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June 24, 2010

Albemarle Place progress could speed up widening of U.S. 29

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 24, 2010

While the nearly 65 acres of land that make up the future Albemarle Place development currently lie dormant, the project is moving forward behind the scenes.

“We are a critical juncture right now in terms of the leasing,” said Tom Gallagher, a principal with South Carolina-based Edens & Avant.  “Not withstanding the current economic trend we’ve gotten some positive momentum.”

Gallagher was on hand Tuesday to answer questions from the Albemarle County Planning Commission as it considered several requests to modify the terms made when the land was originally rezoned in October 2003.

The former owners of the 7-Eleven sold the property to Edens & Avant in October 2009, paving the way for the project to move forward
Groundbreaking for Albemarle Place has been delayed by a change in ownership, the economy, and inadequate sewer capacity.  The site includes about 65 acres zoned for 7-800 apartments, a grocery store, parking garages, a theater, a hotel, and retail stores.

At the meeting, Edens & Avant sought several amendments to proffers made by the site’s original developer, the Cox Company. While these changes mostly involve slight changes to the timings for the development’s two phases, the major change involves transportation priorities.

Originally, the company had been responsible for contributing $500,000 to Charlottesville to help make improvements at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29.  However, if the Board of Supervisors approves the rezoning, Edens & Avant will give $1 million to the construction of a fourth southbound lane on U.S. 29 that would travel from Westfield Road to the U.S. 29/250 interchange.

This project also includes adding a second lane on the on-ramp that leads to westbound U.S. 250. 

“The city has indicated that they would rather the applicant spend the funds… towards the Best Buy ramp,” said Valerie Long, an attorney who represents Edens & Avant. “It will have a much more significant impact…in terms of improving the traffic flow on U.S. 29.”

The developer also wanted the property at the corner of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 rezoned from commercial to Neighborhood Model District so the entire development will have the same zoning. Last October, Edens and Avant purchased the property, which currently is home to a 7-Eleven convenience store. A second turn lane from U.S. 29 South onto Hydraulic Road will be located on portions of the parcel.

“This site will be primarily used for road improvements,” said county planner Claudette Grant.

Another group of requests related to signage regulations.  Edens & Avant wants to increase the maximum height wall signs can be placed on buildings from 30 feet to 58 feet. In addition, the developer wants its signs to be allowed to be up to the same size as other highway commercial properties on U.S. 29. 

Gallagher said the larger signs were necessary so his development could be competitive with others along U.S. 29 which allow the larger signs.

“What we’re asking for is reasonable and kind of consistent with the other commercial projects on 29,” Gallagher said.

Commission Chair Tom Loach said he was not sure if this was the best time to make changes to the code of development’s rules on signage, given that planning staff are revisiting ordinances that govern the entire county.

Long said other developments such as sections of Hollymead Town Center have been built in different zoning districts which allow larger signs.

“Where the Kohl’s is going in, for instance, is Planned Development Mixed Commercial,” Long said.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the amended rezoning for Albemarle Place. The board will take the proposal up for consideration later this year, though a date has not been scheduled.

As for the future timing of Albemarle Place, Gallagher said when construction starts, there will likely be about 8 months of site preparation work and then another six to 12 months to build the first phase, which will be entirely commercial.

Gallagher said he could not yet release any details about potential tenants, but hoped to be able to make an announcement soon.

Nature of growth debated at economic development roundtable


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Members of the public who felt they were excluded from the creation of a plan to encourage economic development in Albemarle County were given the first of two chances to contribute Wednesday night. And contribute they did, in fine detail.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100623-Economic-Roundtable1

 “This document is extremely important to a lot of us,“ said Albemarle County resident Kirk Bowers. “We don’t want to see our culture and environment diminished.”

Bowers and over 40 others crowded into a conference room for a vigorous and spirited debate about the plan. Participants went line by line through the document in order to offer suggestions on how it might better reflect the interests of the whole county and not just businesses.

