Delayed extension: What’s up with Water Street?

Water Street Extended is scheduled to open this fall. Photo by Skip Degan Water Street Extended is scheduled to open this fall. Photo by Skip Degan

Exactly one year ago, Water Street Extended was expected to open by the end of the year. Twelve months later, city officials are saying it could be accessible soon.

“We’re hopeful that it will be open later in the autumn,” says Miriam Dickler, the city’s director of communications. The developer in charge of the extension is still working to meet city standards and Dickler says lights and underground utilities will be the finishing touches. Then, when everything is “close to perfect,” she says the city will okay the extension and it’ll finally be ready for traffic.

Some nearby businesses are excited for the long-awaited street opening and hope it could bring more people to their shops.

“We would keep checking and checking and eventually we just stopped,” says T.J. Shaver, an employee at Mom and Pop’s Vape Shop, which is beside Beer Run and Pad Thai at the end of Water Street Extended. He says most of his clientele frequent the Downtown Mall and often complain about the street’s unfinished status, because once it opens, it will be easier and faster for customers to drive back and forth from the mall.

“In this corner, parking is limited,” says Santi Ouypron, owner of Pad Thai, adding that he hopes people will be able to park along Water Street Extended when it opens. “It might help.”

Until everyone can access the extension by way of car, residents living in City Walk apartments continue using Water Street Extended and Water Street Trail—a halfway-finished walking trail that runs parallel to the street—on foot.

“I definitely don’t like having the street be dark,” says Alexa Witcofsky, who has lived in City Walk for four months and was told upon moving in that the extension would open once the developer put up streetlights. “The [Downtown Mall] is so close to where I live that it just makes sense to walk…But now that it’s getting darker sooner, I have to plan around that.”

Walking near the unfinished project at night makes Witcofsky uneasy.

“As a female, you try to have more situational awareness than to put yourself on a dark, empty road,” she says, “but you can’t really avoid it if you’re trying to walk back from dinner.”

City Councilor Kathy Galvin says the lights on Water Street should be up this month.

The walking trail is “unofficially open,” according to Carrie Rainey, an urban designer from Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development Services, but the department of parks and recreation is pursuing a grant to build the remaining trail section to the Belmont Bridge. The existing part of the trail was developed by City Walk and will be accepted by the city concurrently with the approval of Water Street Extended, but Galvin expects the final section of the walking trail to be opened in 2016. Along with the new section will come more lights, more trees and bioretention plantings.

And the extension and walking trail won’t be the only new additions to the street. Water Street Promenade, Riverbend Development’s plan to build two dozen homes along Water Street Extended, will go to the planning commission later this month. Bonds will be posted, a pre-construction meeting will be held and work on the newest project will begin.