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A disputed traffic study used to support the plan to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom emerged as a key topic Tuesday in one of the most detailed discussions of the development proposal to occur yet in Richmond City Council chambers.
Community activist Rick Tatnall has told the council he believes the traffic study is a "sham" that relies on outdated and flawed information -- and he reiterated that position Tuesday --but city officials stood by their conclusion that the early analysis shows that Shockoe's infrastructure is equipped to handle any added strain.
The ballpark plan also moved one step closer to a vote next week as the council's Land Use, Housing and Transportation Committee voted to forward to the full council a new resolution introduced by Mayor Dwight C. Jones. The committee forwarded the measure with no recommendation.
Several council members have said they need more information before they can render a decision. Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall said Tuesday that the modified resolution that seeks council support for "continuing negotiations" is designed to provide just that by firming up details of the various deals that need to be struck and bringing them back to the council.
"Right now, we're kind of sitting in limbo," said Marshall, who asked council members to strike the Shockoe resolution introduced shortly after the mayor announced his plan in November.
One detail discussed Tuesday was whether a preliminary traffic study done by the Timmons Group last year paints a reliable picture of traffic conditions with the new development.
The Timmons study suggests that a more formal traffic analysis be conducted as the plan develops. City officials have said they believe the traffic could be handled, and that a more costly study would only be necessary later in the process.
The study states that existing intersections could handle the extra 7,500 daily vehicle trips estimated to come with development around the stadium, but it doesn't specifically address traffic coming to and from baseball games.
"Because there is no single parking destination, it is impractical to estimate the specific traffic movements associated with visitors to the stadium," the study states.
The study assumed that stadium patrons would arrive and depart during off-peak hours, and it was "generally agreed" that studying the morning and evening peak hours would suffice. Tom Flynn, the city traffic engineer, said the morning peak hours are from about 7:30-8:30 a.m., while the afternoon rush hour is from roughly 4:30-5:45 p.m.
"Pretty much, rush hour in Shockoe Bottom area is well over by 6 o'clock," Flynn said, adding that the city's position is that if the grid can handle the rush-hour traffic, the other hours will "take care of themselves."
Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, pointed out that, according to the home schedule of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, most weeknight games begin at about 6:30 p.m.
"So you really have a small window there that I think the traffic analysis is assuming that the area will clear out before that traffic arrives," Agelasto said.
The Timmons study also looked at a previous version of the mayor's plan.
The proposal described in the study involves 300 apartments, 150,000 square feet of office space, a 55,000-square-foot grocery store, 2,500 square feet of food and drink retail space and 7,500 square feet of general retail space.
The version of the mayor's plan now up for consideration is much heavier on residential, involving 750 apartments, a hotel with more than 100 rooms, a 65,000-square-foot grocery store and a historical site commemorating the slave trade that officials hope will draw tourism.
Tatnall, who ran against Jones for mayor in 2012 but dropped out of the race several months before the election, has also noted that the study relied on 2008 traffic volumes that were not adjusted upward to account for new development in the Bottom since then.
"This study does not look at what needs to be looked at to be able to say that Shockoe Bottom can handle this," Tatnall said.
The study says that some traffic counts conducted last May were "comparable" to the 2008 data, which made it unnecessary to project for growth.
Flynn said that even though details may vary, valid projections can be made with a reasonable idea of what the development will entail.
"We can fairly accurately predict those needs," Flynn said.
At another point in Tuesday's discussion, Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, asked about the $4.4 million the city has estimated for acquisition of the needed Shockoe land, most of which is owned by the Loving family.
"I guess the question is: Have we negotiated the deals so that the city has site control so we know that somebody doesn't say 'Well, now I think the land is worth $10 million?'" Baliles said.
Marshall said the deal will "die" if the city is asked to pay more than the fair market value.
"We believe that we will get a fair price," Marshall said. "We will not allow them to jack the price up because they're the only game in town."
The new council resolution, which was introduced Feb. 10 and is scheduled to be considered by the full council Monday, sets a deadline of March 27 for various land, development and parking agreements to be in place.
If the council authorizes further negotiations, Marshall said, the deals would be brought back for consideration in late March or early April.
The modified resolution is scheduled to be heard by the council's Finance and Economic Development Committee on Thursday.