Breaking ground: Wood builds mammoth 'cabin on the hill'

onarch-wendellwoodhouse-degan0903Wendell Wood's house on Carter's Mountain takes shape. Click on the image for a closer view.

“Why would you want to write about some house I'm building?" That was developer Wendell Wood in a Hook cover story last February, when asked about the mansion he was building. The "real story" he said was the expansion around National Ground Intelligence Center and the prospect of 1,500 new jobs. "Now that's a story," said Wood.

Indeed, Wood’s developments along Route 29 over the last 30 years have been an ongoing story that earned him plenty of economic kudos and conservation-minded critics, but as the size of his new house becomes apparent (even from miles away), one may recall his reluctance to talk about it.

"It's just," he said with a smile, "that people hate me enough as it is."

According to County records, Wood’s new house will tip the scales at 15,554 finished square feet with another 14,269 square feet of unfinished basement, decks, and porches–- putting it within range of Patricia Kluge's 23,000 square-foot Albemarle House and making it not only one of the biggest houses ever built in Virginia but also perched on the highest part of Charlottesville's biggest mountain.

Indeed, it’s impossible to miss from anywhere there’s a view of Carter's Mountain, as its atop the range that includes Monticello, Montalto, and the kid-friendly Carter Mountain Orchard.

County records show that Wood applied for a building permit on the 29-acre tract in 2006 with an estimated work valuation of $1.25 million. With the recent purchase of 272 acres below the mountain along Route 20, Wood says he now owns 700 acres of the mountain side.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for 30 years,” says Wood, resigned to the fact that passersby have begun to talk about the house. “And I’m not getting any younger.”

Wood, 70, recalls first falling in love with the site and its 360-degree views during a bike ride to the summit when he was 12 years old. At the time, Wood says, an on-site fire tower was active, and a forestry watchman lived in a cabin there during fire season.

Wood was finally able to buy the property in 1982. Since then, he says, he has dreamed of building his own, as he puts it, “cabin on the hill.” Wood has carved a two-mile private road from Scottsville Road and says he’s “changed the plans 15 times” on this “hobby,” without an architect, which should be finished in about 18 months. In addition, Wood says he's built the house to last, using concrete and steel in the construction.

Of course, even though it adjoins a longstanding cluster of cellphone, radio, and TV station transmitter towers and even thought it began rising when the economy began falling, not everyone is pleased.

“I have seen it, and I’m concerned about anything that detracts from the beauty of our mountains,” says County

onarch-wendellwoodhouse-fromsnows0903A view of Wood's house from Snow's Garden Center. Click on the image for a close-up.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who likens it to the prospect of Virginia Beach officials allowing oil platforms 100 yards from shore. “In my opinion," says Rooker, "our mountain viewsheds are an important natural resource, not only to the local citizens but as a significant tourist attraction.”

Indeed, Wood has built in the shadow of a mountaintop protection ordinance that has been discussed for years, an ordinance that would have prevented the construction of Wood’s dream house had it been adopted before he submitted his plans.

When Rooker was on the County Planning Commission in 1998, he says a mountaintop protection ordinance (which a special committee had taken three years to craft) was unanimously recommended before the Board of Supervisors split 3-3 on the proposal. When Rooker was later elected to the BOS in 2001, he brought up the proposal again, but Rooker says it was never voted on. In 2003, the BOS created the Mountaintop Overlay District committee (MOD), which presented a proposal in 2006 that was never adopted.

“Have I seen the house?” asks Piedmont Environmental Council officer Jeff Werner. “Who hasn’t?”

Werner says that regulating aesthetics was a “non-starter” for the Mountaintop Overlay District committee, so they tried to focus on what could be objectively applied in reviewing applications–- things like disturbance to streams and buffers, erosion control, constructing driveways on steep slopes, and accessibility by emergency vehicles.

Interestingly, Werner says it was philanthropist Fred Scott Jr., whose family owns a medieval-style castle on Afton Mountain called Royal Orchard, who proposed restrictions on the construction of ridge-top buildings “that would create a visible silhouette.”

For former County Supe Sally Thomas, who helped initiate the mountaintop protection discussion 16 years ago, the construction of Wood's house is cause for regret.

"That very visible building is a stark reminder of what was at stake and of the fact that we failed," says Thomas. "Now we'll have to see if large houses sticking up on our mountain tops leads the public to try to protect the mountains from development, or whether we'll just get used to them."

