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January 08, 2008

Council briefed on historic preservation efforts

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The Compton House on Maury Avenue, shortly before December 27, 2007
Photo: Bill Emory

The Charlottesville City Council has endorsed a series of recommendations by city staff to strengthen the protection of historic buildings within the City. The action comes just two weeks after the Jefferson Scholars Foundation demolished the Compton House on Maury Avenue to make way for their new headquarters.

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Before the report, historic preservationist and UVa Professor Daniel Bluestone appeared before Council to lament the loss of the house. He called the demolition of the house an act of vandalism.

The Compton House after demolition Photo: Bill Emory

“You should go look at the pile of rubble there. There’s not a rotten board in the pile. The walls were substantial. They were terra-cotta concrete bricks with stucco over the top of them. That was one solid, important house,” Bluestone said. He added that no effort was made to re-use or salvage any of the materials in the 4,600 square house, which was built in 1913.

After handing each Councilor a piece of debris from the roof of the Compton house, Bluestone called for a city-wide strategy to prevent the destruction of other significant homes in the future. 

Mary Joy Scala, the City’s Preservation and Design Planner, prepared a report for Council outlining her efforts to do just that. The Comprehensive Plan adopted by Council last year sets three key historic preservation goals

  • perform regular inventory of historic resources in seven neighborhoods (10th and Page, Starr Hill, North Belmont, Martha Jefferson, Fry’s Spring, Woolen Mills and Fifeville)
  • develop a Neighborhood Conservation district to serve as an alternative to the existing Architectural Design Control (ADC) districts.
  • provide protection through City designation of districts and individual properties

Scala briefed Councilors on the status of each neighborhood, and the results are available in the staff report. The Fry’s Spring Neighborhood is the next to be surveyed.

On the topic of the Neighborhood Conservation district, Scala said she conducted a meeting on September 5, 2007 at the Charlottesville Community Design Center. The staff report for Council characterized that meeting’s main conclusion “was to adopt something sooner rather than later.” A series of public hearings on an ordinance to create the new conservation district will be held in the spring after a review from the City Attorney’s office. The first hearing will be before the Board of Architectural Review, followed by a joint meeting of City Council and the Planning Commission.

Scala said that passing the Neighborhood Conservation ordinance would not automatically  subject any neighborhood to its rules. “It would be available as a tool in case a neighborhood came forward at a later date and said they wanted to be designated,” she said.

With the respect to the third goal, Scala said the highest priority was to find a way to protect individual properties, such as the Compton House.

“We need direction from you all on how to proceed with that,” Scala said.  She passed out a list of properties with structures over 100 years old, and a list of suggestions from the Board of Architectural Review (BAR)  on younger buildings that also might merit protection for other architectural or historic reasons. Three of these include the Monticello Dairy Building, the Fry’s Spring Service Station and the Coca Cola Bottling Plant.

“None of those are protected from demolition. They’re not 100 years old, and yet those are some examples of buildings in town that I think people value that maybe we should consider protection for,” Scala said.
Any individual property that were to receive protection would need to go through a re-zoning, requiring a public hearing.

After her presentation, Scala presented Council with seven recommendations:

  1. Proceed with Oakhurst-Gildersleeve National Register nomination.
  2. Proceed with historic survey of Fry’s Spring neighborhood.
  3. Staff will continue to work with Belmont, Starr Hill and 10th & Page to get direction. If a neighborhood requests local designation, staff will forward the request to Council.
  4. Await direction from Martha Jefferson and Woolen Mills regarding local designation. If a neighborhood requests local designation, staff will forward the request to Council.
  5. Direct the BAR to pursue individually protected property designations for Council’s consideration.
  6. Proceed with adding conservation district language to the zoning ordinance, focusing on review of demolitions and new construction and minimal review of rehabilitations.
  7. Consider compensation for BAR members.

Before holding the public hearing, Mayor Dave Norris asked for more information on compensation for BAR members. Scala said the Planning Commission is considering transferring some duties to the BAR, and that would require more time. “If their workload continues to increase, that’s something they’d like you to consider,” she said. She did not suggest a particular stipend and  BAR members are currently receive no compensation.

Daniel Bluestone hands out paperweights to Council

During the public hearing, Daniel Bluestone spoke again, and explained that architectural heritage is interlinked with sustainability.

“People before us built this City. We are using the City  that they built. People after us will also want to use elements of that City,” Bluestone said. He said preservation did not mean preventing any new buildings around existing ones. He pointed to the University area where high-density buildings have been built in the backyards of old mansions to accommodate the increase in density.

”What we want desperately is a process that will at least give us the chance to slow down and consider and weigh this in a way that lets us acknowledge that we are bound up in what has come before and part of our responsibility is to transmit that to the future.”

Bluestone said the process should begin by declaring that all structures over 75 years old should be subject to design review and demolition controls. “It will give us a chance to have a public discourse about what we want from the past,” he said.

Councilor David Brown said he wanted Scala to review Bluestone’s suggestion. On the issue of BAR compensation, Mayor Norris asked for more information on what localities are doing.  Staff are expected to bring back recommendations at a future meeting.

Download_2 Download staff report with progress report, 100-year list, recommended properties

Sean Tubbs


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