Busted stuff: Some broken things in town
PHOTOS BY JEN FARIELLO JEN@READTHEHOOK.COM
Yeah, yeah, Charlottesville is pretty great, and it won't be long before every last man, woman, and child in the nation knows it, thanks to all those darn Best-Place-to-Live lists that keep putting our town on top. So, sure, it's great. But it's not perfect– and we've dug up a bunch of busted stuff to prove it. So if you're reading this article out in, like, Akron, or something, and you're one of those supposed millions thinking about moving to Charlottesville, you might want to think again... after all, we do have a Hardee's with boarded up windows, you know. And there's that little naked boy statue that's been broken, like, forever. (Poor little guy!) And how about those buckling bricks on the Downtown Mall? Unbearable! So quit your packing and keep on reading... Akron's starting to look pretty nice, doncha think?
Empty burger barn
It's been nearly a year since the Hardee's on Ivy Road fell upon, uh, hard-ee times. Jennifer Riner, night manager at Hardee's Route 29 location, reported last summer that the chain had decided to close the Ivy Road location because "the price went up." So what's going on with the plywood-covered windows and the weeds, which could earn the owner a citation if they surpass 18 inches?
That's a little hard to say. The owner of the building, Esther Coopersmith, is a well-known Washington, D.C. philanthropist and staunch supporter of Israel. (She has even given deluxe kosher dinners in her home for countless international figures, including former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.)
Coopersmith, reached at home, could not provide information on the vacant Hardee's space, and referred the Hook to Gerry Franklin, of the D.C.-based management and leasing firm, Holladay Corp., which manages the property.
Franklin reports the building has been leased to a restaurant, though she didn't know what the name would be. She promised a call from one of the new restaurant owners, but that call did not come in by press time.
On Friday, June 11, the logo of Bodo's, Charlottesville's home-grown bagel micro-chain, suddenly appeared on the plywood. Charlottesvillians know better than to raise their hopes on speedy Bodovian arrivals. A sign went up on the UVA Corner in the spring of 1995. Nine years later, the shop is outfitted– but unopened, despite this year's widespread April Fool's joke proclaiming it open. Could this be another ruse? Despite that fact that it's a restaurant building that seems to fit the Bodo's formula: accessible parking-rich, with no drive-thru window, Bodo's owner Brian Fox pleads his innocence.
"It's really a riot," says Fox. "It's crazy– people go to so much trouble."
Sand storms on Main Street
When Gabe Silverman and partner Allan Cadgene announced they were going to purchase the Amtrak property back in 1993, four years before actually buying the site, they had big plans for the dusty parking lot. In a joint venture with the city, Silverman and Cadgene hoped to add six additional buildings along the south side of the street.
Using part of a nearly $763,000 federal transportation grant– called ISTEA – Silverman says they completely revamped the infrastructure of the property, adding drainage lines and electrical systems to support the planned construction. Then, in 2001, the plans with the city soured, and, Silverman says, additional federal transit grants were redirected to plans for a new transit center close to Coran Capshaw's planned downtown amphitheater project.
Though the Amtrak site is for sale, says Silverman, he and Cadgene are planning to go ahead with a $200,000 paving job. "We're waiting on approval from the city," says Silverman. "It's going to happen."
As for his relationship with the city, Silverman claims there's no animosity. "It was just a business deal that didn't work."
Flooded house bankrupted him
When a collapsed storm drain caused a flood in Ken and Heidi Vanderford's North Berkshire Road house last summer, they were left with two major problems: The city wasn't responsible for the crumbling infrastructure, and the water that poured into their house left major mold.
Nearly a year later, the house has been condemned, the storm drains have not been fixed in a neighborhood with a history of flooding, and Ken Vanderford is bankrupt.
Charlottesville will pay up to 75 percent of the drain repair– if all the affected neighbors agree to pony up for the remaining 25 percent. Three have, but the new storm drain won't go in until the Vanderford house is demolished.
