Blight reprieve: Landmark owner agrees to city’s demands

Landmark hotel. Staff photo. Landmark hotel. Staff photo.

With a fresh promise from the Landmark hotel owner that he’ll secure, clean, and structurally assess the hulking unfinished structure on the Downtown Mall, Charlottesville City Council voted on Tuesday, February 18 to defer a formal blight declaration.

The new and apparently conciliatory approach of the unfinished hotel’s owner stands in contrast to what has been an increasingly contentious situation surrounding the Downtown Mall property bought at auction by Atlanta-based developer John Dewberry for $6.25 million in June 2012.

In late January, after Dewberry responded to increasing pressure from the city with a testy letter, the planning commission declared the building blighted and passed the matter on to City Council with several recommendations, suggesting, as a last resort, possible seizure of the property by the city and demolition. That threat, apparently, got Dewberry’s attention.

“They have essentially addressed everything we asked them to do,” neighborhood planning boss Jim Tolbert told council, describing a “very good meeting” with a new representative from Dewberry’s company, and subsequent negotiations that had ended just five minutes before the 7pm council meeting.

Among the tasks Dewberry has agreed to complete:
•Hire a local engineering firm to do structural evaluation of existing structure on or before the week of February 24
•Clean ground level and first floor of trash and debris.
•Secure the east side of the structure on the CVS side where the city believes people are gaining access.
•Reasonably secure all stairwell access points.
•Remove current fence and install new 10-foot fence with proper supports.
•Remove graffiti from all floors, place material over all windows so you can’t see in, probably using art to cover windows and possibly the fence

Additionally, Tolbert told council, Dewberry agreed to give police the authority to enforce trespassing on the private property. Security cameras, which had been suggested as one possible deterrent to trespassing, will not be required, said Tolbert, after consulation with the city attorney’s office. Councilors expressed concern that the historic wall inside the building be specifically protected and reserved the right to revisit a blight declaration if the required measures are not taken.