Belvedere Changes Course

Why, it seems like it was only 16.5 months ago that I forecast that Stonehaus was blowing hot air when they claimed that their “Belvedere” subdivision would be “affordable,” as the developer claimed it would be when they convinced the Board of Supervisors to approve it. Lo and behold, Brian McNeill writes in today’s Daily Progress that Stonehaus has gone and swapped buzzwords on us — now they’re “green”….and single-family houses “will cost somewhere in the $400,000s or $500,000s,” which is “affordable” if you have $3,000/month to spend on your mortgage. (Assuming that you want to spend no more than 30% of your income on your mortgage, that requires an annual household income of $119,880.) Stonehaus tells the DP that their motive isn’t profit, no-no, it’s asking themselves “every day, what’s the moral course?” The 675-unit development is going in on that big chunk of land on Rio Road, on the far side of 29 — you know, the one that got bulldozed a couple of years ago.

Erika Howsare explains in C-Ville Weekly that Stonehaus is angling for new urbanist development, mixed use, and Earthcraft certification.

They’d better get building quick. A new buzzword might come along.

23 Responses to “Belvedere Changes Course”


  • Call me cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it. We’re seeing a definite trend of developers making big promises that fizzle when construction is over. Like the promised organic farm. Do they know somebody who a) wants to be in the organic farming business b) is prepared to do so using the soil and water available there and c) cares to do it forever and ever? Farm land in Albemarle County is considerably more valuable for development — what will Stonehaus do to make sure that the organic farmland won’t be developed, but will forever remain farmland, fallow or otherwise?

    If they build this thing as advertised, great, it sounds like it’s just the kind of development that we need, save for the fact that it’s in no way affordable — this is strictly rich folks only, and it’s more faux public space. But Stonehaus has already shown that they’re willing to change course post-approval, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see some significant modifications to this by the time all’s said and done.

  • Waldo – We do have an organic farmer ready to go, one with a great reputation in the region and looking to build a true organic brand. Due to permitting problems we have had with the Corps of Engineers, we missed the ’07 planting season. We will have to construct access to the floodplain for our farmer, but he expects to get started in the Spring of ’08.

    I would not want to mention his name yet, but it won’t be long until it is ready for public consumption.

    See my note on Jim Duncan’s blog about our affordable options. That’s a tricky subject, but one that the development community needs to help the localities solve.

    I appreciate your cynicism, hopefully we will prove you wrong. It will take years, not months though. Development trends are like the Amazon, not the Colorado. But, if anyone can change, it’s the Charlottesville market.

  • Right next door, duplexes in Dunlora are going for about $450-$500k. Affordable single family housing is a daydream of nostalgic natives and government officials. In areas like this, affordable will be a flat, not a house, which I believe the government doesn’t want.

    Covenant Church (with Hauser’s help?), the railroad, and those responsible residents and tenants on Free State have been trashing the land back there for years. Hurry up Belvedere. Maybe we can get Meadowcreak parkway at the same time, if the government would get off its ass.

  • Isn’t part of this development on land that once belonged to freed slaves and free blacks hence the name Free State Road?

  • Hey, Chris:

    Thank you for joining the discussion. I appreciate your information on the organic farmer (curious to see who it ends up being). Sounds like that issue may be put to rest for us cynics.

    Do you have any comments regarding the affordability issues that Waldo raises? I realize you all are building something very special, and with a philosophy (green) that I support… but is it just for the rich?

  • BilCo, it’s in the linked blog “RealCentralVA.” Boils down to a couple of claims by Chris Schooley, Stonehaus: many of the houses have garage apartments, and, quoting now:

    “This is a new idea for the market and was well received by the BOS.
    – Of course, Belvedere is also committed to a cash proffer for affordable housing.
    – We are building up to 250 apartment units, with rents similar to our Avemore product, which truly is representative of the workforce market.
    – We are actually experimenting with the ‘Cottage’ units. They will be small units, around 1200 square feet and marketed in the low $200K’s”

  • Thanks, Colfer!

    I guess I was lazy and/or confused by that link that is lurking here at the bottom of the thread. Won’t happen again.

    I have not been pricing real estate since I bought my house here in c’ville in 2000. So, low $200k is affordable now. Good to know!

  • Notice there’s no commitment on the owner-occupied affordable units, the cottages. I don’t know what the cash proffer goes towards. That said, allowing garage apartments and mixing rental with owner occupied is a big improvement over a field of MiniMcMansions in monoculture. Still not a lovable city though. Who’s building the future Belmonts and Venables and North Downtowns today? Does this thing even have public streets? Can you walks somewhere and buy a candy bar and some tampons? Or, let’s say, an organic apple and some dula herbs?

  • Chris: best of luck with your Belvedere project. As you know all too well, every armchair development expert in Albemarle County will be quick to offer you their opinion on how you should risk your capital.

  • Buy shares in Exxon if you just want to make money. Ya know I was listening to Canadian radio today and they are debating oil company profits there. Canada is a net exporter, but like everywhere gas prices are going up and people hate that. So they look at the balance sheets of 1/2 the 10 largest companies in the world, which are 5 oil companies, and say, hey that’s 1/3 the price at the pump that we are sending out to a transnational company for their profit, to get our own gas back. Etc. It’s clearer in the case of Canada, but the principal is the same. Corporations, developers, etc., do not have a god-given right to do whatever they want with their money & other resources. They are licensed by us to do business as quasi-legal abstractions, with limited liability to actual humans, but some of the same rights as actual humans. Now a state-owned oil company would never be as innovative as a for-profit one, but it’s not a choice of one extreme or the other. Norway gets a nice deal from their oil contracts. So much so that Canada & the UK are jealous.

