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Salvation Army on Ridge Street OK'd for demolition

The Board of Architectural Review approved the demolition of the Charlottesville Salvation Army’s buildings on Ridge Street in a unanimous vote Wednesday.

The most contentious issue at the meeting wasn’t the decision to raze the buildings, but rather the fate of an ancient oak tree at the site.

“We would like to save the tree,” Erin Hannegan, a project manager with Mitchell Matthews Architects & Planners, told the board. “Our development plans intend to save the tree.”

Despite those assurances, Hannegan was, however, asking the board for permission to remove the 56-inch diameter, approximately 125-year-old black oak. She said the reason was to escape a city engineer’s alleged determination that the presence of that tree means that no new building may be built within 84 feet of it.

“They told us they would be sticklers about the guidelines,” said Hannegan.

Hannegan displayed renderings which showed a proposed building standing farther from the tree than the existing structures. She also showed the board a letter from a private arborist asserting that the Salvation Army’s planned redevelopment not only wouldn’t kill the tree but would actually benefit it. But when board members balked at granting permission to remove the oak, Hannegan clarified her pitch.

“We would just like language to be tailored to our arborist’s recommendations as opposed to the city guidelines which would ban any building within 84 feet of the trunk,” said Hannegan.

That 84-foot perimeter raised several eyebrows.

“Let’s be real,” said board member Cheri Lewis, noting that such an expansive protection zone would reach under the public street and, potentially, onto adjacent property.

“Can we wake up whatever city engineer has done this to us?” asked board member Carl Schwarz.

Jack Dawson, Charlottesville’s city engineer, was not present at the meeting, but in a next-day telephone interview with The Daily Progress, he downplayed his portrayal as a bureaucratic enforcer.

“We’re not the gods of Charlottesville,” said Dawson. “We don’t have a mechanism for enforcement.”

Dawson insists that his office was merely trying to convey the wishes of the Charlottesville Tree Commission, an advisory public body, when it suggested the 84-foot protection zone.

“Those are all recommendations,” said Dawson. “We don’t have the authority to force somebody to save trees.”

If Dawson is correct, then Hannegan’s concern may be ameliorated — particularly after the board voted to approve the demolition of the buildings with the suggestion that the city engineering department and the Salvation Army seek creative tree-saving solutions. That sounds good to Tree Commission member Peggy Van Yahres.

“There are many ways to save a tree even if you have to build around it,” Van Yahres told The Daily Progress on Thursday.

The architectural plans show the closest replacement building stands more than 32 feet away from the tree, while the existing structure stands just 12 feet from it.

“That’s good,” says Van Yahres. “That means the tree has lived with the building.”

The Salvation Army plans to remove its mid- to late-20th-century brick buildings on Ridge Street in chapters in order to allow the charity to redevelop the 1.2-acre property without ceasing services, which primarily focus on housing homeless people.

The Salvation Army operates a store nearby on Cherry Avenue that will be unaffected by the Ridge Street plans.

The oldest property that will be removed is 207 Ridge St., the main building and chapel constructed in 1965. Other structures include a 1992 addition and the 58-bed shelter, built circa 1980.

“These buildings possess no redeeming architectural or historical value or qualities that warrant special consideration,” according to the applicant’s own submission.

While Board of Architectural Review staff agreed, they noted that, because the site lies within the Ridge Street Architectural Design Control District, any exterior alteration requires board approval even when the buildings are not deemed “contributing” to the historic urban fabric.


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