What will become of Charlottesville?

Each day seemingly brings a new development, a new announcement of another couple-hundred acres’ demise. I received the following email from clients last week who wish to relocate to C’Ville to retire …

After our tour of C’Ville with you last Sunday, (we) drove around the town on our own for a few hours before heading north to Centreville.  With much enthusiastic conversation, we were fairly sure that Dunlora could be the community for our future home.  Everything about it seemed right for us!  The information you forwarded today even reinforced that opinion.

However, I went to the Belvedere website after I received your email and, I’m sorry to say that our bubble seems to have burst.  I don’t think we want to live immediately adjacent to a community with 900-1200 homes and also significant commercial space.  That development will be north of Dunlora, and a large portion of undeveloped property still exists to the south (you don’t need too much of an imagination to figure out what the future holds for that area).  I haven’t even explored the projected parkway website yet.

Are we over-reacting?  Is this merely a bump in the road?  We know that, with your assistance and guidance, we’ll be able to find a suitable residence in or near Charlottesville.

I had several reactions after receiving this email from my clients, the most striking was that of utter disappointment. Good growth is good. Too much growth, combined with growth of the wrong kind, will destroy what makes our region special. An awful lot of people choose to come to the Charlottesville area because they want to move here for the reasons that make Charlottesville special. In the words of an off-line commenter:

If C’ville continues to try to imitate No VA (i.e. concerns centering around Crozet development, developers squeezing in as great a density as permitted—well there goes the QOL and the neighborhood).  Again, I reiterate, it’s the “country” of Charlottesville with the little flair of charm, artsy craftsy, good restaurants, etc.  created by UVA in downtown and “clean,pure wine country, that is C’ville.

This perception is what sells Charlottesville. I have never had to “sell” anyone on C’Ville; most love it here – for the open spaces, the clean air, the culture, schools, etc.

The HooK ran a good story this week depicting the trials and tribulations of Loudoun County to our north. It used to be said, “Don’t Fairfax Loudoun,” now I see the occasional “Don’t Loudoun Albemarle.”

The transience of our community is one of the aspects that makes us great. The constant change and influx of new ideas and perspectives add tremendous value to our vibrance, our je ne sais quoi, or as Dr. Evil says, our “I don’t know what.”

The questions I face every day are: At what point is “too much?” When do we stop being “CharlAlbemarle” and become just another town? The more homogenous developments we allow, the less character and style we will have. These type of developments, (described to me as “underwhelming, denuding the landscape, generally “blah” developments) to me (and my clients) are not “Charlottesville.”

This is a difficult story for me to write, as I make my living selling real estate. The goals of ASAP seem irrational and illogical to me, but they have a few good points here and there. I think the intent is good; the methods leave a lot to be desired.

A balance exists; I (nor has anybody else, it would seem) just haven’t found it yet. A moratorium on growth as some have proposed is not a reasonable nor feasible solution. I still love it here. Our challenges pale in comparison to other regions and locales … Here is where my idealist side rears its head – I do not advocate stripping individuals of the right to develop their own property. I just wish they would do so in a better fashion.

Growth is inevitable; how we grow is vital. This is a great place to live and work … now everybody knows it. We are victims of our own successes.

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6 Comments

  1. TrvlnMn February 27, 2006 at 01:12

    Charlottesville is a victim of it’s own success. The time to think about “How we grow” was about Six plus years ago. Instead the area reveled in the economic benefits the growth brought to the area and kept asking for more without looking to the future as it should have done.

    Lets reflect for a moment on the incredible irony of the situation. Your clients want to move here yet are daunted by the prospect of more development – it’s not locals that are creating the demands of growth.

    The “underwhelming, denuding the landscape” type of developments seems to me to include pretty much all developments. Contractors got into the “homebuilder business” and using their limited experience and the same basic design plan (the only one they know how to build) throw up variations of that same house again and again with no thought at all to design. A fair chunk of the houses in the Four Seasons neighborhood has as it’s exterior the same type of decorative plywood that I used on my back yard shed.

    The current batch of contractor/developers are lazy and beyond the catchy tagline that will be used to name the development and double as the sales pitch, minimal effort goes into concept and design. I’ve seen some great use of space, houses built much closer to one another on smaller plots of land than currently seen in Charlottesville, and still managing to maintain a sense of privacy and space. More with Less. But that was when I lived in L.A. and houses and developments like that require the contractor/contractor to actually make an effort to include “design” as an element.

    Having seen truely well designed well thought out houses in L.A. it makes what I’ve seen on my return to Virginia seem all the more offensive to the eye.

    I’m a pessimist, I think until all the space is gone, there won’t be any real thoughts as to how to more efficiently use space.

  2. Jim February 27, 2006 at 08:24

    I think that the point of my post was to reflect on the changes but also as a plea for those developers (and those who encourage them) to do what they do with more thought, more planning, more class.

    Locals are not creating the demand, but our area would not be what it is without those moving here. Again, there exists a balance … somewhere.

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  4. Jim March 4, 2006 at 22:59

    You hit the nail on the head. The problem is not just growth ( I think you’re right to some degree, it is inevitable..), but HOW we’re growing. Every time I see an ad for some new development, or CAAR touting the region, or economic development groups (Chamber, TJ Partnership)praising Jefferson Country, they ALWAYS show pictures of the beautiful countryside & open spaces which they claim makes this area so appealing. Are they not aware that most of the positions thay take on growth issues are directly responsible for chewing up what’s left of this area’s rural counrtyside? It’s time that these groups bagan demonstrating public support for the County’s efforts to protect the rural area. There are plenty of good examples of smarter growth in the city and in the county’s growth area….it can be done.

  5. Jim March 5, 2006 at 23:49

    Jim – I agree with most of what you say, the more that we market our countrysides, the less there is …

    Albemarle’s regulations have forced development to take the least restrictive paths – the rural areas. Only 5% of the County is in the designated growth area, I believe. Unfortunately, the way we are growing is simply not an efficient use of land.

    What are the examples in the area that epitomize smarter growth?

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