Architects designing a new bank at the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 will go back to the drawing board after the Charlottesville Planning Commission indicated it wanted a “signature” building.
“I really don’t see an attempt of the franchise to accommodate itself to what is unique about the corridor and its history,” Commissioner Genevieve Keller said at the panel’s meeting earlier this week.
Pennsylvania-based Fulton Bank is seeking permission to build a one-story building with three drive-through lanes and parking for 23 vehicles. The new structure would replace a building currently occupied by the Import Car Store, a building that was originally a bank.
The Planning Commission also serves as the Entrance Corridor Review Board and must issue a certificate of appropriateness.
“An entrance corridor, as you know, is a major arterial route of tourist access to an area with historic buildings or a historic district,” said Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic preservation planner. “The idea is that it protects the aesthetics of the development along that highway.”
Scala’s recommendation was to grant the certificate for the building, which will be made of red brick.
“You hear sometimes that people are sick of red brick but I think it’s important to this community and gives you that sense of the community that you are arriving in,” Scala said.
However, the six commissioners present disagreed with Scala’s recommendation.
Commissioner Michael Osteen said he researched Fulton Bank’s other locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic, and felt that their design for Charlottesville was too similar to those projects.
“Where have you used that fiberglass shingle? Where have you used that cultured stone? Where have you used the brick? Is that all standard stuff?” Osteen asked.
William Krebs, regional president for Fulton Bank, disagreed.
“This is the only building in the Fulton footprint that actually has this design,” Krebs said.
“The building design and the layout is by no means a Lego factory of different footprints. This was designed from scratch by our architects.”
The bank’s architect was not present at the meeting due to a family emergency.
The site currently has entrances onto Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29, as well as a connection leading to the Kmart Shopping Center’s parking lot. The entrances would not change, but Scala said they will be brought up to the city’s standards.
The bank also will build a new 5-foot-wide sidewalk along Hydraulic Road and plant trees along the street. The city also will purchase land from the property owner to construct an additional turn lane onto Hydraulic.
Commissioner Lisa Green said the return to a bank at the site would be an intensification of uses and would create new traffic. She asked for the entrance onto Hydraulic to be eliminated to avoid the possibility of someone trying to cross several lanes of traffic to go south onto U.S. 29.
“We’re right there at the corner of Hydraulic, one of the busiest intersections, and I really hope our engineers will take a look at this,” Green said.
However, a civil engineer who helped to create the site plan said it meets the city’s guidelines.
“It has been looked at by us but also on the site plan review from the traffic engineer of Charlottesville,” said Graham Murray with Collins Engineering. “At his direction, he said it was fine and would not require an impact study.”
Keller said one of the goals of the entrance corridor review is to preserve history. When she asked if they could use the existing building, Krebs responded that he used to work in the bank 15 years ago.
“It’s an extremely small bank and it’s very difficult,” Krebs said. “It just didn’t serve our needs.”
When it appeared commissioners would not approve the project, the applicants deferred a decision so they could submit a new design.
“I would personally like to see a very straightforward building that embraces the tastes and styles and attitudes of today,” Keller said.
“Bring us back something that doesn’t look like every McDonald’s and Burger King and bank in the country,” Commissioner John Santoski said.