July bullseye: Despite mud, 'Target' date set

NEWS- July bullseye: Despite mud, 'Target' date set


Hollymead Town Center, Albemarle Place, and North Pointe have been promising to rock our shopping world for years now. So where are they?


Anyone who's watched Albemarle County at work knows that neighborhood models aren't built in a day. That's why, when the Hook last wrote about the three shopping centers in late 2003, only one had broken ground.


More than a year later, still only one has broken ground and– critics say– slathered it all over Route 29. (More on that incident in a moment.)


Slowly, slowly, these mammoth shopping plexes are coming our way, and by 2010, you won't be able to remember a time when Charlottesville wasn't a merchandise mecca.


Hollymead Town Center

For months it appeared as a vast tract of raw earth on 29 North. Structures are now rising out of the dirt, and Hollymead Town Center's star attraction, Target, has a target opening date: July 26. That's 2005, for those who've watched this shopping story drag on for so many years that it's easy to lose track.


"I guess most people would say it's going well," says United Land Corporation president Wendell Wood cautiously, like a man who's seen setbacks before.


That was the day before heavy rains created what police call a giant, impassable mudslide that closed two lanes of southbound U.S. 29 for eight hours and pushed morning commuters onto secondary roads.


"It was a big mess," says Albemarle police Sergeant Peter Mainzer of the January 14 incident. "Mud was over the guard rail."


"It was absolutely not a mudslide," counters Wood. "Gimme a break." He says three-and-a-half inches of rain in four hours broke through a dirt berm, pouring water onto the highway. "It was 96 percent water, 4 percent mud. There was no movement of earth."


United Land Corporation and Faulconer Construction, which already had equipment on site, did the cleanup.


Wood, who proffered $11 million in roadwork to earn county approval, was braced for weather delays, but he was anticipating snow, not heavy rains.


Slight dips in the road of seemingly endless delays included having to remove a dip in U.S. 29, and also a bout of ecoterrorism last February, when the Earth Liberation Front took credit for torching two trucks and a track hoe.


Wood has been working with Albemarle County on this project seemingly forever. It took him more than three-and-a-half years to get rezoning approval for his 102-acre portion of the 163-acre Hollymead Town Center, and he finally broke ground in the fall of 2003 for the retail portion of the mix, which includes a TGI Friday's and Petsmart in phase one.


Now, Target and Harris Teeter are under roof, and that July 26 grand opening is just six months away. Could weather derail it?


"If we get five feet of snow in January," answers Wood.


Wood is ready to file a site plan for phase two: 300,000 square feet of commercial construction and what will ultimately be 900 residential units.


He declines to name future commercial tenants, but hints that they're "quite exciting" and "the public's going to love them."


The residential portion includes a retirement community– a trend nationwide in town centers, says Wood– open to those 55 and older, no children allowed. He calls the townhouses, condos, and assisted living facilities "go-go, slow-go and no-go," and expects to build between 100 and 200 units a year.


Albemarle County convinced Wood, Dr. Charles Hurt's Virginia Land Company, and the Kessler Group to work together to develop their contiguous parcels south of Airport Road so that Hollymead Town Center would have a unified look and plan. Virginia Land's 37 acres will have smaller retail, office and residential, and the Kessler Group's 24 acres will be primarily residential.


"I'd like to see it going a little faster," says Wood, "but that's not the way it works."




Albemarle Place

The darling of new urbanism advocates and poster child for the neighborhood model, Albemarle Place at the corner of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 got its rezoning approved by the Board of Supervisors in October 2003.


So what's the holdup?


When last we checked in, a month after the green light, the next major hurdle was site plan approval. A year later, Frank Cox of Cox and Associates says he's ready to submit site plans for the first phase of the 67-acre project that will feature retail, cinema, dining, a hotel, and residential.


"We've got commitments to over 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant spaces," says Cox. "We're looking at creative ideas for a significant hotel, and before February we'll announce a partner on the retail." He hints of working with a major department store, but like Wood, refuses to drop any names until the papers are signed.


Traffic has long been a major concern at the already busy intersection, and Albemarle Place has to hold a "significant" amount of land at Hydraulic and Emmet in case VDOT, Charlottesville and Albemarle ever agree on a design for an interchange. "It won't hold us up," says Cox, "but obviously we want to use as much of our land as possible."


Cox estimates a late summer 2005 groundbreaking, at the earliest, and construction duration of 16 months. Christmas 2006 shopping at the upscale boutiques of Albemarle Place? Possible– but unlikely.




North Pointe

Seminole Square and Pantops shopping center developers Chuck Rotgin and Don Wagner of Great Eastern Management Company have been butting heads with Albemarle County for years over the alleged tyranny of the neighborhood model.


They argue that consumers want big boxes with parking in front, an anathema to Albemarle's demand for urban streetscapes in former cowfields with parking relegated to the side or back. As the least neighborhood model-like of the three major new developments, North Pointe on U.S. 29 above Proffit Road has met with the most resistance from the county.


In December, Rotgin seemed less defiant and more determined to satisfy the county. "We had a work session with the Board of Supervisors in November," he says. "We know what we need to do and we're working to tie up loose ends."


Like the Hollymead Town Center developers, Great Eastern has proffered an extra lane and the removal of a "vertical curve" from U.S. 29, as well as improvements to surrounding secondary roads. "We're talking millions and millions of dollars," says Rotgin.


Funding of those improvements is still an issue. Rotgin is looking for the Board of Supervisors to authorize a community development authority to offer tax-exempt bonds to finance the road proffers. The county contends that such improvements are a normal cost of development that Hollymead Town Center and Albemarle Place have ponied up.


"We've proffered much more than Albemarle Place and Hollymead," says Rotgin. The county disagrees.


Another issue is that North Pointe must get Architectural Review Board approval before going back to the supervisors for rezoning. "The ARB is usually done at the site plan stage," says Rotgin, "not at rezoning."


"It's a pretty significant issue to us," says Albemarle planner Elaine Echols.


Rotgin and Wagner's mantra has been that Forest Lakes is nearly built out, and single-family, would-be homeowners in the northern stretch of 29 need North Pointe.


Four percent of the nearly 900 houses will be affordable for first-time buyers. "We've proffered $250,000 cash," says Rotgin: $100,000 each to Habitat for Humanity and the Piedmont Housing Alliance, and $50,000 to the Albemarle Housing Alliance.


The 269-acre North Pointe offers 10.5 miles of sidewalks and walking paths. Another enticement to the county: a fully graded school site with utilities and roads in place.


Rotgin hopes to hold a public hearing in March and to break ground by late summer or early fall, with housing lots available in spring 2006. But North Pointe still needs Board of Supervisors' rezoning approval, and then site plan approval, so those dates may be optimistic.


"I don't know when or if it will be approved," says the county's Echols.


Still, Rotgin seems more resigned to aspects of the neighborhood model in North Pointe's latest incarnation. "With the input of staff, we have a better plan," he says.


Hollymead Town Center rises out of the mud, and Target is set to open in July.



[The photo credit on the above image was wrong in the print edition of the newspaper– it has been corrected in this online edition.–editor]