The primary goal of the plan is to increase tax revenue for the county by increasing commercial development. To do that, the plan calls for increased cooperation with the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development (TJPED) to identify specific businesses that the county might want to attract or grow.

A major thread in the discussion was what form that cooperation might take. Does it mean bringing new businesses to Albemarle, or encouraging them to grow from within?


Tom Olivier of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club said seeking new businesses might bring more people to Albemarle County.“We’re already unsustainable in terms of our size,” Olivier said. “Every bit of growth in population makes us less sustainable.”

That comment bothered David Mitchell, the owner of a construction company and an amusement center in Charlottesville. He said he wanted a healthy and diverse economy to ensure his four children have an option to stay in the community as they enter the workforce.

“You have organic growth here that you just can’t stop,” Mitchell said. “We should concentrate on our citizens here and the ability of our children to stay in and around us.”

Gary Henry, chair of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, said the plan as written focused too much on existing businesses.

 “If growing new business is a piece of [economic development], there’s a need to meet with organizations that support entrepreneurs who are not yet a business,” Henry said. His organization is not named in the plan.

Mike Harvey, president of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, said his goal was to focus on existing businesses and grow new ones from within.

“We want to understand and focus on people who are here first,” Harvey said. “We don’t do business attraction. It’s been my focus to focus on organic growth here.” 

He added his preference would be for the city and the county to work closely with the University of Virginia to develop companies using research generated there.

Lee Catlin, county spokeswoman, said she thought the first roundtable had been productive.

“I thought it was very energetic, very passionate, and what you’d expect when you bring a variety of people together on a topic they feel deeply about,” Catlin said.

A second roundtable will be held on July 1 at 1PM at the Albemarle County Office Building. A public hearing on the plan will be held before the Board of Supervisors on July 14.

City updating its sidewalk improvement plans


By Jean Feroldi
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Charlottesville is updating its plans for sidewalk improvements by revising a 13-year-old wish list.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100622_CPC_Sidewalk_Priorities

Download New Sidewalks 2010 PowerPoint presentation
The Planning Commission on Tuesday reviewed a draft sidewalk prioritization plan. The proposal replaces a 1997 sidewalk priorities list that pointed to 99 key locations in the city needing improvements. Only a third of the projects on that list have been completed.

A 12-member “sidewalk committee” is recommending a new review process, focused on proximity to schools, so the city can prioritize the $300,000 allocated in next year’s budget. The committee has identified “circles” around city schools that are not served by school bus routes.

“If the school buses aren’t stopping within these areas then [there is] a good chance that sidewalks would help get kids to school,” said Angela Tucker, the city’s development services manager. “That is why we have zeroed in on school proximity as a good starting place.”


Commissioners recommended that additional factors such as low-income areas or commercial zones be taken into consideration.

“I would like to see where we could overlay other criteria such as income and age and perhaps just general walkability, proximity to the things where people would be walking, so that we get the biggest bang for our buck,” Commissioner Genevieve Keller said.

The Planning Commission was concerned that the proposed plan was leaving out certain neighborhoods where sidewalks are greatly needed by people for access to public transit or for health reasons. Chairman Jason Pearson advised the sidewalk committee to analyze other areas of the city not located within school circles.

“I am uncomfortable with schools as a first cut [and] then everything else goes inside those circles with … what I would call random public input as the only thing that generates an identification to need outside those circles,” Pearson said. “The city should be much more intelligent and systematic about thinking about where we need sidewalks.”

The committee had identified 370 locations in need of sidewalk improvements near schools. Then it applied other criteria including connector streets, streets without sidewalks, functional roadway classification and proximity to transit stops and parks. The list also includes areas of concern suggested by residents during public hearings.

Commissioner Michael Osteen approached the new sidewalk plan from a different direction, saying that the process could be less rigorous if viewed in another way.

“Where is it appropriate not to have sidewalks?” Osteen questioned. “Let’s see all the roads that don’t really want sidewalks or need sidewalks and maybe the problem is not as big.”

The new plan will be revised every five years and have a shorter, more manageable list of specific roads where sidewalks are necessary. City officials said this would allow for continuous resident input and ensure that the sidewalk goals can be accomplished in a timely manner.

The final sidewalk prioritization plan will be reviewed and voted on by the Planning Commission and the City Council later this summer.


  • 00:10 - Staff member Angela Tucker gives sidewalk prioritization presentation
  • 29:00 - Discussion between Planning Commission and City Council members about including other criteria in the sidewalk prioritization plan
  • 31:50 - Comments and questions about presentation from Planning Commission member Michael Osteen 
  • 32:52 - Commissioner Genevieve Keller gives input on how to improve the sidewalk plan 
  • 34:08 - Dan Rosensweig raises question about sidewalk linkages between residential areas and commercial nodes
  • 35:35 - John Santoski recommends sidewalk committee analyze vehicular traffic as a way to determine sidewalk priorities
  • 36:30 - Chairman Jason Pearson contributes his opinion on the new sidewalk list 
  • 39:03 - Angela Tucker answers questions from Planning Commission and City Council members
  • 41:56 - The City Planning Commission expresses additional concerns regarding the New Sidewalks 2010 plan 
  • 44:36 - Jason Pearson concludes the sidewalk discussion

June 23, 2010

Norris asks for Old Lynchburg Road project to be expedited

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When Charlottesville’s capital improvement program (CIP) for FY2011 was developed this past spring, the president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association expressed his concern the budget included no funding next year for a $3.7 million project to add sidewalks and safety features to his neighborhood’s busiest street.

On Monday, he appeared before City Council to explain why he doesn’t want the project delayed.

“A seven-year-old boy was hit on Old Lynchburg Road just on Friday,” said Peter Hedlund. “This speaks to the issue of safety on that current sidewalk-less road.”

Hedlund urged Council to expedite the project, which will also include the creation of a drainage system to stop stormwater from directly impacting Moores Creek.

City engineer Tony Edwards describes the features in the design for improvements to Old Lynchburg Road

City Engineer Tony Edwards was on hand at City Council Monday to deliver a progress report on the project, which is currently not likely to get under construction until at least the summer of 2013. The CIP shows $500,000 being allocated to the project in FY2012, $1 million in FY2013 and $1.5 million in FY2014. No funding is set to be allocated in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Download Download staff report from Tony Edwards

It had been anticipated that the 3,100 home Biscuit Run development in Albemarle County would contribute over $1.5 million towards the project. When the developer of that project decided instead to sell the land to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a state park, the money dried up.

However, the project did not die as a result, and is now in the final design phase. Edwards said engineers are currently working out the details of how stormwater will drain into the watershed. They’re also helping explore the possibility of a new extension of the Rivanna Trail through property owned by the Fry’s Spring Beach Club.

Under these plans, sidewalk and bike lanes would travel along the east side of the road from Azalea Park to Middleton Lane. At that point, bikes would be instructed to continue their journey on Monte Vista Avenue.  Pedestrians would cross the street or use the sidewalk on the west side of the road.


Click for a larger image in .PDF format

Edwards said the design would be finalized by the fall. If there was funding, he said construction could begin next summer. However, enough money won’t be accrued through the CIP until FY2013, delaying construction until then.

“We’ve got a project with a lot of citizen input that’s making great progress,” Mayor Dave Norris said. “But right now it’s projected to just sit on a shelf for a couple of years until the funding kicks in.” Norris asked the rest of Council if they would be prepared to reallocate money from other projects in order to get the project started more quickly. He got agreement from the three councilors present. David Brown was not present. With their consent, Norris directed city staff to develop suggestions of where the money could be obtained.

Budget Director Leslie Beauregard said in an e-mail she had not had time to closely look at Council’s new directive and was not prepared to respond.

