ONARCHITECTURE- Presto, chango: Kuttner wants to make cars vanish

"The single biggest construction error I've made was not putting parking under the Terraces," developer Oliver Kuttner told the BAR.

Last week, always-ebullient developer Oliver Kuttner breathed some life into the normally staid proceedings of the Board of Architectural Review, floating an idea to "make cars disappear" on South Street.

"I want to show the City what can be done," said Kuttner, "and make cars disappear in Charlottesville."

No, there's no David Blainesque magic trick involved. Kuttner simply wants to build an apartment building behind a house he owns at 226 South Street over a parking garage with a entrance that passes under the house. Since there is no room for Kuttner to put in a driveway to the rear on either side of the house, he said he wanted to "make the cars go through the house," which would include a "traffic light" as the under-house entrance would be one-way.

"Would the City let you do that?" BAR vice-chair Syd Knight asked about the traffic light at the August 19 meeting.

"I don't know," said Kuttner.

"Good luck," said Knight, chuckling.

Kuttner wasn't seeking approval from the BAR; he just wanted to know if they might support such a thing before he decided to "throw a bunch of money at this," he said.

"The single biggest construction error I've made was not putting parking under the Terraces," he said, referring to the over 60,000 square-foot building he developed on the corner of First and Water Streets on the Downtown Mall.

On that note, Kuttner said he thought that cars going underground would be the future of the Mall because "people don't want to live without their cars." He also called the municipal government-owned lot where the farmer's market is held a perfect candidate for an underground parking facility.

Though some BAR members appeared to be charmed by Kuttner's proposal, board member Brian Hogg wasn't buying it.

"I think this is a total non-starter," he said. "It's just not an appropriate intervention– it's clever, but not sympathetic to the historic house."

However, some board members appeared to be open to exploring the idea, including Eryn Brennan and Amy Gardner, who said, "I would be open to looking at something– there's a precedent for more modern structures on Water Street."

Expect Kuttner to return with his magic act.

BAR approves brick size, runnel work, and newspaper corrals for Mall project

Last week, the BAR also approved the plan to use new 4 x 12 brick pavers to replace the existing 4 x 12 bricks as as part of the recently approved $7.5 million Downtown Mall renovation.

Just two months ago, chief city planner Jim Tolbert and tthe MMM Design Group, the Norfolk-based design firm contracted to guide the work, had been arguing strongly against using the 4 x 12 bricks, saying they would not be stable when set in sand, the preferred method for laying them. Besides, said Tolbert, the 4x 12 bricks were uncommon, made only in a factory in Nebraska, and would be prohibitively expensive.

Tolbert and MMM recommended using 5 x 10 bricks, which they said would be more stable and are available locally from Old Virginia Brick, a Roanoke Valley-based company acquired in 2006 by "a private Charlottesville-based investment group that also has holdings in banking, real estate development, and building materials," according to a 2006 article in Virginia Business Magazine.

Even after Mall designer Lawrence Halprin urged the City not to change the brick size, saying that the ground level pattern the bricks established the character of the Mall, Tolbert said he'd choose the 5 x 10 over the 4 x 12 if it meant they would be stronger, more functional, and less expensive.

However, following a groundswell of criticism from preservationists and Halprin enthusiasts, who argued that this was no way to "preserve the original Halprin design," as City Manager Gary O'Connell had promised when the project was announced earlier this year, suddenly three manufactures of the 4 x 12 bricks were "found," city planning staff announced. 

However, in the 2005 Master Plan for the project completed by Wallace, Roberts, and Todd, which has served as a design guide for the project and recommended keeping the 4 x 12 brick size, Law Engineering stated that "The 4" x 12" [bricks] can be sourced from Webster (General Shale) Brick Co. [Virginia] or Watsontown Brick Co. [Pennsylvania]." Not surprisingly, Watsontown Brick Co. was identified by city planning staff as one of the places that can now supply the bricks.

Before the BAR last week, MMM's Joe Schinstock said they had made a mistake by "asking the wrong question" when approaching brick manufacturers the first time, which he said should have been, "Can you make the 4x 12 brick?" instead of "Do you have the 4 x 12 brick?" 

That appears to contradict comments made by MMM's Chris McKnight before the BAR in May, when he lobbied for using the 5 x 10 bricks by saying, in part, that Old Virginia Brick "wasn't willing" to make the 4" x 12 bricks.

The BAR also reviewed MMM's plan to use 4 x 8 bricks for the vehicle crossings at Fourth and Second Streets, the plan to tuck-point and re-mortar the existing drainage runnels and soldier courses (which the BAR approved), modify the lighting, install concrete truncated domes as visual and tactile reminders of the transition between the Mall and the crossings, which would also satisfy ADA requirements, and special "corrals" that would hide newspaper boxes from view.

BAR members had concerns that the transition from 4 x 12 bricks on the main Mall to 4 x 8 bricks on the crossings could be jarring. "Sometimes when there's a subtle transition, when its close but not exact, it can look like a mistake," said BAR vice chair Syd Knight. But he also felt he could accept the transition if there were no better solution. Some members also had reservations about the truncated domes bordering the crossings, specifically how big they would be and what color they would be painted.

Oddly enough, the plan for the newspaper corrals was approved without discussion. In July, when City Council approved the Mall project, there was some argument about the corrals, with Councilor Satyendra Huja calling the existing arrangement "hideous," vice mayor Julian Taliaferro calling them "tacky," and Councilor David Brown saying he didn't have a problem with them. Brown did, however, say he could support the corrals as long as the various newspaper companies were involved in the discussion. So far, no such discussion has occurred. And as Tolbert informed the board, following their approvals, the City would start "buying stuff pretty quick."