However, County Supe Ann Mallek tells the Hook that, just last year, zoning changes were made to the driveway requirements to control the manner in which steep slopes were to be accessed, changes that would have prohibited Wood from building his two-mile road had he not already started it just months before.

cover-woodportrait"Some people don't like it, and that's their opinion," says Wood of his decision to build on Carter's Mountain.

County Supe Lindsey Dorrier, who opposed the ordinance, says he hasn’t seen Wood’s house, but promised to look for it. Asked if he approved of houses being built on scenic mountaintops in general, Dorrier said, “Let's review the issues before we jump to conclusions.”

“Let’s see what it looks like once it's completed and landscaped,” says new County Supe Duane Snow, who has one of the best views of Wood’s new house from his Snow’s Garden Center on Avon Street Extended. “It's hard to be less attractive than all the towers that are located on the mountain.”

Indeed, over a dozen radio, TV, and cell phone transmitters have long crowded the ridge on Orchard property, and Wood claims he’s turned down lucrative offers to have communication towers placed on his site, which is about 140 feet higher than the current transmitter farm.

“But you think I’ll get credit for that?” he asks.

Asked why he chose to build on the site, knowing it would draw criticism, Wood makes no apologies.

“Because that view wasn’t anywhere else,” answers Wood. "That’s why I built it. And I was fortunate enough to be able to. Some people don’t like it, and that’s their opinion. ”

Still, the criticism frustrates Wood, who wonders why it's not leveled against others who've built on the Carter's Mountain range. As he speculates, Jefferson probably would have built on his site if it hadn't been so difficult at that time to traverse the higher elevation.

"I'm not trying to impress anyone. I love that land, and it's been a childhood dream to build a house there," Wood continues. "Freedom is important to me. If you want to do something in life, and you work hard and follow the rules, you have a right to do it."

According to Jay Schlothauer, the County’s director of inspections, the construction hasn’t sent up any red flags, though inspectors will continue to monitor the process.

In the meantime, Wood appears to be having some fun with the public reaction. One of the workers recently told Wood that some hikers had asked what was being built on the mountain, and asked Wood what they should say to the curious.

“Tell them I’m building a Wal-Mart up there,” said Wood.


Hate isn't the word I'd use for Mr. Wood. First, he creates total blight along 29, and now, he builds his own home, by lopping off a whole mountain top, in a place where he doesn't have to look at the ugliness he has created.

Someone please explain how the BOS didn't have the votes to stop this? We formerly had Sally T,Dennis R, Ann M, and Slutsky on the board at the same time. Slutsky was courted by the PEC bunch.
It appears the only reason a mountaintop ordinance didn't pass, is that the former board neglected to do a job when they had the perfect opportunity. Sally, Dennis, Ann, I'm not buying into your lame excuses. If you choose to blame anyone, look in the mirror.

I still have my childhood memories of c-ville in the 60's, and they are good ones.

When I find myself getting angry at rich developers, I stop and think would I have done the same things they have done if I were smart enough and ambitious enough to create that kind of wealth......Maybe

quote: "You cannot even see the house unless you click on the telephoto version."

And this spring, with leaves on the trees again, you won't even be able to see it then! :)

People are just jealous of his success and wealth.

quote: "I hope Wood will be gracious enough to invite the Hook for an inside tour when it’s finished and landscaped."

Great idea! I will call The Hook tomorrow and volunteer for the assignment if Mr Wood agrees. :)

Jack Nicolas has 16,000 sq ft in Ohio- I can't hear you!!!!!

Looks like class envy again............

Guess you could move out if you are unhappy? Or are you tied to the bed? Ever hear of helping yourself

I agree with Cville Eye. No mountain top was lopped off. I think someone is confusing this mountain with the one Jefferson lowered to build his house on. If one were to look back a century, almost every mountain top in this county was cleared of trees and had a homestead. Building on mountains is not new and I applaud Mr. Wood for fulfilling his dream.

Anyone want to imagine what this area would look like if all the mountaintops were lopped off and replaced with Wendell Wood size estates ? Rich people are not all alike, and I appreciate those who consider the good of their community, before building a monstrosity for themselves.

wendal wood the SLUMLORD I rent on the farm live in cottage with 5 roof leaks in living room, kitchen, bath... roof has 8 layers of roof material on it ...when it rains the water turns to muddy waters like a river.... driveway washed out only way up to cottage is by 4x4 truck.. car could never make it ... woodstove for heat only.. have oil furnace but as like all the above issues I have asked for repairs ... I get nothing not even a phone call... screw wendal wood !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why can't he build his dream house? In what sense of fairness does anyone have the right to tell another person that he cannot build a house because it will ruin YOUR view. Maybe you should not have been allowed to build your house because it affected HIS view.

