Restaurant tents under review

The tent over the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar’s rooftop patio may be sent back to storage this month.

The city of Charlottesville has requested the tent’s removal because of the restaurant’s failure to resolve issues raised by the Board of Architectural Review when the owners applied for a permit in October.  

The city adopted new seasonal tent design guidelines in September. Two other restaurants had their tents approved Tuesday by the BAR.

“Skybar made application last fall but the BAR did not like the design. The BAR agreed to allow the applicant to defer [to no specific date] so that [Alex George] could bring back a new design,” Charlottesville preservation and design planner Mary Joy Scala told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an email.

“Since Skybar did not resubmit yet, we asked them to remove the tent,” Scala added. “They will remove the tent this month.”

Executive chef and co-owner of Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar Alex George said he plans to apply again in the coming weeks, but expressed frustration with the process.

“I have let the city know that I do plan on [submitting an application] in the next few weeks,” George said. “What I’m actually going to do is try to schedule some meetings with the BAR to see what they would like us to put up.”

“Currently, we submit an application and it gets approved or denied and we’re never told why, but I am prepared to work with the city to resolve the issue,” George said. “Jim Tolbert has been very kind to let us keep the tent up this winter, so I will do my part.”

At the October meeting, BAR member Melanie Miller suggested that the tent was incompatible with the historic integrity of the property and that the tent hid the building’s new design.

Charlottesville Planning Commission member Michael Osteen offered a more site-specific assessment.

“I think that there is an appropriate tent for that roof, but I think it needs to be designed for this specific site, maybe change materials,” Osteen suggested.

Scala said the restaurants were granted leeway last winter due to the city’s lack of guidelines.  

“Because the [architectural design control] guidelines were not adopted by City Council until September [2012], the restaurants [were] allowed to put up tents for [that] season without BAR approval, provided they work diligently toward getting a permanent design approved by BAR,” Scala said.

Maya and Horse & Hound Gastropub are among the other restaurants currently involved in the approval process, and their applications went before the BAR on Tuesday.

Maya owner Peter Castiglione requested his tent be grandfathered in and cited the patio as the linchpin to his business.

“If we are not permitted to leave our tent up during patio season, we stand to lose upwards of $350,000 of guaranteed and secured revenue,” Castiglione said in a letter to the BAR. “This constitutes approximately 25 percent of our annual sales.”

Castiglione also noted that Maya has had a patio tent for years.

“During our first four years in business, we needed the tent to protect us from the poor conditions that surrounded our property on West Main Street,” Castiglione said. “Our tent was not only a necessity to protect our revenue stream but a means to protect the health of our customers and employees.”

“We find it interesting that until recently the city and the BAR were not concerned about the aesthetic value of our tent structure relative to the surrounding area be it historic or not,” Castiglione said.

Horse & Hound owner Brooke Fedora also emphasized the tent’s importance to her business.

“I need the flexibility to really thrive and do business,” Fedora said. “I counted today … we’ve booked over 50 parties [on the patio]. Panicked customers are calling about the tent because we had a sign outside of our building.”

Miller suggested a more permanent structure, but Fedora said that option’s cost is out of reach for the small business.

Justin Sarafin praised the tent’s presence, stating that it added “life and vibrancy” to the street, but Osteen disagreed, saying that individual table umbrellas would be a better fit.

The BAR voted in favor of both tents, 4-2, with Osteen and Miller opposed in both votes.