(Second of two reports)
The developers seeking to build a new Whole Foods on Hydraulic Road in Charlottesville have requested a deferral of the Planning Commission’s consideration of a preliminary site application. The action by MeadowBrook Creek LLC came after Commissioners expressed concern about the size of the three-story parking garage, as well as the proximity of the garage to Hydraulic Road. The developers will bring a revised application to the Commission at their meeting in late July.
Listen using player above or download the podcast:
The preliminary site plan submitted for the Commission’s review during their June 10, 2008 meeting depicted a 66,600 square foot building for Whole Foods with a separate three level parking garage. The site plan also incorporates the first phase and southern terminus of the Hillsdale Drive extension project. At one point, the developers had two separate engineering firms developing each component, but have now given Bohler Engineering the task of developing a combined site plan for the road and the store.
Neighborhood Planner Nick Rogers said he had been able to thoroughly review the site plan application submitted to the City on May 20, 2008. However, MeadowBrook Creek submitted a revised plan on June 2, 2008, but Rogers was not able to complete the review in time for the Commission meeting. He said he could not recommend the May 20 site plan for a variety of reasons, and presented four of them to the Commission:
Rogers said at least some of the issues were addressed in the June 2nd revisions, but that he had had not time to perform a thorough review. For instance, the utility lines have been relocated, and the
City traffic engineer has been working on the transportation issues
The applicant had also asked for a waiver to exempt the site plan from the City’s requirement that 10% of the site must be covered by trees. Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development Services, denied that waiver.
Mary Joy Scala, the City planner responsible for overseeing architectural issues in the City, told the Commission that she could not recommend the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness. The project is in one of the City’s Entrance Corridors, which requires additional scrutiny. Scala was not satisfied that enough had been done to screen the parking garage from the streets, and thought the use of pre-cast concrete panels with thin brick cast was inappropriate. This is the same kind of material used in the recently constructed UVa parking garage on 11th Street E near West Main Street.
“Even though it’s supposed to be brick, it’s actually so thin and so evenly laid that it looks more like a pattern, and really doesn’t give you the texture or the scale that brick gives,” Scala said. She said the brick veneer proposed for the outside of the grocery store was appropriate, and recommended this form be applied to the parking garage as well. Scala did say she supported a parking garage rather than a surface lot, but encouraged MeadowBrook Creek to do more to screen the garage from Hydraulic Road.
Chris Pine of Red Light Management was the first speaker on behalf of the applicant. Red Light Management is the “landlord entity” and Pine said he is the former vice president of real estate for Whole Foods. He said Whole Foods is excited to build a sustainable store in Charlottesville.
Mark McAfee of Rounds Vanduzer Architects presented the site plan to the Commission, and began by explaining how difficult the location is to develop. To combat against a severe grade drop-off of thirty feet across the property, he and his team decided to place the parking garage at the bottom of the hill to avoid the need to fill in the site. McAfee said the garage was placed as close to Hydraulic as possible in order to keep cars in that location. He suggested the garage would become a community attraction.
“The main feature of our store is this market hall, a community gathering place where we can have farmer’s markets, where we can have community meeting places, outdoor spaces, so that really becomes the main focus of this store,” McAfee said. He suggested local farmers would be allowed to sell their products here, with no part of proceeds going to Whole Foods. McAfee said the large number of parking spaces are required due to accommodate the 400 employees expected at the store, as well as for extra traffic during the holiday season.
Baron Schimberg, an architect hired to ensure compliance with the LEED certification maintained by the United States Green Building Council, said that the new Charlottesville store is being planned as the chain’s flagship store for environmental sustainability.
Mat Fitch of Bohler Engineering said he was still working with City staff to discuss the exact location of the main entrance Whole Foods entrance onto Hydraulic. He said he had applied for the landscape and tree canopy waiver because of the sheer size of the building, and because the 3.4 acre parcel doesn’t leave enough room for plantings. Fitch said he could attain a 6% tree canopy, and suggested a 10,000 square foot green roof should be considered as mitigation.
