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Is City Hall diverting the diverter issue? … 

Street Talk

Diverter's Calming Effect QuestionedHRF Lost Director Before Canceling ToursAnchors Crash R-Braves GameMeet 'Em in Church: More to Choose FromCity Chef to the Rescue: Maxwell Cooks at Camp

Diverter's Calming Effect Questioned

Mayor Tim Kaine has talked it to death. And now it's bound to be talked about some more.

Six months after the city set up the controversial traffic diverter at Ryland and West Grace streets, a study of just how effective it has been is in the hands of at least a few city workers. But those in the know aren't talking until it's official. And that, says Bill Farrar, public relations and e-citizen project manager with the city's department of public works, is a little ways off.

"The data-gathering phase has been completed," says Farrar. "But it has not been fully summarized or submitted to our department director for review." Until then, the report's findings are sealed. That's likely OK with Kaine, who isn't exactly champing at the bit for the results. Kaine could not be reached for comment.

Still, some say they know already what the report will show, and what Kaine and some city officials fear: that the diverter is useless.

Since the 6-inch curb was erected Jan. 12 it has caused much controversy between supporters in the West Grace Street Association, who claim the obstacle is necessary to curtail the traffic from nearly 8,000 commuters daily. Detractors in the Fan District Association and Monument Avenue Preservation Society worry it only reroutes traffic to their residential streets.

But recently it's become more than an issue between neighborhood groups sparring over which street should bear the burden of westbound traffic.

"It's a huge problem," says Carolyn Clark, an administrative assistant at St. John's United Church of Christ. Now diverted traffic is turning left onto Ryland, and cutting through the alley adjacent to the church. The alley divides the church from its parking lot on Lombardy Street.

"We have an elderly congregation," says Clark. "A number of people have almost been hit," she says about the increased number and speed of cars using the alley as a street alternative. Clark says the church's pastor has written a letter to Kaine. Clark says she's even heard the diverter is coming down.

But the city's Farrar says any talk of that is, so far, premature.

On a recent afternoon from 5 to 6 p.m., Style recorded 187 vehicles approaching the intersection at West Grace and Ryland streets.

Thirty-eight turned left at the diverter and right into the alley that runs next to St. John's. Six police cars drove through the intersection - one illegally circumventing the diverter. A white SUV, only one car ahead from a police cruiser, ignored the diverter without consequence and darted down Grace. Seven others did the same in an hour's time, including the police car and a U.S. postal truck.

Brandon Walters

HRF Lost Director Before Canceling Tours

Historic Richmond Foundation Executive Director Chandler Battaile Jr. has resigned amid conflict among board members about the future of the city's premier preservation group, sources say.

The foundation announced last week it would stop hosting tours of historic city sites and would reassess its priorities. It did not announce that its executive director had resigned only weeks before.

Battaile resigned in late June, he and board chairman Mary Jane Hogue say.

"The board and I had some significant differences on management and operations issues," Battaile says, declining to elaborate. "I'm very regretful that the tour program is going to close, but I understand the board's decision."

Hogue says canceling the tours - "the most painful thing we've ever had to do" - was unrelated to Battaile's resignation. She says they were canceled because they were unprofitable and because the Valentine Museum and James River Bus Lines would take them up. While the tours drained time and money, Hogue and others say the foundation's fiscal health is not in question. (Battaile, for one, says he plans to "remain a donor and supporter.")

Hogue says Battaile resigned for "personal reasons" such as time demands.

"I think he thought we were a busy group. We do a lot and we want to continue to do a lot for the city." For example: "It was unbelievable how much time" HRF staff spent to help keep the antebellum Superior Warehouse in Shockoe Bottom from being destroyed for a planned grocery store, she says.

Sources say HRF is trying to find its focus in light of increased development in historic areas and the proliferation of preservation groups here. Hogue says the board met last week and is making a list of priorities for future endeavors.

Hogue says HRF expects to hire a new executive director "sooner [rather] than later. We actually have some possible strong candidates who are interested." HRF also needs to hire a development director, she says.

Battaile, 34, joined the foundation in November 1998 as development director and was named interim executive director in January 1999. He became executive director in July 1999.

Rob Morano

Anchors Crash R-Braves Game

"It's a misunderstanding," says News 6 anchor Ray Collins. "We apologize for any inconvenience and we wish the Braves well this season."

