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President's letter to Mayor Caravati Regarding Progression of Parking Garage Project

June 14, 2002

Dear Mayor Caravati:

I write in response to your letter of May 21, 2002, about the Emmet Street/Ivy Road parking garage and your proposal for non-binding arbitration on issues related to the garage.

The University and the City have worked together over many years on issues large and small, including some about which people have disagreed. By and large, we have found ways to solve problems as they have appeared. We have respected each other's authorities and responsibilities. Until recently, we have had a long tradition of timely and constructive responses to proposals of mutual interest and also of close cooperation in planning when such proposals have been made. The cooperation has existed at the level of the PACC and also at the staff level. And until recent weeks this continual cooperation has been openly acknowledged in statements made to the public, statements that have done much to engage residents and others in timely and constructive dialogues about how best to address hard issues.

With others here, I have thought long and hard about your letter, and I have studied the garage and related issues carefully. I am grateful to you for writing. I offer this response in hope that the progress made over the last 15 or so years will continue. We need to explore how we can accomplish objectives consistent with State law and policies, even when we differ. I think this is especially so when these laws and policies govern both the City and the University.

History over the last 15 months is relevant. We originally informed the City of our intention to build the parking garage on the Emmet Street/Ivy Road site in a PACC meeting held in the basement conference room of the City Hall on February 15, 2001. Since that date, we have continually consulted the City on matters of mutual interest. And prior to your letter of April 24, 2002, to Mr. Sandridge, you gave us no reason to understand that any dispute about this project existed. We received no official (or for that matter, unofficial) communication of City Council's concern within a reasonable time after February 15, 2001 (or for that matter in November 2001, when Mr. Anderson [the University's architect responsible for physical planning] gave the City the final calculation of the garage's parking capacity). In the 13+ months during which City officials actively participated in the garage project and no City official expressed opposition to it, the design/build process did what it was intended by the State to do: it moved the project expeditiously through the appropriate steps leading up to the contracting process, and indeed into that process.

Our first knowledge that City Council had an opinion about this project came in a letter addressed to Mr. Sandridge and dated April 24, 2002. Throughout the 13+ months that transpired between February 15, 2001, and the date of this letter, City officials and representatives worked steadily and collegially with our personnel to adapt the plan to minimize possible negative consequences and optimize the benefits from it. You acknowledged this long period of collaborative work in your letter of April 24, 2002: "Admittedly, City representatives have been involved in the discussion of parking issues affecting the University and the Charlottesville community for some months, and the Ivy Road site was identified as the location of a new garage last year."

Acting publicly, after giving prior notice, and within its customary and lawful authority, the University's Board of Visitors carried out its statutory duties and determined the location and size of the garage. Still, many issues remain open, and they relate directly to how this project and several subsequent projects will affect both the University and the surrounding neighborhoods and zones.

All of these issues require and deserve our joint attention. They include how best to plan daily construction work schedules; how best to control traffic flow; how to place and synchronize traffic lights and other traffic control devices (perhaps including no-left or no-right-turn signs, neighborhood-traffic-only signs, and any number of other mechanisms); how and where to allow vehicles to enter and leave the garage; what changes to make in existing traffic routes or patterns; and how to enhance the building's aesthetic design, particularly in light of our long-ago announced intention to build future dormitories on the street sides of the site. They include also how best to address (one hopes, to satisfy) specific concerns raised by neighbors or others who take interest in these issues.

Throughout these 15 months, regular communications about the site and construction plans have continued between University and City representatives: Mr. Sandridge, Mr. Anderson, and other University administrators; and you, Mr. O'Connell (the City manager), Mr. Watts (the City's director of economic development and your designated representative for this and other arena-related projects), Mr. Tolbert (the City's director of neighborhood development services), and other City officials. Meetings of particular note include Mr. Anderson's Master Plan presentation on October 9, 2001, to a joint meeting of the City Planning Commission, City Council, and interested community members; a November 13, 2001, personal briefing by Mr. Sandridge for you and Mr. O'Connell; and three separate meetings in December 2001 concerning traffic studies for the garage and the arena. The City had ample opportunities to express concerns or to request non-binding arbitration about the garage location well before the project reached a contracted status and before final approval of the General Assembly (March 9, 2002) and the Board of Visitors (April 6, 2002).

