A plan to build an apartment building on Ridge Street as part of the William Taylor Plaza development advanced last week when the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review approved its size and general shape.
The BAR voted, 5-3, Tuesday to approve the project’s massing and scale.
Mary Joy Scala, the city’s historic-preservation planner, said the approval is not the final certificate of appropriateness required for the project to continue.
“It just helps them move to the next review level,” Scala said.
The project is the second phase of William Taylor Plaza at the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue.
The City Council approved a rezoning to the flexible “planned unit development” classification for the property in 2009 after agreeing to sell two land parcels to Southern Development.
A later City Council voted, 3-2, in 2015 to approve a zoning amendment that allowed more surface parking at the site to accommodate that use. That cleared the way for a 110-room Fairfield Inn, which is now under construction.
Now, Management Service Corp. is seeking to construct a building with 27 rental apartments on Cherry Avenue. The BAR’s consideration is the final legislative step and many are still hoping to influence its design.
“I certainly urge the BAR to give this project very careful attention,” said John Erdwurm of the nearby Burnet Commons neighborhood. “This development is going to have a major impact on that area and it is unclear exactly what is going to happen with such an influx of apartments.”
Erdwurm said many in the neighborhood had thought the second phase of William Taylor Plaza would be a mixed-use development with commercial activity.
The developer who requested the rezoning was on hand to give some background.
“Mixed-use was highly desired by City Council for this site as a whole, including the hotel portion of it,” said Charlie Armstrong, vice president of Southern Development. “They wanted the Cherry Avenue side to be the more commercial side and the Ridge Street side to be more residential in character, so much so that it was required in the PUD to be a minimum of 10 units on Ridge and a maximum of 50.”
Armstrong said 50 units would be too out of scale with the neighborhood.
BAR Chairwoman Melanie Miller said a denial could be given under the guidelines for the architectural design review district.
“Under ‘massing and footprint,’ it says ‘new infill construction in residential subareas should relate in footprint and massing to the majority of the surrounding historic dwellings,’” Miller said. “‘Neighborhood transitional buildings should have a smaller building footprint similar to nearby dwellings. If the footprint is larger, the massing should be reduced to relate to the smaller scale form.’”
Miller said she could see there had been attempts to mitigate the massing, but she didn’t feel they were all the way there.
“I don’t think it’s, for me, small enough or broken enough to relate to the historic character of the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s not what the neighborhood got promised when the city originally sold this off. I think they pictured townhomes, and this is more significant than that.”
But BAR member Carl Schwarz did support the evolution of the building.
“Yes, it’s probably going to read as a much larger building than the individual houses there but I think you’re using techniques to break it down to make it more compatible,” Schwarz said.
BAR member Emma Earnst said she thought the PUD allowed too much development on the site.
“In terms of that historic neighborhood, it just doesn’t make sense to me to put this campus-like structure next to a bunch of single-family homes,” Earnst said.
Jean Hiatt, of Preservation Piedmont, said the design has improved but still has problems.
“I think it’s out of character with any other building on Ridge Street to have buildings that lack prominent entrances and front doors, and there is no design precedent for this on the rest of the street,” Hiatt said.
Architect Stephen Von Storch expressed frustration that the BAR only saw certain versions of the project at certain moments and that what they were seeing Tuesday was not a complete picture as they needed massing approval to demonstrate progress to financial institutions.
“I’m just feeling like it would help before we showed up next time with a snapshot that you all had a moment to see what different color schemes look like,” Von Storch said. “These are very ambiguous colors because we don’t know what they are.”
Von Storch will have the chance to explain more about the building’s design at a future BAR work session.