Another Day of Panes at Albemarle’s ARB

By. Neil Williamson, President

This week’s Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) meeting was long, tedious and at times troubling.  The results of the meeting included mandating a change of the shade of orange in a small business logo, thinly veiled (unreasonable) demands regarding window functionality and an overarching architectural arrogance regarding other professionals.

Please let me explain.

To be clear, the Free Enterprise Forum does not have any position on these specific projects but we do have concerns regarding the manner the applications moved forward.

First a primer, according to Albemarle County:

The Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and 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.

The concept of protecting the entrance corridors make sense to many folks.  Care to guess how many “entrance corridors” there are in Albemarle County? – Twenty One.  Along each of these “Entrance Corridors” there is an overlay that gives the ARB (and staff) the ability to dictate design decisions.

Based on testimony to the Board of Supervisors, it is anticipated that The new John Warner Parkway/Meadowcreek Parkway will be the 22nd Entrance Corridor when it is completed.  The Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the number of Entrance Corridors far exceeds the legislative intent of the General Assembly.

pj networksChanging Colors – In attempting to gain an approval of a sign for their new Rio/US29 location PJ Networks submitted an application to include three colors on their sign to mirror their corporate identity.  The company actually has a temporary sign already in place that uses their corporate colors (see photo). 

The ARB however took issue with the shade of orange used in the sign as it was not from their approved list of colors for this shopping center. Staff suggested that the applicant use red instead of orange.   Recognizing the import of the orange and blue theme, the applicant accepted an ARB compromise that he change the shade of orange to match an approved shade elsewhere in the corridor. 

Window Panes – In another application considered in Monday’s ARB meeting, a business owner is acquiring the iconic Pizza Hut Building on Pizza Hut 3US29.  The owner contemplated several modifications to the building to make it better suit her business needs.  One of those considerations was the replacement of the Pizza Hut roof with a more traditional roofline and the replacement of the angular windows with more traditional box windows.  The owner also wanted to add faux windows to the roofline and reduce the number of windows on the north face of the building to allow for backroom operations.

ARB Member (and architect) John Quale took great umbrage at the concept of “fake” windows.  Despite the applicant concern that real windows could not be supported by the existing truss system, Mr. Quale was adamant about his desire that real windows be used.  He cited his “duty as an architectural professional” to speak up about such a travesty.  In addition he was concerned there would not be enough light in the backroom from the two windows that were targeted to remain.

While I am not an architectural professional, I do believe that the ARB purview should be limited to the visual impacts of the design NOT the functionality.  I understand there is a school of thought in architecture that form follows function.  Too often I see the ARB actions (and relegated parking requirements) where design is in conflict with function.

Pet Supply Shelves windowIn driving down US29 to the intersection with Greenbrier, one can see how such how conflicts between design and function are resolved. Pet Supply Plus has their front picture windows on US29 providing a great view of their shelving.  Would screened “fake” windows been so bad in this case?

Throughout Monday’s meeting, Mr. Quale continued to express what can best be described as an undercurrent of “architectural arrogance”.  When an applicant brought forward changes to an approved plan, Mr. Quale questioned what the original architect thought of the changes.  When informed the changes were being made by the construction professional, Mr. Quale was visibly upset. 

To his credit, ARB Member (and architect) Bruce Wardell corrected Mr. Quale suggesting it did not matter who prepared the plans, “the applicant could have a gorilla do it if the plan could be approved”.

The Free Enterprise Forum remains concerned that Albemarle County’s ARB regularly overreaches its somewhat limited authority and applicants have little or no recourse beyond not moving forward with projects.  One is left wondering what economic vitality projects have chosen not to locate in Albemarle County due to the twenty one entrance corridors and their overlay design restrictions.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson 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

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