City Building Maintenance Code Official Jerry Tomlin condemned the house as a "public nuisance" because of the mold. "It's structurally sound but definitely constitutes a health hazard," he says. He wants City Council to approve its removal.
As for the Vanderfords, they lost everything in their pursuit of the American home ownership dream– and have to be out of the rental they've been in on Ellerslie Farm– recently purchased by Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses– by the end of this month.
The incredible shrinking reservoir
The area's major water supply is in big long-term trouble. Because of sedimentation, the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir is losing 15 million gallons of capacity a year. When constructed in 1966, its 1,700-million-gallons seemed more than ample.
Its location, soil, and the streams coming into it make it "very susceptible to erosion," says Jennifer Whitaker, chief engineer at Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. "Over the next 50 years, if it continues to lose 15 million gallons a year, that's substantial." RWSA is looking at several options: watershed protection, dam bladders to increase capacity, and– the biggie– dredging.
The dreads about dredging are that it's very expensive, and one good storm could quickly re-silt an already dredged area, according to Whitaker.
There's another option certain to be controversial: an alternative water supply. That could mean expansion of the Rivanna Reservoir, and authorities are sure to dredge up the Buck Mountain reservoir, which is sort of like the western U.S. 29 bypass. It may be on the books, but many doubt it will ever be built.
Perhaps there's one consolation for future generations who will have to grapple with finding water: "An alternative water supply is not as much money to maintain," says Whitaker.
The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir is filling up– and not with water.
Half-pipe at skate park
It was the centerpiece of the skate park, and now, says Freestyle skate shop's Duane Brown, "there's a big hole."
The "mini-ramp," which was actually the largest feature of the skate park at the corner of McIntire and 250 is "a little bit beyond broken," says Brown. Because it was made from donated materials that weren't pressure-treated, Brown says "it became non-repairable."
As for a replacement, Brown says that's up to the city's recreation department, which handles upkeep of the park.
"They have some things in the works," Brown says. "I put together a proposal for them, but it all depends what they want to do." According to Brown, there's a willing ramp donor, but the city would have to eat the expense of getting it moved.
Johnny Ellam, in the city's recreation department, could not be reached. But Brown says he hopes something happens quickly.
"Attendance is down," he says.
US 29 Bypass
It's been well over a decade since the Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, in conjunction with VDOT, inked the final plan for the Route 29 bypass. But despite the fact that Governor Warner just signed a bill that would require Charlottesville to either build the road immediately or return the estimated $40-60 million the state has spent planning and acquiring land, it seems like the bypass is so unlikely to happen in our lifetimes that it might just as easily be called Meadowcreek Junior.
While our neighbors to the south– Lynchburg and Danville– are hoping against hope that the bypass is built to keep trucks streaming north to south, some local residents think the project should be buried permanently– even if the money has to be repaid.
Perhaps none feel quite so strongly about it as do residents of Squirrel Ridge, an Earlysville neighborhood that abuts the Rivanna Reservoir, and that has suffered under the impending bypass.
"It's affected the neighborhood dramatically," says Paula Keeney, who moved there 15 years ago when the final bypass route was one of 11 possibilities.
"We figured it was the least likely to be picked," says Keeney, "because it did the least amount of good for the traffic situation."
But picked it was, and since then VDOT has purchased fully one-third of the 21 or 22 homes in the neighborhood. Those houses, once owner occupied, are now rental units, as are several others.
Henry Damgaard was one of the VDOT's first tenants, moving to the neighborhood about seven years ago. VDOT is a "great" landlord, says Damgaard who expresses no concern that the bypass will be built anytime soon. "It's decades away, if ever," he chuckles. "At 40 million dollars a mile, the government has better things to spend its money on," he says.
As for the recent bill that would require the county to pay back any money VDOT has spent on the project, Damgaard says he thinks that may be "somewhat of an idle threat," since real estate values have soared since VDOT had to purchase right-of-ways.
Keeney, whose husband Ron is the president of the Squirrel Ridge Neighborhood Association and sits on the MPO's 29 Bypass Committee, says with the project still a possibility– however remote– it's impossible to sell a Squirrel Ridge home without taking a financial hit.