In addition to the sequence of City/University working sessions over the last 15 months, Lewis Mountain neighborhood residents have worked with us and are working with us on landscape design, lighting, and storm water management, and they have continued to do so in recent days.

The joint working group has held three productive meetings, the most recent on June 4. We originally requested meetings with the neighbors by email on December 10, 2001, three months before the General Assembly took up this issue.

This summary of events adds up to this conclusion: the necessary discussions to which you refer have been in progress for well over a year, and both City officials and neighbors have continued them since you wrote on April 24, 2002. The "meaningful dialogue and City input" you recommended in that letter is taking place. In recent months, it has included reasonable requests from City officials for additional information about the storm water management plan and for an expanded traffic study. We have involved the City exactly as agreed in the Three-Party Agreement. We believe that you agreed for more than a year with the propriety of this way of proceeding.

Two matters involving earlier history: My own knowledge of Lewis Mountain Road neighborhood interest in the development of University-related and University facilities extends back in time to the late 1970s. At that time, a group of my former neighbors on Lewis Mountain Road and Cameron Lane approached me about Alumni Hall's plan to expand. They feared traffic and noise.

Conversations with the Alumni Association's leaders led to two design elements that have served everyone well: wide parking lots with some visual shielding behind the building, and a no-right-turn sign at the exit onto Lewis Mountain Road. Residents of the neighborhood have mentioned Alumni Hall in recent days as an example of good proximate development.

In the early 1990s, both Mr. Sandridge and I heard from and worked with neighborhood leaders on the traffic plan for the Newcomb Hall parking garage, then much criticized as an architectural monstrosity and a traffic hazard. This building, too, is now cited as an example of good development. Mr. Sandridge and the neighbors met on several occasions to resolve differences, and they succeeded. The solution was a modification of the garage's design, coupled with strategic placement of entrances and exits as a means to keep traffic away from streets leading into the neighborhood. The neighborhood in 2002 has less University traffic than at any time in my own memory, and far less than in times when I have lived there. Analogous approaches to the Emmet Street/Ivy Road parking garage can both relieve concerns currently expressed about it and (as these two prior projects have) enhance life in the neighborhood.

The Three-Party Agreement provides for non-binding arbitration to resolve "disputes" among the signatories. Your request to arbitrate the City's "recommendations" relates to no dispute that existed prior to your letter of April 24, 2002. That is, it reflects no objection or doubt expressed when we originally presented the project to you in the PACC, and no dispute previously disclosed in public or in private to the dozens of University personnel who have worked on a daily basis with City personnel to address the issues that we routinely address together when one entity or the other proceeds from a statement of intent to build the project itself.

Your letter is not entirely clear on the point, but we believe that you may wish to move to arbitration on your proposal that the University submit this project to the City's rezoning and site selection process. If so, I must respond (consistent, no doubt, with advice you must have received from your lawyers) that the Three-Party Agreement does not call for this extralegal procedure for properties in Area A, which includes the parcel in question. Accordingly, a proposal to submit this matter to local regulatory review is simply inappropriate and ill-timed.

The Code of Virginia determines which entities have authority to approve which public agency projects. The Code does not provide for localities to pass judgment on State agency construction projects. On the other hand, we are subject to considerable State oversight, agency approvals, and regulation—lines of accountability that are, if anything, stricter than those the City imposes on itself. The Virginia General Assembly and the Governor authorized this project in the customary manner on request of the Board of Visitors, which itself acted after giving the appropriate public notice. The University sought all three of these approvals well after initially informing the City of the intended project.

With respect to your second question, the Three-Party Agreement provides that the University shall "[n]ot accept transfer of land to be used for investment purposes from the Real Estate Foundation to itself primarily for the purpose of avoiding the application of the City's and County's land use laws and regulations or taxation." You may have identified some subtlety that I have not, but in any event the transfer of ownership from the Foundation to the University in no sense involves accepting land "to be used for investment purposes." In truth, we never had an obligation to hold this land as Foundation property (and thus to pay taxes to you on it) because it never was an investment property.

