Monday, March 05, 2012

Wanted: New urban plan for Garrett urban renewal zone

The "area south of the railroad tracks" has been the subject of many urban plans since the farm was first developed into a neighborhood and business district 1860. Only ten years later, the town's first public school opened on Garrett Street.

Charlottesville, Va. – In possibly the shortest resolution City Council has ever entertained, Council may spend $150,000 from the urban renewal budget to produce “an Urban Design Plan for the neighborhood south of the railroad tracks near the downtown area (including the Levy Avenue and Crescent Halls sites owned by CRHA).”

The ten parcels of the now vacant Levy parking lot were seized 1972-71. Crescent Halls elderly high-rise public housing was built in the middle of South First Street in 1976. How many urban design plans have there been in the decades since urban renewal?

Déjà vu all over again! The 1970s urban renewal of the Garrett Street area is so controversial that its history is actively being suppressed by Council members and City staff. Councilors such as Dave Norris and Satyendra Huja are on the record that this section of town has no history. Mayor Huja, city planner 1973 to 2004, denies that the 1860 neighborhood was torn down on his watch, much less that it ever existed.

This urban renewal and ongoing effort to erase this history extends to local institutions such as The Daily Progress. A recent front-page article could not say who UVa’s Garrett Hall is named for. The paper refused to print a letter filling the omission. Alexander Garrett was a real estate developer and financial advisor to Thomas Jefferson, first bursar at UVa, among many other hats. Garrett was at Monticello on July 4, 1826 and wrote to his wife about Jefferson’s death, thus recording one moment of history.

In Other Matters

Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (urban renewal agency) has a new temporary director, Aubrey Watts, who is also director of the Economic Development Authority. The previous director Randy Bickers quit around Dec. 20 after two years (CBS-19 Newsplex). Before that, Bickers worked at the agency and in 2007 held back on deed numbers for the Levy property. CRHA is a real estate company that keeps poor records of its real estate holdings.

At tonight’s Council meeting, the Consent Agenda was not read. The four Councilors (Dede Smith absent) departed from tradition and customary process. Under Mayor Huja’s leadership, many rules of process have been changed or ignored. This lack of consistent process adds a layer to the suspicion some in the public hold for City government.

Also there is a 300-signature and growing petition to put the 2006 community water supply plan to a referendum in the city. The second speaker in public comment argued that the “lease agreement” with Rivanna water authority is tantamount to a “sale of city assets “ for the Ragged Mountain reservoir expansion. Such a sale requires a public referendum under city code, according to the speaker.

The agenda item for a new Urban Design of the Alexander Garrett Street area / Warehouse District / Downtown Extended / South Downtown was scheduled for after press time on busy meeting with city and school board budgets presented. So a later blog post will review the video to see what actually happened.

Council prepares fake apology for urban renewal, Oct. 18, 2011. Includes list of links documenting Council’s and staff’s efforts to block publication of the archives containing the history of this area’s urban renewal. Also related history from other sources.

Apology includes Garrett urban renewal, Nov. 20, 2011. Resolution focuses on Vinegar Hill but the 11th of 12 “Whereas” bullet points mentions Garrett Street, as if Vinegar Hill was ten times bigger.

Video of Charlottesville City Council March 5, 2012.

16-item, 108-page Council Agenda March 5, 2022 with background materials.


BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that City staff are hereby directed to develop a Request for Proposals for professional services to produce an Urban Design Plan for the neighborhood south of the railroad tracks near the downtown area (including the Levy Avenue and Crescent Halls sites owned by CRHA); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that up to $150,000 in funds already allocated from the Capital Improvement Project Fund for design services for CRHA’s redevelopment of the Levy Avenue and Crescent Halls sites may be used for this Urban Design Plan.

Agenda Date: March 5, 2012
Action Required: Approval of Resolution
Presenter: James E. Tolbert, AICP, Director of NDS
Staff Contacts: James E. Tolbert, AICP, Director of NDS
Maurice Jones, City Manager
Title: Urban Design/Economic Plan For Areas South of Railroad Tracks

Background: At the last Council meeting, City Council discussed using up to $150,000 in City funds to undertake a planning process for the area south of the railroad tracks adjacent to Downtown. The intent of this plan will be to provide guidance to the City and private property owners regarding potential economic development opportunities, possible changes to the urban form, and an improved quality of Urban Design. Special attention would be paid to connections for all modes of transportation, especially emphasizing bike and pedestrian transportation.

Discussion: The process to produce this Urban Design Plan will be to develop a Request for Proposals for professional services to guide planned development. It is envisioned that the plan will place special emphasis on design guidelines for the redevelopment of public housing sites and Friendship Court as well as vacant private properties or private properties with a potential for redevelopment. Active citizen engagement will be a primary component of the planning process.

Preparation of this plan will flow through the Planning Commission to the City Council and it is recommended that the new PLACE Design Task Force be the steering committee to oversee the plan preparation. Staffing for the effort will come primarily from Neighborhood Development Services and the Agenda Date: March 5, 2012

Action Required: Approval of Resolution

Economic Development Department with careful coordination from the
Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Budgetary Impact: $150,000. Funding for this plan is available with funds already designated for design services for the CRHA Redevelopment effort. The first step in the redevelopment process is to create a more detailed design vision for these properties, enabling continued implementation of the redevelopment master plan. The plan will enable the redevelopment efforts starting with the Levy site, with Crescent Halls to begin as expeditiously as possible.

Recommendation: Staff recommends approval of the attached resolution authorizing the development of a Request for Proposals and an engagement of a design team for this Urban Design/Economic Plan using the funds previously allocated to design services for the CRHA.

Attachment: Proposed Resolution


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