Store-afront: Mall store demo done without approval

onarch-victoryshoestore-web This glass storefront at 219 East Main Street was recently demolished–- without BAR approval. PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR

On Monday, November 9, Downtown Mall mavens, along with City development staff, were shocked to discover a gaping hole where the art-deco glass storefront of the old Victory Shoe Store, more recently known as the O’Suzannah and Elsie Garden boutiques, used to be. According to Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Chief Jim Tolbert, the demolition at 219 West Main Street, which he says was completed over the previous weekend, occurred without a permit or Board of Architectural Review approval.

“There’s no excuse for doing that,” says Tolbert, who cited the owner and issued a stop-work order on the exterior.

Indeed, the Downtown Mall has been in an Architectural Design Control District since 1985, which means that any alterations to the Mall’s buildings must first be reviewed and approved by the Board of Architectural Review. In fact, as Tolbert points out, there’s a hefty fine built into the city’s zoning regulations for not following the rules: up to two times the property's market value.

“The owner will now have to go before the BAR and ask for approval to demolish the storefront after the fact,” says Tolbert. “And obtain building permits for the exterior work.”

Property owner Joe Gieck, the renowned, retired UVA sports medicine doctor (who also owns 406, 410, 411 East Main, as well as 223, 221 West Main), says he "understands" why the city would be upset, but insists the glass storefront was "broken and unsafe."

"We would have liked to have kept it," he says, "but wanted to err on the side of safety."

BAR members may not be sympathetic to the loss of an art-deco design featuring black glass panels topped by curvy showcase windows above.

“It’s a big loss,” says BAR member Eryn Brennan, also the president of Preservation Piedmont.

victoryshoestore-web The Victory Shoe Store opened in the 1920s and stayed in business until the mid-1990s. HISTORIC PHOTO

"It’s very important, an original 1921 curved glass store front,” says City Preservation planner Mary Joy Scala. “There isn’t any other curved glass like that on mall. Once it’s gone, you can’t really replace it.”

Scala and Tolbert say they met with Gieck, as well property manager Bill Rice, to discuss what happened. Scala says they’ve also consulted with the City Attorney about enforcing a fine. Tolbert says the City would need to prove in court that the owner violated the zoning regulations before a fine could be levied.

Scala points out that the fines–- intended to create a clear “disincentive” for altering or demolishing buildings–- are rare because property owners are typically supportive of the protective zoning. In fact, Scala says she can recall only one fine. And that was twenty years ago, when a developer’s bulldozers leveled a protected 1850s building on the corner of 10th Street and West Main without BAR approval, resulting in a $50,000 fine and a public apology.

Now the city must decide if this latest infraction warrants such enforcement.

“We didn’t think we needed approval to remove this glass,” says Rice, a long-time Downtown real estate broker. “The glass contractor, who was hired by the new tenants, didn’t apply for a permit to change the glass because they didn’t think it was a problem. No one was trying to pull a fast one.”

As Rice claims, the glass fronts of four other Downtown properties owned by Gieck were replaced over the years, without BAR approval, including the fa§ade and window improvements to the hair salon next door. Indeed, Gieck confirms that he's "done this several time before" with no problems. "There's nothing in the code that prevents us from replacing the glass," he claims.

Rice also claims that the glass was cracked and “dangerous," and that plastic had been used to replace missing sections. The glass contractor, he said, told them it could not be repaired or replaced.

Rice expressed some frustration with the BAR review process, which he says was formerly more expedient, but can now take months and require considerable paper work.

“Delays can put people under in this economy,” says Rice. “The BAR has become a bureaucracy. Over time, they’ve added things and done things we’re not even aware of. It’s a delay. And time is so important.”

As Rice points out, the new tenants–- the owners of Vita Nova Pizza–- had no need for glass display cases and wanted to be able to utilize the space at the front of the building.

“Nothing was done in a hurtful manner,” says Rice of the decision to remove the glass. “It was done to help a tenant to help realize the possibilities of the space.”

Unfortunately for Rice and his new tenants, however, those delays could be even longer now.

“I expect that hole to be there for awhile as things get sorted out,” says Scala.

Indeed, Rice and Gieck will have their work cut out for them getting BAR approval, and then of course there is the legal action the city may take. As a result, they appear willing to be creative.

“We’re submitting a plan to the BAR to put the original front on the store,” says Rice, who claims that early photographs and clues revealed by the demolition will show that the demolished storefront was itself an alteration over the years.

“The storefront that was there was not original,” says Rice, adding that he still regrets what happened.

“We’re not making excuses; it was a mistake,” he says. "And we’re working with the City to correct it.”

–last updated November 16 at 10:47am


"Historic" glass windows; give me a break! It's time for the clowns in the City to show where in the Constitution they are granted the power to take away the property rights of the citizens. As for those of you happy with this stop work demand, you would be the first to scream if the City started telling you how you could enjoy your property.

Steve, it wasn't the "windows"-- it was the entire storefont. The pictures are available above if you need visual assistance.

No one is forced to buy property in a historically protected district. Over the years, the owner/landlord has received the many benefits associated with owning property in a historic district, including generous tax credits that you and I aren't eligible to receive.

Do you have any idea how much of the Mall would have been demolished by now without protection? If you're that irrational and kneejerk reactive about the need for historic preservation, then it's doubtful that you could ever be made to understand it.

So how is this different than the city changing street directions (without notification of landowners) in the middle of the night so that residents can't get into their driveways and refusing to change it back?

Communication is the key.

Where was the BAR when the spaceship/pavilion landed at the end of the mall?

People, if you are going to go to the trouble of writing a post and you aren't sure of your ability to communicate effectively in written English, please take the time to have a trusted friend look over what you've written before you publish it here. It's no guarantee I know, but maybe, just maybe, it will reduce the number of disasters like: "However, rules are defined as stated in the complex lease/owners’ agreements being ââ?¬Å?historic” and no one that buys the place down there doesn’t know them."

Make him rebuild it. And fine him.

Dear Steve,
No, the Constitution did NOT give the city the 'power' to overrule property owners--that would be a 'covenant' in the deed that the owner signed when he purchased the property that he would abide by local zoning rules, regulated by the BAR in certain neighborhoods.

Don't start loading your musket and screaming "Commies are Coming" when the city or county zoning boards say "NO" to a property owner--these same zoning geeks keep the prono shops to a minimum and the strip clubs outa here.

Clearly it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

City Girl, that's the one. Med school professor, I believe. He owns quite a few properties on the Downtown Mall, so the opportunities to wreak some architectural havoc are endless for old Joe.

That was a wonderful old storefront, a part of what makes the Mall unique. In this instance, there was no ignorance of the law. Here's hoping that the City's fine will be severe.

Could this be our hometown Joe Gieck ?

The response by the developer in the article was added after all the above comments.

The fine for destroying the Victory Shoe Shop front should be a replacement of the old front. Charlottesville was a wonderful place to live before all of the magazines touted it as one of the best places to live and the new crowd moved in to enjoy our city. I knew every store on Main Street when I was a student at Lane High. I walked it every day on my way to Timberlakes for a coke.
What will be next that the new blood and City Council will do to
destroy all of the charm in our city???

the new store front looks a million times better than the old. Why was it considered historic? because it was old. screw the bar.

Cookie: Thank you for your post. I feel certain that if the framers of the Constitution were to see the Internet today, they would have put provisions in the Bill of Rights limiting freedom of press and speech. They would have requirements about literacy and factual accuracy. Fox News would out of business. The nternet would be less congested with racist, ignorant and plain stupid garbage which constitutes 90% of today's bandwith.

Regarding the original thread, the penalty should be forcing the owner to restore with historical authenticity (at great expense) that which he destroyed. The BAR action does not represent a taking of land or infringement of property owners' rights. The rules were in place and the owner simply chose to disregard them.

"It's a big loss", Bah! That dumpy storefront was considered historic. An eyesore of historical proportions perhaps.

Common Sense-- you're bringing up one strawman argument after another. Oh Suzannah, a store that was there for years, didn't close because it "failed." Far from it. The store that replaced it, Elsie Garden, was a fixture for a while. I have no inside knowledge of why Elsie Garden has moved-- ie whether it's due to the economy or a jerk landlord, but I can assure you it had NOTHING to do with the storefront not being up to your standards.

Your argument about old vs new storefronts and the vacancy rate is ludicrous and based on fantasy. Your childish statements about the KKK/porn shop demonstrate that you have nothing to add to the dialog on preservation. Grow up.

Hoolarious, unfortunately that seems to be the prevailing attitude in America today. Very "dog in the manger" way of living, with no sense of community and concept of the public good. It's actually pretty flippin' disgusting.

Historic ?????

Victory shoes... there is no such thing as a bad economy to a successful business plan. All you have to do is walk up and down the mall and look at the empty storefronts. Old or new the mall is stagnant and was stagnant in 2005 when things were rolling. Rents are determined by demand on one side and the overhead of the landlord on the other. The overhead of the landlords is high on the mall unless they have owned the property for over a decade. Even if they don't have a mortgage the overhead is high because that money could be somewhere else that produces more return. Taxes in c-ville are high and restictions are even higher. There needs to be a balance between the city wanting to preserve the historic look and the need to have succesful businesses that make going downtown worthwhile. It is my belief that the BAR gives too little consideration to the latter.

...Instead of telling me to grow up why don't you address the issue of peoples attitudes about the dealings of the review board? The disdain is common knowledge and not everyone who is dissapointed in how they do things thinks the mall should be destroyed.

YOU are the one who wants to squelch debate.

By the way... why do YOU think the landlord changed the storefront? Was it to make it less appealing so he could charge less rent? Is he just a bad man who hates curved glass? Is he like the joker in Batman and just wants to destroy Gotham city?

If he could have gotten a decent tenant without spending thousands to redo the storefront common sense says he would have left it alone. If he thought that the Review board would give him a fair shake he probably would have gone through the process. I have no probelms with him having to follow the rules... they can fix this by making him recreate it. That does not fix the perception(or reality?) that the review board is unfair to property owners even though they are not supposed to be.

I suppose that this is just an immature rant to you also?

Joe Gieck new exactly what he was doing when he ordered the storefront demolished....on a Saturday. Gee, um, duh.... He expects a slap on the hand, nothing more, and he will move forward with his plans to land his new tenant...another ice cream shop !!!!!!!!! (I think that makes 3!) Yeah, three cheers for character and diversity on the mall with another ice cream shop! I hope someone from the city has the b*lls to make ol' Joe the example that, historic or not, being aware that there are rules to follow is mandatory, and just because you own lots of property doesn't somehow make you exempt.

One of the big appeals of the Downtown Mall is the charming/quaint/historic nature of most of the storefronts. The out of towners who read about it in the Post and decide to daytrip down here for dinner and hanging out on the mall, the yuppie locals who spend big bucks down there, they're all attracted in part by that aspect of the Mall. So as I see it, this property owner wants to enjoy the benefits that come from the Mall being a historically protected/unique place (otherwise he wouldn't have his business on the mall), BUT, he doesn't want himself to be bound by the restrictions. Other property owners can be bound by the restrictions in order to keep the Mall overall historically unique, but not me, no sir. I get to have my cake and eat it too.

I would not say that's the attitude that made America great.

I don't even live in your state, but you all should definitely email me this guys email!

I got a few things to say to him. I loves me some privileged yet dismissive men types!

Sorry so many of you seem to value nothing. You probably watch loads of tv! Homogeneity rules! Yea!!! Go to tha mall now!!! Wee!!

The mantra of self centered boors, including those who know full well the requirements of their historic properties: it's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

It is a loss.
What group of citizens want everything to look the same.
Fine the man and make him take an art history course.

The economy is your answer rags.

Good Day.

This just in - man brushes teeth without permission of the city! Stop brush order issued! He probably didn't seek permission because he knew it would be a lengthy process and the BAR might say no.

so what, no big fine. developers know that. better to just do what you want because you can almost certainly get away with it with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. they probably figured that into the construction costs and decided it was worth it. they just gained enough square footage to make up for a trivial fine in a few months.

