New William Taylor Plaza drawings shown to city panel

The developers of a proposed Fairfield Inn at the controversial William Taylor Plaza project returned to the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review on Monday with a preliminary design intended to reduce the scale of a building stretching 275 feet along Cherry Avenue.

The new design also includes space for a small retail establishment at the corner of Cherry and Ridge Street.

“You’re definitely going in the right direction,” said Carl Schwarz, an architect who serves on the board. “I think adding additional storefronts is the correct direction.”

The project was last before the Board of Architectural Review in August, shortly after a divided City Council approved an amendment of a 2009 rezoning that made the property more financially attractive to Marriott, the parent company of the Fairfield Inn brand.

At the time, the BAR signaled they wanted to see a design that was less monolithic than the one presented.

Monday’s work session was a rare event held to ensure that board members had the chance to directly give feedback on the new drawings while they are still being developed.

“Typically, we’re finding that when we’re doing big projects, sometimes it’s easier instead of sending random one-off comments,” said Melanie Miller, chair of the BAR. “It might be better to have a dialogue with as many people as we can assemble.”

The architects, the developer and the landowner said they were glad to have the chance to hear directly from the review board.

“This is a really positive step on our part to come down and have this conversation,” said Kevin Lewis, of BCA Architects and Engineers. “Our objective is to try to get some direction so we can continue to develop the concept.”

Lewis said the design shown to the BAR in August could have been better.

“There were some issues relative to scale, and I think we defaulted from a design perspective back to the 2009 plan,” Lewis said “I was pretty encouraged when you took some exception to that original plan, because it gave us an opportunity to go back with a fresh set of eyes as to what would be an appropriate solution.”

The new design has a Cherry Avenue façade has been broken into several bays that mimic different buildings.

“What we want to do is break up the building into these smaller components that more resemble the human scale and also the scale of the residences along Ridge Street,” said Andrew Garland, also with BCA Architects and Engineers.

Some BAR members warned of the dangers that can come with attempting to make the building seem like several structures.

Kurt Keesecker, an architect who also serves on the Planning Commission, said he thought the six brick façades used in the preliminary drawing were repetitive.

Another questioned the use of brick all together.

“My fear sometimes in seeing new construction try to be historic is that it’s much harder to pull off, and it’s not pulled off correctly, it comes off cartoony,” Schwarz said.

Keesecker said he suggested the architects take a look at the Queen Charlotte building on High Street, which is also a large structure that takes up an entire block.

“It has a really distinguished pedestrian base,” Keesecker said.

Miller said she was concerned the two commercial spaces were not larger.

“A lot of times [these] are not viable retail spaces so they end up being just wasted spaces that don’t engage anybody,” Miller said. “It needs to be a rentable space that actually has something going on.”

A potential obstacle to the site’s development would be evidence that the grave of 19th century brick mason Allen Hawkins is on the site. Charlie Armstrong, vice president of Southern Development, said in August that an archaeological study will be done before construction begins.

“There are a number of people on the board and the public interested in the potential graveyard and we understand from the city that there shouldn’t be any major barriers to being able to do that work,” Miller said.

“I think we have worked something out that lets that work happen sooner rather than later,” Armstrong said. “We’re proceeding diligently towards that and will send the city a plan this week.”

The item is slated to return before the board Oct. 20.