White Gables: New condos under way

Formal gardens, cobblestone curbs, even bocce. Those are just a few of the amenities residents will find at White Gables Pavilions, luxury retirement condos set to begin construction this month behind the white brick mansion just west of the Bellair Market on Ivy Road.

But despite the high-dollar accoutrements, some neighbors fear the 76 upscale units– ranging in price from $400,000 to $1,000,000– will create traffic problems as well as compromise the scenic integrity of Route 250.

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

Diana Strickler, chair of the Route 250 West Task Force, says her group has serious worries about the development traffic as well– particularly about the need for a traffic light or lights– in the future.

"If someone had been very forward-thinking 30 years ago," says Strickler, "they would have aligned the entrance to Ednam Forest with Farmington. There wouldn't have been two lights."

But despite the traffic concerns, county planner Margaret Doherty calls it "a beautiful plan."

Of particular note, says Doherty, are the grounds, designed by landscape architect Steve Edwards, who closely collaborated with the development's architect, Vito Cetta, to make condos for affluent seniors.

"These are people who may want something a bit smaller than their Farmington home," says Cetta, who sold the development to Norfolk-based Robinson Developers last year because, he says, "it was just too big a project for me."

Though Robinson spokesman Chris Sanders did not immediately return the Hook's call, Cetta says he believes they have not made significant changes to his plans.

The White Gables complex will eventually consist of six pavilions, each with its own "theme." The grand home, built in 1922, was one of four mansions built along Ivy Road by Hollis Rinehart for his sons, according to County records.

Remaining the centerpiece of the property, the mansion will serve as a community center where meetings, parties, and business can take place. The other White Gables buildings will line a formal garden, which Edwards says will "echo" UVA's lawn.

"They took a lot of time on materials and amenities," says Doherty of Cetta and Edwards. The plan passed the zoning department and Architectural Review Board's requirements, and has received final site plan approval for phase one, which will consist of 20 units. The site plan approval is good for five years, though a large onsite sign promises move-in dates in spring 2005.

As for the traffic, Doherty says she believes the plan to share an entrance with the neighboring National Legal Research Group will suffice. Strickman says that's not enough.

The "ideal" entry situation, she says, would be a four-way combined entrance at Kappa Sigma, directly across from the Birdwood subdivision. That entry would be shared by White Gables, the Kappa Sigma building, National Legal Research Group, and the headquarters of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (until recently home of the Institute of Textile Technology).

While that may still happen at some point in the future, says Doherty, it could not be worked out during the site plan approval period because of a dispute over the Kappa Sigma property.

But even with an imperfect entrance at White Gables, Strickman says the condo plan has its highlights– particularly because the area is zoned commercial.

"Arguably the design has come out superior," she says, "to what a commercial use could have been."

The digging will soon begin at White Gables.