‘The last straw:’ Woodard pulls the plug on West2nd

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Now we’ll never see more than a rendering of West2nd, the $50 million development of luxury condos and retail space that had been proposed at the current site of a Water Street parking lot since 2014. Rendering Keith Woodard Now we’ll never see more than a rendering of West2nd, the $50 million development of luxury condos and retail space that had been proposed at the current site of a Water Street parking lot since 2014. Rendering Keith Woodard

Developer Keith Woodard has abandoned his plan to build a $50 million castle of downtown luxury condos and retail space on a city-owned Water Street parking lot.

“The project was a tremendous undertaking, and over time, the process of obtaining the  necessary approvals became very difficult and at times adversarial, causing continual delays and uncertainty,” according to a press release from Susan Payne, a spokesperson with a local public relations group that represented the now-defunct West2nd development.

When Woodard responded to the city’s request for project proposals in early 2014, “it was a different City Council and different circumstances,” he said in the release.

That was under then-Mayor Satyendra Huja. While several council members have come and gone since then, Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Vice-Mayor Heather Hill, the two newest ones, have both openly opposed and voted against the project.

Keith Woodard. Photo by Amy Jackson

Woodard had been working for nearly five years to launch and build the 97-condo mixed-use development that would also house the City Market, and calls the Board of Architectural Review’s August 21 denial of an appropriateness application “the last straw.”

The BAR cited issues with the height and scale of the L-shaped building. Echoing formerly voiced concerns of councilors Walker and Hill, BAR members also questioned West2nd’s ability to properly accommodate City Market vendors.

Woodard has the option of appealing the BAR decision to City Council, but Hill says she doesn’t think he will.

Longtime developer Bill Atwood says he thinks a representative from the BAR should have been on the committee that selected West2nd as the winner of the city’s request for proposals.

“It basically turned into a beauty contest,” he says.

Atwood, whose nearby Waterhouse condos were recently foreclosed upon by Great Eastern Management, says it’s hard to build downtown.

The property where West2nd was proposed is extremely valuable, and becoming even more so, he says, and adds that the next developer who tries to tackle it should make sure his project is economically viable.

Woodard has faced several wins and losses during the life of West2nd.

City Council voted 4-1 to reject his special-use permit to build another floor and 28 additional units in February, though it met the city’s requirements, and approved the permit by a 3-2 vote two months later, when Councilor Wes Bellamy negotiated a deal to build eight units that would remain affordable for 15 years, and another eight units that the city would subsidize using property tax revenue from the West2nd project.

When Woodard called it quits August 28, 37 of the 97 units had been secured, and prices on Zillow ranged from $359,000 to $1.4 million for each condo.

The press release announcing the now-abandoned project’s fate calls the decision a “very difficult choice.”

“This project has certainly faced its challenges given its scope,” says Hill, who mentions that along with providing a permanent home for the market, residential, commercial, and retail spaces, West2nd also allotted space for private and public parking. “Layer on top of that numerous stakeholder groups weighing in on how this scope would be brought to life, often with competing priorities, along with rising construction costs, and this is unfortunately where we are.”

Hill says such a property in the “heart of our downtown” provides a tremendous development opportunity.

“I am certainly committed to evaluating partnerships, including with Mr. Woodard, that may open the door for other visions for this site’s development,” she adds.

Says Woodard, “I am disappointed that this project will not become a reality.”

And so are the people who were hoping to live there.

“I’m very disappointed,” says Ellen Teplitzky, who put a deposit on one of the condos in the spring. She had also reserved a spot at Waterhouse before Atwood “land banked” the residential properties.

“Twice burned,” she says. Teplitzky says she feels bad for Woodard, who spent an incredible amount of time and money on the project.

“All to preserve a farmer’s market,” she adds. “I’m sorry if I sound very callous.”

But some City Market vendors are glad to see the project gone.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the vendors and the city to build a much better permanent market space,” says Janet Dob, who has been operating her Bageladies booth at the market for more than a decade.

When the city first called for project proposals in 2014, Dob says Shank & Gray Architects proposed Market Square, which “made the market space a priority with ample room to grow, rather than an afterthought tucked in a corner.”

She says it seems like the city doesn’t grasp the “enormous value” that the market—or “the soul of Charlottesville’s downtown on Saturday”—brings to the community.

Adds Dob, “Glad we’re going back to square one.”

 

Updated with comments from Bill Atwood and Ellen Teplitzky on August 31 at 3pm.

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