The Downtown Master Plan, which was published in July 2009, contains so many wonderful ideas and projects with potential for the riverfront. One involves the creation of a waterfront park on Chapel Island, located on the north bank of the James between the 14th Street Takeout and Great Shiplock Park.
City of Richmond planning director Rachel O. Flynn her top deputy, Brooke Hardin, have resigned from their positions. According to a column from the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Michael Paul Williams, “she realized that our riverfront needs green space and greater public access more than it needs another vista-blocking midrise….She was a visionary in a city that, frankly, has been bereft of vision and boldness.”
Flynn and Hardin guided the update of the city’s Downtown Master Plan. Where does their departures leave Richmond’s riverfront plans? I have recently been reviewing the plan — purely by coincidence — but there are several fascinating proposals.
The idea of the Chapel Island plan is to connect the park through greenways and trails on the river side of the floodwall, which could be relatively inexpensive to accomplish and would be an essential key to river access downtown. See this map and description from the Downtown Master Plan:
Open Chapel Island to pedestrians and kayakers: Chapel Island, located south of Kanawha Canal, is currently used by the City of Richmond as an overflow storage area for the city’s combined sewer system and a rail siding for freight trains. Only the very eastern tip of the island is publicly accessible, via Great Shiplock Park. A system of loop trails should be created around the island, while still separating the general public from the combined sewer holding tank, future improvements related to the expansion of the holding tank, and rail sidings. Paths leading down from sidewalks along the 14th Street Bridge can provide pedestrian access through the floodwall and on to Chapel Island. Existing pedestrian openings in the floodwall underneath the I-95 overpass can be utilized to connect to a new bridge taking pedestrians and bicyclists over the Kanawha Canal and rail siding, connecting them to the system of trails on the south side of the island. A kayak take-out space should be located at the western tip of the island, just downstream from the end of the class IV rapids. Other elements of the proposed park for Chapel Island should include a small boat launch, rowing facilities, a usable surface for recreation on top of the combined sewer holding tank, river overlooks, open space for passive recreation, and trail connections to the rest of the proposed riverfront trail system.