Seems to me that if the historic storefronts were so appealing than the owner would not have considered changing it. As for the tax credits.. they are more than offset by the outrageous property taxes they pay on the overinflated values..

I don't like him not playing by the rules but I don't trust the BAR to do the fair thing had he asked. That is why people choose to "take the ticket" instead of arguing with these zealots.

I suppose if they force him to restore the storefront (where two businesses have failed...) he could always lease it to the KKK for a dollar a year to get even. Or perhaps a porn shop with a to the legal line window display would be more your preference.

When the BAR has the reputation for being fair people will have the confidence that doing the right thing won't bite them in the wallet.

Anyone else notice that most of the vacancies on the mall have outdated storefronts?

Browns locksmiths have been there for years and years, maybe we should make them buy 1939 trucks to drive around in.....

This situation will go through the courts as it should, but BAR should ask themselves whether they bargain on good faith. My opinion is that they do not. What good is an empty storefront to the overall "character" of the mall?

The framers of the constituion would have the BAR disbanded.

This guy broke the rules and will be dealt with. The points babout an unfriendly BAR and City to businesses is well taken and should not be ignored. I wonder how many businesses change their mind about coming downtown after they hear about all the crap the city puts you through?

Balance can be struck but only if the citizens hold the government in check. The Government plays this game of "protecting" you when all they are really protecting is their particular view of what they want.

Go to northern Va where you are not allowed to have a different color trash can or leave it out on the street past 8:30 am (even though you have to be at work by 9:00 and the trash truck does not come intil 8:15 and yopu live 50 minutes from work because they won't build a road. (even though you were only 20 minutes from work when you first moved there 11 years ago)

Government regulation needs balance. Perhaps a real solution would be for there to be a public vote on the changes instead of a board stuffed with zealots. The water situation has shown us that public hearings are formalities and the board will do what it wishes regardless.

So if it is legal for this guy to plant trees at the property line that grow 40 ft tall and once they are grown he builds 30 foot tall townhouses how is that "injurious" to the community?

No wonder they invented "italian lightning" (arson to get around bs rules)

As far as businesses not being a "fit" on the downtown mall that is not the issue. It is one of economics. If you make it too cumbersome then there is a shortage of interested parties not becasue they would not love to be there but simply because the numbers don't crunch. Vacant stores hurt the current businesses because of lack of trafic and then you have blight.
Of course then you will have what you want: bulidings that are exactly the same forever... right down to the boards on the windows....

I've seen it done with my own 2 eyes & took pix of that incident

I wonder why stores cannot survive there at a location right next to the Omni and the mudhouse...

Is it the high rent?
Is is the outdated storefront?

Is it the new bricks?

What's wrong with discouraging businesses that would be a bad match for the DM from setting up shop on the DM? Seems like that saves everyone a lot of time and money if it's all laid out up front--here are the rules, it's a historic/architecturally distinctive district, we put the interests of the overall district ahead of the individual business owner, deal with it. if you don't like it, set up shop elsewhere.

where exactly in northern VA are you not allowed to have a different colored trash can or leave it on the street past 8:30 a.m.? That sounds like an HOA rather than a local government rule. I'd be really interested in learning exactly which town imposes that regulation on its residents. is it a historically protected neighborhood? did homeowners know about the requirement before they moved in?

I live in DC and we have to have our trashcans in by 8:00 PM which is tough for me because I work from 3-11pm and my trash is often not picked up by 3. I have not been ticketed but I know neighbors who have.

From the DC website:
All trash must be securely bagged and put inside a District trash container (Supercan, Clean City can or mini-Supercan). Bags outside of containers are allowed only for grass clippings and leaves.

Place trash cans out no earlier than 6:30 pm the night before collection. Residents are also required to remove trash containers from public space by 8 pm on collection day.

Inform DPW of a missed collection or spillage by calling 311.

Between collections, store trash cans or Supercans on your property, rather than in the alley or on the sidewalk.

Interesting article from the WaPo:

Critical Case For Historic Preservation
Washington Post, Sunday, September 12, 1999; Page B8
Tim Dowling

Do developers have a right to build on every inch of their property at the expense of the local government's right to protect the community's charm, grace and quality of life? On Tuesday the federal appeals court in the District will hear arguments on that issue in a critical historic preservation case.

