Costco at Stonefield: Supes vote to approve another big box

Back when Stonefield was known as "Albemarle Place," and still on the drawing board, developers touted the "town center" development as a place with "rich architecture, upscale boutiques and eye-catching entertainment... casual sophistication mixed with unmistakable class." 

There were architectural renderings that showed the newly built, pedestrian-friendly streets teeming with activity in a lush urban landscape. Today, courtesy of different developers, the "town center" is a largely isolated landscape that has the feel of an abandoned movie set, and with the recent announcement that big box discount store Costco will be moving in, there's some doubt about the "unmistakable class" we were originally promised.

Moreover, a Costco is not in line with the spirit of the county's Places29 Design Plan, which was implemented to guide future growth along the corridor, and allows a maximum building footprint of 80,000 square feet. The planned Costco will be 155,000 square feet. A vote on allowing the square-footage increase, which county planning staff have already recommended for approval, is expected to take place at the Board of Supervisor's September 11 meeting after the Hook goes to press.

Most supes we contacted were mum about how they would vote. Asked how a giant, big box Costco might fit into the pedestrian-friendly, open spaces, "live, work, play" model that the Places29 Master plan seeks to embrace, Supervisor Ken Boyd acknowledged that that was a good question.

"I hope our staff has an answer for it if they recommend approval," he says.

According to the staff report, the portion of the Stonefield development north of Sperry Marine, where the Costco will be built, is already zoned for a "more commercial retail development."

"The rezoning of Stonefield predated Places29, and Places29 includes reference to this property," says Supervisor Dennis Rooker, who has plenty to say about the plan for the new Costco "as being already zoned for a traditional shopping center."

True, but is a big box store in keeping the with the spirit of the Places29 design plan and what Stonefield claimed it would be?

"Yes, it is consistent with the design plan and with the developer's plan for the development," says Rooker, directing anyone interested to the staff report.

"I'm all for Costco coming," says Hook real estate expert Richard Spurzem," as we need the stores, and the tax revenue, but let's be real...Stonefield is turning out to be another run-of-the-mill strip shopping center, a far cry from the grandiose plan they had in the beginning."

"There is somewhat of a campaign of misinformation against the Stonefield application for minor plan variations and it appears to me to be being waged by other developers," claims Rooker, whose district Stonefield occupies.

"In my opinion," he adds, "this developer is being singled out for much harsher treatment because of a campaign of opposition from other developers and at least one board member who is carrying their water."

Say what?

Rooker's is not the only allegation of a board member carrying water for a developer, but none of his fellow supervisors had responded to such claims by press time.

However, Rooker did point to an online petition opposing the construction of the Costco as an example of the "misinformation campaign," which claims the big box store will snarl traffic in the area, harm local businesses, and bring low-wage jobs to the community.

"There is no increase in traffic resulting from the variance application," claims Rooker. "and Costco pays its employees about double comparable retailers in the area."

However, petition signer Gerrit Goss, a local landscape architect, thinks the lure of a Costco will only make the traffic situation worse.

"Hydraulic and 29 is a particularly difficult intersection to navigate already," he says, "without the added traffic of a megastore like Costco."

What's more, Goss wonders why we need another big box with Lowe's, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Target so close by. Indeed, those four stores already combine for 562,699 square feet of big-box store space along 29.

Again, Rooker wonders why there's such opposition to Stonefield. As he points out, a 140,000 square-foot Wegmans was unanimously approved by the BOS for the Fifth Street Station on Fifth Street Extended.

The developer for that project, Allen Taylor, declined comment.

"You can also look at Hollymead Town Center, which is supposed to have a town center, which was never built," says Rooker, "but also has approval for a basic shopping center with several boxes which have gone forward. Stonefield, on the other hand, has built its town center and is actively leasing it."

Still, folks like Goss think we have to tread carefully.

"I think we need to try harder to preserve that which is special about Charlottesville," says Goss, "and I worry that I am going to wake up one day and find out that I live in Gainesville, Virginia, which is the saddest, most disheartening, anonymous, depressing excuse for a town I have ever driven through."

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We are quickly turning Charlottesville into "Everytown USA". We "need" more stores? Really? You can't find what you "need" already at Sam's Club, Walmart, Target, Bed Bath Beyond or CVS....etc?

Let's save the last remnants of what makes Charlottesville unique -- while there are still a few remnants left.

At least they're building it inside the urban area.

The vision sold vs. actual outcome is almost as stark as the difference between the much hyped international competition that sold the plan for the Sunrise Trailer Court and what really happened there. In the Sunrise case, several historic properties were destroyed, as were some perfectly good non-historic houses to build a mostly for profit development that is as generic as generic gets. That project was given the green light after an extensive pr campaign that painted it as some sort of cutting edge innovative architectural project that would house all the poor folk that lived there. The project as realized is anything but that. The highly questionable sale of city cemetery property to the same group means that same scenario is likely to be played out again to the loss of city residents and to the gain of the developers.

