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February 27, 2012

New hotel planned for corner at West Main & Ridge McIntire

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DailyProgressBy Courtney Beale
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, February 27, 2012

The corner of West Main Street and Ridge McIntire has been the location of several speculative development proposals, including condominiums and a CVS drugstore. Now developers are preparing to submit plans to the city of Charlottesville for an eight-story Marriott Residence Inn.

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The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review met last week for a preliminary discussion about the plans.

BAR members shared concerns about how redesigning this area may impact the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Chairman Syd Knight noted, “[this corner] is the lifeblood of Charlottesville … and anything we can do to reinforce that is going to be beneficial.”

Current business owners at the site said they chose the Random Row Warehouse area to begin their businesses because of the cultural amenities.

“I feel like my business is wedded to West Main Street … I love the feel,” said Cat Thrasher, owner of Cat Thrasher Photography, in an interview. “It’s very different from the Downtown Mall. It’s got a lot of soul.”

“I looked at this location as a great incubator for my business,” said Tara Koenig, owner of Sweethaus Cupcakes and Candy. “If I can stay in the West Main Street area, I know the [pedestrian activity] will be good for [Sweethaus].”

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While the business owners at the Random Row Warehouse realize that the development could ultimately bring a positive influence to West Main by helping to connect the area to the Downtown Mall and the University of Virginia, they say they hate to see the charismatic warehouse go.

“The key thing being lost here is authenticity,” Thrasher said.

The Board of Architectural Review indicated it finds the recent plans desirable. However, the board raised some concerns about the design of the building.

Questions included how well a building of that height would fit into the surrounding landscape. Board members were cautiously supportive of the architect pursuing a special-use permit to change the zoning to allow for an eighth floor.

“I’m thinking an extra floor on top of that that would really have to be carefully done. This is going to be a big chunk of building facade … We’re going to have to be careful in pulling that off, designing that gracefully, because it is going to be very visible for a very long time,” Knight said.

“It doesn’t look to me like they’re exceeding the 45-foot height. What they’re changing is the number of interior floors,” said Mary Joy Scalla, preservation and design planner for the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

The plan includes an eight-story hotel, a 103-vehicle parking garage that will be accessed from Fourth Street and Ridge McIntire, commercial retail along the street, a courtyard and a 36-vehicle surface parking lot.

Other concerns included how the building will contribute to the downtown feel of the area. In an effort to remedy this, Paul Lague, architect with Marriot Residence Inn’s contractor, LLW Architects Inc., has designed two smaller buildings along the street that will provide commercial retail space.

Special attention will also be paid to ensuring that the corner of the building does not impede the circulation of pedestrians and that the courtyard does not become an unused space.

“This intersection in town should be treated differently than the blocks leading into it, and what we’re trying to do with street walls are different a block away in any [other] direction,” said Michael Osteen, the city Planning Commission’s representative on the BAR.

“Clearly, all your guests are going to arrive by car … but I think we would really want to promote them coming and going as pedestrians out of this courtyard,” Osteen said.

Keeping the footprint of the hotel within the property lines was also a worry of the board, as well as having room to enhance and widen the sidewalks. Approaching the property lines of neighbors could also infringe on other businesses in the area.

“I think that we’re going to get to the property line, or pretty doggone close to it,” Lague said. “I believe a lot is going to depend upon how wide the sidewalks are that we are going to have to put back into the program.”

In spite of these concerns, the board said it is supportive of the project and its vision.

“I think for a middle-market project, I think it is kind of amazingly simple and sophisticated at the same time,” Osteen said.

City planners say they have not yet received an application for the project, thus the timing of the city’s review is uncertain, but the developers hope to keep it moving along.

“Everything else we’ve designed so far is a by-right use, so even if we don’t get [the special-use permit], we would like to move ahead,” Lague said in an interview.

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