Ivy condos: White Gables set for development

By Mythili Rao

Four stately houses, a father's gifts to his sons, once lined the north side of Route 250 between the Bellair Market and Farmington Country Club. "Kenridge," where Hollis Rinehart lived, became the national headquarters of Kappa Sigma. "Boxwood," home of his son William Alonzo Rinehart, became the Institute of Textile Technology. When the third home burned down, it was replaced by the National Legal Research Group. And now the fourth is fast becoming a hot topic.

A large white house situated on a seven-acre lot on Ivy Road, "White Gables" may soon join the ranks of UVA's new parking garage and Ivy houses as sources of affluent neighborhood contention.

Vito Cetta, a principal in Weather Hill Homes Ltd., has requested a Special Use Permit that would transform the uninhabited mansion which stands in a commercial zoning area into the center of a new condominium development.

The proposed 74-unit White Gables community would consist of six three-story buildings and two two-story buildings around a center garden. Units, ranging from $400,000 to $1,000,000, would be marketed to "older folks who no longer want to maintain property and want somebody else to maintain it for them," Cetta says.

The historic house itself would function as a community center and office site for condominium residents.

"It was obvious that our community has a need for additional housing," Cetta wrote in a July 10 letter to current White Gables neighbors. Besides the elderly, White Gables would also, Cetta says, attract University professors and single people who have no time for yardwork.

Plans are currently under staff review with Albemarle County officials. According to Susan Thomas of the County Planning Department, the proposal is being evaluated under the Neighborhood Model, a set of 12 residential planning guidelines.

Key concerns, Thomas says, include the plan's impact on traffic flow and on the corridor's historic character. "We want the integrity of the area to remain," she says.

Cetta and Weather Hill Homes are currently awaiting a Virginia Department of Transportation decision on the feasibility of adding a traffic signal.

Mary Preston, who has lived in her Bellair home for 30 years, said that she and her husband want the lot to remain undeveloped.

"We just feel like we're so hemmed in here now with everyone wanting to live on this little corridor," she says.

Another area resident, who asked not to be named, works at the National Legal Research building and is unhappy about the "enormous traffic" the proposed community will bring. ("The design is pretty," she says.)

A work session in which the County Planning Commission and applicant confer is scheduled for July 30. The Special Use Permit gets a public hearing before the Planning Commission in August and could be presented to the Board of Supervisors in September.

Locals can preview the firm's plans and ask questions at an August 7 open house at White Gables.

Two years ago, a local firm dropped plans to build a dance school and reception hall on the five-acre lot adjacent to the white house. The house itself had long been available for office or other commercial space.

Rodger Rinehart Jr., who grew up in White Gables, said that he isn't troubled to see his family home become the site of new condos. "I had a wonderful time growing up there, but life changes, and you have to change with it," he said. "They're just buildings."