By Spencer Philps
The opening of the Dairy Central apartment, retail, and office complex, slated for May 2020, is likely to bring more traffic to one of Charlottesville’s most confusing and dangerous intersections.
According to development materials on the Dairy Central website, Preston Avenue, a primary link between US 29 and downtown, sees about 39,000 vehicles per day, making it one of the busiest streets in the surrounding area. In front of what will be the Dairy Central complex, Preston converges with two other streets (Grady Avenue and 10th Street NW) in a bewildering series of merges. Grady gets about 20,000 vehicles per day, and at the spot where it merges with Preston, vehicle crashes are frequent. At least 15 reported crashes have occurred there between 2015 and 2019, according to state data.
Dairy Central, which started construction in 2018 at the site of the former Monticello Dairy Building on the corner of 10th Street and Grady Avenue, will boast 180 luxury apartments along with a food hall (known as Dairy Market) with 18 merchant stalls, 50,000 sq. ft. of office space, and an event area. Per city requirements, 15 apartment units will be set aside as affordable housing units. The plans for the development say that there will be 179 parking spots on-site.
Josh Lowry, the general manager of Sticks Kebob Shop (located across Grady and Preston Avenues) says that he feels like he sees at least one accident a day outside his window. He assumes that the traffic in the intersection will increase with the addition of the Dairy Central development, but sees the real issue at the intersection being the traffic layout.
“If there’s increased traffic to the area, I think that could be problematic, but I think that the key…is to simplify the traffic pattern in front of Dairy Market,” he says.
That could happen: Brian Wheeler, communications director for the city of Charlottesville, says the city is seeking funding for intersection improvements under the state’s Smart Scale program. The proposal includes plans to modify traffic lanes and combine Preston and Grady Avenues with Grady Avenue and 10th Street to make a single intersection. It also seeks to to install curb ramps, add sidewalks within the median islands, and create high visibility crosswalks including flashing beacons to protect pedestrians. But these changes likely won’t happen before Dairy Central is finished.
Meanwhile, Christopher Henry, the president of Stony Point Design/Build, the firm leading the development, stresses the positive impact of their project on traffic.
At the macro-level, Henry says, adding density to a centrally-located property should (in theory) lead to a net-decrease in citywide traffic. In a city like Charlottesville that has a mounting need for housing and office space, adding developments in the outer reaches of the city and Albemarle County would only lead to more traffic, he says. He sees the construction of walkable or bikeable developments such as Dairy Central as reducing the need for vehicular usage.
Residents, he says, “can walk across the street and work at their jobs and never have to get into a car. They can walk downtown, they can walk to West Main Street, walk to the University of Virginia or the hospital, or they can get on the bus, which stops across the street from the building.” Henry says. “Dairy Central’s type of development has the least impact on traffic from that perspective.”
At the micro-level, Henry says that the developers are doing everything they can to ensure that the development makes as little impact as possible on the intersection’s traffic patterns.
“We have met many times with the neighbors and have made some accommodations to our site plan to address the traffic impacts as best we can, and there’s been talk in the past of doing some sort of permanent parking on the street,” Henry adds.
In addition to working alongside the city to design plans to reconfigure the intersection, the developers have also been in close contact with the city’s traffic engineers while they have been doing construction on the site.
The developers have also come up with creative ways to alleviate the traffic that will be coming in and out of the property once its completed, by restoring the small roads and lanes that were constructed in the early 1900s by the Monticello Ice Company.
“We’re actually redividing the property into multiple parcels, and putting streets and alleys back in, which will add more connections and more ways for cars to get in and out of the site and not just funnel people onto just one specific intersection,” Henry says.
Meanwhile, despite the traffic concerns, Sticks manager Lowry says he’s happy about the addition of office space and housing which he hopes will drive more people to his restaurant.
“More people in the area will definitely benefit us,” he says. “We’re a popular lunch and dinner destination, and we look forward to having more people in the neighborhood.”
Updated 10/31 to correct second reference to Josh Lowry, who is general manager at Sticks.