The Albemarle County Planning Commission has approved a special-use permit for a University of Virginia indoor golf practice facility.
A special-use permit had been approved for the UVa Foundation for a facility on the Birdwood Golf Course behind the Birdwood mansion in 2015, but the structure is now being relocated about 400 feet to the west.
On Tuesday, the commission approved a special-use permit where the parking lot was moved slightly to the northwest from the site of the lot discussed in July.
The commission had a work session on the proposed site on July 25 and delayed the public hearing to Tuesday after county staff discovered issues with the legal notice for the hearing.
Between July 25 and the public hearing on Tuesday, county staff had met with UVa Foundation staff and discussed other parking lot options, which had been an issue discussed at the work session.
The UVa Foundation provided county staff with five additional parking lot concepts. Later, county staff gave an alternative option to one of those lots, which would consist of a single-loaded parking lot in between Golf Course Drive and a brick barn north of the proposed facility, and landscape screening along the road.
County staff did not recommend approval of the special-use permit unless a revised illustrative site plan was submitted that was representative of the alternative option staff had proposed, as well as other conditions.
Valerie Long, an attorney with Williams Mullen representing the UVa Foundation, said the future plan is for Golf Course Drive to become the primary entrance for the golf course, as it is, as well as the Boar’s Head Resort with a connector road.
“It’s literally their entrance corridor to the larger property, and just like the county cares very much about development that occurs along its entrance corridors, the foundation cares very much about development along its entrance corridors,” she said.
Long said that while the county staff’s proposed option helped move the parking lot out of the view shed of the mansion, it put the parking in the foreground of the view of the historic structures from Golf Course Drive.
The option that was chosen, referred to as Option C, which places the lot farther north and slightly west of the first proposed lot, was a better balance between the goals of the county and the foundation, Long said.
“It continues to preserve the views between the mansion and the other historic outbuildings and contributing structures, but it also preserves the viewshed from the entrance corridor, there’s much more space in here, and this location is somewhat down in a slight bowl,” she said.
Commissioners still had questions, such as whether the number of parking spots, about 20 to 24 spots, was too high, or whether parking so close to the facility was necessary at all.
“Obviously, it’s a convenience mechanism to have parking very close to the building, and you would need some parking for, I guess, someone who was so handicapped that they couldn’t ride a golf cart,” Commissioner Karen Firehock said. “I’m trying to understand what’s the added convenience.”
Long said it was about safety for the student-athletes (about 10 per team), the coaches, visitors and guests.
“In the wintertime is primarily when they’re going to be using this, where it’s heated and under cover,” said Fred Missel, director of design and development for the foundation. “For them to potentially even use it during a snowy time, for them to drive to a parking area and then get in a golf cart when it’s pretty cold out, drive back to that facility, would be a little bit untenable.”
Commissioner Tim Keller thanked staff for their work on this application, saying it would have been helpful to have that degree of staff input in the past on applications.
“Having said that, I have to disagree with you on this,” he said. “Having spent my whole career in this, I actually think that the original parking scheme, although yes, the wonderful historic tree could be lost, was not a bad solution.”
“When it gets moved to the location that’s been proposed by you all, I see the merits in it on the one hand from the house, but in terms of the total site, so many people are going to be viewing this from the golf carts and from walking and driving [U.S.] 250, there’s significant visual impact from those areas, as well,” he said.
The county’s Historic Preservation Committee and county staff also had expressed concerns that the project would compromise the property’s eligibility for continued listing on the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register, but had since learned from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources that the project would not affect the listing, and that the proposed building would be more compatible than the 2015 design. DHR also said that this option for the parking lot location did not have impacts on the register listing.
A question about one of the conditions on the initial special-use permit application that had come up in July was addressed a bit more Tuesday. The condition is related to any new construction at the existing golf course facility, except for minor changes, requiring an amended special-use permit. The UVa Foundation was hoping to change that condition.
“Given the geographic scope of this requests, this indoor golf practice facility is but a very small portion of this very large property,” said Tim Padalino, a county senior planner. “While we remain open with potentially having that language be modified, and even slightly more permissive conditions be put in place, it seems like that would have to be done in a different context, maybe at a slightly different time.”
The special-use permit is tentatively scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors for its consideration on Sept. 13.