The Commission had established during their pre-meeting gathering that they would not be taking a vote on the site plan, but would provide feedback to the applicant. Commissioner Mike Farruggio wanted to know if the 433 spaces where crucial. McAfee said they were. Pine said the topography of the site required a tall structure – the top floor of the parking garage will be at-grade with the entrance of the store. These 100 spaces will be for customers.
Mark Hughes, Executive Construction Coordinator for Whole Foods’ Mid Atlantic Region, said the 433-space parking structure was “paramount” to the project, because it would allow the store to grow. He suggested without that number of spaces, Whole Foods would need to find another location “a little bit down the road.” He then told the Commission that Whole Foods is committed to supporting local farmers, and that the whole top level of the space could be used as a farmer’s market.
Commissioner Cheri Lewis took up Scala’s concern that the garage was not adequately being screened from Hydraulic Road. She said she needed more information to be able to make a determination. Pine said the architects would be able to provide more detailed information when the item goes back to the Commission in July. Lewis also asked why there was no landscaping on the top of the parking deck, and said the lack of trees there would outweigh the benefits of the green roof. Engineer Mat Fitch said potted plants would be part of the final site plan, but there was no way to put actual trees there. Lewis asked Pine if the applicant would be willing to provide off-site trees, perhaps in the K-Mart parking lot. Pine said he did not control that site, but predicted the K-Mart site would soon be in redevelopment.
Commissioner Dan Rosensweig said he was concerned about the way the project was presented to Hydraulic Road , and said the store and the garage’s design was against the vision of reports such as the Torti Gallas report and the Places29 study.
“[They] imagine that stretch of Hydraulic Road as having a little bit more value as an urban pedestrian… it might be primarily pedestrian, and primarily auto-oriented but to put a face of a parking garage set just five feet back from the street doesn’t seem to me to pass the test of the vision,” said Rosensweig. He added he did appreciate the pedestrian scale for Hillsdale Drive.
Farruggio agreed, and said the Whole Foods project will set a precedent for other nearby sites that will soon redevelop, on both sides of Hydraulic Road.
Pine reminded the Commission that the future Hillsdale Drive extension will be more walkable than Hydraulic, and that the Whole Foods project would set a tone of pedestrian character. Rosensweig said he would prefer to see the parking garage moved further back from Hydraulic.
After several minutes of questions, Mark Hughes pointed out that the project was providing a unique benefit to the country, as the Environmental Protection Agency would monitor the innovative stormwater management plan. He repeated that the project would be the first LEED certified grocery store east of the Mississippi River.
“This whole project means a lot more to us than just this, please forgive me, this Hydraulic Road elevation,” Hughes said.
Commission Chairman Jason Pearson explained to Hughes that the Commission’s intense line of questioning was because of the value this community places on getting these large projects right.
“We see ourselves as voices for the community on your behalf to help you understand where the priorities might be, and certainly the priorities that Mr. Rosensweig has outlined of pedestrian connectivity… tree canopy… and that’s some of what I think we’re communicating to you,” Pearson said. “We recognize it’s a difficult site, we recognize there are many issues.”
Commissioner Michael Osteen said the 5’ setback was too tight, and said he understood the need for the developer to take advantage of every square foot of the property. He suggested shrinking the number of parking spaces, which would allow for more distance between the garage and Hydraulic Road. That would allow for more room for landscaping, which might help the site plan meet the tree canopy requirement.
Lewis said she was happy to have Whole Foods coming into the community and said there was much in the site plan that she liked. But, she said she could not support waiving the tree canopy requirement.
At the conclusion of comments from the Commission, Pine asked for a deferral, which was granted. Pine said the development team would incorporate the Commission’s feedback into consideration and would prepare a new plan before the Commission’s July meeting. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s request of the applicant to use images from the site plan was denied. The image above was provided by City staff who captured the plan as they televised the public meeting.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST: