Back in 2006, this was the vision that developers had for "Albemarle Place," which eventually became Stonefield.
Stonefield's town center, as it exists today, around mid-day on a recent Thursday in August. More stores will be opening this fall, but it is largely deserted during the day.
Back when Stonefield was known as "Albemarle Place," and still on the drawing board, developers touted the "town center" development as a place with "rich architecture, upscale boutiques and eye-catching entertainment... casual sophistication mixed with unmistakable class."
There were architectural renderings that showed the newly built, pedestrian-friendly streets teeming with activity in a lush urban landscape. Today, courtesy of different developers, the "town center" is a largely isolated landscape that has the feel of an abandoned movie set, and with the recent announcement that big box discount store Costco will be moving in, there's some doubt about the "unmistakable class" we were originally promised.
Moreover, a Costco is not in line with the spirit of the county's Places29 Design Plan, which was implemented to guide future growth along the corridor, and allows a maximum building footprint of 80,000 square feet. The planned Costco will be 155,000 square feet. A vote on allowing the square-footage increase, which county planning staff have already recommended for approval, is expected to take place at the Board of Supervisor's September 11 meeting after the Hook goes to press.
Most supes we contacted were mum about how they would vote. Asked how a giant, big box Costco might fit into the pedestrian-friendly, open spaces, "live, work, play" model that the Places29 Master plan seeks to embrace, Supervisor Ken Boyd acknowledged that that was a good question.
"I hope our staff has an answer for it if they recommend approval," he says.
According to the staff report, the portion of the Stonefield development north of Sperry Marine, where the Costco will be built, is already zoned for a "more commercial retail development."
"The rezoning of Stonefield predated Places29, and Places29 includes reference to this property," says Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who has plenty to say about the plan for the new Costco "as being already zoned for a traditional shopping center."
True, but is a big box store in keeping the with the spirit of the Places29 design plan and what Stonefield claimed it would be?
"Yes, it is consistent with the design plan and with the developer's plan for the development," says Rooker, directing anyone interested to the staff report.
"I'm all for Costco coming," says Hook real estate expert Richard Spurzem," as we need the stores, and the tax revenue, but let's be real...Stonefield is turning out to be another run-of-the-mill strip shopping center, a far cry from the grandiose plan they had in the beginning."
"There is somewhat of a campaign of misinformation against the Stonefield application for minor plan variations and it appears to me to be being waged by other developers," claims Rooker, whose district Stonefield occupies.
"In my opinion," he adds, "this developer is being singled out for much harsher treatment because of a campaign of opposition from other developers and at least one board member who is carrying their water."
Rooker's is not the only allegation of a board member carrying water for a developer, but none of his fellow supervisors had responded to such claims by press time.
However, Rooker did point to an online petition opposing the construction of the Costco as an example of the "misinformation campaign," which claims the big box store will snarl traffic in the area, harm local businesses, and bring low-wage jobs to the community.
"There is no increase in traffic resulting from the variance application," claims Rooker. "and Costco pays its employees about double comparable retailers in the area."
However, petition signer Gerrit Goss, a local landscape architect, thinks the lure of a Costco will only make the traffic situation worse.
"Hydraulic and 29 is a particularly difficult intersection to navigate already," he says, "without the added traffic of a megastore like Costco."
What's more, Goss wonders why we need another big box with Lowe's, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Target so close by. Indeed, those four stores already combine for 562,699 square feet of big-box store space along 29.
Again, Rooker wonders why there's such opposition to Stonefield. As he points out, a 140,000 square-foot Wegmans was unanimously approved by the BOS for the Fifth Street Station on Fifth Street Extended.
The developer for that project, Allen Taylor, declined comment.
"You can also look at Hollymead Town Center, which is supposed to have a town center, which was never built," says Rooker, "but also has approval for a basic shopping center with several boxes which have gone forward. Stonefield, on the other hand, has built its town center and is actively leasing it."
Still, folks like Goss think we have to tread carefully.
"I think we need to try harder to preserve that which is special about Charlottesville," says Goss, "and I worry that I am going to wake up one day and find out that I live in Gainesville, Virginia, which is the saddest, most disheartening, anonymous, depressing excuse for a town I have ever driven through."