"You feel like you're being held hostage," she says.
Chiang House going to the dogs
When Teppanyaki hot spot Chiang House became a real hot spot, burning to the ground back in March 2002, owner Jong Chiang vowed to rebuild as soon as his insurance money came through. Two years have come and gone, however, and there's not a sign of construction to be seen at the now paved-over site.
So what gives? Will the koi swim again? Will the flashing knives slice and dice once more?
Jong Chiang could not be reached– in fact, the Sevierville, Tennessee, Chiang House is under new ownership, and there's no answer at the Harrisonburg Chiang House. But according to Joe Klodzinski in the Albemarle County zoning department, there may be food served once again– just not for humans.
Stanley Jacobson, of the Michigan-based PSP Ventures (dba Pet Supplies Plus) has filed an application with the Architectural Review Board for a new location for Pet Supplies Plus, which is currently located at the corner of Hydraulic and Route 29 next to Blockbuster. The company has more than 180 locations in 21 states.
And while he may no longer be proprietor of the business on his land, Chiang shouldn't be shedding any tears: he's sitting on paved-over gold. In just two years, the assessed value of the 1.072-acre property rose from $671,000 in 2001 to $894,700– and that's without the building.
Naked boy statue: MIA
The "naked boy" statue, as he was affectionately known, became a fixture of the Downtown Mall after he was commissioned in the mid-1980s. Damaged by vandals in 1998, he is still missing from the Mall.
Charlottesville sculptor Steven Strumlauf earned around $10,000 for making the bronze sculpture, and after the vandalism, the City paid him to restore it. He even lined up a benefactor to buy a new stone base.
But then the City dropped the 250-pound bronze like a heavy hot potato. Apparently no one wants to pick it up again, either. "There's nobody there who considers it their job to work on it," says Strumlauf.
"At various times," says Strumlauf, "various people have attempted to get through the City bureaucracy."
Strumlauf says he was told several years ago that the impending renovation of the pedestrian Mall's bricks made the City reluctant to bring the naked boy back downtown.
"So he's just happily sitting in my yard," says the artist.
City Republicans lose big
For a brief instant in recent Charlottesville history, it looked like the Democratic headlock on City Council was broken when Republican Rob Schilling was elected to Council in 2002.
It was a fluke.
Republicans fielded two candidates this year who got trounced. Maybe it didn't help that candidate Kenneth Jackson had four convictions for assault and battery, and newcomer Ann Reinicke flubbed a forum question that made her appear to support teaching creationism as part of science classes.
Perhaps the real root of the problem is that the Republicans ran a last-minute, poorly organized campaign, while the Dems, stung by the Schilling victory, got the machine well oiled and back on track. It showed in the final tallies. The Democratic candidates each pulled in over 3,000 votes; Reinicke was the top Republican vote getter at a distant 1,782 votes.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
Antebellum Birdwood needs a lift
Built between 1819 and 1830 for gentleman farmer William Garth, Birdwood has been home to other notables including Hollis Rinehart, the man who built the Wachovia building and the Paramount Theater back in the 1930s. Now owned by UVA, Birdwood is on the National Register for Historic Places. But, as a recent visit revealed, it might also make a National Register for Rundown Places.
The sad condition of this magnificent antebellum home is apparent in the paint peeling from the doric columns that grace the entrance, and in wallpaper lifting up in great waterstained flaps. The roof needs replacing, and, according to a building inspector on site the day of the Hook's visit, the floors may need some work as well.
That may or may not happen, says Ken Stroupe, executive director of the Larry Sabato-founded Center for Politics, which would like to make its home there.
"It's a dream, a goal for the center," says Stroupe, who explains that the center is "actively working" with the university to raise the necessary funds.
That fund raising is no small task, however. Stroupe says that the last estimate on the property– conducted in 1996– placed the expense of bringing it into the 21st century at a whopping five to seven million dollars. Add inflation and the increased cost of construction in the past eight years, and Stroupe says "it would be upwards of seven million to get it to be used as an office space."
