Members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission toured the site of a proposed indoor golf facility at the Birdwood Golf Course on Tuesday. The county approved a similar facility two years ago, but the University of Virginia Foundation has since changed its plans and is proposing a new location nearby.
“Up until this point, the university has not had a home for their men’s and women’s golf teams — and if you’ve been following the news, the golf teams are pretty good,” said Fred Missel, the UVa Foundation’s director of design and development.
The foundation — which manages real estate for UVa — is hoping to build a 12,000 to 13,000 square foot two-story golf facility on the property that would include eight indoor hitting bays, as well as locker rooms, lounges, meeting space and coaches’ offices. The facility would be located southwest of the historic 19th century Birdwood Mansion.
The UVa Foundation is currently applying for a special-use permit amendment that would allow it to move forward with plans for the new facility. Albemarle Supervisors approved a special-use permit for an indoor golf facility at Birdwood in 2015, but the foundation now wants to build it about 400 feet west of the original proposed location. This change will ultimately require the approval of Supervisors.
No decisions were made about the proposal at Tuesday’s site visit. The Planning Commission will discuss the proposal at a work session July 25 and hold a public hearing Aug. 8.
“The purpose of this meeting is really a fact-finding opportunity to come look at the site and get a little bit better understanding of the proposal,” David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, told the gathered officials.
The original indoor golf facility would have been located southeast of the mansion and have an access road connecting to Golf Course Drive. That facility would not have been visible from the southward facing viewshed of the mansion because of the sloping terrain, although Missel said the access road would have crossed through the sightline. The new proposed location would also connect to Golf Course Drive, but with a much shorter access drive.
The new design also reduces the number of parking spaces from 34 spots to 24.
Discussions about land use near the Birdwood Mansion have focused on protecting the site’s historic resources.
The site is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has numerous buildings contributing to its designated status.
“We’re really focused on making this look appropriate,” Missel said. He noted that the change in location would also facilitate historic preservation efforts.
A stone carriage house dating to 1940 would be integrated into the design of the new indoor golf facility. The facility would also surround an existing granary and silo on the site, which would be incorporated into a courtyard space.
Standing directly to the west of the mansion, Commissioner Jennie More asked if there would be an elevation change associated with the new facility.
“The main mass of the building will disappear behind [the stone carriage house], from here,” said Missel, looking toward the southwest of the mansion. “The [facility’s] lower floor is actually built into the side of the slope, so the mass is not, from this elevation, two stories — it’s one story.”
The county’s Historic Preservation Committee, however, has expressed concerns about the whether the proposed development will threaten the site’s status on the National Register of Historic Places. Minutes from their June 26 meeting also indicate the committee was concerned about the visual impact of the proposed parking on the site, which would be located north of the stone carriage house. They suggested moving it closer to Golf Course Drive. These comments have been passed on to the Planning Commission.
In an effort to reduce the visibility of the parking lot from the mansion, the foundation is proposing a grading that would create a four-foot slope to the parking area and the use of hedging at the top of the slope.
Based on the information county staff had available at the time they authored their report for the Planning Commission, staff currently does not recommend approval for the special-use permit “until historic preservation impacts have been resolved.” Copies of the report were available at the site visit.
Missel said on Tuesday that the foundation has been in recent discussions about the site with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Because the foundation is not considered a state agency, Missel said it does not have to comply with DHR’s recommendations.
“But for many reasons, it would be foolish for us to lose the historic registry and the listing of this property,” Missel said. “What we wanted to do was confirm with them that what we’re planning … would not impact [the registry status], and they’ve confirmed that that actually is the case.”
“There’s one nuance to that, and that is that the [stone carriage] structure is a contributing structure to the national registry, and they’ve discussed that the way we attach the new building to that contributing structure will define whether that structure continues to be contributing,” Missel added.
He said the foundation would continue to work with the DHR moving forward.
According to Missel, the estimated construction costs for this facility range from $5.5 to $6 million, but that figure is still being finalized.
The indoor golf facility is just one of several UVa-related projects in the works for the Birdwood and Boar’s Head Inn area.
A redesign of the 18-hole Birdwood golf course has also been announced. Fundraising for that project is underway and the cost is estimated at $10 million.
An anticipated $9 million expansion of the McArthur Squash Center will allow Boar’s Head to host the World Masters Squash Championships next year.
A 12-court outdoor tennis stadium has also been envisioned on land near the squash center. That project is estimated at $11.8 to $12.8 million.