The widening of Forest Hill Avenue has residents concerned that the plan will degrade the neighborhood without achieving its aims of better traffic flow and improved safety.
Clare Novak, one of the worried property owners, says 145 people have signed a petition against the city’s $12 million plan, which would widen the avenue, insert a median and add bicycle lanes between Powhite Parkway and Hathaway Road.
Their concerns aren’t unfounded, says Rachel Flynn, the outspoken former city planning director. She says such projects often lead to more owner-occupied housing slowly going rental, then commercial, while property values decline. “I don’t know that will happen, but we’ve seen that before,” she says.
The project reflects outdated methods of addressing traffic flow, says Flynn, who notes that a better solution would be to slow traffic down and encourage pass-through traffic to use nearby highways.
Some residents have accused Richmond City Council President Kathy Graziano of not listening adequately to neighborhood concerns. “It has not been a process where it’s been a collaboration,” Novak says. “It’s been strictly reactive. We’ve been presented with two plans, told to pick A or B, and that’s it.”
Graziano, who represents the Forest Hill area on council, says changes have been made to accommodate concerns about the project, which she says is needed. “The city has made a very strong effort to inform people about the meetings and the contents of the meetings,” says Graziano, also a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which has signed off on the project. “In many projects, as you get close to the decision-making time, that’s when people pay attention.”
Flynn suggests that if traffic counts increased on the stretch of Cary Street Road, west of Carytown, the road in that politically influential, affluent area wouldn’t be widened. “Those citizens would not tolerate it,” she says.
On June 9, the opposing residents received support from the Urban Design Committee, which recommended that the Planning Commission reject the proposal. The committee cited a dozen reasons, among them that traffic should be diverted out of neighborhoods. The Planning Commission was scheduled to consider the proposal June 20, but a vote has been postponed until July 18.
Residents aren’t opposed to change, Novak says: “We just want to see it done right, and we want to see this as something that adds value to our neighborhood. … Shouldn’t it be what your constituents want? What they think what’s right for their community?”