Activists Make Waves at Public Meeting

Estelle McCadden
Estelle McCadden

by Valerie Garner

Joe Ramsey, one owner of a parcel of property located at the Hershberger Road entrance ramp to I-581 believes “this thing is so far off in the future,” referring to potential development of the area. Ramsey’s father acquired the property in 1909.

No one has shown interest in his parcel since a company out of Wisconsin took an option on it and the houses on an adjacent street. That fell through as the economy collapsed. “They did it right … going to the neighbors, explaining the process,” said Ramsey. That was the closest the property has come to being developed.

Ramsey said he understood that Mayor Noel Taylor promised that no one would come through the neighborhood to get to his land. “I don’t know if that is in writing but that’s what I’ve always been told,” he said. The company hired Alvin Nash to negotiate with the neighbors at the time.

Ramsey, a realtor with Long & Foster, said there had been some unscrupulous realtors talking to residents along Brooklyn Street. The street would connect his property with another and create more attractive options for development. Ramsey counseled the neighbors, explaining that they didn’t have to sell to anyone.

“I have no one looking at our property that I am aware of,” said Ramsey. “It could be 20 years before anything might come of development,” he added.

The Valley View Interchange completion won’t occur until 2015. The property currently has no plan for growth and the city says they want to get ahead of any development and create a plan for the area. The land encompasses most or in part Fairland Court, Melrose-Rugby, Villa Heights  and Washington Park neighborhoods.

Fredrick Gusler, senior planner, showed design concepts as part of the city’s Vision 2001-2020 plan. Mixed-use pedestrian friendly streets are the concepts in favor today.

It’s all about connecting streets and creating a sense of community and creating an attractive and memorable sense of place with the efficient use of natural resources. “Narrow tree-lined street designs will eliminate cut-through traffic,” said Gusler.

Examples of cities shown to the 25 residents at Thursday’s meeting at Lucy Addison Middle School were developments like Birkdale Village in Huntersville, NC, Old Trail Village in Crozet, VA., Baxter Village in SC, and West Broad Village in Henrico, VA.

All had brick-paved streets, garages under residences and some had alleyway entrances. Residents in the area want to see a chain grocery store and one slide showed a street-accessible Kroger store with no front parking lot.

A deal with the developer may help extend the greenway along Lick Run or at least a partial segment.

Mayor Bowers asked if the town center concept was a hybrid of commercial and residential. Chris Chittum, Planning Administrator, said residential would surround the town center. He explained that there is a choice – “you don’t have to wall it off and separate commercial and residential.”

Gusler told Estelle McCadden of the Melrose-Rugby neighborhood that they have purposely avoided contact with landowners and developers so as not to be influenced by their concepts. A rumble then erupted from the crowd.

Outspoken neighborhood leader Estelle McCadden told Gusler that the neighborhood organizations should be able to meet with any developer. “We don’t need to meet with them with the city,” she said. “We want to meet with them ourselves,” demanded McCadden.

This may alleviate some of the tension because the “city doesn’t care whether there is tension or not,” said McCadden. Gusler disagreed as more rumbling came from citizens. Gusler thought that any promises made by developers and citizens without city involvement would not be kept.

McCadden’s point was that the city steers any plan in the direction they want it to go versus what the neighborhood and a developer may come to consensus on. It was clear that both the city and the citizens want control. McCadden fears that the city will dismiss a developer’s plan and will force changes neighbors don’t want. “It’s all about money,” she said emphatically.

Gusler said, “If there is something agreed upon [with a developer] then don’t come back to the city and say we made a promise with the city – they might not have been at that meeting.”

Cheryl Hilton, a teacher at Virginia Western Community College, asked about the neighborhood plans. Gusler said the plan they are now developing will supersede the Fairland plan. Gusler called it an update of the seven-year-old Fairland plan.

McCadden said the neighborhood plans should incorporate the Evans Spring development plan. “I don’t like the idea of you saying that it will supersede the plans that we have,” she said. “Why did I make a plan … there’s no need of me having a plan if this one is going to come in and take it over.”

Estelle McCadden made her point and the city at least seemed to agree on “incorporation” of the existing neighborhood plans rather then “superseding” them with another “one size fits all” plan.

After this third meeting it was not clear if citizens were ready for any more.