Neighbors of the proposed William Taylor Plaza had two opportunities Wednesday to express their opposition to the project, even though there is little chance of overturning a recent Charlottesville City Council decision that cleared the way for a hotel.

“I’m embarrassed by Charlottesville,” said Stan Sweeney, owner of a historic home on 5th Street SW. 

“I know we’re in 2015 and we want to be contemporary and modern but that [design] is not reflective of Charlottesville,” he added at a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Architectural Review.

Councilors granted a rezoning for land at the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue in November 2009, but voted 3-2 in July to amend the rezoning to change a requirement that 90 percent of the parking be in a garage.

Southern Development, the owner of the property, requested the change to clear the way for a 114-room Fairfield Inn to be built on the Cherry Avenue side of the development.

In order to go to construction, the project must get its site plan approved as well as a certificate of appropriateness from the Board of Architectural Review.

The next steps towards both milestones began with a public review of the initial site plan in the morning and a preliminary discussion before the BAR in the evening.

About a dozen members of the public took advantage of the site plan conference.

They learned sidewalks on Cherry Avenue will be eight-feet wide and a five-foot tall fence will be built along the outer edge of open space on the land.  There will be a public plaza with benches at the corner of Ridge and Cherry.

Full vehicular access will be from Cherry Avenue towards the bottom of the hill.  There will be a right-in right-out turn lane into the property from Ridge.

The site plan does not have any information for the second phase of the project, which will front Ridge Street. By the terms of the new zoning, there must be a minimum of ten residential units.

One man who doesn’t live near the hotel asked other participants why they opposed the hotel.

“It’s in a great area and I think it will clean up the whole area,” said Dale Ludwig.

“We don’t want a revolving set of strangers living in our neighborhood,” said Marilyn Macdonald who lives next door to the second phase on Ridge Street.  

The Planning Commission will have the chance to review the site plan to ensure it complies with all requirements, but must eventually approve it if modifications are made to satisfy the rules.

The commission’s review will extend to whether the site plan conforms with the Strategic Investment Area study, which is part of the Comprehensive Plan. However, conditions in the BAR’s approval take precedence.

The BAR has jurisdiction over the entire property due to a proffer made by Southern Development. Only the portions of Ridge Street are in a historic district.

“It’s tough to say exactly what the building will look like so one thing you should ask for are the final elevations drawings with the accurate colors,” said Mary Joy Scala as the BAR meeting began.  

The presentation to the BAR was much more detailed than that of the site plan. A video was shown of the project that depicted a 360 degree view of the structure.

The rooftop will not be a flat surface. Instead there would be three separate roof areas and green features to help achieve LEED Hospitality status.

“We believe it will help bring the scale of the building down,” said Krysta Aten-Schell with BCA Architects & Engineers.

Some members of the community objected to the design and the scale.

“There is absolutely nothing on Ridge Street that resembles that building,” said city resident Kenneth Martin.

The hotel block will be 275 feet long. By comparison, the Flats at West Village is 300 feet long.

“Why does it have to be so big?” Macdonald asked. “That’s 25 feet less than the Flats. For the area, this really seems big.”

“We did not see any drawings with our house [in the video] and maybe that house is not significant to Charlottesville all,” said Sweeney, adding his home was built in 1832.

One potential obstacle to construction would be the discovery of graves on the property. Many historians and archeologists believe that the Allan Hawkins family burial ground is on the property.

A full archaeological study will be conducted and construction must stop if anything is found. However, the study won’t occur until they get permission to disturb the land.

“We have looked into that with deed research as much as we can and archaeologists looking at the surface of the ground so the next step would be to do some sub-surface investigation,” said Charlie Armstrong, vice president of Southern Development.

BAR members asked if it would possible to allow the investigation to proceed without the permit.

“We would love to do this as early as we can,” Armstrong said.

Historian Antoinette Roades said she has been campaigning for years to have the graveyard located. She insisted the graveyard is not located in the area where Armstrong wants to investigate.

The William Taylor Plaza project has only been made possible due to a sale of two formerly city-owned parcels to Southern Development. Roades wanted that sale to be conditioned on an investigation.

“They failed to do that but they should have done that,” Roades said.  “According to everything I know about the site, it’s entirely possible that the Hawkins’ family bones can end up underneath a damned [stormwater] detention pond.”

The project will return to the BAR as soon as September if the architects can submit revised drawings in time. The site plan review is ongoing.

A representative of Marriott said they hope to begin construction as soon as they get all the necessary permits.

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