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February 29, 2012

McIntire Park planning process continues

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department unveiled three conceptual drawings Tuesday depicting possible master plans for the eastern side of McIntire Park.
 
Supporters of the First Tee of Charlottesville golf program and advocates for a proposed botanical garden both made their case for space in the park, but city staff said the meeting was only held to get more information on the table. 
 
“We are not going to make a decision tonight,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s trails planner. 
 
The meeting was the fifth since the design process began last September. At another meeting in January, staff unveiled three concepts, each of which included both a botanical garden and some form of a golf course. 
 
Supporters of the nonprofit McIntire Botanical Garden introduced a concept that removed the golf course entirely. That option received the most votes in January. 
 
Participants at Tuesday’s event were shown three conceptual designs that had more distinct differences. 
Concept A would split the uses by wrapping the garden around a smaller golf course. 
 
Concept B would remove the golf course and dedicate the majority of the park to the botanical garden
 
A slightly smaller golf course would remain the primary use under Concept C, though it would be smaller. The trails area would be more developed, but land would still remain passive and no room would be set aside for a formal garden.
 
All three of the concepts have common elements. The skate park would be located in the southwest corner of the park, the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial would remain in the southeast corner, parking access would be off Melbourne Road and trails would be built throughout the park. 
 
Participants were also given information on how many people currently use the park. 
 
“We currently have about 18,000 people that come through the east side of McIntire that we can count,” Gensic said, citing figures from 2011. 
 
That breaks down to 3,143 paid rounds of golf at McIntire Park, yielding more than $15,000 in revenue for the First Tee program. There were approximately 2,100 rounds of golf associated with First Tee. 10,100 people used the McIntire Road skate park and 2,400 took a dip in the wading pool. 
 
No vote was taken at the end of the meeting, but supporters had the chance to make comments. 
 
Charlottesville resident Leonard Taylor has played golf in the park for 55 years and would like that use to continue. 
 
“I would take it in any form but it’s been since the bypass has gone through, it’s reduced the size of it and the First Tee can hardly operate,” Taylor said. “The botanical garden should go around the golf course and the golf course should be left as it is.” 
 
Supporters of the course argued that a garden would require ongoing operating costs and an unknown amount of capital funding. 
 
Advocates for the garden said it was too early in the planning process to know the full scope and cost of the garden, but that would come in time with planning once the general use has been decided.  
 
“We envision a public-private partnership of which there are many models around the country,” said Linda Seaman, a member of the board of directors for McIntire Botanical Garden
20120228-comparisons

Source: McIntire Botanical Garden
For instance, Seaman said a 53-acre botanical garden in Bellevue, Wash., has more than 250,000 visitors a year and operates on an annual budget of $460,000. The nonprofit that runs it raised 70 percent of the capital costs. 
 
Seaman said visitors would not pay an entry fee, but the garden could find a revenue stream by renting out portions of the park for weddings and other special events. 
 
“But, in general, we’re going to rely on donations and volunteers and we’d have to work out an agreement between the city and the nonprofit as to responsibilities each would undertake,” Seaman said. 
 
A presentation produced by Helen Flamini, president of McIntire Botanical Garden, claimed that 23,769 visitors would visit the park in its first year if it opened in 2015. That would grow to 72,750 by 2020. To support her projections, Flamini said the Kemper Trail at Monticello attracted 85,000 visitors in 2011 in comparison. 
 
Under one public-private partnership, taxpayer funds pay for a portion of trails and bridges. Private money would also pay for trails but would also go toward developing a landscape plan, park benches, signs and plants. 
 
 “There’s one group of people who would like to have it all garden, and there’s one group of people who would like to have it all golf,” Seaman said. 
 
“I would argue that it is a battle between golf and the garden,” said Wayne Hall, chair of the advisory board for First Tee. Responding to a question about why the program could not just return to the Meadow Creek Golf Course at Pen Park, Hall responded that there would not be enough space for the 400 children who participate in the program each year. 
 
The ultimate decision will be made by the City Council with input from two advisory bodies. 
 
The next step in the process will be a Parks and Recreation Advisory Board public hearing on March 26. 
 
That committee, however, will not make a decision until May. 
 
“I have no opinion as to what should happen to McIntire East at this time,” said Jennifer McKeever, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation board. “I am still evaluating all of the options.” 
 
The process will then move to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, after which the decision will be in the hands of councilors. 
 
Meanwhile, a public meeting on a pedestrian bridge crossing the railroad connecting the two sides of the park will be held in early April, according to Gensic. 
 
 

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