The Charlottesville Planning Commission has agreed to lower the minimum height requirement for the ‘street wall’ to be constructed as part of any new building on West Main Street. The amendment was made at the request of the University of Virginia to accommodate the design for a new hospital building.
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When the City of Charlottesville rewrote its zoning code in 2003, special design requirements were created for West Main Street in order to encourage an urban corridor. In addition to requiring minimum heights, the code also required multistory facades.
Currently, new buildings in the West Main North and West Main South zoning districts must have a street wall that is at least 40 feet in height and contain three internal stories.
In the fall of 2006, both the Planning Commission and City Council approved a special use permit allowing for the University of Virginia Foundation to build both a new medical building and a new parking garage on West Main.
The architect for the medical building, Roger Soto of Odell Associates, developed a design that calls for a 32 foot tall street wall that allows for a terrace that integrates with the adjoining parking garage. To accommodate the design, The UVA Foundation formally requested to have the requirement dropped to 25 feet.
“We did have some concerns at first, but despite the reduced street wall, we felt that the density and massing contemplated by the code along West Main Street is still maintained,” said City Planner Nick Rogers. “Given the relative land values along West Main Street, most property owners will be looking to maximize the building envelope and we don’t see this jeopardizing that.”
During last Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, Soto pointed out that the smaller street wall would better fit in with the scale of nearby buildings on West Main. The Battle Building’s neighbors include the University Baptist Church, the Dinsmore House and the Courtyard Hotel.
“[The design] does a pretty good job of being both pedestrian friendly and defining the urban corridor in an appropriately scaled way,” Soto said.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he was concerned about lowering the requirement.
“This [could] begin to set the standard for a lower street wall that will then be the barometer by which subsequent buildings are measured and scaled,” Rosensweig said. However, he added the concern was not enough to cause him to vote against it.
Chairman Jason Pearson sat on a committee that in 2007 reviewed the zoning code as it pertained to building heights and setbacks in the West Main Corridor and Downtown.
“I think the general consensus of the committee was that we’d like to see a corridor that was taller,” Pearson said. “This is the first major project that’s come under those regulations so they’re kind of being tested as well, whether they make sense.”
City Council will begin consideration of the item on June 7th during the first of two readings.