The team hired by the city to plan the future of the area between Interstate 95 and Chamberlayne Avenue had a simple message for residents last week: Dream big.
Home to Virginia Union University, the space feels more like a giant industrial park than a college neighborhood. While residents list civic pride and family ties among the area's strengths, motels and one-way streets give it a less-than-neighborly appearance.
"There's so much happening in this city, but nothing here," says Urban Design Associates Vice President Paul Ostergaard, who led last week's planning meetings. "It's like the hole in the doughnut."
The center of it is North Lombardy Street and Seminary Avenue, where a barren grass patch anchors an intersection flanked by a half-dozen auto shops, an abandoned gas station, an animal hospital and a day care center.
"We're kind of a throughway," Edgehill Civic Association Vice President Danene Brown says. "There's not really a destination that brings us together."
Ostergaard envisions a restaurant where the abandoned gas station stands, new shops with tree-lined streets, a small park, bike lanes and more parking.
Simple upkeep would go a long way, residents said, complaining that the city long has allowed sidewalks to fall apart, lights to burn out and trees go untrimmed.
Upkeep could begin tomorrow, Ostergaard says. The final designs will go to City Council for approval in September and will be incorporated into the master planning process.
Brown says she's eager to see the city focusing on the area, even if large-scale improvement is years away. "Looking at it now," she says of the design, "it's hard to believe we've never had this."