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Parking or Parks?

Site Plans Debated

But what of history and aesthetics? asks Ralph White, manager of the James River Park system. "This is the heart of our regrowing city," White says. He adds, "When the city takes it, the city needs to design it to meet the needs of citizens as well as tourists."

City Council is scheduled to make a decision on the trade Oct. 14. It shouldn't be a controversial matter, says John Woodward, the city's director of economic development.

White is concerned, however. Overzealous paving will erase the site's beauty, White says, as he fears may happen on Brown's Island, and it could force out the fishermen who have come there for decades. He suggests council members consider a small park along the river.

A 30-foot margin of green space is planned, says Edwin Gaskin, the city's deputy director of economic development — "as far as the parking lot will allow for it."

The riverfront reshuffling that led to the city's plans for a parking lot began in March. Railroad company Norfolk Southern sold a prime parcel of land just south of the Turning Basin to undisclosed buyers, who people in the area say include grocery-store magnate Jim Ukrop, developer Ivor Massey and Highwoods Properties, a real-estate investment trust.

But by selling the land, the railroad company lost something it had prized for years — a scenic place to park a luxury rail car it uses to entertain legislators while the General Assembly is in session.

So the city offered to provide an alternate home for the rail car, Woodward says: the former Gordon Metals site, now owned by the city. The site, a narrow strip of land along the south side of the canal just east of 14th Street, has been chosen by local developers as the future home of a multifamily apartment building with ground-level retail stores.

Working with the city, the developers were willing to rearrange their plans to build a railroad spur on which to park Norfolk Southern's car, Woodward says. "It's kind of a win-win for everybody." — M.S.S.

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