Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Charlottesville VA keeps track

1. The desire for greater density lead to the demise of some decent looking houses in the University area, such as 2006 Jefferson Park Ave., demoed to make room for a 20-plus-unit apartment building. 2. Modest, run-down homes in the University area, like this one on John Street, have been particularly likely to be replaced by higher density housing. 3. Some older single-family residences across the city have been torn down to make room for newer single-family residences, as was the case with 606 Monticello Avenue. 4. Not everything demolished has been replaced, as is the case at 723 Nalle St. It is one of 15 homes torn down in Fifeville in the past five years.

Oh no, not Charlottesville...

Places we've lost

Looking back at 80 demos in five years

BY WILL GOLDSMITH | (Charlottesville News and Arts)

When she took over as city preservation planner in 2003, no one told Mary Joy Scala to keep tabs on torn-down buildings. “We only keep building permits for three years,” says Scala. “I just thought there should be a record of what was destroyed.”

The result is a trio of 1" three-ring binders with property cards and pictures of the demolished buildings. Some fourscore demolitions have taken place in the past five years, a time during which the city has seen a development renaissance thanks to the confluence of a bubbling housing market and philosophical shift during the mayoral era of Maurice Cox towards encouraging density. On a rainy weekday, I trudged down to City Hall to see what could be gleaned by combing through Scala’s binders.

For the most part, they are page books of modest homes that had to make way for “progress”—bigger buildings with more units and modern amenities. The University area in particular has been hard hit by demolitions, either because of institutional expansions or landlords capitalizing on the higher density afforded by Council in 2003.

Monroe Lane lost at least half a dozen residences to condos and medical center projects. Valley Road and Brandon Avenue were scourged for the South Lawn project, though property owners there were well remunerated for their loss—UVA bought several of the bulldozer-marked houses for more than $1 million each. On Wertland Street and Jefferson Park Avenue, Wade Apartments took down older rental units to turn them into nicer new units. Further down JPA, two stately residences at 2006 and 2101 vanished in favor of, respectively, a multiunit apartment and a grassy lot.

The most infamous University area tear down was done by the Thomas Jefferson Scholars Foundation when it demoed 124 Maury Ave. (a.k.a. the Beta frat house), an elegant residence designed by notable architect Eugene Bradbury. But the TJ scholars also took out two less striking ranch-style houses on Clark Court to make room for their new graduate fellowship center.

Not all the tear downs are residential. The Terrace Theater, for instance, was torn down last fall to make room for the new Whole Foods on Hydraulic Road, and a Donut Connection building was obliterated for the cool two-story Arch’s.

Around the rest of the city, demolitions have been mostly scattered affairs, though Fifeville and the area of Belmont closer to Carlton Avenue have lost more than their fair share. Neighborhoods both old and rich, like North Downtown and Rugby Road, have largely been spared the wrecking ball, but even those places have seen a handful of demolitions. For instance, after buying 906 Fendall Terrace in 2004 for $530,000, Michael and Prudence Thorner tore down a five-room 1,760-square-foot house and replaced it with an eight-room 4,000-square-foot house.

What Scala’s binders can’t explain, however, is why a house was demolished. Unless a building has local historical designation, a demolition permit is relatively easy to obtain and requires no justification. That means that there is no catalogue of a building’s flaws, of its cracked foundation or its leaking roof or its rotten framing. No judge publicly proclaims its sins before consigning it to the crowbar. The city assessor’s property card, with its simple numbers on rooms, square footage and year built, is all that will remain of those deceased dwellings that once gave Charlottesville shelter.

Same here. And the demo permit fee is $75 in our neck of the woods. Hardly a hardship.

No comments: