The owner of a large bed and breakfast that opened in January near Jefferson Park Avenue said he is confident his venture will be successful, despite an increasing number of hotel rooms in Albemarle County and Charlottesville.
“We’re only trying to get about 1 percent of the market here,” said Bill Chapman, owner of The Oakhurst Inn. “There are [around] 3,300 hotel rooms in the market and we’ve only got 27.”
The project, which also includes a 36-unit apartment complex currently under construction, dates back to 2007 when Chapman bought two student apartment buildings on Oakhurst Circle.
“We didn’t really have a vision for these buildings until we realized that they needed a ton of renovation,” Chapman said.
One of the inn’s buildings was built by Paul Barringer, who served as chairman of the University of Virginia faculty from 1895 to 1903. The structure now serves as the inn’s reception area and also contains eight guest rooms.
The other main building that comprises the inn was built by Barringer’s daughter and remained in the family until 1979.
“They were built as boarding houses, so they kind of lend themselves to a lodging use because there are tons and tons of bedrooms,” Chapman said.
After running the numbers, Chapman said he decided it made more business sense to convert the historic buildings to a different use. Part of the project has been financed by using historic renovation tax credits as it is located within a national historic district.
“We kept a lot of the built-in cabinetry and all of the walls, ceilings and trim,” Chapman said.
Charlottesville’s zoning code allows for bed and breakfasts as a by-right use on properties in the R-3 district. Until recently, there was no upper-limit on how many rooms would be used.
Chapman initially had to secure a special-use permit to allow for the 36 apartment units that are being constructed on a former parking lot. The Board of Zoning Appeals later concurred with Chapman that he did not need the permit.
Some of the inn’s neighbors initially had opposed the project but Chapman said he understood their concerns.
“I think the project got better as the neighbors pushed back,” Chapman said. Working with the neighborhood led to him purchasing an additional property to serve as a buffer.
Since then, the city has changed zoning rules to restrict bed and breakfasts to no more than 15 rooms. For his part, Chapman has taken to calling the venture a boutique hotel.
“I think that helps people envision it a little better,” Chapman said. However, the regulations still require an innkeeper to live in the property.
Chapman said it took a while to get the project off the ground after getting approvals from the city.
“Banks wanted nothing to do with hotels, especially nothing to do with hotels in Charlottesville,” Chapman said. “Few, if any, bankers in this town have done a hotel project. They like pre-leased properties. They understood the location being close, but no one understood the hotel piece.”
Kurt Burkhardt, director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, has not been to The Oakhurst Inn yet, but said he thinks there will be a market for its rooms.
“Boutique hotels and inns are certainly rising up in popularity across the country,” he said.
Burkhardt said the bureau is often contacted by companies seeking to invest in hotels. He pointed to the forthcoming Homewood Suites near Hillsdale Drive Extended and the recent opening of the Hyatt Place in Stonefield as signs of recent national interest in the market.
Other new hotels coming to the area include the Marriott Residence Inn that’s under construction, as well as the stalled Landmark Hotel.
However, Chapman said he is positioned to offer something unique.
“We’re trying to specialize in serving guests who want to walk to UVa,” he said.
There is also a 38-seat café that will serve meals to guests but will also be open to the public.
“We’re hoping to engage the street a little bit here,” Chapman said. “My café is facing JPA and we’re hoping to get pedestrians and neighbors in. It’s not a good place to drive to.”
The project also has transformed that corner of Jefferson Park Avenue. Chapman worked with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to secure a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to rebuild the intersection. When the apartments are completed this summer, work will begin on a new bike lane and sidewalk.
Charlottesville Planning Commission member Michael Osteen is a neighbor of the inn and said he is satisfied that it is becoming part of his community.
“We think they’ve been an excellent neighbor and there are still a few growing pains while they work to get their final parking arrangements made with the apartments,” he said.
Osteen said he is glad that Chapman has agreed to pay for other improvements in the neighborhood.
The project is also welcomed by Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic preservation planner.
“Reusing the historic buildings is great because it keeps the historic district intact, and it reduces consumption of land and materials for new construction,” Scala said in an email. “The combination of old and new architecture adds to the complexity of urban fabric.”