Can the sleek, modern stylings of German design fit in with Albemarle County’s Jeffersonian architecture?
At a meeting Monday, the team behind a Lidl grocery store proposed for Pantops tried to convince the county’s Architectural Review Board that it can.
While the ARB did not make a ruling on the project, it recommended many changes to the conceptual plan for the store.
In late August, the Timmons Group design firm submitted a plan to the county’s community development department for a Lidl grocery store on an empty lot at 1248 Richmond Road.
Lidl is a German discount supermarket chain with more than 10,000 locations in Europe. The company plans to begin opening stores in Virginia and seven other East Coast states by 2018.
Renderings of the proposed Lidl store on Pantops feature several signature branding elements that the company’s U.S. locations are expected to include, such as a glass curtain wall and a curved roof.
A report on the proposal by county planning staff said the store’s design does not reflect the historic architecture of Albemarle County, or match nearby buildings on U.S. 250.
“Unity is not established, coherence is not reinforced and sensitivity is not achieved,” the report says. It also says the store would appear “massive” and “monumental,” and lacks human scale design.
“There are guidelines [from Lidl US] that we have to comply with, as an architect of record,” MG2 architect Eric Marx said at the ARB meeting. “Lidl is striving to make their buildings across the country look exactly the same so their brand is kept intact.”
ARB member Bruce Wardell said the board requires trademark buildings and related features to be modified to meet the county’s design guidelines for designated entrance corridors.
“Can you tell us how, specifically, you’ve modified this building for this site, this topography and this district,” Wardell asked Marx.
Marx said the current proposal depicted an unmodified prototype of a Lidl store, and added that he hoped to discuss ways to make the store compliant with the design guidelines.
Marx said it would be possible to meet the specifications of Lidl and the county by replacing the white stucco in the original plan with brick of the same color. He also said ornamental columns could be added to the brick sides of the building, “in the spirit of the local architecture.”
“We thought those were strong moves to bring the building into a compliant status,” Marx said.
The roof of the proposed store reaches a height of 29 feet at its peak. Wardell said the size of the store should fit into a pattern established by nearby buildings. However, he acknowledged that the site is in a “more … unstructured environment,” with greater variation in the size and position of buildings than other parts of U.S. 250.
Wardell asked Marx to include illustrations of eastbound and westbound views of the store from 250 in the final proposal. “We don’t have a sense of how this building sits on the landscape,” he said.
Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, offered the only public comment at the meeting. Williamson critiqued the board’s use of Google Earth to determine the size of buildings close to the Lidl site during the meeting.
“I don’t know that matching footprints to neighboring parcels is what the guidelines [require],” Williamson said. “I ask you to think about what could be, not what is.”
Wardell said the board used Google Earth to find information that the developer’s presentation did not include. “It is the purview of the ARB to review scale and … the surrounding context of the building,” he added.
Before the ARB’s discussion, principal county planner Margaret Maliszewski said the Lidl plans depicted more trees on the site than are currently there. She also said grading for a new entryway from Route 20 to the parking lot would eliminate some of the existing trees. The county’s staff report recommends planting additional trees along this entryway, next to U.S. 250, and on the perimeter of the parking lot.
A date has not been set for the ARB’s final review of the Lidl proposal.