RWSA agrees to continue design work for earthen dam; Mayor Norris optimistic about progress on water supply

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A month after reviewing a proposal to build an earthen dam at Ragged Mountain, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s board on Tuesday discussed updated cost estimates for dredging sediment from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Even with a clearer picture of the costs of both approaches, a decision by local leaders about what should be the central element of the community’s 50-year water supply plan — a new dam or dredging — is at least several months away.


“I feel like we are making very good progress in coming to a decision,” Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said after the meeting. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”

Norris said the city was still waiting for other studies on the water supply demand analysis and expansion of the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam, which was built in 1908. City officials said Tuesday that information will be available on both studies in August.

“We are waiting for the data to come in, one of the chief questions being how much water do we need,” Norris said. “Are there alternatives to meeting those long-term water needs that are cheaper and have less environmental impact than the current plan?”

Carey Burch, Project Manager, HDR Engineering
Carey Burch, a project manager with HDR Engineering, was at the meeting to provide an update on the costs and feasibility of dredging the South Fork. His firm has recommended to the RWSA a multi-phase, one-time dredging project that would cost about $34 million to $40 million and take about seven years.

HDR identified 1.4 million cubic yards of total material that it said could be realistically dredged. Burch said some materials removed from the reservoir, such as sand, could be sold potentially in the local market and thereby reduce dredging costs by about $5 million to $9.5 million.

“We were able to get to about 79 percent of that maximum dredging target,” Burch said.

“If you did [both phases of dredging], it would restore all of your usable water supply volume in the reservoir.”

Past studies of dredging from consultant Gannett Fleming included the costs of dredging continuously for the 50-year period of the water supply plan and totaled as much as $223 million. HDR’s proposal, however, does not include any maintenance dredging and Burch said subsequent dredging projects would be more expensive because fewer disposal sites would exist.

Burch said an ideal disposal site for hydraulic dredging would be a flat, 100-acre parcel with a berm 15- to 16-feet-high that would be filled to a height of 11 feet with dredging spoils, allowing for dewatering to occur. The berms have to be initially issued permits as dams and then, after the water is removed, the landscape is filled in with the dredged material.

Topography around the reservoir required HDR to identify multiple locations at Panorama Farms and on the “Llewellyn Parcel” that would have a combined capacity as suitable disposal sites in the second phase of the dredging project.

The RWSA board was told that the quarry near the South Fork dam, which was recently acquired by Roanoke-based Rockydale Quarries, was not an attractive disposal site for sediment even if it had not been sold. Burch said material was not available at the quarry site to build an appropriate berm and that other nearby parcels owned by Dr. Charles Hurt were also determined to be unsuitable.

“Early on in this whole process, that was presented to us as a tantalizing option,” Norris said. “I am glad now we have had the chance to bring in a third party and take an objective look at that, and it sounds like it is not nearly as viable an option.”

With the dredging costs finalized, RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. recommended to the board in his staff report that a new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain continue to be pursued as the best approach for securing long-term water storage capacity. In May, Frederick said the earthen dam could be built at a cost of between $28.5 million and $36.6 million and create a much greater amount of permanent water storage capacity as compared with one-time dredging.

“I would say the cost projections on the earthen dam are a game changer in many ways,” Norris said. “Originally, it was easy to say there was an alternative that would be more cost effective than a giant concrete dam which would cost upwards of $60 million. Now that we think it might cost half of that, it potentially changes the whole equation.”

After discussing the dredging study, the RWSA board discussed whether to commit about $1.2 million for Schnabel Engineering to complete the final design of the earthen dam. The board decided to allocate only $325,000 to support continued geotechnical work that will continue to analyze the locations of clay and to evaluate sub-surface rock conditions for the dam’s two spillways. A decision on other planning for the earthen dam will be put on hold until the city has completed its remaining water supply studies.

No final decisions were made at Tuesday’s meeting on the dredging projects. A public information session on the dredging report has been scheduled for 6 p.m. June 30 at CitySpace in the Market Street Parking Garage.

Solid waste authority approves budget that eliminates some recycling

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s board on Tuesday approved a $2 million operating budget for FY 2011.

