This image shows the proposed trail route in green. The red rectangle is the Maryland Farms Greenway.
By LANDON WOODROOF
A trail that would run through Maryland Farms, allowing walkers and bikers in this part of the city a new level of connectivity, came a little bit closer to reality Monday night.
The City Commission approved on first reading a plan that would lift certain restrictions on city-owned property in the area. This is the first of several steps to creating a new trail.
The city’s Bike and Pedestrian Ad Hoc Committee had promoted the construction of a trail cutting through the Maryland Farms Greenway that would link Granny White Pike to the Hill Center Brentwood and Town Center in a 2016 report. The report made a variety of arguments in favor of the trail. This included the possibility that it could help reduce traffic in Maryland Farms and enable kids from surrounding neighborhoods to bike more easily to school.
The Maryland Farms Greenway is a 20-acre stretch of land separating the Meadowlake and Iroquois Estates subdivisions from the offices and other developments on Virginia Way. The city gained possession of the land in the mid-1990s and zoned it as SI-3. SI-3 is the designation for parks and recreational space.
That zoning placed several special restrictions on the land, including prohibitions against “picnic tables, walking paths, athletic fields or facilities, restrooms, etc.”
City Manager Kirk Bednar explained that back then the city did not have much of a trail system. Commissioners put a priority on minimizing any activity on the greenway out of a concern for disrupting or compromising the safety of nearby residences.
Over the past 20 years, though, with the development of a more robust trail system on the east side of town, the city is more comfortable with the idea of trails near residential areas.
“It hasn’t become a safety problem in those areas,” Bednar said. “It is an amenity that adds to the value of the property in those neighborhoods that have that connectivity.”
City Commissioner Betsy Crossley agreed.
“We’ve seen good examples about how different paths around the city have really benefited the entire population,” she said.
Mayor Jill Burgin also spoke in favor of the trail.
“I think this is a good idea that came from our Bike and Pedestrian Committee,” she said. “I appreciate their creativity. Anything that adds a safe alternative for pedestrians in that area is a good thing. There are lots of amenities that weren’t there before that people want to get to.”
The ordinance presented Monday night would change several restrictions relating to the greenway. It would, for instance, allow trees to be removed that stand in the path of the trail. It would also allow people to walk on the trail after dark.
The main change, though, would be simply allowing for the construction of the trail on the greenway. Bednar said that average width of the greenway is 200 feet. He believes that the city should have no problem meeting regulations that would limit the trail to the northern boundary of the property, as far away from existing homes as possible.
The city held two community meetings on the subject of the trail for Meadowlake residents last fall. Bednar said the city got feedback from 16 of the 29 or so property owners whose land would back up to the trail. Of those, nine were in favor of the trail and seven were opposed. Residents from elsewhere in Meadowlake were more generally in favor of the trail.
James Selleh is one of the residents whose property abuts the greenway. He spoke in favor of the trail Monday night.
“My house backs up to this piece of land, and I will tell you that the thought of having use for that land after all these years is a great idea,” he said.
He said he had zero safety concerns related to the trail and thought, on the contrary, that the trail would improve the safety of residents who currently walk or ride their bikes along Williamsburg Road, which has no sidewalk.
“On this side of Brentwood, we’re kind of trail poor,” Selleh said. “This will give us a chance to have more trails to utilize.”
Richard Hunter, the chairman of the local group Bike Walk Brentwood and member of the Bike and Pedestrian Ad Hoc Committee, lives on Williamsburg Road and likewise spoke in favor of the trail.
“This proposed trail connecting Granny White Pike behind Virginia Way businesses to retail, the Maryland Farms YMCA, Maryland Way Park and the Hill Center is a key connector opportunity for the west side of Brentwood,” he said.
In addition to the opportunities the trail would afford local students to bike to school and local residents to walk or bike to the Town Center, it would also be a boon for Maryland Farms employees, Hunter said.
“This trail will also provide area businesses a great way for their employees to exercise and access city and retail services without getting in their car,” he said.
Since this is a rezoning ordinance, there are still several steps that need to be taken before the restrictions are lifted. The ordinance will be subject to a community meeting and a public hearing. It will also need to be considered by the Planning Commission and a second and final time by the City Commission before it becomes law.
The city’s latest Capital Improvements Program has earmarked $300,000 in FY 2018 and $150,000 in FY 2019 for construction should the City Commission ultimately vote to build the trail.