One week after Albemarle County officials toured the site of a proposed University of Virginia indoor golf facility at the Birdwood Golf Course, members of the county Planning Commission weighed in on the plans Tuesday night.
Although commissioners did not make any formal recommendations during their work session, their discussion delved into a proposed parking lot and its potential impact on the historic resources of the site, as well as the UVa Foundation’s broader vision for the Birdwood property.
The foundation — which provides real estate services to the university — wants to build a two-story 12,000 to 13,000 square foot indoor golf practice facility that would include eight hitting bays, locker rooms, meeting space and coaches’ offices. This space would serve as a home to the UVa men’s and women’s golf teams.
The county approved a similar facility in 2015, but the UVa Foundation now wants to move the project about 400 feet to the west. This proposed change is substantial enough to warrant an amendment to the existing special-use permit, so approval from the county’s Board of Supervisors’ is required in order for the proposal to move forward.
County staff said in their report for the commission that they “cannot recommend approval of the special-use permit until historic preservation impacts have been resolved.” A key part of this discussion is the location of the associated parking lot for the site and its associated screening, which county staff said would “sever the visual connection between the mansion and the agricultural outbuildings.”
According to Heather McMahon, a senior planner with the county, this visual connection is important to the property’s history as an ornamental farm.
“The parking lot’s placement, so near the historic main house and its adjacent outbuildings, would impact Birdwood’s historic cultural setting,” McMahon said.
The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has numerous contributing structures, including the nearly 200-year-old Birdwood Mansion, which was constructed between 1819 and 1830.
The proposed facility would be located southwest of the mansion and incorporate a stone carriage house, which dates back to 1940, into its entrance. The lower level of the building would be incorporated into the sloping terrain, masking the height of the building. The overall design of the building forms a “U” space around an existing silo and granary and includes these two features in a courtyard space.
The 24-space parking lot would be located just north of the facility. County staff has suggested moving it closer to Golf Course Drive.
Fred Missel, the UVa Foundation’s director of design and development, pushed back on this suggestion, saying that if it was moved it could become more visible from U.S. Route 250, one of the county’s entrance corridors. He also suggested the proposed location for the parking lot reduces the risk of golf balls hitting cars and would also limit the proximity to nearby Ednam Village community.
“I think, generally, if we move the parking location, we’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t,” Missel said.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said she would like to see “sensitive treatment” in the selection of materials for the parking lot, suggesting asphalt may not the most appropriate choice.
Commissioner Bruce Dotson said he would appreciate a balance in the screening of the parking so that it could block the cars, but not necessarily the architectural features of the outlying buildings and silo.
In response to specific questions and comments about the parking lot, Missel said some of the details would be worked out at the site plan stage.
The county’s Historic Preservation Committee has also previously questioned if the proposed development would somehow threaten the site’s historic listings, although recent input from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources suggests that will not be the case.
“In a nutshell, the eligibility would not be impacted,” Missel said.
“The proposed building will not compromise the site’s eligibility and current individual listing on the Virginia Landmark Register and National Register of Historic Places,” Marc C. Wagner, an architectural historian at the Department of Historic Resources, said in an email to the county on July 21.
Another part of the committee’s discussion was a condition that would require the UVa Foundation to go through the legislative process of obtaining an amendment for “any new construction at the existing golf course facility and site.”
The UVa Foundation is suggesting this requirement is overly restrictive and would like to see the condition for the special-use permit amendment, if enacted, read as saying “this permit is for the proposed indoor golf practice facility and improvements on the site, inclusive of the golf course, the clubhouse, the Birdwood Mansion and related site infrastructure.”
“We recognize those concerns have validity to them,” said Tim Padalino, a senior planner for the county. “But our initial position is that the proposed condition would be too permissive.”
Valerie Long, an attorney with the firm Williams Mullen, who was representing the UVa Foundation, said creating some flexibility in what the foundation can do without a special-use permit would help it carry out the necessary functions of running the golf course and the Boar’s Head Inn.
County staff said they would like to analyze this proposal more closely and learn more about the different projects that could fall under it. Some projects could include a connection between Golf Course Drive and nearby Berwick Road in Boar’s Head, which could potentially have implications for traffic patterns.
Staff has also noted in their report that the UVa Foundation had previously referred to master planning efforts for Birdwood, but that those were not shared with the county.
Missel said the foundation was open to sharing more information about its vision for Birdwood, but noted that the plan is “constantly in flux.”
“There are some elements of the plan that are needing to be flexible, we sometimes have donors step up that ask for squash expansions, like we do now … we had no idea that was coming down the line,” said Missel, referring to an upcoming $9 million expansion of the McArthur Squash Center at Boar’s Head.
A new tennis stadium and redesign of the 18-hole Birdwood golf course are also in the works.
“I think sharing that to the extent that you’re able to could be helpful,” said Commissioner Jennie More.
Later on the in the meeting, Missel responded to other questions about master planning and the proposed condition by saying the foundation did not have any “hidden agenda.”
The commission did not come to any decisions on Tuesday, however, they will hold a public hearing on Aug. 8 and will be asked to make a formal recommendation at that meeting. The special-use permit amendment is tentatively scheduled to go to the Supervisors on Sept. 13.