The case involves Cathedral Mansions South, an apartment building across the street from the National Zoo. Harry Wardman, one of the District's most prolific residential architects, designed the building and its landscaped lawns in the 1920s. His influence along Connecticut Avenue is reflected in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park.

Wardman designed Cathedral Mansions South to provide the greatest possible integration of living space and open space. He connected the living areas with expansive lawns through the use of sun rooms, large windows and French doors that open onto sheltered patios and balconies. The Georgian Revival structure and lawns complement similar residences along Connecticut Avenue that preserve continuity with the natural landscape.

In 1989 in response to a request by the Woodley Park Community Association and the Woodley Park Historical Society, the District's Historic Preservation Review Board designated this period piece as a historic landmark. Similar properties in the Connecticut Avenue corridor also have been so designated, to the benefit of property values throughout the neighborhood.

The current owner of Cathedral Mansions South purchased the property in 1961 and has operated the complex profitably ever since. In 1988 the owner sought permission to build eight three-story town houses on the landscaped lawns. The District denied the permit, acting on the recommendation of the federal Commission of Fine Arts, the director of the National Zoo, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board and local community associations. Because the lawns are integral to the original design of the property, the District concluded that the proposed development would destroy the essential character of the landmark.

The owner then sued the District under a federal constitutional provision known as the takings clause, which prohibits the government from taking private property without just compensation. The takings clause originally was understood to apply only to the physical appropriation of property for roads, public buildings and the like. In recent years, however, developers and others have urged an aggressive application of this provision to attack historic preservation efforts, curbs on urban sprawl, environmental safeguards and other community protections.

In 1887 the Supreme Court held that "all property in this country is held under an implied obligation that the owner's use of it shall not be injurious to the community." Compliance with the District's historic preservation laws falls squarely within every property owner's obligation to the community. Indeed, 20 years ago the Supreme Court rejected a takings challenge to New York City's historic preservation laws that prevented construction of a 55-story office building atop Grand Central Terminal.

In a comprehensive ruling, the lower court rejected the owner's claim. If the appeals court adheres to constitutional tradition and common sense, it should affirm that ruling.

But area residents should keep an eye on this one. In recent years, the federal appeals court in the District has not been reluctant to invalidate clean air standards, wetland protections and similar safeguards. Some developers argue that taxpayers should compensate them if community protections require that a portion of a larger parcel be left undeveloped. But by this reasoning, building setback requirements, density restrictions and the District's mandate that buildings be no taller than the U.S. Capitol are all in constitutional jeopardy.

The Constitution strikes an appropriate balance between an individual's property rights and community rights. The courts should not jeopardize community protections in the name of private profits.

Timothy J. Dowling is chief counsel for the Community Rights Counsel, a public interest law firm, which is providing technical assistance to the District in the Cathedral Mansions South appeal

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

What would be even less diverse than another ice cream shop is another vacant storefront. There are many more than three.

It's hard not to see both sides of this article although it is presented to the reader with the property owner playing the part of the villain. To own property that you cannot make changes to without some bars permission? You also get taxed out the hoo haa by the city what a svete incentive. Well it certainly looks better to me and I think the pictures speak for themselves on that one. Sure eye of the beholder and all that but it just looked dated before to my skillfully trained eye anyway.

Downtown is the epicenter of ARB and city council control. The mall means nothing to them without the sense of control. However, rules are defined as stated in the complex lease/owners' agreements being "historic" and no one that buys the place down there doesn't know them. The ARB is not a business-friendly orginization, nor are city council, and the supervisors. Their goal is an image as they see fit, not the survival of a business. Having dealt with the ARB before, and knowing full well how they operate, they can push papers all day long in your face better than any politician can. Well, they obviously pushed them hard enough this time...This is what you get.

The response by the developer in the article above was probably thought of before the store front came down.

The reason given for the demo is ridiculous. What prospective renter would demand a change in the facade of a storefront? They wouldn't. They'd just look for a different space.

Blaming Vita Nova is lame.