Sadly the impending loss of the Hook as one of the few actual news sources locally means that almost no one will be watching this stuff and the public will be even less informed of what is happening to them. The very least we can do is to write or call out local elected officials and ask that when these projects are approved that strict performance requirements are in place and that there are real hurtful financial penalties for neglecting them.

Beyond pointing out that Stonefield is not in Charlottesville. It's in Albemarle County -- a totally separate municipal entity -- I would just say this:

For eons, humans have believed that architecture has the power to affect human behavior. As a local example: Thomas Jefferson designed his Academical Village as both a lesson in architectural and cultural history and as a physical construct that would directly affect the outlooks, characters, etc. of the students who lived and studied within it. And never has more been asserted on that subject than now.

The problem is that humans no longer have to be influenced by their architecture, planning, etc. Mobile as we are, we can and do make touch and go landings from one "town center" to another in the course of an errand-running morning. (N.B. This has been true for quite a while. From the moment folks moved into Reston VA and Columbia MD -- both of which were intended to be self contained, self sufficient communities in which carless residents would live, work, and play on bike and foot -- automobile commuters were leaving each for the other and all points between and beyond.)

Not long ago, I was being prissily harangued by a local architect who'd recently recast himself as a "New Urbanist." I said to him what I said above. In response, he admitted that his partner of the moment, someone with whom he lived just off Polo Grounds Road (just off 29 North), actually drove from there past the Giant in Albemarle Square to the Giant on Pantops because she thought the baguettes there superior.

Developers and architects are going to continue to broadcast this blather. And shutting them up won't help the communities and landscapes they're continually authorized to rape and/or rearrange. All the industrial-strength implementaton in these cases comes down to very skinny political bottlenecks -- that is, to planning commisions and architectural review boards (the members of which are appointed in Albemarle County by the Board of Supervisors and in Charlottesville by City Council) and to BOS and CC members themselves. In the end, many of these decisions come down to one Supervisor's or Councilor's vote.

So the only way to control this nightmare is to control who ends up on BOS and CC. I live in Charlottesville. I'm single shotting in November for Bob Fenwick, who's consistenly opposed outscaled and inappropriate infill, etc. Would I like to see Kristin Szakos defeated? Absolutely. She consistently votes in support of developers who want to drop mega ton people bombs on fragile neighborhoods. And though she prides herself on creating "town halls" and such, she consistently proves that she listens to no one by roaring back at commenters via email and in person not only arguing with their positions but impugning their motives. But voting for Mike Farruggio -- a really nice, smart, competent guy who has an unfortuate affinity for developers -- isn't the way to displace Szakos. Indeed, voting for both Fenwick and Farruggio, as I've seen Hook posters pledge to do, is a really good way to defeat Fenwick and give the big-boxers a full set of the enablers they rely on.

All of which is to say: Dave, you're right. The gap between promise and reality is huge. Stonefield is a Giorgio di Chirico landscape. None of us plebs made this thing. But we have recourse -- namely, electing people who are not enablers of the blatherers and big-boxers.

Think people. Then vote smart.

Ms. Roades, Great insights as always! If I recall correctly you have a journalism background. My current wildest dream has you teaming with Hawes to create the paper/website that this area needs to fill the void to be left when this one goes dead in the near future.

So, where was the announcement regarding the impending closure of The Hook?


Thank you. You're very kind. I do have journalism in both my resume and my DNA. I've reported for The Richmond News Leader, WVTF Radio, The Prince Georges (MD) Post, WCVE (Richmond) TV, Australian Broadcasting, et al. And my great grandfather co-founded the short lived Piedmont Intelligencer here in 1868. But there's zero money in either my background or bank account. So here I am, almost 60 years after being given demerits at McGufffey for passing notes, passing more notes.

And captain yesterday:

Thanks much to you for reminding readers that City Councilors Huja, Norris, Galvin, and Szakos voted without any public discussion whatsoever to transfer property bought by earlier Councilors with public money for the public purpose of expanding the public Oakwood Cemetery when necessary -- property both needed and wanted for that public purpose right now -- to their favorite developer. That would be Charlie Armstrong of Southern Development using Habitat for Humanity as a very junior partner and beard (to borrow an appropriate term from crime fiction). One correction though: The transfer wasn't a sale. It was a giveaway.

Whatever happened to the idea floated last fall that Costco would go near Wegmans? Would help create a southern retail hub rather than more traffic and congestion mid-Rt 29

I'm happy to see Costco coming. North of Sperry won't change the flavor of what's South of there. Most significantly COSTCO pays their workers decently and with health care... unlike WalMart and Sam's. I am grateful to have an alternative to supporting the Walton dynasty.

Wait, Rooker wants this? He has opposed every other shopping and development (or held them hostage to epic ransom though proffers) with a passion only matched by his hatred of the bypass. As he heads for the door he turns into Stonefield's biggest cheerleader.

