By Sean Tubbs
Thursday, April 7, 2011
A proposal by the University of Virginia’s Health Services Foundation to build a new 100,000-square-foot office building near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Fontaine Avenue has cleared an important hurdle.
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The Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended approval on Tuesday for a request to rezone the land from residential to commercial use.
The proposal for the Morey Creek Professional Center would also see the construction of a 15,000-square-foot day-care center, as well as a 450-space parking structure. The foundation does not intend to use the center for patient care.
“They would like to locate a number of support staff for the medical center in the same building because it’s more efficient,” said county planner Judith Wiegand. She added it will be a secure location with only one major entrance because of the presence of medical records.
The approval came despite concerns from the Buckingham Circle neighborhood that the project was too large and would decrease the quality of life by increasing traffic, lights and noise.
“This monolith of glass and brick adjacent to this rural housing development neighborhood will create a contrast that will startle the observer,” said Buckingham Circle resident Donald Day at the public hearing.
“To give a sense of the disparity, consider that there is more square footage proposed here … than there in all of Buckingham Circle consisting of 50 homes,” Day said.
Architect Bill Daggett, who designed the site plan for the center, said the building and its parking structure will be as unintrusive as possible. He said it would include motion-sensing devices to make sure unoccupied rooms were not left lit at night.
Planning Commission member Linda Porterfield asked Daggett if there was any way for the building to be reduced in size to accommodate the concerns of the neighborhood. However, Daggett said that would not meet the needs of the health system.
“If we want to put these groups together from the standpoint of efficiency of operation to service the medical center, there’s no way to do it other than to put them in the same building,” he said.
Daggett added that he did not think many of the Buckingham Circle residents would be able to see the facility from their houses because of buffers that will be planted.
As part of the rezoning, the Health Services Foundation has proffered to pay for a sidewalk to run along the north side of Fontaine Avenue from the facility to the Fontaine Research Park. The foundation also will pay to build two new traffic lights at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Fontaine.
Wiegand said the traffic lights would have to be operational before a certificate of occupancy can be issued.
A previous rezoning in 2005 would have allowed for the construction of 61 townhomes, but the project never materialized.
“I guess if I lived in Buckingham Circle, I wouldn’t want it over there either but I believe that I would prefer this to having the townhouses,” said Commissioner Ed Smith. “That’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and this is not.”
The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the rezoning. The item will go before the Board of Supervisors later this year, though a date has not been scheduled.