The budget is a 47.5 percent decrease from the current operating budget, as the board approved it in the absence of a signed cost-sharing agreement that Charlottesville and Albemarle officials intend to finalize in July.

Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth Boyd
The RSWA administers the Ivy Material Utilization Center, the McIntire Recycling Center and the environmental remediation at the now closed Ivy Landfill. Charlottesville and Albemarle contribute to the operational budget and the landfill’s cleanup based on a cost-sharing agreement. The University of Virginia also contributes to the landfill cleanup.

During the public hearing, citizens expressed concern that the RSWA budget would eliminate recycling of batteries, fluorescent light tubes, compact fluorescent lights and paint. These items would only be collected at special household hazardous waste collection days and only one is scheduled in spring 2011.

John Cruickshank, chairman of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, said he was concerned that without the recycling convenience centers accepting these items on a regular basis there was greater risk to the environment, particularly from the release of mercury in CFLs.

“I would request that these services be retained in the coming fiscal year,” Cruickshank said. “It is important that these materials be disposed of properly to protect the environment, our natural resources and, perhaps most importantly, to ensure the public health and safety.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., Executive Director, RWSA
The authority’s executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr., told the board the RSWA budget would have to be increased by $80,000 to support continued collection of these items. The board did not adjust the budget to restore the funding.

Frederick also informed the board that he had been in negotiations with Waste Management Inc. about its contract to dispose of trash at the Ivy transfer center. Waste Management had approached the RSWA seeking flexibility so that it could dispose of collected trash at other locations. Frederick said the van der Linde recycling center at Zion Crossroads was one such facility that might be of interest to the company.

Frederick built the authority’s budget on the assumption there would be no revenues from Waste Management, but he announced that earlier in the day the company had said it may be changing its position on the contract amendment.

Board members expressed support for the budget with the understanding that amendments may be required to account for any Waste Management contract changes that would increase the RSWA’s revenues.

Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd called for the board to determine in the very near future its long-terms plans for continued operation of the Ivy transfer center and McIntire Recycling Center.

The short-term cost-sharing agreement currently being negotiated is expected to give both governments a six-month window for this planning.

June 22, 2010

Avon Street corridor to get “fresh eyes” from national planning think-tank

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The ULI study may give hints as to how to coordinate a new  Belmont Bridge with several parcels set for redevelopment near downtown
An international non-profit organization that promotes compact land use practices is set to study possibilities for redeveloping Charlottesville’s Avon Street corridor. City Council approved a resolution Monday allowing staff to negotiate with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) on a spring 2011 study that could cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

“We think we can use [the ULI study] to get some good ideas about bike-pedestrian connections from Belmont to the downtown,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. 

Officials with the ULI’s Richmond office recently contacted Tolbert to find out if they required any technical assistance on any upcoming redevelopment projects.

Tolbert said the Avon Street corridor was chosen for the ULI study instead because of several factors. The Belmont Bridge replacement project is being designed. The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority is set to purchase a parcel of land at the corner of Avon and Levy.  The recent demolition of the former Charlottesville Lumber/Better Living Mill building leaves a major parcel of land ripe for redevelopment.

Mayor Dave Norris encouraged Tolbert direct the ULI team to consider how Friendship Court and other properties near Avon Street could be tied in as they are considered for redevelopment. 

“That’s not technically Belmont or Avon Street  but it’s part of the whole pattern of development,” Norris said.

Tolbert agreed Friendship Court could become part of the study, which will be conducted over the course of two days next spring. The ULI experts will then deliver a written report within two months of their visit.

Tolbert said he and his staff first considered a study of Cherry Avenue. That corridor
was zoned for mixed use development when the city’s zoning ordinance was rewritten in 2003 to promote higher density.

“We decided we could do better work in house and do it quicker,” Tolbert said. He added he will bring a proposal before the Planning Commission before the end of the summer.

One councilor, Holly Edwards, said she looked forward to the City’s study of the corridor.

