Watson Manor restored--brings memory of old tree.

When city officials, neighbors, and members of the UVA community gather this Friday to celebrate the completion of Watson Manor, the new headquarters for UVA's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture located on University Circle, there'll be one thing conspicuously absent–the 150-year beech tree the original developer of the project axed without permission.

In 2006, developer David Turner ordered the old tree felled in violation of his special use permit, a move that infuriated Charlottesville Planing Commission members, who called it a "criminal act" and the "most egregious violation of a special use permit" they'd ever seen.

"They should be fined a $1,000 for every year that tree was alive," said commissioner Jon Fink at the time. "It was irreplaceable. I'm deeply saddened and angered."

As a result, the City issued a stop-work order on the project.

"You can't murder the tree and call it the death of the tree," said Neighborhood Development chief Jim Tolbert, during a BZA hearing at which a lawyer for Turner tried to argue that the tree was dying anyway. "Saving the tree was an important condition of the special use permit, and they violated it."

In fact, the furor over the tree was so great that Turner eventually stepped down as the project developer. Asked if he had any regrets about what happened, Turner declined to comment, but did say he thought the project had turned out "extremely well" and was "enhanced by the involvement of the neighborhood."

In a press release announcing the opening of Watson Manor, subtitled "Discord to Union Between City Planners and UVA Interdisciplinary Research Center," the Institute saw fit to mention the felled tree, the permit violation, and the stop-work order, but added, "After a series of conversations forged by a director of the Institute, Joseph E. Davis, with City officials and the neighborhood association, and ensuing changes to the site plan, differences were resolved."

In the end, the Institute was required to pay a small fine and provide an 8-inch thick replacement for the tree. They also offered the neighborhood $5000 for the trouble they had caused.

According to the Institute's press release, the Watson Manor project, which is an extensive renovation by architect John Matthews and contractor Nielsen Builders of Harrisonburg of an old boarding house built in the 1880s, is "symbolic" of the Institute's efforts "to engage the social, cultural, and political complexities of our time by studying the nature and dynamic of changes taking place in modern society" because it links "the past and the present."

Photo by Will Stewart

4 comments

One grand old tree is worth one hundred developers. Possibly more trees will now survive due to the mortgage(greed)crisis. As the lawyer joke goes: what are a 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean also fits for 100 bankrupt developers- A good start. UVA also had no remorse in taking down those large specimen trees on Jefferson Park Ave. for the never ending construction. BTW, how is UVA paying for all the construction going on? Ultimately, it must come out of the pockets of employees in the form of below average salary excepting of course the top administrators.

"BTW, how is UVA paying for all the construction going on? Ultimately, it must come out of the pockets of employees in the form of below average salary excepting of course the top administrators."

UVa raises money for capital projects via donations and issuing bonds. To my knowledge, the University's annual operating expenses (i.e salary, office supplies, utilities, etc.) and funds for new buildings do not overlap.

Are university salaries below average across the educational spectrum or compared to the local private sector? While I now get paid more in the private sector, I feel that working at the university has other benefits like a pension plan, generally good job security, medical and dental, and guaranteed yearly raises to name a few.

Jake, now that you are in the private sector making the big bucks I hope you will donate money to UVA and buy their bonds to help finance their capital projects. I can assure you that UVA is below the national academic average in salary on the hospital side of the equation and the benefits do not compare to the private sector. There are other benefits to academics as you must know. However, money is money no matter where it is obtained and how UVA chooses to use it is up to the highly compensated administrators and board members. Obviously, it was not enough to keep you in the UVA system.

Lost tree, real bummer. Renovated building, real nice. Would have been better if the two (old tree and renovated building) were still together. Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, good idea. Let's hope it helps in bringing our world together as a community.