The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review indicated Tuesday it will protect two buildings from demolition on West Main Street, including one that houses the Blue Moon Diner. 

“Every house that we demolish on this street lessens our argument for keeping any of them,” said BAR member Carl Schwarz.

Developer Jeff Levien sought permission to take down buildings at 512 and 600 W. Main St. to make way for a new mixed-use building. Both were built in the late 19th century.

He is proposing a new four-story building with ground floor retail and with rental apartments on the higher levels. That height would be consistent with the proposed West Main rezoning changes pending before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

“Although these buildings are old and no one is going to dispute the age of these buildings, they are no longer part of the character of West Main Street,” Levien said Tuesday. “They are ripe for demolition and on an underutilized site and they no longer have any function for the tenants that are there.”

Under Levien’s proposal, the portion of 512 W. Main St. that makes up the front room of the Blue Moon Diner would be retained and incorporated into the new building. The owners of the diner supported the idea of demolition.

The city’s historic resources planner said she could not recommend demolition.

“The demolition of these houses would have a huge impact on the future of West Main Street,” said Mary Joy Scala said. “The whole reason the city is considering a rezoning right now, especially on the east side, is because of the concentration of historic buildings there.”

Scala noted that the BAR also is considering a project at 501 W. Main St. that incorporates two other historic buildings.

“Previous developers have demonstrated the commercial appeal of rehabilitated structures along West Main Street,” Scala said.

Levien said the existing property owners cannot afford to rehabilitate the existing structures as was done at Eloise and other buildings on the other side of the street.

“You don’t have enough site area behind these buildings, particularly with the proposed zoning,” Levien said.

Architect Jeff Dreyfus said he has studied keeping the structures but concluded it would be a burden to redevelop with them.

“In studying these properties, we’ve explored many options including retaining the structures that are there,” Dreyfus said.

Dreyfus said the buildings no longer look anything like the original form and are not distinguishing examples.

“Few if any people are aware there’s an old house behind the Blue Moon Diner,” Dreyfus said. “We submit that merely being old does not necessarily enhance the historic character, nor does it ensure the site’s highest and best use for the future of West Main Street.”

A majority of BAR members present signaled they would not grant a demolition permit.

Levien said he and Dreyfus will try to find another way to develop the site.

In another preliminary discussion, the BAR did seem willing to allow partial demolition of a building at 225 E. Main St.

Most recently, a portion of the building that fronted Third Street Southeast was home to Cappelino’s Cupcakes.

The owner of the building wants to tear that section down and replace it with a new two-story structure.

“This is almost certainly the oldest building remaining on Main Street but very little of the original fabric has survived the repeated alterations,” Scala said. “The part they want to demolish is a very simple addition that’s been heavily altered.”

Architect Bruce Wardell said the owner wants to add a second story for office space. The first floor will be designed for commercial use including potential restaurant space that would open on to the bricked Third Street Northeast.

“The canopy will allow for street-side seating underneath a cover,” Wardell said. “This reinforces the kind of development momentum that’s going on on 3rd Street with Fleurie and Rapture and the new gallery for New City Arts that’s there.”

The six BAR members present all supported taking down the Cappelini’s wall, but the project will need to come back to the BAR for formal approval.