Stonefield stalemate: Is the Trader Joe's design appropriate?
While it has been impossible to miss the massive earth-moving project at the site of the future mega-commercial center known as Stonefield (previously Albemarle Place), the 65-acre village-style development three times the size of the Downtown Mall, you might have missed the battle raging over the design of one of Stonefield's premiere tenants, Trader Joe's.
Back in August, when Charlottesville's version of the popular grocery store was revealed, some County Architectural Review Board members grumbled that the overall site plan seemed "anti-urban" and complained that the planned 14-screen Regal Cinema was oriented in a way that showed its less attractive backside to passing traffic along Hydraulic Road. Stonefield's architects countered the criticism with a reference to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, claiming the theater, like the Pope's church, was "coherently scaled."
Similar disagreements have popped up over the Trader Joe's design, which will be the most highly visible building at the corner of Hydraulic and 29 North, site of the now-demolished 7-Eleven.
"I'm disappointed in the proposed Trader Joe's building," says ARB member Chuck Lebo. "This is a key building for the entire project, and it doesn't reflect any kind of traditional Charlottesville/Albemarle architecture. They are proposing huge amounts of stucco, brick painted white, and virtually no glass on the side of the building that faces this heavy traffic area."
Indeed, a quick glance at the latest renderings for the Trader Joe's reveals a grocery store that resembles the company's corporate headquarters.
"Our board has asked them in numerous meetings to make improvements to this building," says Lebo– specifically noting a desire for windows– "but so far we are at a stalemate."
According to minutes from an October 3 ARB meeting, reps for Edens & Avant and project supporters showed some impatience with the ARB, and applied a little pressure on members by claiming that continued design discussion could stall the entire project.
The developers also got a little help from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum, who said that the ARB's "iterative process" could end up raising the cost of the project, a cost that customers might eventually have to bear, and that the ARB had "too much say" in the project.
It's not hard to guess how that went over with ARB members.
According to ARB member Paul Wright, "nothing" regarding the ARB's concerns about the design of the Trader Joe's "has been addressed in a significant way."
Of course, Wright and Lebo don't speak for the other ARB members, who– while not exactly thrilled about the design– appear ready to move on. Wright, though, says the rush to approve the project on October 17 would force the ARB to do something it has never done before: enter a final review meeting without a complete staff report.
"It's probably the most heavily trafficked intersection in the county," says Wright. "I want to make sure we have a quality building there."
Reps for Edens & Avant promised that County staff would be provided all the information they need to make a determination.
In the end, however, the stalemate would give way, as the ARB approved the design at its October 17 meeting.