Amid challenges, Stonefield garners some positive feedback
The developers of the massive Stonefield project returned before the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board on Monday after receiving significant pushback from the board in recent meetings.
Representatives from Edens & Avant, the South Carolina-based development company overseeing Stonefield, attempted to resolve architectural concerns for the Trader Joe’s grocery store and other buildings facing U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road.
The ARB had frowned upon the building’s large blank walls, “big box” designs and inadequate color contrast and detailing.
All parties involved agreed that the project faced tremendous design challenges due to the conflict between the county’s Neighborhood Model emphasis on walkable, pedestrian–friendly developments and the ARB’s mission to ensure that buildings visible from the county’s entrance corridors reflect community character.
“The challenge is to create an inwardly focused development while still respecting the importance of the aesthetics on the exterior,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who was in attendance. “I think it’s the first time our architectural review board has had to deal with that challenge.”
The work session centered on the design of Trader Joe’s, which will be at the corner of Hydraulic and 29 and which will function as a “front door” to the development. The developers have added more color contrast, detailing around the top of the building and plant screens, and they have attempted to give a more layered appearance than the sheer blank rear wall typical of most grocery stores.
However, not all ARB members thought they attained this goal.
“Essentially, nothing has been addressed in a significant way I think to alleviate those issues,” said board member Paul Wright, who has been consistently critical of the Stonefield plans. “If this were an individual building and we were voting on it … I think I couldn’t vote to approve it.”
Other members disagreed and thought that the developers had handled an extremely challenging design task to the best of their abilities.
“Have you done what you can do to be appropriate in the entrance corridor given what you’ve got?” asked board member Fred Missel. “I guess I believe that you have.”
While the majority of ARB members voiced a desire for windows along Trader Joe’s south-facing wall, others said that adding more visual features could make the building’s exterior overly “busy.”
“You gotta know when to stop on a building,” said board member Bruce Wardell.
“The iterative process of the ARB approval has likely, if not certainly, added costs to the project and such costs will be passed on to tenants and eventually to consumers,” said Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum. “The question becomes, ‘does the Architectural Review Board have too much say with regard to buildings within view of the entrance corridor?’”
Developers also asked for a quick turnaround from the ARB, citing a desire to maintain construction activity while waiting for final approval.
“The longer we push out this [approval] date, we start getting to the point where we can’t do any more work onsite, and we just want to keep moving,” said Brad Dumont of Edens & Avant. “Because we need to have our site plan approved prior to the building plans being approved, we would like to … seek approval at the next meeting.”
Wright, though, said that an approval of the seven buildings in the current plans by Nov. 1 would virtually preclude a full staff review of the plans, setting a significant precedent.
“In reality, we’ll almost be going into final [review] without any additional comments from staff and that’s never been done,” Wright said.
Project developer Bill Caldwell said Edens & Avant will work to quickly provide county staff with all the necessary information to begin a staff report.
“I’m going to commit my team to getting her all the comments addressed by the end of the week so she’ll have those and we’ll move forward from there,” he said.
Rooker said he is excited for the project to be under way and that this sort of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development could lead to a better sense of place and less need for automobile use.
“The idea is create an area where some people can live, work and play and not have to get in their car every time they’re going to do something,” Rooker said.
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