UVa influence on 250 continues to expand
|This article is the third in a four-part series on the future of Route 250 published jointly by The Daily Progress and Charlottesville Tomorrow. |
Part: One, Two, Three, Four
By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The growth of the University of Virginia continues to set the tone for the 3-mile length of U.S. 250 from Emmet Street to Broomley Road.
At the eastern end, both the Lewis Mountain neighborhood and commuters are awaiting plans for a new performing arts center, as well as a new intersection.
At the western end, construction continues for a new 50-bed hospital next to UVa’s Northridge medical office building and Moser Radiation Therapy Center.
Ivy Road has become more urban in the hundred years since prominent businessman Hollis Rinehart bought the sprawling Birdwood estate. The Botetourt County native had made his fortune in Charlottesville, and built four mansions for himself and his sons on the northern side of Three Notch’d Road.
Birdwood itself passed through a number of hands before UVa paid $1.5 million for it in the mid-’70s. Originally slated for expansion, a decision was made in the 1980s to build a golf course instead. Later that decade, UVa purchased the Boar’s Head Inn next door.
Although the section of 250 from Broomley to Ednam Drive is not in Albemarle County’s designated growth area, the northern side of the road retains commercial zoning. That has allowed for businesses such as a car dealership, a tractor supply store and at least one garden center.
The Ivy Nursery, located near the Northridge campus, has been open since 1975. The owner said the road has changed “leaps and bounds” ever since.
“When we started, the last traffic light was at Copeley Road,” said George Carter. He said he believes future growth on U.S. 250 would be constrained both by difficult terrain, as well as the county’s growth management policies.
“I don’t think development can happen the way it has on Pantops,” Carter said.
Another traffic signal is expected to one day be installed at the intersection of U.S. 250 and White Gables Pavilions, a 74-unit condominium complex built around one of the Rinehart mansions.
Four-term Albemarle County Supervisor Sally H. Thomas said while traffic has increased on the road, stewardship by the county and groups such as Scenic 250 have allowed it to retain a rural character.
“We’ve managed to keep the Rinehart houses there,” Thomas said. “We’ve managed to keep development back and off the road so you don’t see much difference there when you’re driving along.”
Bypass to Emmet Street
UVa-related uses dominate the entire corridor, but even more so between the 29/250 Bypass and Emmet Street. One future area of redevelopment could be the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital.
“We recognize that the [site] is a valuable community asset and will take that into consideration as we look at options for its future use,” said UVa spokeswoman Carol Wood in an interview.
The University of Virginia Real Estate Foundation purchased the Cavalier Inn in 1998 for future development. Plans for an Arts Gateway were announced to the public in 2007, including space for a concert hall, a museum and theater. However, the project is on “indefinite hold” due to a lack of funding, according to Wood.
Earlier this decade, the Lewis Mountain Neighborhood Association was unsuccessful in an attempt to stop the construction of an 1,180-space parking garage designed to replace other spaces lost to infill development.
Today, the neighborhood’s willingness to embrace the Arts Gateway is colored by the experience with what their signs had called “the 1,200-car monster.”
“The university’s three-football-fields-long parking garage is grotesquely out of scale with the neighborhood, a poor and uninspired use of the space, and an eyesore in one of the main entrance corridors to the university,” said Art Lichtenberger, president of the neighborhood association.
He said the neighborhood has been looking forward to the construction of the Arts Gateway to hide the parking garage from Ivy Road.
To achieve walkability, the neighborhood association has recommended redevelopment of one of the shopping centers to a mixed-use development where parking could be placed behind the buildings.
However, the property manager of the Ivy Square Shopping Center said he doubts people will soon change their habits away from the automobile.
“I don’t believe it’s realistic to de-emphasize the role vehicles play at Ivy Square Shopping Center given the magnitude of traffic which travels on Ivy Road,” said Michael Morris. He agrees that more green space would be desirable, but not at the expense of places for his tenants’ customers to park.
Just down the street from Ivy Square is the University Shopping Center, which opened for business in 1952. The owner of Heinz Musitronics, Steve Hobeck, said the store is an excellent location because of the amount of traffic and visibility, but there are challenges with congestion and signage.
“You get the sense there’s no continuity between the city and the county,” Hobeck said. He’d like consistent sidewalks leading into the county, as well as better signage.
As for redevelopment, Hobeck said he’s never been contacted by anyone wanting to buy his property. Morris said that Ivy Square Shopping Center, as it is, “should last well into the future.”
One Charlottesville resident who often commutes on bike to her office near the Boar’s Head Inn recently stopped out of fear.
“I started carpooling with a neighbor and then kind of lost my nerve,” said Nancy Damon, program director of the Virginia Festival of the Book. “I got out of the habit, and then I began to lose my courage.”
Bike lanes in Charlottesville currently stop at the county line.
Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan calls for the eventual addition of bike lanes on major corridors inside the designated growth areas. However, implementing that goal on Ivy Road could be “many years away,” according to transportation planner Juandiego Wade.
Improvements to U.S. 250 Business are the county’s fourth-highest transportation priority, after the Meadowcreek Parkway, improvements to U.S. 29 and the widening of Route 20 between Interstate 64 and Mill Creek Drive.
In August 2007, University Architect David Neuman asked the city and county to each contribute $1 million for a project to add bike lanes, sidewalks and safer pedestrian crossings along all of Ivy Road.
Neither locality opted to contribute due to a lack of transportation funds. Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker suggested the county might participate if the revenue could come from an “events tax” generated by concerts and other events at the university’s John Paul Jones Arena.
The city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, Jim Tolbert, pointed out that UVa built bike lanes and made traffic improvements as part of the parking garage project. That’s consistent with UVa’s vision of the road, according to Neuman.
“The university is the only entity to make improvements to better link the mixed-use neighborhoods along the way to the bypass,” Neuman said.
And then there’s the intersection of Emmet Street and Ivy Road. At one point, planners had considered the possibility of replacing the traffic signals with a roundabout.
“It was determined to be very expensive to construct, as well as very unfriendly to bike riders and pedestrians,” Wood said. Instead, the gas station across from the Cavalier Inn will be removed, according to Wood, to allow for the intersection to be expanded with new turn lanes on University Avenue and Emmet Street.
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