After three public meetings, four concept diagrams, and an initial public vote, critical questions on the appropriate land uses for the east side of McIntire Park are forcing city staff to hold an additional public meeting at the end of February to try to reach public agreement before City Council makes a final decision.
“Those critical questions are going to be ‘Do you want to share uses of the park?’ and ‘Is the park a tourist attraction or a local park?’” said Chris Gensic, the city’s trail and park planner, in an interview. “Most of the pieces there seem to be general consensus on, [but] there isn’t consensus on either a botanical garden or golf course and that still needs to be worked out.”
Chris Gensic, pictured here in McIntire Park, said there is some confusion among supporters of a botanical garden. “They want a park to be open for public use, where you can walk a dog, toss a Frisbee, sit out in the grass and enjoy the beauty of the natural world,” he said.
At the most recent meeting, city staff presented three concepts that featured a combination of a golf course, a botanical garden, a skate park and mixed use areas all sharing the park’s 61 acres. The president of the McIntire Botanical Garden, Helen Flamini, added a fourth rendition depicting the entire area as a botanical garden that included the skate park.
Although Flamini’s option garnered the most votes, residents’ ideas of what constitutes a botanical garden have varied greatly.
“We now hear that not everybody in that group necessarily wants a full-fledged, high-end botanical garden,” said Gensic. “They want a park to be open for public use, where you can walk a dog, toss a Frisbee, sit out in the grass and enjoy the beauty of the natural world.”
The idea of an arboretum is one that could be possible and relatively cheap.
“I think that if you look at Schenk’s Greenway, that’s kind of what the park department is intending,” continued Gensic. “It’s nice, the trees are there, it’s well-maintained, there are some flower beds, it’s open to the public all the time, bring your dog and your Frisbee.”
The decision could be dictated by how much of an investment the city will have to make. Speaking to City Council, city resident William Page reminded Councilors to consider these implications before the public process goes too far.
“I feel in all decisions, your responsibility should be to carefully weigh the financial impact, the benefit to all our citizenry and the worthiness of the program, and these subjects have not even been touched upon in the process,” he said.
Councilor Dave Norris asked staff what it would take to safeguard golf programs if the golf course, currently used by city and county residents and by the Charlottesville First Tee, ends up being “misplaced.”
“Is there a win-win solution possible where we can create space for First Tee in particular, which is what we have been hearing a lot of about, somewhere else in the system and allow First Tee to continue to thrive while dedicating the east side of the park to passive garden uses?” he said.
Although the answer to that question is complex and has yet to be determined, Gensic points to a drastic, expensive first measure.
“If the whole thing were to become a non-golf course area, you have to pay to rebuild the golf course somewhere else, that’s before you do anything,” he said.
Even the decision of what kind of garden the east side of McIntire Park will become could hinge on the cost of infrastructure.
“Are we looking to make a Forest Hills park, which is one cost, or are we looking to make [Richmond’s] Maymont, which is an entirely different cost that possibly could require a different funding source?”
The last public meeting is set for 6:30pm, February 28 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Arts Center at Charlottesville High School.