The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review on Tuesday deferred a developer’s proposal to rehabilitate the Water Street coal tower located east of the Downtown Mall.

The coal tower was built in 1942 to load coal into steam locomotives, which ran up and down the Chesapeake and Ohio Line. The structure was completely abandoned in 1986 after the closure of the Charlottesville C&O Station.

A police standoff and double homicide took place at the tower in 2001. Metal stairs that led to the top of the tower have since been removed.

The coal tower and the surrounding property is currently owned by Charlottesville developer Alan Taylor, whose Choco-Cruz LLC recently built C&O Row, a group of three-bedroom homes and town-homes near the coal tower.

Ashley Davies, a land use planner at Williams-Mullen representing Choco-Cruz LLC, said unused coal and pigeon droppings are visible beneath the tower.

“From afar, it looks really cool,” Davies said. “But the closer you get to it, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this structure is really disgusting.’”

Joe Simpson, of Atlas Construction Management, shared a plan with the BAR to “make the coal tower safe and not … an eyesore.”

The proposed rehabilitation would remove paint and graffiti from the tower, clean its concrete base and sides, and seal its roof with a waterproof barrier. It also would remove miscellaneous metal from the tower, including an antenna-like structure placed on the roof in 2000 for a modern art installation.

Simpson proposed repairing and replacing window frames and switching out existing light fixtures underneath the coal tower with bronze-colored fixtures that resemble the tower’s sconce-shaped roof.

On Tuesday, some BAR members called for historic characteristics of the tower to be preserved — including the rusted original metal from the 1940s.

“It’s a remarkable industrial artifact, a historic artifact,” said Jody Lahendro, the Charlottesville Planning Commission representative on the BAR. “The better we preserve it, the better we can understand how it worked.”

“It seems like the metal features give it character,” said BAR member Carl Schwarz. “The rust and iron speaks to the railroad and the industrial heritage of this thing.”

Davies said that the applicant felt strongly that the metal should be removed.

“With residences so close by and children playing near this, we feel pretty strongly that safety is more important in this case,” Davies said.

BAR member Michael Ball said he understood the desire to remove the metal.

“It’s pretty difficult to ask them to take what is clearly rusted, old metal and say you need to keep it, make it safe and maintain it,” Ball said.

BAR member Breck Gastinger said he would need more information about the historic elements of the coal tower to decide what should be preserved.

“Our guidelines are not written with coal towers in mind, but it is such an important part of our ar-chitectural heritage,” Gastinger said.

The BAR voted, 7-0, to grant Davies’ request for a deferral of the proposed rehabilitation.
 

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Josh Mandell

osh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.

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