Collins' contrition comes after a July 4 faux pas in which he and co-anchor Stephanie Rochon reportedly used their rising-star status to get into the sold-out AAA baseball game. Sources say they angered staff at The Diamond by parking and sitting in unauthorized places and by using their business cards as tickets.

Collins and his boss, News Director Rob Cizek, did not address specific allegations. "There was a misunderstanding that night that occurred between Ray and the policies with the Braves," says Cizek, who "subsequently learned that the Braves were unhappy this had taken place."

Braves Assistant General Manager Ken Clary and spokesman Todd Feagans declined to comment, though Feagans acknowledged there was a "situation."

"We have spoken with Ray and he has apologized to the Braves," Cizek adds. "Stephanie was there" but the incident "primarily involved Ray."

"It's certainly nothing that is ever going to happen again."

Cizek hopes the incident won't hamper News 6's recent ratings success: "There are some huge changes that have taken place here," he reminds, including a new newsroom, weather center and Doppler radar, and a move to all-digital news gathering.

Not to mention Collins and Rochon, who joined the station last year. Cizek attributes the incident to Collins' familiarity with getting in free to minor-league ballgames in Buffalo: "It's very obvious to him that things are different here."

R.M.

Meet 'Em in Church: More to Choose From

Richmond's Christian and Jewish leaders say they're not surprised "church" ranks as the best place to meet Ms. or Mr. Right in Style's latest "Best of Richmond" poll. For one thing, they say, there's a larger selection from which to choose.

Attendance is up at church and synagogue services here, part of a national trend, Richmond's religious leaders say. The increased attendance and other positive conditions - a good economy, more young families and reasonable construction costs - have led to a building boom at local houses of worship.

At St. Paul's Catholic Church in North Side, for example, the first expansion of the church in 50 years is underway. The $2.3 million project comes as St. Paul's adds an average two to three families a week to its membership, says administrator Wayne Snellings.

Larger and smaller projects at other churches abound, sources say. Catholic churches are benefiting from an influx of northerners and Hispanics to the area, diocese spokesman Father Pat Apuzzo says. Episcopalian and Presbyterian ministers also report growth.

Rev. Ben Sparks of downtown's Second Presbyterian Church, which is also seeking to accommodate increased attendance, says the confluence of good economic times and greater churchgoing is surprising - and "usually the reverse. Normally when things are bad people flock to the churches."

Leaders of other churches, and of Congregation Beth Ahabah, Congregation Or Atid, Keneseth Beth Israel and Temple Beth-El, say they're also seeing more of the faithful and cite increases in everything from youth interest to ethnic pride.

"In terms of cultural analysis, folks are saying there is a renewed spiritual interest, even in popular culture," says Richmond Baptist Association Executive Director Bob Perry, who points to the popularity of TV's "Touched by an Angel" and sales of books on spirituality. Perry adds people are returning to religion after losing faith in the ability of science, government and technology to answer their deepest questions: "None of that stuff has solved the human problem."

R.M.

City Chef to the Rescue: Maxwell Cooks at Camp

Camp Baker didn't get its name for any culinary reason, but the Chesterfield County retreat for the disabled has one now.

Chef Maxwell Restaurant's John Maxwell and his staff have stepped in to prepare three meals a day for the camp's expected summer enrollment of more than 700 mentally and physically disabled adults and children.

When the camp's original cook left suddenly, Maxwell became "my knight in shining armor," says Barbara Garner, human resources director for the Richmond Area Association for Retarded Citizens. "We were running out of pizza and down to PB&J."

She met Maxwell at a Science Museum benefit two years ago and knew he was active in charitable causes: "He's just a good community person." Garner says she called him for counsel when the first cook departed, hoping at most for a few assistant chefs to pitch in for a few days.

Instead, she got the whole shebang: Maxwell called the Virginia Chefs Association, which agreed to adopt the camp and meet its culinary needs in future summers - provided Maxwell and his staff of five handled the first June-to-August session.

But campers won't be nibbling the chef's East Virginia Crab Cakes or Baked Brie Tenderloin: "It's a tough time just getting food into them," he says. "I'm here right now in the middle of dishing up lunch for the kids."

Tops on the menu: "Spaghetti."

R.M.
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