor Dave Norris, a member of the working group, said that fixing the trail doesn’t address everything.

“Even if we get the trail [grade] down to 3%, even if we lower the memorial 12 feet, that doesn’t address the key issue of getting to the memorial as it is now,” he said.

The main issue is the lack of a parking lot. Visitors used to park at a lot at the nearby wading pool, but it was removed when a skate park was constructed in its place.

Vehicular access to that area off the bypass also was closed, but is open a handful of times during the year for events.

Walker suggested that staff consider opportunities for it to be open more days during the year.

Visitors currently are directed to park at the nearby Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad building and take sidewalks across a busy intersection to a paved path up the hill.

Jim Shisler, one of the monument’s founders, said it takes him nearly 14 minutes to get to the memorial from the rescue squad.

The path up the hill also is no longer in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to city staff. The asphalt has warped and inclines are steeper than the law allows.

Tom Vandever, a former city mayor and member of the working group, said the pathway hasn’t been in compliance for seven years, but city staff disagreed and said the issues are newer.

The city could fix the inclines for $20,000, but the group recommends exceeding minimum requirements. The report calls for a complete reconstruction of the trail with new grading and four landing areas.

Rebuilding the trail would cost between $100,000 and $125,000.

The trail is considered a short-term solution, but in the long term, the group recommends constructing a parking lot on the east side of the parkway and installing a pedestrian bridge to the memorial.

The parking lot would have 24 to 35 spaces that could be used for the memorial, adjacent trail system and eastern portions of McIntire Park.

The lot and bridge are estimated at about $2 million if the bridge stops at the trail. However, the group also included a proposal that would come with a longer bridge that goes directly to the memorial.

City staff did not estimate the cost of a longer span.

“It gets kind of exponentially more expensive the longer the bridge gets,” said Brennan Duncan, the city’s traffic engineer.

Councilor Kathy Galvin said the issue needs to be addressed quickly, but the capital improvement program for the upcoming fiscal year can’t support the $2 million proposal.

“It makes no sense to have this beautiful memorial and the people it’s giving tribute to cannot access it,” she said. “This capital budget ain’t got the room in it for something this big.”

In other business Monday, the council appointed Ronald Bailey, Sonja Lengel, James Zehner and Anderson McClure to the Board of Architectural Review.


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