The University of Virginia’s Birdwood property now will be able to hosts events and overnight guests.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors this past week approved a rezoning for about 15 acres of the 544-acre property from residential to highway commercial, which allows for the renovation of the mansion and the grounds for use as a special events venue with overnight lodging.
The UVa Foundation, which owns the site, estimates it will have about 24 weekend events per year, likely for wedding and reception activities, with an average of about 100 to 120 attendees and around 96 weekday events per year with an average attendance of 25 to 30 people.
“There’s also a number of outbuildings on site surrounding the mansion that are all proposed to be reused as part of the project for things like small guestrooms, storage rooms,” said Valerie Long with Williams-Mullen, who was representing the foundation. “For instance, this ice house, the concept is to reuse it as a small guestroom. There’s a garage that can be used for storage of materials for events, things like that.”
The property is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the foundation has been working with experts in historic preservation and landscape architecture.
“The highest priority is ensuring that the listing is protected, so they have a good team so they can balance the goals — the importance of preserving the listing with the opportunities to renovate and reuse this property and let the public get back into it,” Long said.
A sound study was completed, and all events using amplified sound are required to use a venue-installed house sound system that would have a maximum sound level output of 85 dBA, measured at 50 feet from the speaker.
Supervisor Rick Randolph asked if they had considered capping the number of people at events at 200.
“We have events much larger than 200 at Boar’s Head, much closer to the adjacent neighborhood,” said foundation CEO Tim Rose. “And so for us to cap this, which is further from the adjoining neighborhoods, and then to allow much larger events over at the Boar’s Head side which are much closer to neighborhoods, I’m not sure that would be in the best interest of the entire property ... I know right now, we could not agree to that. We’d have to understand a lot more about what’s behind that cap and how that would affect the business plan for the project.”
Long said there were some “self-limiting factors,” as well, such as space inside and outside the building and parking.
“I don’t think an 800-person event, if they have those, is certainly going to be frequent, if at all,” she said. “But we would ask for the flexibility to be able to manage that coordination and that process internally. That’s part of why there’s a proffer to provide an updated event management plan.”
The Board of Supervisors also approved a request to change the zoning designation of about 0.45-acre of slopes in the Woolen Mills area from “preserved slopes” to “managed slopes” to make way for a proposed light-industrial park.
Preserved slopes are not allowed to be disturbed, except under limited conditions, according to the county code. Managed slopes are slopes where development may occur within certain design standards to mitigate the impacts caused by the disturbance of the slopes.
County staff said the slope in the area of the request is likely man-made from a former railroad track and bed.
A site development plan was approved for the site, which sits to the southeast of the intersection of Franklin and Broadway streets, in 2017 for an industrial park containing about 113,650 square feet of building space. A major site plan amendment has been submitted to reduce the gross square footage of warehouse space to 55,750 square feet within the property. That amendment is still under review.
Randolph said he found comments made at a previous Planning Commission meeting by Commissioner Karen Firehock to be “persuasive.”
Firehock had called soil from the site “unconsolidated rubble fill,” and said the slopes already are eroding, and the best thing to do would be to disturb and stabilize them.
Kevin O’Brien, one of the partners developing the site, said they were preserving a historic wall on Franklin Street.
“It’s our contention that if this zoning amendment is approved, that literally everything that the county wanted from this property will, in fact, be met,” he said. “It’s going to be developed according to its zoning, and none of the naturally occurring staple steep slopes will be disturbed.”