Big box bonanza: Hunter Craig lauded in Wegmans deal

Two and a half years after selling a 1,200-acre property known as Biscuit Run to the Commonwealth for use as a state park– and eight months after suing the state in an effort to nearly triple the $11 million in tax credits investors received for the property– developer Hunter Craig is winning praise for something. Like Biscuit Run, it's another south-of-town development, but this one promises to reward, not charge, the taxpayers.

"I think it'll be a great benefit to that side of town," says fellow developer, Katurah Roell, whose own projects include an effort to bring a national chain restaurant to a parcel he has optioned on neighboring Fifth Street.

Besides Craig, Fifth Street Station is also backed by DMB manager and Biscuit Run investor Coran Capshaw. The two have secured 89 acres spanning the distance from the Hardees and Exxon on Fifth Street Extended to an old landfill just north of I-64 and the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail on Avon Extended.

The developers promised the County that development would happen all at once. When complete, it will have nearly half a million square feet of retail space including Wegmans, another yet-to-be-named big-box anchor, and a five-story parking garage. Supporters say it will boost County tax rolls, add as many as 1,500 jobs and, most importantly to some, add a connector road between Avon and Fifth.

"It's something that's been long needed," says Roell, who was frustrated when Cracker Barrel pulled out of lease negotiations for his three-and-a-half acre Fifth Street property back in February. The Wegmans deal, he says, has helped him attract another restaurant, although he declines to identify it pending lease finalization.

Roell is not the only one pleased by the Wegmans announcement.

"We're excited," says Harris Road resident David Storm, who spoke in support of the project before County Supervisors back in 2008 where he presciently named Wegmans as his wife's top pick for an anchor. He cites the lack of selection at the Fifth Street Food Lion as the impetus for his family's frequent forays to big grocers on 29 North and asserts there's a large enough customer base to support a south-of-town shopping center.

"It's been a real boom area for growth," he notes of the Fifth Street corridor, where residential developments including Redfields and Mosby Mountain have blossomed residents, but where commercial development has lagged.

It's not for lack of effort. In fact, the Craig-led development team is the third to make something happen on Fifth Street. The first was a planned 1990s office park called "University Corporate Centre" which got sidelined as University of Virginia-backed office parks took off. Next up was venture capitalist Jim Murray, who in 1999 tried and failed to get a Walmart approved on the former site of Willoughby, a Civil War era mansion that fell into disrepair and then burned in 1991.

After Murray withdrew his application, the Coran Capshaw-backed development firm took over and expanded the site to 89 acres by purchasing the former Grand Piano Warehouse parcel and the 20-acre Avon Landfill site. The Craig/Capshaw team won the rezoning back in 2008, but getting big box anchors to the table proved elusive– until the Wegmans deal.

Roell thinks it was smart business for the New York-based grocery chain that's been expanding south.

"I think it's bold to go to that side of town because I have talked to a lot of restaurants, and they say, nobody's there," Roell says. "I say, 'That's the point: you've got a great market to tap.'"

"We've had wonderful success with other stores in the state, and we thought Charlottesville had some of the characteristics we were looking for," says Wegmans' Rochester, New York-based spokesperson Jeanne Colleluori, who credits the chain's success to extensive employee training and a focus on customer service.

Hugh Underwood is excited about Wegmans arrival. In the more than four decades he's lived on Fifth Street, he says traffic has increased exponentially.

"It's like an expressway out here in the morning and afternoon," says Underwood, a retired postal worker who moved to Fifth Street in 1969 when the area was rural and now makes regular trips to 29 North to obtain home improvement supplies from Lowe's and groceries from Kroger.

The Fifth Street Station development, he says, will save him and his neighbors time and gas money even as it adds money to county coffers.

"I'm glad to see the county finally waking up," says Underwood, mentioning the Walmart and Lowe's that opened in Louisa County as losses for Albemarle. "Those two stores have got to be costing them some tax revenue."

Indeed, in 2009, after those stores opened, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce released sales tax data showing that Albemarle and Charlottesville retail sales dropped while Greene and Louisa grew.

