Two years of bitter fighting over a big box development just south of Charlottesville, VA city limits ended yesterday — not with a bang or a whimper — but with a fax. Just after 4 pm on September 15th, the lawyer for property owner/developer Brass, Inc. faxed a letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors pulling the plug on their 160,000 s.f. big box plans. Although the developer never quite named the logo that would go on the store, area sprawl-busters claim that Wal-Mart was receiving mail at the mall location. The County’s Planning Commission had proposed downsizing the scale of the project from its original 210,000 s.f. size, to 160,000 s.f., but after a Sept. 1st work session, planning staff offered a further proposal that would limit the footprint of the anchor store to 65,000 s.f, with up to 3 stories possible, with a mixed use commercial and residential focus. The developer did not like the resulting plan. “We ended up with planners attempting to design retail and residential buildings without any background, experience or facts that would lead them or us to believe that their designs were economically feasible,” said the lawyer for Brass, Inc. It appears the developer now would prefer to have the land remain zoned light industrial rather than commercial. The Planning Staff recommended that a 5 acre preservation tract be created from the parcel, further cooling Brass’ arbor for the project. At least 2 supervisors told the Daily Progress newspaper that they were “proud” of the work Planners had produced with the mixed use plan, but the developer’s lawyer said that certain supervisors had opposed the big box for “lifestyle” reasons. “We had lots of debate whether discount shopping is a good thing,” the lawyer added. Apparently Brass was not able to convince many Charlottesville residents that big box sprawl was a good thing for the future of their community. According to resident Alexis Zigler who fought the Brass plan, “we made a zillion phone calls…we prodded the county to look at mixed use in a new light. In this regard, I think we may have influenced the future of commercial development in Albemarle in some small ways.” Once the fax was received, the County Supervisors voted 6-0 to accept the Brass withdrawal. For now, whatever it was — a Wal-Mart or a Target — it won’t be coming any time soon to the Fifth Street Extended location.
For further details of how citizens helped to “fax out” another big box store, contact Alexis Zigler at [email protected] Although County Planning staff took some heat for proposing a more appropriate alternative, that is exactly what planning staff are supposed to do. Developers are delighted when Planners quietly sit back and let developers pitch their plan, but when staff suggest changes, all of a sudden these staff have “no background or experience”. Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg and other planners took the heat, but it was the developers who built the fire that eventually consumed their own enormous plans.