Council decides not to decide on big house

When Charlottesville City Council declined to step into the middle of a dispute over the construction of an ambitious, environmentally friendly house that north Downtown neighbors argue is too large, it may have just delayed the inevitable. On May 5, councilors voted 4-1 to (ready for this?) not vote on an appeal brought by residents around 509 Second St. SE, where Mark and Barbara Fried plan to build a house that tops out at over 5,000 square feet.

Previous coverage:

Proposed house straddles past, future
Can carbon neutral meet north Downtown?

The house was approved by the city Board of Architectural Review (BAR) on March 18 by a 6-1 vote. Neighbors, though, are concerned that the size of the house will negatively affect the characteristic of the neighborhood, as well as set a bad precedent for infill projects. They had appealed the BAR’s decision to Council.

After more than two hours of presentations from the neighbors, the project’s architect, Allison Ewing, and the Frieds’ attorney, state Delegate David Toscano, councilors seemed less than eager to make a ruling on the appeal. Councilor Satyendra Huja motioned to defer a vote, hoping the appeal could be resolved back at the BAR level.

“I thought it needs a little more work, especially as it related to the street and the neighborhood,” says Huja. “I think they’re moving in the right direction.”

But Council didn’t specify that the BAR address the one subject that caused neighbors to file an appeal—the building’s size. Without addressing that, neighbors are unlikely to drop the appeal.

“It’s sort of unclear what the scope of the BAR discussion is going to be,” says Fred Scheider, who is a preservation architect and who addressed Council on May 5. “Our feeling is that if it involves basically tinkering around with details, that’s not going to be sufficient. We really are looking to address the issue of size in a substantive way.”

Councilor David Brown, who voted against the deferral, argued that the BAR had already approved the project—including its size. By sending it back, and with the appeal still pending, it is likely that the BAR will check its work, and send it right back to Council.

Toscano, no stranger to the workings of city government as a former Charlottesville mayor, says he doesn’t think the possibility of City Council ducking a vote on the second appeal will happen.

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