Wonder what caused him to change his tune?

Coran Capshaw is trying to snag Costco for his development so I am sure he is working behind closed doors to make it happen.....

Stonefields is already approved for more space than Costco not just the particular configuration, the traffic was accounted for and the improvements are already in place.

Would you rather have people spending two hours in Costco or way more people spending 20 minutes in specialty shops coming and going?

This is just sour grapes from the loser across the street who can't keep a tenant in the Boathouse/mavericks/and the new Mexican joint.

Thanks for the posts which reinforce the "respectable street" pomposity of so many in this area. I especially like the condescending post of Roades above, who uses the "nice" adjective as the first to describe a (oh my!) Republican candidate. The classic sign of passive/aggressive language.

I am sure Roades is a nice gal and I appreciate that she toyed with journalism in minor markets. The fact is, a Costco is just as offensive as a Trader Joe's, a PierOne Imports, a multiplex movie theater, a bunch of snotty restaurants, and the other poseurs calling Stonefield their home.

To whine about undesirable development on Rt. 29 is the classic horse-has-left-the-barn scenario. But I appreciate all the architectural experts looking out for us uneducated peons.

BTW Antoinette, your editor called. You can strike the word "totally" from the "separate municipal..." phrase in your first graph. But thanks oh-so-much for teaching me that Charlottesville and Albemarle County are different political entities. I learn something new daily from those more evolved folks of our so-special town.

"I.M." --

FYI: I've also been Operations Manager of CBS Television's Washington D.C. news bureau for the stations the network owned in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles; a Capitol Hill press secretary (for a Republican); the press secretary of the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City; a writer/editor/photographer for Realites/International Arts and Cultures, a regular commentator on NPR's "Performance Today," et al. In all, I've had bylines in more than 70 different publications -- more of them based in New York than anywhere else -- over the last 40 years.

But hey, this isn't about me, It's about anonymous sniping.

Also FYI: Mike Farruggio is a very nice guy as I've learned from long acquaintance and observation. And if the math of Charlottesville City Council elections were different, I would vote for him as well as for Bob Fenwick (for whom I voted when he ran as an Independent and for whom I would vote if he ran as a Republican).

andy said, "Whatever happened to the idea floated last fall that Costco would go near Wegmans? Would help create a southern retail hub rather than more traffic and congestion mid-Rt 29"

I agree, it would be nice to not funnel everything into a single congested area and yet keep the develop centralized in the urban core.

P.S. re local government: Virginia is the only state in the U.S. that has a system in which cities chartered as Independent Cities are totally separate municipal entities from the counties that surround them. Charlottesville is a Virginia Independent City. In other states, cities and surrounding counties share aspects of jurisdiction to varying degrees -- that is, they're only partially separate from one another.

Oh Man --

Keep it coming... Costco too?!

This town is increasingly about the new money, and I guess this is what the new money wants. Wegman's? Nouveau riche excess personified. Can't imagine how much food they throw away -- all this prepared stuff for all the lazy people who can't read a cookbook. Come on -- they just opened that Fresh Market place. Have you been there? Awful. Same idea. These stores are dreadful, and yet somehow, they're going to put Foods of All Nations out of business. Along with Vinegar Hill Theatre, Camino (hi!) and umm... The Hook?

Just came back from Santa Barbara. Might move there soon. Wonder why?!


@andy griffith, don't you think that Costco coming would benefit the development across the street? rising tides lift all ships...increased retail activity in that area benefits all those centers in the immediate 29N corridor. i would imagine the owners across the street are big fans of Costco coming to as a neighbor, as opposed to 5th St Station. rooker's assertion of another developer originating a smear campaign is directed at another group, perhaps the project that once laid claim to Costco?!


How much good would it fdo for people North of 29 to drive past Stonefileds to get to Costco on the southside.. there are way more people up there.

(they can put a BJs in on the southside in ten years when the southside develops...)

Putting Costco on the South side of town so that people from the North have to drive there would mean that there was at least one reason to be building a bypass through our central park.

Hey Antoinette match point; well done! I always enjoy your contributions.

@Bill, not sure what you're after with your comment? Care to clarify? In my opinion Costco would be well served in either location, but I have to assume they've chosen 29N for a good reason. Now, if the County/City would make the developers act on their proffer to widen 29S from Hydraulic to the bypass then we'd all have less to complain about traffic-wise.

Rooker has the audacity to accuse another supervisor of “carrying water” for a developer. Look in the mirror Mr. Rooker, if you were any more in the bag for this developer you would suffocate. You attended the developers meeting with the public on August 29th and acted as a representative for the developer, you challenged anyone who had a question or a negative comment. At the hearing on Wednesday you were shameless in your open support and advocation, I don’t even know why the developer bothered to make a presentation, they had you.

Some politicians stay one term to long.

Why not put the Costco on the south side? It's ok to make south side residents drive north for everything but not to ask north side residents to drive south for Costco?