Underwood says he hopes to see the Wegmans joined by a Home Depot or a Costco when the project gets underway, something the Craig and Capshaw's property management firm says could happen as soon as mid-2013.

Even with a signed lease from a top national grocery chain, there are plenty of hurdles to leap– and questions to answer. Do they actually intend to fulfill the proffers that helped win them rezoning approval in 2008 over the protest of conservation groups?

In addition to the construction of the Bent Creek Parkway, which would carry drivers between Fifth and Avon, Craig, operating as River Bend Management, agreed to take on mitigation and maintenance of the old Avon Landfill, a 20-acre site over which the parkway will cross. They also agreed to harvest at least 25 percent of the rainwater that falls on the roof.

(At the 2008 public hearing, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council questioned why the County wouldn't demand 100 percent rainwater capture, and Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center also pressed supervisors to set even higher environmental standards for the development.)

County supervisor Dennis Rooker voted to approve the project back in 2008, and he says he remains in favor– assuming the developers don't renege on the proffers, in particular the connector road.

"I've heard some discussion about the developer wanting to make some changes in the plan," says Rooker, who says any proposed changes would have to go through an approval process.

According to Alan Taylor, spokesperson for Riverbend Management firm, all proffers– including the road– will be fulfilled, and the company is in the process of preparing to go before the Board of Supervisors for final approval. Among the improvements to the property, says Taylor, is a widening of the bridge leading from Fifth Street over Moore's Creek and a series of biking and walking trails that are still in the design phase but which will connect to the Rivanna Trail system.

Taylor, who answered questions by email, says having an inked deal with Wegmans is already attracting interest from other tenants.

"We're confident," he says, "that we will bring the project to fruition in a timely manner."


Pre-print correction: David Storm lives on Harris Road, not Harris Street.

Post-print correction: While an investor in the project, Craig is not a principal in River Bend Management, the firm overseeing the development, according to Alan Taylor, Riverbend vice president of River Bend Management, and so the word "Craig's" was removed from the front of our mention of that firm–editor.

Read more on: Hunter Craig


As someone who lives south of town i am really looking forward to more and better shopping options. Can we figure out how to get a wegmens, costco and homedepot in that space?

and now I love it even more...I grew up with a Wegmans in upstate NY. Can't wait.

Yea! Just what Charlottesville needs! ANOTHER major supermarket! I mean, you just can't find what you need at Whole Foods, Foods of All Nations, Giant, Harris Teeter, Kroeger, Food Lion, Food Lion(s), and the soon to open Trader Joe's! And yes, we need MORE big box stores! Let's keep developing as much land as possible! Let's cover ALL of this town in parking lots!

Why does this article not have anything even questioning the wisdom of this?

Do you konw what our neighborhood could REALLY use? A PARK.

JLo, i don't disagree with wanting more parks, nor do i think all big box developments are good, but this one quite certainly is. There is very little shopping south of the city. Right I need to drive for 10 minutes to get to a decent grocery store and 20-30 to get to a large home improvement store.

The parking should go below ground, who wants to look at yet another 5 story car park. Cville town planning to date has been awful let's not continue on the same path.

I agree. I'm tired of seeing more trees cut down and more pavement. People who live south of town should have thought about the lack of services before they moved there.

Coran, Hunter and Katurah. Nope, none of them has ever pulled a fast one anyone in Cville.

It's people like that who turned Fairfax into what it is today. We're so lucky to have them here in Cville.

Dawg, if you don't like seeing trees cut then buy your own damn land and let em grow...

The demand is there and if a buyer and seller want to get together within the confines of law it is their business...

Hah! Less development, more trees. If that's what you want, you should have thought of that before you moved here. Had you moved somewhere with a stagnant economy, parking lot and 100% rain water roof capture wouldn't be concerns. Those places are sure a lot easier to find than a town with a thing or two going on.

To Logan -- really!??? A full 10 minutes to a decent grocery store? And wow, 20 minutes to a large home improvement store? Think of all the major renovations to your home that have to wait until you can make such a long journey. Shocking! Utterly unacceptable.

