Capshaw Center: Fifth Street mixed-use development

The first time lines were drawn over the desirability of big boxes in Albemarle County was 1999, when James B. Murray Jr.'s Brass Inc. tried to develop a parcel off Fifth Street Extended. An hour before the Board of Supervisors was to vote on amending the comprehensive plan, Murray withdrew his application, and the crisis of a Wal-Mart on the south side of town was temporarily averted.

Now the same Fifth Street parcel is back in play, this time under the guidance of local real estate magnate/Dave Matthews Band manager Coran Capshaw.

What's different this time? For one thing, the size of the parcel has doubled, says Albemarle County senior planner Susan Thomas. With the addition of the Grand Piano & Furniture Warehouse and the 20-acre Charlottesville landfill, the now 89-acre property is more suitable for one item on Albemarle's wish list: a connector road between Fifth and Avon streets.

And since both the County and VDOT are cash strapped, a promise by Capshaw's New Era Properties LLC to build that road could be the proffer that gets this land rezoned from light industrial to regional service.

Capshaw's plan, submitted by Cox Company, proposes restaurants, banks, and retail and office space totaling a maximum of 250,000 square feet for commercial uses. As for the site's big box potential, Albemarle staff recommended that the footprint of an individual store for Brass Inc. not exceed 65,000 square feet– although it's welcome to go up with additional stories.

An industrial tenant is lined up for the old Grand Piano warehouse: Dominion Virginia Power's operations center. And the developer proposes 100 residential units and 12 to 15 acres of open space and park land.

It's the latter that particularly intrigues Thomas. The site has never been graded and hosts specimen trees and rock outcroppings. "It's pretty untouched," she says. "It could be incorporated in an interesting and attractive way rather than obliterated and graded over." The County designated that as a preservation tract when it worked on the Brass Inc. amendment.

After Capshaw's first big proposal flopped in 1995– an outdoor amphitheater across from the Woolen Mills neighborhood– he's had better luck with Albemarle County officials. "This developer is doing a lot of good things around the county," says Thomas.

That doesn't mean this project will be without controversy.

"The impacts on traffic and the environment are the same as they were before," says Charlottesville pedestrian advocate Kevin Cox. However, he believes that the fact that Capshaw's development doesn't include a Wal-Mart or discount retailer will be a big factor in snaring County approval. Planner Frank Cox of the Cox Company did not return the Hook's phone calls by press time.

While Kevin Cox believes that adding retail to the south end of town will help with local auto trips, Covesville native Emmett Boaz is not so sure about the potential for south of town.

"I wouldn't put my money in it," says Boaz. "I've never understood why, but cities seem to develop north and west."


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