“[Cherry Avenue] has been neglected for too long,” Edwards said.

June 18, 2010

County water authority calls for continued design work for new earthen dam

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, June 18, 2010

Next week the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) will discuss whether to direct Schnabel Engineering to proceed with further design work for a proposed earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

If the RWSA opts to wait for additional studies to be completed, the Albemarle County Service Authority said Thursday that it may choose to use its own resources to help move the project forward.

“We want to keep moving,” said ACSA board member Liz Palmer.

20100602-earthen-dam-sectio Some studies on various elements of the community's long term water supply plan are nearing completion and officials are raising questions about the timing of next steps. In addition to the recent cost estimates for the earthen dam and dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, a review of the water supply demand analysis will be completed this summer.

However, a decision on the earthen dam could hinge on the results of another study recently requested by Charlottesville's City Council. The city has hired Black & Veatch to conduct a two-phase study of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam, which was built in 1908.

The second phase of that study would provide a cost estimate for expanding the dam by 13 feet. However, ACSA Executive Director Gary O’Connell said that work may not proceed if the first phase reveals the dam could not support the addition.

‘It’s sort of a ‘go, no-go’ point,” O’Connell said. He added that this first phase is expected to be completed by the middle of August.

By then, O’Connell said there should be enough information for all four decision making bodies to decide how to proceed with implementing the water supply plan.

In the meantime, Schnabel is seeking permission and funding to conduct additional geotechnical work at the Ragged Mountain site to detail precise locations from where dirt might come to build the new dam. 

A report from RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick said Schnabel will charge $1.194 million for final design work on the dam, but that it is willing perform the geotechnical work separately for $325,000. The item is on the RWSA’s agenda for discussion on Tuesday.

“This is an effort to stay in parallel with all the studies that are going on to keep the dam study work moving forward,” O’Connell said. “Otherwise Schnabel Engineering will be pretty much stopping work for a period of time.”

All members of the ACSA board present at Thursday’s meeting expressed a willingness to keep design of the earthen dam moving forward.  They unanimously adopted a resolution encouraging the RWSA to direct Schnabel to proceed with the geotechnical work.

If the RWSA declines to act, board member Jim Colbaugh suggested that the ACSA invite Frederick to a work session in July to discuss the earthen dam.

“I don’t want to get anything stuck in the mud,” Colbaugh said. “If there’s anything we can do, perhaps Tom can have some ideas that he can recommend to us that we can do individually that would support moving him forward with certain studies.”

Colbaugh also suggested the ACSA may spend its own money to pay Schnabel to conduct the work, citing the city’s decision to go outside of the RWSA to conduct its own study of the existing dam.  O’Connell acknowledged in an interview that might be an option.

"It's not a decision for the design of the dam, but it will help keep moving everything in parallel," O'Connell said.

Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors called for another meeting of the four boards to discuss the results of the studies that were put in motion after the last meeting in March 2009. This week, the City Council wrote the other boards to say it did not want to hold that meeting until mid-August.

The studies and debate have been ongoing since local elected officials signed off on a water supply plan in 2006 that is intended to meet water needs for the next 50 years.

The original plan would construct a higher dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir and build a new pipeline to transfer water from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mountain.

The plan has met continued delays as critics contend its original pricetag of about $142 million was too expensive, while some also contend dredging at South Fork should play a larger role and could save money. Others suggest a less ambitious water plan might be needed if demand projections are lower than once projected and conservation is emphasized.

In other news, the ACSA board voted to proceed with a court-ordered taking of easements required for the construction of the North Fork Regional Pump Station. The landowners have so far refused to sell the property at market-rate after several months of negotiation. O’Connell said it may be necessary to take more easements in July.

June 17, 2010

BAR encourages Atwood to simplify Waterhouse project on Water Street

By Jean Feroldi
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Preliminary rendering of the Waterhouse project
Source: City of Charlottesville
Four years ago, Charlottesville officials wrestled with a bevy of nine-story building proposals and their impact on the character of downtown. Only the Landmark Hotel began construction, and now its empty skeleton looms incomplete over the Downtown Mall.  Another of those projects, Bill Atwood’s Waterhouse on Water Street, shows that economic conditions can also shrink developer visions of a more vertical Charlottesville.

