Tonsler Park-area project wins approval

Despite a controversial sale and concerns it might disturb an old family graveyard, Southern Development's proposed mixed-use project for the corner of Ridge Street and Cherry Avenue, William Taylor Plaza, has won a 5-2 rezoning endorsement from the Charlottesville Planning Commission, Charlottesville Tomorrow reports.


Amen, and amen. NDS rolls over for developers, and treats citizens with disdain. It's absolutely the most reviled department in the city government, and for very good reason. Most of the neighborhood planners are wannabe developers, and the top two people at NDS- Tolbert and Creasy- are the ultimate developer loving bureaucrats. They control the Planning Commission like a pair of puppet masters, and brook no nonsense from those who would try to make sure that NDS isn't playing with loaded dice.

Not that the Planning Commissioners mind, of course. Several of them have an agenda for Charlottesville of much higher density and mixed use, and the developers love that. Doesn't matter whether their target neighborhoods want it or not-- THEY want it, so that's the way it's going to be, even if it's bad planning practice.

A quick look at the credentials of most of them shows that they are totally tied in to the development, real estate, and design community. They depend on staying in developers' good graces in their professional lives, so how do you think they'll vote? Time and time again, citizens have come before the Planning Commission, literally begging them not to destroy their neighborhoods, only to have the Commissioners dismiss them.

The whole system stinks like 3-day-old fish, and needs reformation badly.

Does anyone remember when council candidates ran on a platform of neighborhood protection. If you look at Ms. Szakos and Mr. Norris's statements in the Sierra club questionaire they both appear to have abandon this notion in favor of denser development, more mixed use i.e. re-zoning in residential neighborhoods, and generally as much development and density as possible. Please correct me if I'm wrong and Mr. Fenwick's comments sound more supportive of neighborhood protection. This question is important to ask in the upcoming candidate forums. 

The best friend of neighborhoods Mr. Taliaferro was ousted by Ms. Szakos. Mainstream Democrats may live to regret this if she's elected. I agree everyone who cares about neighborhoods should read the comments at the Sierra Club Questionaire to know what they're in for.

Infrastructure and social service costs will soar and who will pay for this ?

Mr.Greenjeans, did you notice Ms. Szakos and Mr. Norris's positions on a sustainable population. My understanding form their written comments is they favor unlimited growth, that would support the views of Citizen.

Everything I have read and heard from Norris and Szakos leads me to believe they ascribe to the New Urbanist vision for the City of Charlottesville to faciliate affordable housing and economic opportunity for the poor. This will mean denser development, more development, and mixed use which will lead to re-zoning certain neighborhoods as we're already seeing in Belmont and in this case. Charlottesville will change dramatically under this vision and will be a transportation , population, entertainment hub for the entire area, but infrastructure and social service costs will soar, and the quality of life in established neighborhoods will deteriorate, especially those near the downtown, or on major roads leading to the downtown, or near the University.

Fenwick on the other hand, from what I have read or heard, is adamant about preserving park land, basing decisions on sustainablitily and cost to the taxpayers and maintaining the resources already in place.

Two very different visions for the City.

As a planning commissioner, I would have voted to support this development had there been more assurances of the kind and nature of development to be built. I have concerns that the entire development is not subject to BAR approval, concerns over how the commercial/residential mix might be allocated, and concerns for pedestrian safety, in addition to observing a general ambiguity about how transportation mitigations and enhancements would be funded and implemented. I am hopeful that when Council considers this development, the proposals may become more specific in those areas.

However, I do believe that this is an important site for redevelopment and should not continue to be a "wild" site at a major intersection that is close to employment generators of our city. The site has been vacant for three decades and can contribute to the city's tax base and vitality if developed appropriately.

TJ- did you just put the words "developer" and "conscience" in the same sentence? :-p

Whatever happened to the concept of pocket parks. This historic neighborhood is being encroached upon at an alarming rate. The city professes to be a firm advocate of more tree canopy in the City and more park space. If this were a high income neighborhood there would be a huge outcry and doubt if you'd see a re-zoning. All neighborhoods need to understand that the Department of Neighborhood Development is just that, and we should all insist it be renamed and refocused as the Dept of Neighborhood Protection.

Citizen, I just read the Sierra Q&A at the link you provided, and didn't get the same message from the answers you did. Fenwick didn't really address the issue of neighborhoods at all, and neither of the other two said anything remotely anti-neighborhood.

Slutzsky in favor of Super Walmart. Norris and Slutzky in favor of Transportation Authority, Norris and Szakos favor higher density, affordable housing and jobs, Slutzky pack the density around the city, all supervisors keep population in or near the city (re-zoning Biscuit Run for double the density ) Norris and Szakos not vigorously fighting parkway and still supporting County water plan with a few tweaks or maybe none. Maybe something happening here .....

Why did 2 planning commissioners vote against this ?

Sounds like the developers contest this but having their testimony on this be the final word is foolish. Has the city had the graveyard independently confirmed ?

Nancy, you're correct, but the deck is stacked against the neighborhoods. Since when has NDS given a s**t about any neighborhood in this city? Might as well just take the word Neighborhood off the department's name, and simply call them what they are: Development Services.

The PC is given very limited authority within a tight framework and the people running NDS pull the strings. Once you add in the PC members with the obvious anti-neighborhood agendas, you have a solid recipe for one planning blunder after another. The PC members who do care about residents and neighborhoods are almost publicly apologetic about it. When PC members occasionally question staff about the information in the reports (or ask about important data that's been left out), the anger from staff is obvious.

It's anyone's guess what can be done about this sorry state of affairs.

If neighborhoods don't join together we're all finished. We need to enlist the help of the new Alliance and contact all neighborhood presidents to prevent this historic piece of property and green space in this neighborhood from being destroyed. I vote to rename Mr. Tolbert's Development Dept. the Department of Neighborhood Preservation. Let's get the Save McIntire Park , Save Ragged Mt and Save Pen Park folks together and save what could be a park for this historic neighborhood.

Sounds like a managerial issue--time for new leadership and a Council willing to make the change.

Thank you Antoinette. You diligence, hard work and activism to preserve a piece of Charlottesville's history are rare in this day and age. May the leaders heed your voice and may the trees cry out to them and be heard.

Why has Preservation Piedmont been so quiet on the issue of the cemetery? Is it because some of their own sit on these mighty commissions and they wish not to jeopardize their quest for power? They have been advocates for preservation in the past, but have been quiet on this one. They even went so far to organize and sponsor a Preservation Week this year - how ironic they seek not to preserve. Do not those people buried there deserve to have their final resting place undisturbed? Will not Preservation Piedmont become their champions?

Sadly, this cemetery has many characteristics of cemeteries that were known to have been on other properties owned by one of developers. Seemingly as soon as the deeds are signed, all surface traces of the graves are erased with big equipment. The disrespect is unconscionable.

Will a whistle blower please come forward and contact the Hook. There must be someone working for this development company with a conscious. can hope.

TJ, I think the development proposal has a lot of serious problems that need to be addressed. The traffic impact on the neighborhood between it and Main Street is likely to be a huge problem, not to mention what it will do to traffic on Cherry Ave. But, to write that there needs to be a park there to save trees make you look very ignorant. It is right across the street from a park, and there are LOTS of trees there. How could a city possible function if it were nothing but parks side by side? Irrational arguments only make opponents look like fools.

Is this really a surprise to anyone? Jim Tolbert and his department are among the biggest threats to the way of life that most city residents currently enjoy.

The cemetery contains the remains of major developer and builder from the dawning days of Charlottesville, thus I find it very ironic that the latest crop of developers have a lack of respect for the dead? Maybe someday after they are dead and buried their graves will be defiled and built and paved over.

Of course the developers are contesting the presence of a graveyard. Consider the source! This is Southern Development, owned by Charles Hurt. They don't let anything get in their way. Steep slopes, dead bodies, it's all the same to them-- like falling off a log.

The burden of proof is on the purchaser/developer of the parcel to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that there are no bodies there. Will the City Council hold them accountable? Wait and see. I imagine it depends on how hungry they are for the revenue this project might bring them. Of course, Southern has promised the City they'll stop immediately if they unearth any bodies with their giant bulldozers. Yeah sure, anyone actually believe that'll happen? One more pass with the 'dozer and the remains are pulverized.

The historical evidence accumulated is but one factor. The overrriding reason not to develop is for the good of this vulnerable neighborhood. We need to do more to get our Council to protect neighborhoods. I firmly believe that a vibrant city will not be possible without strong neighborhoods, and I hope the newly formed Alliance can act as a counterbalance to the gargantuan influence of developers, and their own City staff on our Council.

Having already invested years in this matter, I would like to stay out of this conversation, but two items make comment necessary.

The first is Gravedigger's characterization of Allen Woodson Hawkins (ca 1800-1855), whose heirs reserved in an 1883 deed their family graveyard on what research points to as Parcel 157 on Tax Map 29. I have read letters written by Allen Hawkins and letters written about Allen Hawkins by those who knew him. I have also thoroughly sifted his estate papers, among many other relevant primary documents. For that reason, I actually know something about him.

Allen Hawkins worked hard and well as a bricklayer, brickmaker, builder, etc. for 37 years and throughout that time taught many others -- white and black, slave and free -- to do the same. But he was rarely paid for his work and scrambled constantly throughout his life to maintain himself and his family. He suffered ill health. He also suffered the death of his first wife "in her 26th year" and at least one child. Despite his own considerable difficulties, however, he was generous to others, scrupulously honest, and modest even in the pride he rightfully felt in his work.

Less than eight months after Allen Hawkins died in 1855, his second wife also died, leaving six children orphaned and, according to the estate administrator, "in danger of starvation." One was an adult(barely. The others -- who, as the administrator noted, were "too young to be bound out" -- were separated to be taken in by "a very poor relative" and the Nimmo family.
All of which is to say that while Allen Hawkins' contributions to the community of which he was part may be measured as "major," to suggest that he had anything in common with a "major developer" of today is dead wrong and nigh onto insult.

Beyond that, I would note that the interior of the block bounded by Ridge Street, Cherry Avenue, Fifth Street S.W. and Oak Street has never, ever been built on. (People of the past had too much respect for nature's physics to gash steep slopes and obliterate streams for building.) It was farmed in Allen Hawkins' day and for a while thereafter. Over time, it was colonized by native hardwoods -- primarily poplars, black walnuts, sycamores,locusts, and Kentucky coffee trees. To those were later added a few non-native ornamentals -- notably Norway maples -- intentionally planted around the handsome houses built "on the Ridge," i.e. on Ridge Street. Those trees continued to shade the site with a continous canopy after VDOT demolished five of the antebellum houses on the ridge in the 1970s. It was not until 1999, after Dr. Charles Hurt bought five parcels at the site and sent a massive bulldozer crashing through it felling huge trees and pushing them into piles that invasive species -- Ailanthus, rosa multiflora, bamboo, etc. -- rendered it "wild." Despite that destruction, however, the woodland could be restored by basic forestry stewardship.

Why isn't this also the perfect place for a small park. One thing sorely lacking in this area is trees, unlike many of the other higher income neighborhoods. Why doesn't this neighborhoods trees merit saving ?

Good point Mike, but still think this lot should not be denuded and is more integral to the neighborhood as a treed lot than the park across a busy street, which as far as parks go, is not home to a lot of trees.