At this week’s meeting of the

Albemarle County Architectural Review Board

(ARB), there were a lot of questions about the next steps for Frank Cox’s

Albemarle Place

project.  This was the second worksession held by the ARB to help the applicant refine their site plan before it is submitted for a formal review.  Albemarle Place is a very large project occupying an area about the size of

two

downtown malls (Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is about 18 square blocks between Omni, the Pavilion, Water St. and Market St.).

County staff have raised questions about several aspects of the current plan which deviate from the concepts approved at the time of the rezoning in October 2003:

    Buildings are being proposed that would exceed the 90’ height limit for residential/mixed use at this location (current plan has a 10-story residential building that tops 150’ and would require a modification to the rezoning);

    There are no roads shown on the preliminary site plans connecting the development to Commonwealth Drive as desired by the County and required, in part, in the proffers.



    A theater is in the site plan along Hydraulic Road (County prefers original plan that had townhouses and offices along Hydraulic instead of a long brick wall created by the theater building–image at right)


A few of the highlights from this week’s ARB meeting:

    Because US 29 is an entrance corridor, the

    ARB is going to have to take action to approve a development plan before construction begins

    .

    Albemarle Place developers really want to get the clearing of land started and a site plan approved before the May 2006

    International Council of Shopping Centers


    annual convention

    in Las Vegas.  This is when they say the deals will be made for new tenants which will occupy Albemarle Place.

    Miss this window and they believe they will face a one-year delay to get tenants lined up.

    Candace Smith, ARB Chairman, informed the applicant that to get in two rounds of ARB review completed (preliminary and final),

    the soonest the applicant could receive ARB approval would be June 5, 2006

    .  At present, the preliminary site plan is on indefinite deferral and County planners are waiting for Mr. Cox to resubmit an updated plan.

    The applicant expressed frustration about the challenge of getting approval, all at once, for all aspects of a massive urban project like Albemarle Place.  They explored with the ARB as to whether an overall concept could receive their approval with details to follow on building specifics in the future.

    Candace Smith responded that the applicant needed to thoroughly complete the application checklist and get all the necessary materials in front of them for a formal review.

    As an example, she pointed out that the ARB would not want to approve a concept for a grocery store and parking lot buffered by a strip of trees along US 29 if the utility right-of-way was going to later be found to be underneath that buffer, thus making the plantings impossible to implement and requiring the set aside of additional land for buffers that may impact the building or parking locations.

    ARB member Paul Wright indicated he wanted to see the results of a “balloon test” so the Board could review the impact of the proposed residential tower on Hydraulic Road.  In a “balloon test,” photographs of a balloon, floated at the height of the proposed building, are taken from various perspectives so that decision makers can review the impact of buildings on the surrounding landscape.

    The applicant stated they would bring the building in low enough in their plan so that it could be easily approved and then they would come back later and seek approval for greater height.

    Paul Wright also indicated that he would meet personally with members of the Board of Supervisors to secure additional staff resources to get ARB’s review of this plan completed in a streamlined fashion.  He shared his view that the County had a lot at stake financially with this development and thus the County should ensure it moves forward on a timely basis, while at the same time not bypassing steps required by any applicant.

Brian Wheeler