Council clears way for Market Plaza development downtown
Charlottesville City Council has unanimously approved a permit for a nine-story, multi-use building and public plaza on a downtown city-owned parking lot.
The action Monday marked the second time the council blessed the Market Plaza proposal from developer Keith Woodard and architect Gregory Powe. Their entry was selected in July after the council asked for proposals to develop the parking lot, which has been the home of the City Market since 1993.
Market Plaza will feature as many as 69 apartments, three stories of office space and two floors of retail spaces, including restaurants. The council needed to grant a special-use permit for the L-shaped building to rise 101 feet above Water Street.
The City Market will operate both in a 25,000-square-foot outdoor public plaza and a 9,000-square-foot covered space. Details of how the market will be operated will come after the city and the developers negotiate a sales agreement. The price has not yet been disclosed.
A section of First Street will be closed to vehicular traffic as part of the proposal, though the City Council would need to approve that request at a future meeting. The plan includes a “grand staircase” to bridge the elevation gap between Water and South streets.
The Planning Commission took up a special-use permit request for Market Plaza four times this fall and submitted a long list of conditions by which it would recommend approval.
“We feel comfortable with all of the conditions and fully feel the commission covered every one of our issues,” Powe said.
However, the council eliminated or amended some of those conditions during its deliberations.
One condition had stated that no structures could be built in the right-of-way for First Street. Powe objected because he said that would constrain the project.
“There is an intent to build the plaza in the right-of-way and three levels of parking under the plaza,” Powe said. “We suggest adding the word ‘above plaza level’ in the condition.”
Councilors agreed to the request.
Another of the commission’s conditions stated that nothing should block the view between the Downtown Mall and the city’s warehouse district, but councilors did not agree.
A rendering of the grand staircase on First Street
“You’ll see a grand staircase, and that’s a beautiful thing to see,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.
Councilors also had questions about a condition that would require at least three entrances on Water Street, South Street and Second Street Southwest.
“That seems a little excessive to me,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos.
Mayor Satyendra Huja also objected to the language and said it might force the developer to build an entrance that isn’t strictly necessary.
Another condition was that the developer should pay for new street signs and pavement markings for traffic patterns on surrounding streets if the city ever decides to change them as a result of the First Street closure.
“If we change our minds, it’s on us,” Szakos said. “I don’t think it’s fair to add this on at the end. It’s a bit capricious.”
The Planning Commission also recommended that trees be planted in the First Street right-of-way, but councilors were not so sure.
“I’m not sure if I like that,” Szakos said. “On real streets it makes sense, but to arbitrarily put them there doesn’t make sense. I’m not against trees but I want to make sure they’re not in the very area where we’re trying to have it open for people walking.”
The proposal is scheduled to go before the Board of Architectural Review on Dec. 16 for a certificate of appropriateness.
Galvin said she wanted to ensure that certain architectural details of the project are codified in the permit. She said she didn’t want Market Plaza to follow the same path of other large projects recently approved by the city.
“Material finishes are critical in that,” Galvin said. “I want to point out that [BAR submissions for] the Flats at West Village, the backs and [several sides], were devoid of additional detail which were not in keeping with what we saw as a council.”
“I think the BAR will be a very appropriate venue to continue the discussion,” Powe said.
In an interview Tuesday, Powe said the City Market will operate on an adjacent parking lot owned by the Charlottesville Parking Center during the construction period, beginning with the 2015 season.
Powe said he hopes construction on Market Plaza can begin late next summer and will continue for two years.