By. Neil Williamson, President
Yesterday’s (8/15) Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting featured a work session on the Shops at Stonefield including the proposed, and highly anticipated, Trader Joe’s market. It is important to note, the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this, or any other, development proposal but finds the process worthy of attention.
The developers of Stonefield didn’t get much time to relish last month’s approval of the design for a new Regal Cinema. The proposed Trader Joe’s grocery store, and every other building under review by the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board, hit a buzz saw of criticism Monday.
The charge of the ARB is to regulate the aesthetics of the Entrance Corridors. According to Albemarle County:
[The ARB is] charged with the responsibility of regulating the design of development within the County’s Entrance Corridors. Entrance Corridors are streets that provide routes of tourist access to the County and to historic landmarks, structures, and districts. The goal of this regulation is to ensure that new development in these corridors reflects the traditional architecture of the area and that development within the corridors is orderly and attractive.
Albemarle County’s Neighborhood Model calls for:
The Neighborhood Model proposes reassessing parking standards and finding ways to make parking areas
less dominant from the street. Such steps should improve the visual character of the community and
make possible a more functional and appealing pedestrian
So following Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model, the applicant, Edens & Avant, placed the parking behind the building thus protecting the public from looking at a sea of parking. This location meant that other critical operational elements, loading docks, electrical equipment etc. needed to e placed somewhere other than the rear of the building – which was now the front.
Couldn’t this conflict have been predicted? Yes.
Way back in 2003, the Free Enterprise Forum wrote to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors:
As written, it is anticipated that a significant number of businesses would establish the front of their shop as the “rear” and close all public access from the street side of the building. As architecture critic Craig Whitaker notes in his book Architecture and the American Dream, if cars are moved to the back, “the front doors would start following the cars.”
Randal O’Toole, in his book The Vanishing Automobile and other urban myths, cites
“Small shops may have only enough personnel to monitor one entrance to the store, and that will usually be the entrance to the parking lot”. In 1996, Portland writer Bob Elliot noted a store in Southeast Portland (a pioneer in new urbanism) where the door fronting the street “is barricaded with merchandise on the inside” and “a sign directs you to the back entrance off the parking lot.”
We need only look to the proposed Crozet Library to see this phenomena in action.
While the building has doors on the street level, the library has no intention of ever using them. Why? The Library Board explained to the Board of Supervisors that they could not afford to have staff at both entrances and without such staffing the doors would present a security risk to patrons and employees. Just as O’Toole wrote in 2001 about private businesses.
The only street access to the library is an awning covered walkway that leads to the “back” now “front” door.
During the course of the ARB meeting, Board member Paul Wright made a point utilizing images of other Edens & Avant projects including the Shoppes at Ryan Park in Ashburn (on left).
A closer examination of this picture reveals that there is parking in front of the center, in direct opposition to Albemarle’s Neighborhood model concept.
All of this is going on in the new “business friendly” Albemarle County.
It certainly feels more like the atmosphere in 2003 when then Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton said,
“If a particular franchisee does not want to build it the way we say, then Albemarle County is better off without them”.
While the Free Enterprise Forum has no opinion on this specific application, the ARB process and the complications of conflicting comprehensive plan goals is worthy of attention.
The implications for the economic vitality of the development areas and the regulatory burdens placed on such development are significant.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org