Bulbed-out: Traffic calming riles neighbors


The Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association has long wanted sidewalks on Chesapeake Street, particularly along the treacherously narrow, hilly section that leads to Riverview Park. The city finally has drawn up plans to put in sidewalks, but some residents who don't belong to the neighborhood association are peeved to discover they're getting more than sidewalks on their block.

Eleanor Willson couldn't figure out why the city sent a letter asking her for a 20-foot easement in front of her house when she already has a sidewalk.

She called Charlottesville's planning department and was told that three green spaces, called "bulb-outs," were going to be added to the north side of the 1300-block of Chesapeake street– and that she would have to maintain the one in front of her house. Bulb-outs are much like the traffic calming projections on heavily traveled Park Street.

"I have no driveway," says Willson. "This would affect parking. Am I supposed to park 10 blocks up and schlepp my groceries home?" she asks.

"What irritates me the most is this is being done in a secretive manner," complains Willson. She says the city's letter to her said nothing about bulb-outs.

"Apparently, I have to belong to the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association to know what's going on," says Doris Reuschling, who lives across the street from Willson.

The city did not mail letters to Reuschling or others living on the south side of the street. She learned of the plans only by talking to a neighbor.

She fears bulb-outs like those on Park Street "cause more problems than they solve" and take away limited parking. "I talked to the city about the loss of parking, and the response was, 'They can park across the street,'" recounts Reuschling. "And where is the person across the street going to park?"

Neighborhood planner Brian Haluska says that the plans have been available in the neighborhood development offices since October, and points out that a November 29 neighborhood meeting was advertised throughout the neighborhood, "We talked it over with a large assembled group of residents," he says. "We feel we have consensus."

Reuschling wonders if other residents simply didn't notice flyers among all the yard sale and lost dog signs that pepper the east-of-downtown neighborhood. And, anyway, a flyer advertising a "sidewalk meeting" didn't grab her attention because she has no objections to a sidewalk.

Haluska says the bulb-outs are primarily to provide green space and will eliminate, at most, just one parking space. The bulb-out in front of Willson's house won't take up her entire frontage, he says.

Reuschling is hesitant to comment on plans she hasn't seen– and she thinks that's the problem. "I'm really upset the city didn't let us know," she says.

Sidewalks on Chesapeake Street were first requested in 2001 as part of the Woolen Mills capital improvement plan. The $30K allotted by the city that year didn't cover sidewalks– nor did it the next year and the next.

As a result, says Haluska, the city has changed the way it does neighborhood capital improvements, pooling money for projects individual neighborhoods can't afford. With the green-space bulb-outs, the Chesapeake Street sidewalk project is pegged at $250,000.

"Every time I go to a meeting about Woolen Mills," Haluska says, "Chesapeake sidewalks come up– every single time."

As president of the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association, Allison Ewing hears a lot about traffic. So while working with the city to get sidewalks, "We said, okay, let's put that [capital improvement fund] toward traffic calming," she explains.

Another concern she hears is that sidewalks will change Woolen Mills' rural feel. "The planting strips and bulb-outs enhance the rural feel," says Ewing, who is developing a row of modern houses on nearby Riverside Avenue.

About 30 neighbors showed up at the November 29 meeting, Ewing estimates, and endorsed the bulb-out plan by a show of hands. "People who object most to that are people who front onto the bulb-out," she says. "People want them, but just don't want them in front of their house."

"I'm curious if the person requesting this is having it done in front of their house," says Reuschling from the other end of Chesapeake Street. "People affected by this haven't had a chance to voice our opinion."

"I wish we could please everyone, but it's the greater good of the neighborhood versus individual concerns of property owners," says Ewing. "I support the bulb-outs for the greater good."

Eleanor Willson does not plan to give the city the 20-foot temporary easement it requested to tie driveways in with the sidewalk.

That won't necessarily stop the bulb-out. Says Haluska, "The bulb-outs are in the public right of way, so we don't need easements for them."

City planning manager Angela Tucker met with Reuschling and her neighbors at her house January 23. According to attendee Kevin Cox, Tucker agreed to provide five different options– including the neighbors' favorite, speed humps– upon which the residents of the Meade Park end of Chesapeake Street may vote.

You snooze, you lose: Eleanor Willson discovers that by not attending Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association Meetings, she may end up with a parking-space-eating bulb-out in front of her house.