Charlottesville planners recommend permit for private downtown club
The Charlottesville Planning Commission has recommended approval of a special-use permit that would allow a private club called Common House to operate at 206 W. Market St.
“What we’re looking for out of applicants are [people] creative in arts and commerce,” said Ben Pfinsgraff, one of the club’s organizers. “We want to see [members] who are contributing to the community and are active in business or the arts.”
The Common House permit also will have to be approved by City Council, who held a joint public hearing with the commission on Tuesday.
Councilor Wes Bellamy said he wanted to know how the club would attract minorities, especially given the building’s early history as the Mentor Lodge. That was a social club that served the Vinegar Hill neighborhood in the 20th century.
“I’m very anxious to hear how that same African-American community and those under-represented in this community will have access to utilize this facility with it being a private club,” Bellamy said.
The club’s attorney said the idea is to create a venue where people can gather and socialize as part of a community.
“It is not a gentleman’s club and there are really no restrictions as to who can participate and join,” said Pete Caramanis. “The goal is to bring the community together here.”
There would be a banquet hall, a lounge, a team room, a library, a billiard room and bars.
Membership will cost $150 a month, though Pfinsgraff said there will be some free memberships.
“We want to make sure if you can’t afford the monthly dues but we think you’re an incredible member of this community… that’s definitely built into our model,” Pfinsgraff said.
Commissioner Lisa Green was one of two votes against the permit. She said she wanted the social impact of the club to be taken into effect.
“It’s a huge impact that we completely overlook in planning,” Green said. “I found it disingenuous to try to make this particular use fit into the history of that building. It is not going to be an African-American social club.”
Commissioner Taneia Dowell also voted no.
“I am having a hard time seeing how this fits into our Comprehensive Plan,” Dowell said.
Staff had recommended conditions that would not allow any noise to be heard from outside the structure between 1 and 8 a.m. and that would not allow outdoor amplified music after 11 p.m.
In other news, Commissioner Dan Rosensweig announced his resignation from the body.
“It’s time for me to step aside and let someone else have the opportunity to serve the community in this capacity,” Rosensweig said.
Rosensweig was appointed in 2008 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Bill Lucy. Since then, he has become executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville.
Rosensweig said he would continue to dedicate his professional life to providing more affordable housing in the community.
“I see it as the new civil rights, and I’ve gotten the chance to know so many families in this community for whom housing is the first thing and everything else is downstream,” Rosensweig said.
Rosensweig also said he wants the commission to “push back against car culture.”
“I think we all recognize that urban and walkable has to be our future,” he said.
Commissioner Kurt Keesecker took the unusual step of coming in front of the dais to pay tribute to his colleague.
“It’s a very strange thing to imagine that we’ll have some of these weighty conversations without you,” Keesecker said. “I think your leadership over the past two years when you were the chair when we tackled colossal issues should be appreciated.”