Since first acquired, the parcel has been intended for educational uses. Parts of it have been used for current University purposes all along. We never offered the land for sale, never proposed it as a site for commercial development, indeed never did anything to imply that we were seeking to extract value and profit from it. Rather, we have gone the extra mile to benefit the City and avoid any suggestion of avoiding taxes: The Foundation paid local taxes for no fewer than 13 years while holding the land for future University use. The decision to build the garage on the northern border of the property and to begin active planning for dormitories to be built along Ivy Road confirms these educational purposes.

Because the contention within your second request contradicts the facts (that is, because the issue now and ongoing is educational use, not an investment), we decline to enter into arbitration on this matter. If you believe that somehow this site is not being developed as publicly represented and is instead "used for investment purposes" by the University and was transferred "primarily to avoid payment of local taxes or local land use laws," please let me have supporting information so that we can review it together. I am entirely open to being persuaded if you have information to suggest that the University has some undisclosed investment interest in the property.

With regard to your third question: This project is not a major facility as that term has been used in dealings between the City and the University, a matter that all parties have accepted from the beginning of our joint work on it. The new Darden School is a major project. The Scott Stadium project was, and the new arena and arts buildings will be. Parking garages (including one of the size of this one) generally have not been. Accordingly, the study you mention in this question is not required. On the other hand, we have kept the City informed from the beginning (i.e., the February 15, 2001, PACC meeting) until now of our internal decision-making, we have included City officials in our working groups, and we will continue these practices because they benefit everyone. No one objected to the project or its general classification at that time or requested further information at that meeting, or even at the PACC meeting hosted by the City on November 15, 2001.

In the course of a review of this project undertaken as background for this letter, I have come to believe that the ongoing debate (replete with references to a "battleground" and a "monstrosity") would benefit by a thoughtful review of what the University is actually doing here.
About the garage and the site, these observations seem important to me: (1) The garage is at no point on or even near either street. An established business on a deep lot separates it from Emmet Street. The future plan calls for other University development to take the place of this business. Relatively dense trees stand between the garage and Ivy Road. The plan calls for preserving those trees for the immediate future and then building dormitories between the garage and Ivy Road. (2) The garage will not be the tallest building on this block when it is built.

The existing Cavalier Inn is slightly taller. (3) At the parcel's widest part, on the east end, the garage occupies no more than _ of its width from north to south. At the parcel's narrowest part, the garage occupies approximately 1/3. Ivy Road is on the property's southern boundary. The garage is placed as near as possible to the railroad track, which is on the northern boundary.

I am enclosing two architect's representations of how this site is likely to look when once the planned dormitories along the street fronts are built. One is a ground plan. The other is an elevation. These sketches may help explain the larger project, but they will also demonstrate just how far back from the two streets the garage actually is and also just how wide the existing (and to-be-preserved) woodland actually is. You may find it useful to take these sketches to the site and pace off the actual distances from the streets as well as estimate the eventual street-side scale of the dormitories. My sense is that working with these materials may make the entire project more understandable and admirable than it may now seem.

One of several Lewis Mountain neighborhood residents who have contacted us to say that they do not agree with those who currently represent themselves as neighborhood leaders asked to have his name removed from a petition. "I signed it on the basis of oral arguments…" he wrote, "[b]ut I have since gone to look at the site, and I now find that many of the petitioners' arguments against it are invalid." Elsewhere in his letter, this writer observes of the parcel that "There is probably no perfect solution, but the proposed garage is at least a rational one." Another writer, addressing his letter to a state-wide elected official, described the controversy about the garage as "a local politically driven issue that is already being handled by the University in a fiscally and publicly responsible manner."

These comments seem eminently sensible to me. I urge you to hear them, get beyond the oral arguments, take the sketches enclosed with this letter to the site, and think some more about where the City's, the neighborhood's, and the University's best interests lie.


John T. Casteen III