It’s not the first time that the future of McIntire Park has divided residents of Charlottesville. First, there was the Meadow Creek Parkway. Then came the YMCA. Now, it’s golf versus botanical garden in the master planning process for the eastern side of the city’s biggest park.
The area under discussion is currently home to a nine-hole golf course and a skate park. The question for residents is whether the 61 acres should be devoted to any other use or activity.
“In order to open up the park fully, there cannot be golfing activities as well, because golfing and walking around with children on strollers don’t complement each other. It’s a safety issue,” said Helen Flamini, president of the nonprofit McIntire Botanical Garden.
Wayne Hall, chair of the Charlottesville First Tee Advisory Board, disagrees.
“A botanical garden doesn’t have to be 65 acres. You can have a 5-acre botanical garden, a 25-acre botanical garden. It’s a matter of scale,” he said in an interview. “You can have a short, par-3 golf course, which is very functional, very usable for the community. It serves a niche purpose. The botanical garden serves a niche purpose.”
At a recent public meeting, city staff presented three concept diagrams that hint at what the park could look like once the master plan is adopted. All include a botanical garden, a golf course, a skate park and a mixed-use area adjacent to the planned pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.
However, Flamini added a fourth, all-botanical garden option, which won the most votes, followed closely by the option to divide the park into a 26-acre golf course located in the center of the park, with an 11-acre botanical garden to the north.
The addition has prompted city staff to consider another meeting to discuss the fourth option and to revisit what a botanical garden really is.
“One of the big issues that we need to consider and continue the community conversation on is, is it the desire for a full-blown botanical garden or is it a desire for a passive park?
These are two very different things,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s parks and trails planner. “Is it a tourist attraction or is it the local central park?”
Flamini is clear with her answer: “Our vision is to create this open space in the heart of the city to become like a Central Park atmosphere,” she said. “Our plan isn’t to have buildings on the park area, but to keep it open and enhance it with pathways so people can actually walk.”
For Hall, however, the debate has lost its original focus and has become centered on Charlottesville First Tee, which uses the park sparingly, he said.
“The question is not is it the First Tee versus the botanical garden, or the First Tee versus the rectangular field, or the First Tee versus the swimming pool,” he said. “It should be, ‘What should the land use be for the best use of the community?’ Golf is part of that.”
The First Tee and the city also have a 15-year contract; to honor it, the park needs at least a 9-hole course.
Gensic said if city staff agrees an additional meeting is needed, it will happen in the next six weeks.