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January 15, 2012

Hollymead movie theater falls through; Town center continues to fill out

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DailyProgressBy Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, January 15, 2012

Despite the recent fizzling of plans to open a state-of-the-art 12 screen movie theater, Hollymead Town Center developer Wendell Wood is confident in the market’s continued interest in the development.

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He cites four new buildings providing 265,000 square feet of commercial space that are going up next to Kohl’s and says that he is seeing “pretty good demand” from prospective tenants.

“I should think people would be pretty impressed with what’s going on [at Hollymead Town Center] right now,” Wood said.

Even after receiving an approval from the Albemarle County Planning Commission for a larger movie theater, Great Escape Theatres has given up on the project.

“It’s died from inaction,” said Mark Graham, Albemarle’s director of community development, noting that the applicant failed to submit its final paperwork.

Wood identified a different culprit, saying that the theater would not accept the county’s favored traffic pattern in front of the proposed building site. He said that another movie theater has expressed interest in the location but that they also thought that the county’s traffic demands were inappropriate for a cinema.

[The neighborhood model] is a tough model to meet,” said Wood. “The density that the county wanted requires parking decks … It’s probably a little early for that. We’re not Manhattan yet.”

The expanded building footprint that the Planning Commission approved for the movie theater will now be available for a larger retailer in that location.

The Hollymead Town Center was one of the first projects approved after the county adopted the neighborhood model, which requires denser, mixed use developments in the county’s growth areas.

Mark Graham said that, as an early adopter, this meant the development was not required to follow the model too closely, though he added that the final section, which would have contained the movie theater, hewed closer to the model.

“It’s a bit of a stretch to say that [the Hollymead Town Center] is truly neighborhood model,” Graham said. “It follows some of the principles, but not all of the principles.”

Residents of the Abington Place townhouses said they do appreciate the neighborhood model’s emphasis on mixed use and walkability.

“It’s kind of nice to have everything within walking distance to you,” Nancy Bingler said recently as she waited for her child’s school bus.

While a large proportion of the development’s retail spaces are already built out, much more residential housing is in the pipeline. Close to 1,000 more homes stand approved, and Wood said that another hundred townhomes will be ready to be approved within two months.

County residents should not expect to see all of that housing anytime soon, however. Wood called the development, which had its first building open in 2005, a “15-year project.”

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Much of the wait will likely be simply for the housing market to recover, as Albemarle’s Graham said that nearly all the proffers, or promised improvements, for the development have been satisfied.

Town Center Drive was one of the proffered connector roads, and that opened this summer to link U.S. Route 29 and Dickerson Road next to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.

The road sports a large sign reading, “Mr. Wood, thank you for the new road and Kohl’s!” signed “Your friends and supporters.”

A central north-south road in the development, Meeting Street, remains unopened because its north end is still unbuilt by the developer of that section of the project, Dr. Charles Hurt. The road will eventually connect to Berkmar Drive Extended.

“We’re trying to push on Dr. Hurt right now so we can get that finished and get that road open,” Graham said.

Hurt said that he did not know when that part of the road would be finished, but added that he had not promised the county to build the road by any certain date.

“I don’t have any unfulfilled proffers,” Hurt said.

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