NEWS- Dwarfed: Coal tower to get 9-story neighbor

The land around Charlottesville's most industrial landmark has long been in the sights of developers– and even a notorious double slaying couldn't stop the inevitable in-fill in land-scarce Charlottesville.

Oliver Kuttner had dreams of putting up nine buildings with warehouse, studio, and office space when he bought the old CSX coal tower and 10.8 acres of land in 1995. But his efforts ran afoul of authorities when he started excavating without a permit, and the city issued a stop-work order. Things got worse.

In August 2001, an allegedly drug-addled young man who'd been living in the tower as a squatter, 20-year-old Craig Nordensen, shot and killed Katie Johnson, 16, and Marcus Griffin, 20 and proceeded to hold police at bay for several hours.

Two years later, Kuttner sold the property to Dave Matthews Band manager/land baron Coran Capshaw for $5.48 million, according to city records.

Now, Capshaw stands ready to develop via his Choco Cruz LLC. The coal tower will stay, but it'll be joined by four buildings, according to city planner Missy Creasy. Thanks to the city's 2003 overhaul of its zoning ordinance in 2003 which removed many height restrictions to encourage denser development, one building could rise nine stories.

Plans call for a mixed-use project, with 64 townhouses (four above a parking structure), 118 condos, and a commercial segment that includes restaurants and retail on 2.77 acres of the site, Creasy says. And parking– lots of parking– 506 spaces, some of which are underground.

Juniee Oneiga lives across the tracks from the coal tower in Belmont Lofts. "It's one of the biggest developments in Charlottesville I've seen," he says. "In sheer size, there's nothing else like it."

He questions whether– in a town where hundreds of apartments have recently been converted and offered for sale– new condos are really needed, and he's concerned about that nine-story building.

"From a selfish point of view," says Oneiga. "I don't want it to block the view."

Oneiga is on the fence about the development. "Some say it's good because there will be more restaurants," he offers. "Some say it's a monstrosity."

Joan Schatzman has no such qualms. She lives down the street on Douglas Avenue, and while she cautions that she hasn't seen the plans, she says, "I'm excited when there's high-density development inside the city rather than suburban sprawl."

Her bigger concern is about the CSX tracks that split the city. 'We need an easy way to cross if this is going to be a world-class city," she says. "It's pretty inconvenient."

Aside from a steep slope waiver that will go to the Planning Commission, much of the project is "by right," says Creasy. City planners held a site plan conference April 5 after the Hook went to press.

Developer Dillon Baynes with Orinda Corporation in Atlanta is reluctant to say much about the project before the meeting, the public's first chance for comment. "I'll have more information in about 30 days," he says.

Perhaps then he'll unveil the name of the project, and just how the coal tower that once provided fuel to passing trains will fare amid gentrification.

Creasy agrees the plans are in preliminary stages. "We have a long way to go on this," she says.

Capshaw will incorporate the coal tower into his plans for a mixed use development.