Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar Credit: Credit: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review could suggest to the City Council that some clear plastic tents used by local restaurants be prohibited. Tents on rooftops or tents at street level blocking the façades of buildings that are contributing historic structures would not be approved if the council adopts that suggestion. 

“I have not been in favor of tents in general,” said Michael Osteen, the board’s liaison from the Planning Commission. “The one great argument [is] … there is no irreparable damage, … it can go away. However, I feel on West Main in the front yards of those buildings, to me that place is compromised forever.”

Most of the discussion at a board work session Thursday at CitySpace focused on a tent erected previously at the Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar on the Downtown Mall and currently located at the Horse & Hound restaurant on West Main Street

Previous arguments from Commonwealth co-owner Alex George included that jobs would be eliminated if the tent was not available in the winter, were said to be objectionable.

“I really resent being told a business plan won’t function without [the tent]. They could have put an extra story on that building],” said board member Brian Hogg.

“It’s an attractive building architecturally, but when you encase it in plastic, it takes that away,” added board member Melanie Miller.

Mary Joy Scala, the city’s preservation and design planner, said she understood the BAR had high standards for Commonwealth and the Downtown Mall.

“You have approved all the other tents that have come forward,” said Scala.  “Because of their special building and location, you expect more.  We don’t allow tents [in other places] on the Downtown Mall.”

The design guidelines are intended to protect the historic character of the Downtown Mall and West Main Street as well as ensure quality development in the city’s entrance corridors, such as Preston Avenue.

Board chairman William Adams summarized the new direction from the board.

“Tents are not appropriate on the upper floors or roofs of buildings,” said Adams.  “Tents are not appropriate in front of  [designated historic structures], and may be appropriate in front of non-contributing buildings depending on the effect on the streetscape, and the materials, size and scale.”

Scala said after the discussion that she did hear support for seasonal enclosures that were more like porches.

“They are looking for seasonal enclosures that need to be part of the design of a building,” said Scala.  “It seems to me you could design a more permanent enclosure like a porch.”

The BAR will meet again to approve the suggested changes to the tent guidelines before sending a recommendation to City Council.