He didn't ruin 29. He bought and sold property. If it were not him it would be someone else. 29 would look the same hed he never participated. If you don't like it buy the land, pay taxes on it and never use it so people can ignore it as they drive past.

Why don't you ask him how much money his development has paid out over the years and how many jobs were created on property he once owned.

Or maybe ask him how much tax he has paid in the last 20 years... I guarantee its probably 3-5 million bucks.

Some people here are so petty.

Good article. It's a blight on the landscape. Maybe Wood should lighten up on the ego. Who needs 14,000 SF? In times like these, such visible excess is a slap in the face of many. Me me me, I I I I. Look at meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

There are ways to get around the zoning/driveway requirements. This ruling was a weak attempt at best.(like putting "lipstick on a pig"). I can imagine that one being challenged in court!

The esteemed John Edwards, ESQ built his dream home too. Even living quarters in the barn- perhaps for him and his second family and liter.....

"Sitting on 102 secluded acres - surrounded by trees and defended by no-trespassing signs - the 28,000-square-foot estate that Edwards and his family call home has presidential privacy."

"he builds his own home, by lopping off a whole mountain top"

Seriously, what kind of jerk would . . . oh, sorry Mr. Jefferson, didn't see you there.

It looks like a nice place, and I'm sure the views are awesome. It certainly couldn't be more of an eyesore than the antenna farm or the collection of rusty barns at the orchard. Good for Mr. Wood - I hope he enjoys his new house. I'd be pleased to stop by for a drink if invited - just putting that out there.

when will some of you learn that jealousy will get you nowhere. the man has made good financial decisions during his lifetime and is a great businessman and now he just wants to enjoy the fruits of his labor. i met him back in the early '80's when he offered me a job (which i decided not to take). i'm sure the view from his mountain top is awesome and just think of all the tax revenue albemarle county will reap from his little project. enjoy your house mr wood and ignore the complainers!

I don't see where where any mountaintop has been lopped off. Maybe some people are confusing building a house ON a mountain with drilling INTO a mountain for coal. Yes, Jefferson would have a hard time today. I hope Wood will be gracious enough to invite the Hook for an inside tour when it's finished and landscaped. After all, central VA is admired for the number and beauty of its estates.

I can see why he wanted to build it. It's lovely. In fact I can see it with my telescope from Emerald Ridge on a clear day. Additionally, I think if he wanted to, he could see me too, except with my modest home at 2400 sq ft he may have to look a little harder. Dear Hook, don't hire GSOE, Hire me as we can point opposing scopes at each other and have a party.

I really have a problem with folks that want to 'regulate' things that they can't/won't buy themselves (like viewsheds).

The owners of Fried Companies, the folks building up all that land out in Greene County, built the largest home in Albemarle county back in 1999. That behemoth has pools, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, gymnasiums, kennels, and numerous kitchens. It dwarfs Kluge's place and Woods' new digs.

Hope, I'm afraid it may be too late to easily turn back now, with the leaning,new board. As I mentioned before, I believe the former board had the votes to enact the ordinance. That would be: Sally, Dennis, Ann, and Slutsky, the so called green machine. They did us an injustice in not making a stand. I predict, the clutter located upon our mountaintops will become horrible, and then it will be late to turn back. The green machine allowed much of the destuction on Pantops (blue roof tops, lines of houses, businesses without adequate set backs, etc., etc, didn't they? I'm unsure they are as environmentally inclined as we thought they were. I am offended they claim they didn't have the votes, if they really did have them.

It's pretty disheartening to read the many comments mentioning "jealousy" - quite indicative of the current divisive political climate. I doubt that most people who are upset about the mountaintop development are jealous. Maybe they're genuinely concerned with what seems to be totally contrary to what is touted about this area -- beautiful, pristine mountain views (of the mountains and from the mountains) - in the piedmont landscape. It's not about singling out Mr. Wood. Most of us can totally identify with his dream. It's about asking the question - should we allow anyone with the $ and the dream to do the same? Is this what we want to see happen in this area? Mr. Wood is not the first and won't be the last. We've all seen the Mosby Mt. house, the house on route 20 north, etc. And - if you look to the hill just south of Mr. Wood's property, you'll notice another "thinning of trees" atop that beautiful hill - I believe now on the market. They "thin" the trees slowly now, so no one really notices. For those of you who care about preserving our viewshed, including the mountaintops which are in most peoples' viewshed - I suggest we keep watching and start acting on deciding what this community wants and making choices that benefit the entire community.

well the standard birther, teabagger, screamer response is to simply apply labels - like jealous - or out shout their opponent rather than engage in substance, so the tried and true responses, probably oft repeated on Shillings' show are to be expected by the same cast of characters.