Café No Problem: under contract?
Since 1995, the site of the former Galerie restaurant at U.S. 250 west and Route 240 outside Crozet has been a gutted eyesore. Richard Cooper's dream of a Southern coastal-style restaurant west of town collided with county regulations– after he'd torn apart the building– and the shell has sat like that since.
Cooper battled the county for three years before finally getting his permits for Café No Problem. Unfortunately, by that time, he'd run out of money to start what by then was dubbed "Café Big Problem." The property has been on and off the market since, most recently last fall.
The spot, zoned commercial, and just outside of the Crozet growth area, would seem an ideal location for an eatery.
The Hook caught up with Cooper while he was on the golf course at Birdwood. "Praise God it's under contract," Cooper says, but otherwise remains mum about details such as closing date, buyer, and plans for the site.
But surely those who drive by the derelict corner on an Albemarle County entrance corridor everyday will also be thinking, "Praise God."
Downtown Mall bricks a-poppin'
Why would the builders of the Downtown Mall use a flawed system– mortared bricks to create a pedestrian paradise?
"People thought it looked cleaner," says Peter Farrell, a local stone mason.
It didn't stay cleaner. Nearly thirty years after its 1976 opening, the Mall has a brick surface that is cracked, buckled, and facing a repair bill that could top a million dollars.
Farrell explains bricks and mortar walkways will eventually fail because they're too rigid to expand and contract without damage. Moreover, they ride on top of a concrete slab that traps water.
"Bricks, mortar, and concrete– you have three separate elements that you're trying to make one," says Farrell. "But the freeze and thaw cycle allows water to get in. The water has incredible force when it freezes and will pop the bricks up."
By 1994, Charlottesville planners seemed to understand this physics lesson when they rebuilt a short stretch of Third Street, SE, between the Mall and the Water Street Parking Deck. This time they used the "dry-laid" method and swept sand between new concrete pavers.
Is it ever okay to do a wet-laid sidewalk?
"You could get away with it in Florida and maybe up to Georgia," says Farrell. "In Virginia, we have a wide and varied range of temperatures."
Ivy Rest Stop
For travelers heading over Afton Mountain toward Charlottesville, the Ivy Rest Stop is the first bathroom for the eastbound. But for almost two years, it's been closed– leading, perhaps, to a lot of bulging bladders.
Heavy rains in November 2002 damaged the sewage system and the building that houses it, says VDOT spokesperson Jim Jennings. A firm called Versar Inc. has a $100,450 contract to repair the damage and reopen the rest stop by late fall.
What won't change, Jennings says, is the novel waste-treatment system that has been operating the toilets for at least 15 years.
In that rural area, far from the urban sewage treatment facilities, the Ivy Rest Stop (which is located closer to Crozet than Ivy) is the only one in Virginia using a system that circulates mineral oil instead of water. Another in New Kent was converted to a conventional system.
Robert Claunch was an aerospace executive with Chrysler Corporation when the Navy asked him to find a way to keep waste from destroyers from fouling harbors and rivers. "You've got 1,000 people on board, and that generates a lot of waste," says Claunch.
Now 76 and living in Diamondhead, Mississippi, Claunch says he was working at a NASA facility near New Orleans in 1969 when someone spotted a barrel of leftover mineral oil. "We'd shake it up and see how it separated," says Claunch. "Of course, we'd use coffee grounds and water before we graduated to human waste."
With a patented system featuring carbon and clay filters, a few hundred gallons of mineral oil can handle about 10,000 toilet users per day, says the inventor. So how does it work?
"You know that old story," says Claunch, "that oil and water don't mix."
Quirk, not angst
By now, fair reader, you have noticed that this list of broken things is an assemblage of quirky, mostly physical afflictions in our community. It's not meant to say that there is no social injustice in Albemarle. Anyone trying to buy a house knows how difficult it is to acquire Charlottesville real estate on Charlottesville wages. Many times, the Hook has published stories about allegations of racial profiling, pricey real estate, and education issues. This is not one of those times.–editor