Mailbag: Belmont Bridge and McIntire Park East planning

To bridge or not to bridge

Is it Opposite Day? One entry in the Belmont Bridge Design Competition [“Bridge Builders,” February 14] took all the top awards. But, it designed no bridge. Here’s why.
The Belmont Bridge was falling down. We needed a solution. MMM Design (of $7.5 million bricklaying fame) was paid $800,000 and they drew up: The Belmont Bridge, rebuilt, with flags. We held our own competition. Thirty-six entries later, we found a huge mistake had been made —in 1961.

Then, the same civic forces that buried Vinegar Hill also bulldozed Belmont, and left us with another ugly legacy: The Belmont Bridge, a hyphen of highway, fit for Eisenhower. Four lanes of liberty from the city’s perils to the cul-de-sac’s promise, ready to ramp to a highway to tomorrow…which never quite materialized.

So, Belmont’s viaduct-junction, what’s your function? What are you bypassing now, besides the heart of the city? The trains? Not so fast.

A word on choo-choos and coal. Our neighborhood’s Buckingham Branch Railroad hauls mostly freight, primarily coal from West Virginia mines out to Newport News for export. O.K., it’s not all coal. Most of the 150-car freights are empties. An omen of trains to come.
Coal is running out. The Appalachian Basin passed peak coal in 1990. The DOE’s 2012 Overview predicts a huge decline in Appalachian coal by 2020. CNN Money reports that the feds predict coal from Central Appalachia “will decline 40% in the next five years.” It’s what the Charleston Gazette calls: “The Coming Coalfield Crisis.”

So, let’s back-track logically: No coal…no trains…no bridge…no 1961 mistake repeated. And we get? Belmont (Un)Abridged, the winning entry in our competition. Retrospectful. Radical. Our ideal could be our inverse.
Inspired by the Downtown Mall’s original “Halprin Plan,” UVA students removed the bridge, in favor of an at-grade crossing, allowing acreage for a permanent Farmer’s Market, public orchards, and a shade park, while recouping old bridge easements for low-profile mixed-use.

“Rather than leaving large areas of urban potential to languish beneath and around a highway viaduct that bypasses the city,” wrote one juror, “this scheme uses Avon Street to integrate underutilized publicly and privately owned blocks into the city fabric.” Another juror noted, “The discussion of the bridge site is no longer the by-pass end of the Downtown Mall but the cross roads of an extended city center.”

Taxpayers save millions on a bridge. And the City gains revenue on valuable parcels at their best use. Idealistic and pragmatic. A bargain on both sides of the tracks.
Impossible? That’s up to you. And what you foresee. City planners predict problems. That’s their job. Yours is to envision opportunities. Picture our city without the coal trains, the bridge, or the bureaucrats asking you to live according to their ledger sheet. It looks like a farmer’s market, with a trellised path where you walk with your kids and tell them about how you wrote a letter to the Mayor one day about a bridge.

Brian Wimer


Moving the Y

The so-called debate between single-interest groups for golf and/or a botanical garden in McIntire East isn’t really the entire issue. If one were to take off the blinders, they might consider that McIntire Park, the City’s largest public green space, consists of both McIntire East and McIntire West.

Considering it as one McIntire Park, one might quickly realize that we should also be debating the City’s plans to locate a YMCA in five acres of McIntire West, in the spot where three public activity shelters now stand. To overlook the impact of this YMCA on McIntire West, while single-mindedly focusing on plans for McIntire East, is short-sighted, to say the least.

While I am not a strong supporter of the YMCA being located in McIntire Park, it is apparent that City Council intends to move forward with that plan. While planning McIntire East, we have an overlooked opportunity to locate the YMCA to a better site in McIntire East that could have many benefits to taxpayers and the YMCA, while avoiding many negatives. To date these opportunities are being ignored. If we must have a YMCA in McIntire Park, we should consider the many benefits to be gained if it was to be located in McIntire East, adjacent Melbourne Road and Charlottesville High School.

These benefits include:
1. Leaving the west side of the park undisturbed and avoiding the considerable disruption of public park use that will be required to construct YMCA in McIntire West.
2. Preserving existing heavily-used and much-needed public activity shelters. This saves Charlottesville taxpayers 100% of the replacement costs for these picnic shelters, including their parking lots, barbeques, and benches.
3. Preserving existing mature canopy trees in McIntire West that will have to be razed to build the YMCA. Note that there are NO mature canopy trees in the 5-10 acres of McIntire East adjacent to Melbourne Road.
4. Avoiding the inevitable parking conflicts that will arise between YMCA users and existing ball parks users (April to November), and attendees to the Dogwood Festival, July 4th celebrations, and other events in McIntire West.
5. Planning the YMCA location with a better means of entry, parking, and exits, while easily avoiding all dangerous cross-traffic conflicts between ped-bike travel and auto and mass transit traffic. This is NOT possible in McIntire West.
6. McIntire East location is more convenient to CHS school bus routes.
7. McIntire East location is more convenient to all auto traffic coming and going to/from the proposed YMCA.
8. YMCA construction costs will be reduced dramatically due to “friendlier” topography in McIntire East adjacent Melbourne Road.
9. Simplifies pedestrian and bike commuter routes through McIntire West to CHS and Hydraulic Road destinations, while avoiding conflicts with increased YMCA traffic.

If nothing is done to stop the YMCA from being constructed in McIntire West at its presently planned location, there will be many negative (and) avoidable impacts including:
1. Locating the YMCA on the west side of the park will force public transportation routes to increase through the Rugby Ave. residential entrance, causing noise and safety concerns for this stable and peaceful neighborhood.
2. All traffic flows to/from the YMCA (including public transport buses) MUST cross most available parking spots, bicycle & pedestrian routes. This will be a significant and on-going risk to public safety. These traffic flows will also negatively affect traffic flows going on and off the bypass. Especially of note… the Rt. 250 Eastbound exit ramp at Rugby Ave. is already a dangerous intersection with frequent accidents. Increased traffic to/from the YMCA will cause increased accidents at this ramp.
3. Up to 50 mature (canopy) trees will have to be removed from McIntire West and one of the most beautiful spots in McIntire West will be displaced by a large rectangular building that has no relevance to the McIntire West natural forest immediately adjacent.
4. Two or three heavily-used public activity shelters and their parking lots will be destroyed, and taxpayers will have to pay at least several hundred thousand dollars for their replacement elsewhere in the park or the City.
5. The proposed YMCA location in McIntire West is a domed hill that will require “leveling,” causing increased construction time and costs, and will cause environmental damage.
6. Public use of McIntire West will be impaired or impossible during much of the YMCA construction period, which will likely be a year or more.
In summary, McIntire West isn’t broken now, but it will be if we put a YMCA there. Locating this YMCA in McIntire East along Melbourne Road can easily be folded into the planning and construction of McIntire East with no negative impact to the public or the park, and does not prevent construction of a botanical garden, golf course, skatepark, playing fields, or passive park spaces in McIntire East. This proposal makes good sense and deserves serious consideration as we plan development of McIntire East.

David Stackhouse

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