Sean, Practice what you preach. Aren't you pegging as dysfunctional, any who oppose your own opinion?

and how about Peter's Mountain in Keswick? That's a real beauty sitting there- a number of stories deep into the mountain. No one seems to complain about AT&T and the Federal Government building that one! At least a home on a mountain top trumps block houses and satelite dishes..............

Well he certainly has the legal right to build up there. It was grandfathered in some time ago. But really, the communication towers look much better.

Sean..teabagger?? What is wrong with that ?
Mr.Wood you house !

quote: "...people hate me enough as it is!"

I'm not sure why Wendell Wood thinks people hate him so much? I sure don't. I wish him much success in finally building his dream home, and living quite a few more years so as to enjoy it!

Suppose he was just a poor boy who inherited a couple of acres on the mountain top, cleared it and used the wood to buld a barn with a loft for him, his two cows and a dog? Would he be a jerk too? Or is someone just a jerk because they made a pile of money by working hard and taking risks? (paying taxes on every dollar of profit along the way)

You cannot even see the house unless you click on the telephoto version. All of you crybabies think that people are supposed to buy land pay taxes on it and then let is sit undisturbed for your viewing pleasure.

If you drive down avon and look up you will see antennas everywhere if you don't look up you will see parking lots where they store garbage trucks and industial warehouses. You will see barbwired fence at the jail. You will see all kinds of overgrown undeveloped property that will one day be developed.

Get a life.

Yeah Dr Pain, the local newspapers did a number on me too about a decade ago. Now you have me wondering how many people hate me? :)

Gads! The man builds a spectacular house with a gorgeous silhouette on a hilltop next to a hilltop covered with antennae and their blinking lights - that's probably the ugliest hilltop in Virginia - and the dogs here tear him apart. Not a one of you has the insight to recognize the one and only motivation that drives you.


Special honors and elevation to a pedestal to the properly-named Gasbag. All Charlottesville newspapers have been frothing at the mouth over Wood for decades, ever since his first fast food franchise graced Rt 29. He reads 500 negative references to himself in his hometown papers, zero positive ones, and Gasbag can say: "I’m not sure why Wendell Wood thinks people hate him so much?"

The idiocy of that comment is matched by the mis-use of the question mark.

wow, must admit I'm truly amazed at all of the comments here. On the one hand, I'm quite intrigued at the sort of openness and acceptance of people congratulating and even encouraging the building of this house in the way that its being done. Its really not very hard to slip the house about 50 ft behind the peak of the mountain so that perhaps just the top story peaks over... or is even hidden some. Or perhaps, you could walk to the crest and sit down on a nice terrace to enjoy it. It is quite interesting to compare the type of development in this area to other places. Try vermont for instance, you won't see a house that has dominated or taken over the landscape. Instead, it will be tucked in among the trees, becoming a part of it. They don't wipe out a forest, then call the new development woodlands. Or cover over a stream, then call it stony creek. They move to the area because they appreciate it, which also means they try to respect it, not conquer it. I must say, the first time I saw jefferson's place, I did ask myself "why kind of a-hole would build that?".

If I didn't know any better, I would say that wood went ahead and created 20 different names to post comments here. No, if Rt. 29 had not been developed by wood, it doesn't necessarily mean that it would be developed by someone else the same way. Some developers actually have some kind of plan and design intent, beyond trying to get something approved as quick as possible (to make a quick buck) to move on to the next (further north). Some people actually try to create something nice, taking some time to think about it some. Its not inevitable and its not all the same.

Paying taxes for all of that? I'm sure some was paid. Creation of employment, yes, that is good. But if you knew how businesses worked, you would also know that the real tax monies paid would be far less than what they would normally be. Taxes only find all that was left after expensing every last item that you could possibly think of. Which in turn means the real tax rate is low. Nonetheless, is paying a lot of taxes worth the result of creating an environment that is unrecognizable from anywhere america made up of pavement and parking lots, providing a life that the everyday person will live in, day in day out, when it could have been better?

The house on the top of the mountain is an adoption of these principles of not caring. The climax of making a quick buck.