By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Board of Architectural Review

(BAR) has postponed making a recommendation on whether the

Martha Jefferson neighborhood

should become the city’s first historic conservation district. Some of its members said Tuesday they did not want to make a decision until a list of architectural features that define the neighborhood’s character is created.

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The boundaries of the proposed conservation district are similar to those for the National Register of Historic Places district. Click for a larger image.

The historic conservation district overlay was created in 2009 to give neighborhoods a tool to preserve their architectural character without invoking the full scrutiny of the BAR.  New construction, additions and some demolition permits would come before the BAR, but smaller items such as new windows or painting would not.

“It’s intended to protect the character and scale of neighborhoods facing increased development and tear-downs,”  said Mary Joy Scala, the City’s preservation and design planner.  “Modern construction is encouraged in these historic districts…if thoughtfully done in context with older buildings.”


Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association

is the first in the city to apply for the designation. The neighborhood is already on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, but residents felt they needed more protection.

“Our over-riding concern is preserving the overall character and feel of the neighborhood and protecting some of the contributing resources from demolition without review,” said Ellen Wagner, the president of the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association.

Much of the neighborhood was carved out of farmland attached to a farm house at 810 Locust Avenue called Locust Grove. In 1892, the land was sold to the Locust Grove Investment Company, who created the grid system for the neighborhood.

One question for the BAR was whether to include

Martha Jefferson Hospital

itself as part of the district. Scala argued in favor of doing so.

“The hospital ties in a lot to the neighborhood history,” Scala said. “If you take that out, I think you’re missing the point of having this district.”

The Patterson wing of the hospital is one of the city’s individually protected properties.

However, Scala is recommending the Rucker wing of the Martha Jefferson hospital not be included as a “contributing structure” because it has been remodeled since it was built in the early 1950’s. That means it would not be subject to BAR review.

The neighborhood will be affected by the hospital’s imminent move to a new facility on Pantops in Albemarle County. Martha Jefferson is still seeking a firm to redevelop the site after Crosland Development pulled out of the project earlier this year.

Bruce Odell, a former president of the neighborhood association, said the group has had a very positive relationship with the hospital and did not seek to limit redevelopment possibilities by asking for the district.

“We are [not] doing this as some sort of punishment or another hurdle for the hospital to jump over in terms of redevelopment,” Odell said.

Another question was whether the BAR or the

Planning Commission

should have design review jurisdiction over several properties located on High Street, including the hospital. The Planning Commission has design control over properties in city’s Entrance corridors, and High Street is one of those.

Michael Osteen, who serves on both bodies, said he would be okay with requiring applicants to go before both.

“What the planning commission looks at is just very different and it can be conflicting,”  Osteen said. “Economic vitality in the corridor is their main charge. That could be an absolute conflict with something [the BAR] is looking at.”

The BAR did not reach a decision on this topic at the meeting.

Odell said it didn’t matter which body wielded the power to authorize demolitions, as long as all structures went before some review body.

“To my mind, mass and scale are the two most important issues,” Odell said. “We don’t want to see inappropriate mass and inappropriate scale in our community.”

The BAR deferred their recommendation and asked Scala to come up with a list of defining characteristics as well as her opinion on whether the BAR or the ERB would have power on those properties which overlap.

Scala said she would put the information together and try to have the matter come back before the BAR within a couple of months.



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