A crowd of at least 120 people gathered high above the James River at the Virginia War Memorial Wednesday night to participate in the Richmond riverfront plan public forum. Although there was little controversy, there were many skeptics and jaded Richmonders in attendance. There was no direct mention of notorious plans like Echo Harbour and Doug […]
A crowd of at least 120 people gathered high above the James River at the Virginia War Memorial Wednesday night to participate in the Richmond riverfront plan public forum. Although there was little controversy, there were many skeptics and jaded Richmonders in attendance.
There was no direct mention of notorious plans like Echo Harbour and Doug Wilder’s proposed marina at the Intermediate Terminal, but there certainly were those that voiced concerns about continued “walling off the river” with more concrete and turning the James into a culvert in downtown Richmond.
The presentation from the architecture firm hired to execute the plans, Hargreaves Associates, was quite thorough and mostly accurate — they certainly had done their homework and from personal experience, I know they met with many citizens this summer to get their input.
“We have just begun…we are here to listen,” said Mary Margaret Jones, the main presenter for the firm. “We are here to develop a conceptual plan for both sides of the river.” She said that this effort is a continuation of the Downtown Master Plan [.PDF], an effort to further that plan, not replace it.”
The credentials for Hargreaves Associates are strong. They have designed and implemented waterfront plans for cities like Louisville, San Francisco, Chattanooga and Houston. The area of downtown Richmond they are targeting is between the Robert E. Lee Bridge and Ancarrow’s Landing, an area of about 830 acres on both sides of the James River.
“We are looking for a balance of public and private development,” she said, adding that developments “have to be unique to Richmond — they can’t just be plopped from another city.”
According to their presentation, more than 2,000 residents have moved into that area of downtown since 2008. They also said that there are 28,000 workers with a quarter of a mile in that area.
- Making the Mayo Bridge more bike, pedestrian and fisherman friendly, even reducing the lanes from four to two, which drew cheers from the crowd.
- There are no public playgrounds in downtown Richmond, and families need to be drawn to the area.
- Tremendous opportunity to unite Brown’s Island with Manchester by way of a refurbished VEPCO levee bridge.
- Making the Manchester Bridge ADA compliant with a ramp access, which could make it more bike friendly as well.
- Importance of the development of the Virginia Capital Trail and how it could tie many projects together.
- Importance of Reynolds Metals properties — both along the Canal Walk on the north bank and in Manchester south of the James.
- Need for more staffing for the James River Park System.
- Need to protect the viewshed of the James, not just up close but from a distance. Don’t wall off the rest of the city.
- A Fulton resident spoke of the need to include Fulton in the planning, and didn’t want “The Birthplace of Richmond” to be ignored.
- Protect the trees along the banks and islands of the James.
- Andrew McRoberts asked to allow the Virginia Capital Trail to continue west through the Canal Walk and connect with the rest of the proposed greenways.
- Parking. Hargreaves planners admitted that parking had not been properly addressed in their presentation.
- Mayo Island would make a great hub for a rafting and kayaking business, could include restaurants and retail.
- The Virginia Rowing Club was interested in increasing access to all forms of paddling.
- Create a sandy beach with a life guards, like Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive.
- Tricia Pearsall asked the planners to be vigilant about vistas and viewsheds, “create wonderful structures, avoid ugly buildings.”
James River Park manager Ralph White spoke and said he was “uneasy about a contradiction” in the presentation. He said that many people come to river for the rural ambiance and the natural setting and wild areas of the James and that all he had seen in the presentation was about concrete and walled structures. “We need to view the James River as an escape” for many park-goers.
Hampton Carver, a city resident who is a member of Richmond’s architectural review board, said he was concerned about “public access” vs. “public use” designations. He pointed out that there is a difference between being above the water and touching the water. He also noted that the plan seemed heavily geared toward natural amenities above the fall line, but tended to be more walled off and concrete below the fall line, in the tidal waters of the James.
Something else that Carver challenged the planners to consider was that they needed to choose the first implementation of the plan wisely, as it would set the tone for the project — and in many ways, may set the tone for the improvements for all of downtown Richmond.
That would be the topic of the two additional public meetings: Oct. 18, which will be initial strategic options; and Dec. 13, which will be a draft plan of the overall design concept that should include discussion of funding options and implementation. The plan is to present this to the planning commission in January 2012.