“A small neighborhood, rather than a tower, seems to suit the market…and it brings the building down quite a bit, which from our standpoint, after 5 years, seems to be something that actually does make sense,” said Atwood about his newest proposal.

Architect Bill Atwood began the initial design for his Waterhouse project five years ago with a vision of two mixed-use towers situated between Water Street and South Street.

Just one of many nine-story proposals imagined for the Downtown Mall area, Atwood was able to secure early approval by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) for his design which incorporated the adaptation of an existing building.

Other high rise projects by Charlottesville real estate developers Coran Capshaw and Keith Woodard have not left the drawing board. Capshaw’s nine-story building is planned for his C & O coal tower property located at 10th Street and Water. Woodard’s project, which would redevelop a block of buildings between Main and Market streets and introduce a tower of offices and residences, has been delayed due to denial of demolition permits by the BAR.

While his project was approved and ready, financial difficulties and a desire to integrate green design practices had Atwood rethinking Waterhouse. He has submitted two additional scaled-down proposals featuring sustainable design elements.

After many suggestions for improvement from the BAR and community members, Atwood presented a third iteration of his Waterhouse project in a preliminary discussion meeting on Tuesday.

In his latest design, Atwood has moved away from a vertical tower in favor of a more horizontal approach, saying that it will be more appealing for businesses which he hopes to recruit as tenants for the space.

“Our experience is that if you are talking to a company that has close to 50,000 square feet [and] you try to stack that group, two things happen; you quickly become not competitive with other jurisdictions in terms of rent structure, but more importantly it becomes a management issue for the user,” Atwood said. 
Bill Atwood, Atwood Architects Inc.

Atwood says the new design embraces continuity by filling the entirety of the site and gives tenants ample space on one floor. This design approach would eliminate the need for businesses to occupy multiple floors, which in turn would reduce the need for a tall structure.

Atwood also reevaluated the mixed-use goal for the project and took a more functional attitude towards the design.  He said the new building would introduce a customized urban neighborhood or village above the office and retail zone.

Comments from the BAR were in support of the lower, more horizontal approach, yet the board was uncertain about the variety and use of some of the architectural details, such as windows and columns.

“A simplification and unification of all the various elements I think could be useful,” said board member Eryn Brennan.

The board was encouraged by Atwood’s holistic approach to the Waterhouse project yet there was consensus that the range of elements and styles was overwhelming.

“You’ve kept a few pieces that you have struggled over with the former design, and changed what you needed to for the current program, rather than starting again with a fresh eye,” said board member Brian Hogg. “I think that’s undermined your design in a lot of ways.”

Board members felt that Atwood needed to develop the project further, specifically giving more thought to the massing of the structure.

“It looks like three or four different buildings rather than a single unified composition,” said Hogg.

While the BAR requested changes, one South Street property owner, Brent Nelson, commented in full support of the project.

“Whereas this has been a long and arduous journey, I think the benefit here is that we have the best design yet so far for this site,” said Nelson who has been very involved in the design process. “I think the direction in which this is going, the more horizontal direction allows for a more successful incorporation of the existing green building that is to remain.”

Atwood is expected to return to the BAR with a revised plan at a future meeting.

June 16, 2010

BAR defers recommendation for Martha Jefferson historic district

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Charlottesville’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) has postponed making a recommendation on whether the Martha Jefferson neighborhood should become the city’s first historic conservation district. Some of its members said Tuesday they did not want to make a decision until a list of architectural features that define the neighborhood’s character is created.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100616-BAR-MJ

The boundaries of the proposed conservation district are similar to those for the National Register of Historic Places district. Click for a larger image.
The historic conservation district overlay was created in 2009 to give neighborhoods a tool to preserve their architectural character without invoking the full scrutiny of the BAR.  New construction, additions and some demolition permits would come before the BAR, but smaller items such as new windows or painting would not.