I can only hope that the BOS have learned from the Biscuit Run debacle. That you cannot trust what Hunter Craig tells you. I also hope that the country has the back bone to make sure that they follow through on there proffers an that they take care of the landfill and any water problems. This project is very close to the Moores Creek sewer plant. I can already hear the debate for more development on the South side of 20. I hate having to drive all the way to 5th Street Station, to go to a nice grocery store or to buy some cheap crap from China. We need a Harris Teeter and a WAl Mart on 20.

I live south of Charlottesville and I can tell you I DO NOT want this. All its going to do is bring more traffic into our area. I miss old Charlottesville.

To all those who keep complaining about pavement, trees getting cut down, etc, here's an idea: Why don't you buy up all of this land so you can ensure it's not developed. How do you think tax dollars are collected to pay for your kids schools, etc; it's development, jobs, sales tax. Get over yourselves. Want to go where there is no threat of development? Bet there is plenty of room in the Dakota's or Montana for you.

Business Guy, you think all development is good development, don't you? Like, I bet you think "Treesdale" on Rio East is just beautiful, esp. because they had to cut down all of those 100-year-old oaks to build it.

I'll just write a check and buy up the land. Right. Your suggestion is obnoxious.

My point is that there is no reason to keep building NEW development when perfectly good paved areas already exist. Why don't the developers buy Albemarle Square or Fashion Sore and build underground parking and put more buildings on top? Because they are cheap and lazy and ultimately don't care about the habitat they are destroying. I know some developers and they are nice people individually, but as a group they are a downright malevolent force.

And reality bites, yes, I thought of that before I moved here from DC. Charlottesville has an opportunity to do things better than they did in Northern Virginia, and they are blowing that chance.

You can only hope that the new BOS rep. for the Scottsville Dist. in not a push over like the last Supervisor. This development was already approved and I hope the county applies all of the restrictions for water run off that they voted for after the Hollymead Town center mess. The next few years will tell if Mr. Dumler will be able to stand up against the pressure of Ken Boyd and Wendell Wood to rezone Wendell Woods land along RT 20. You can only hope that people have learned their lesson from the mistakes that were made from 2000-2008. But, I guarantee that they will screw it up again.

@Jlo...Another park? Azalea Park, Bailey Park, Belmont Park, DowntownMall/FifevillePark, Foresthills Park, Greenbrier Park, Greenleaf Park, Jackson Park, Jordan Park, Lee Park, McGuffey Park, McIntire Park, Meade Park
Meadowcreek Park, GardensNortheast Park, Pen Park, Quarry Park
Riverview Park, Rivanna Trail, Rives Park, Starr Hill Park, Tonsler Park,
Washington Park, Schenk's Greenway Charlottesville Skateboard Park, Darden Towe Memorial Park, Ivy Creek Natural Area, Ragged Mountain Natural Area. And then about 20 minutes away is the Shenandoah National Park.

Dawg says:
"My point is that there is no reason to keep building NEW development when perfectly good paved areas already exist. Why don't the developers buy Albemarle Square or Fashion Sore and build underground parking and put more buildings on top? Because they are cheap and lazy and ultimately don't care about the habitat they are destroying. I know some developers and they are nice people individually, but as a group they are a downright malevolent force."
You talk about obnoxious...
Do you realise how many people rely on development to make a living?

So. Dawg, you came on down, bought a quarter acre lot, and are now going to start telling people who have owned their acreage for decades what the can and can't do with it.? Business guy is right. There's plenty of regs to protect the Environment. If you want to protect every tree, figure out how to buy it.

pave the rainforest

"(At the 2008 public hearing, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council questioned why the County wouldn't demand 100 percent rainwater capture, and Morgan Butler of the Southern Environmental Law Center also pressed supervisors to set even higher environmental standards for the development.)" I'm sure these groups wouldn't protest if the development was proposed for the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. Then they could demand that the rain water could be diverted to the maga-dam.
Don't want development? Buy the land and turn it over to a conservancy. That is, put your money where your mouth is. Are you people living in development or tents?

JLo, Cville south just got a huge park that the entire state paid for called Biscuit Run.

Re-open the landfill. Why should our trash go to Shoosmith in Chesterfield or Amelia landfill 80 miles away. At least a transfer station, this would be an ideal location.