“It’s intended to protect the character and scale of neighborhoods facing increased development and tear-downs,”  said Mary Joy Scala, the City’s preservation and design planner.  “Modern construction is encouraged in these historic districts…if thoughtfully done in context with older buildings.”

The Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association is the first in the city to apply for the designation. The neighborhood is already on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, but residents felt they needed more protection.

 “Our over-riding concern is preserving the overall character and feel of the neighborhood and protecting some of the contributing resources from demolition without review,” said Ellen Wagner, the president of the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association.  

Much of the neighborhood was carved out of farmland attached to a farm house at 810 Locust Avenue called Locust Grove. In 1892, the land was sold to the Locust Grove Investment Company, who created the grid system for the neighborhood.

One question for the BAR was whether to include Martha Jefferson Hospital itself as part of the district. Scala argued in favor of doing so.  

“The hospital ties in a lot to the neighborhood history,” Scala said. “If you take that out, I think you’re missing the point of having this district.”

The Patterson wing of the hospital is one of the city’s individually protected properties.

However, Scala is recommending the Rucker wing of the Martha Jefferson hospital not be included as a “contributing structure” because it has been remodeled since it was built in the early 1950’s. That means it would not be subject to BAR review.

The neighborhood will be affected by the hospital’s imminent move to a new facility on Pantops in Albemarle County. Martha Jefferson is still seeking a firm to redevelop the site after Crosland Development pulled out of the project earlier this year.

Bruce Odell, a former president of the neighborhood association, said the group has had a very positive relationship with the hospital and did not seek to limit redevelopment possibilities by asking for the district.

 “We are [not] doing this as some sort of punishment or another hurdle for the hospital to jump over in terms of redevelopment,” Odell said.  

Another question was whether the BAR or the Planning Commission should have design review jurisdiction over several properties located on High Street, including the hospital. The Planning Commission has design control over properties in city’s Entrance corridors, and High Street is one of those.  

Michael Osteen, who serves on both bodies, said he would be okay with requiring applicants to go before both.

“What the planning commission looks at is just very different and it can be conflicting,”  Osteen said. “Economic vitality in the corridor is their main charge. That could be an absolute conflict with something [the BAR] is looking at.”

The BAR did not reach a decision on this topic at the meeting.

Odell said it didn’t matter which body wielded the power to authorize demolitions, as long as all structures went before some review body.

“To my mind, mass and scale are the two most important issues,” Odell said. “We don’t want to see inappropriate mass and inappropriate scale in our community.”

The BAR deferred their recommendation and asked Scala to come up with a list of defining characteristics as well as her opinion on whether the BAR or the ERB would have power on those properties which overlap.  

Scala said she would put the information together and try to have the matter come back before the BAR within a couple of months.


  •  01:00 - BAR Chair Fred Wolf recuses himself from voting on the item as a Martha Jefferson neighborhood resident, but is still asked to lead discussion
  • 02:00 - Staff report from Mary Joy Scala  
  • 15:00 - Question from J.P. Williamson of Octagon Partners
  • 24:50 - BAR Member Eryn Brennan raises question about defining characteristics
  • 26:30 - MJNA President Ellen Wagner testifies in favor of the district
  • 29:20 - Neighborhood resident Melanie Miller testifies in favor of the district
  • 31:00 - Neighborhood resident Bruce Odell testifies in favor of the district
  • 38:00 - Discussion over whether BAR or ERB should review
  • 46:15 - Neighborhood resident Marie Domniquez Chapel testifies in favor of the district
  • 49:15 - Neighborhood resident Mary Odell testifies in favor of the district
  • 51:20 - Brennan asks Mike Osteen questions about the ERB
  • 56:30 - BAR Member Brian Hogg asks why there's a "hole" in the middle of the district
  • 59:10 - Miller explains the area was omitted because development on the street took place after 1957