    Vermont gets a nice deal out of their developers (or so I read twenty years ago), and that’s decent place to live too. That long ago, the big deal was to make the strip stores put their vast parking lots in the back instead of the front. Has that happened here yet?

    OK, going back to my armchair… or to work actually!

  • About Exxon shares, I realize the price is determined by the wisdom of the market, but I was thinking with our smart armchair environmental pessimism, we could arbitrage the prevailing expectation on the Street ;)

  • As much as these developers are full’o shit, they are just responding to the opportunities in the market. Again, the problem is way deeper than pointing the finger at individual developers. Gotta look for the real issues folks!

  • Chris,

    Thanks for chiming in. What I’d really like to see in terms of “Green Building”, is both better control of how we manage stormwater and also integrating biodiversity into the plan.

    In practice, better stormwater management means using things like Green Roofs, Rain Gardens, and restored/artificial wetlands. It also means not culverting more streams. In terms of biodiversity, it is a simple matter to intergrate native trees and plants into the landscape. Where a environmental impact study is approriate, we should be looking not just for endangered plants and animals but also plants and animals that are rare to Albemarle county (see the biodiversity report) Check our the Dell stream daylighting project at UVa for an excellent example of both integrating natives into a design and good stormwater management practices.

    Lastly, I’d like more developments to think carefully about their sense of place and cultural contect. No, I don’t mean that we should design everything to look like Monticello, but there are local styles of design worth emulating especially in older sections of the city and county. For example, if this was an area of the city where free slaves settled, then how do we symbolically acknowledge that history in our design?

    If developers did these few simple things, then I’d be far less resistant to development.

  • Lonnie — Some great points, a quick response:

    Native Plants — Our landscape architect, McKee Carson, has recommended a great pallete of native plants and is working on an integrated habitat element of all landscape planting. At the ULI Green Building Conference last week, one of the uber-projects was trumpeting an involvement with the Lady Bird Johnson Native Wildflower Organization. We need that type of integration and McKee Carson is working on it. I wish we had the ability to remove every Ailanthis that has taken over this site in its storied history, but that’s not realistic.

    Stormwater — Thanks for mentioning the Dell, it’s a great project. We will have stormwater parks throughout Belvedere to handle runoff in an elegant way. In the middle of the Town Center, we will have a cascading biofilter as the main axis and stormwater will be an integral component of the main plaza.

    Architecture — Ahh, a great subject. Belvedere was rezoned as a TND, but we quickly decided that recreating Mayberry was not in our best interest. It is our opinion that Charlottesville does not have a particularly strong architectural theme, besides the obvious Jeffersonian benchmarks. A quick walk down the Downtown Mall will lead to a view of more contemporary pieces of architecture than classical. Staunton has a strong architectural theme, Pittsburgh, Charleston, etc…but Charlottesville is a pretty broad set. This variety will be the genesis of our architectural statement at Belvedere, where contemporary architecture will be used to mark important civic/public/quasi-public structures and the homes will be gracious in massing and living spaces but with simpler ornamentation.

    You know what I would like to see in Green Development? More homes that are appropriately sized. The 3500 sf house is like the Hummer H2 was in 2003. We want the Prius of homes, cheaper to build, easier to condition, more budget friendly. Very few families need more than 2,000 sf, but the market has not realized this yet.

  • You know what I would like to see in Green Development? More homes that are appropriately sized. The 3500 sf house is like the Hummer H2 was in 2003. We want the Prius of homes, cheaper to build, easier to condition, more budget friendly. Very few families need more than 2,000 sf, but the market has not realized this yet.

    Brilliant. The market is starting to recognize this; having to heat 4,000 square feet is quite an expense that more and more people are coming to terms with.

  • Regarding the Freetown cemetery, a Stonehouse person, probably Chris, is interviewed on Roanoke public radio this a.m. Says they’re providing road access and respect.

  • You know what I would like to see in Green Development? More homes that are appropriately sized. The 3500 sf house is like the Hummer H2 was in 2003. We want the Prius of homes, cheaper to build, easier to condition, more budget friendly. Very few families need more than 2,000 sf, but the market has not realized this yet.

    Hells yeah. My wife and I just yesterday got the latest draft of plans on our LEED Platinum (planned) house — 1,368 square feet. A house cannot simultaneously be environmentally friendly and 3,500 square feet.

  • It is our opinion that Charlottesville does not have a particularly strong architectural theme, besides the obvious Jeffersonian benchmarks.

    That’s far more true now than when I grew up here. We used to look much more like Staunton. Check our Belmont or Woolen Mills to see examples of other historic Architectural themes besides Jefferson (I’m sure other residents have good neighborhood suggestions too). Truthfully, one of the most simple and basic elements I’d like to see returned is just the presence of the front porch. It makes a statement about the kind of neighborhood one lives in.

    Also, regarding Native Plants, you might consult with Hyla Brook Farm. They’re the most experienced native plant nursery in the area, and would probably have a better grasp of regional species than the Wildflower Center (even though that’s a fantastic organization)*. The USDA Plants database is also a good way to get a list of Albemarle natives.

    For easy questions about natives or local ecology, I’m usually glad to consult for free.

    Lonnie

    *There’s also the Virginia Native Plant Society, which doesn’t have as well developed resources, but is a good organization nonetheless.

  • “You know what I would like to see in Green Development? More homes that are appropriately sized. The 3500 sf house is like the Hummer H2 was in 2003. We want the Prius of homes, cheaper to build, easier to condition, more budget friendly. Very few families need more than 2,000 sf, but the market has not realized this yet.”

    the odd thing is, that the Haus part of Stonehaus is Hauser Homes, and they seem to be cranking out the 3500 homes

  • Isn’t it funny how the spoiled Hollywood “Elite” tout themselves as being concerned about the environment? They say they do their part by driving a hybrid and then spend $10,000 a month to aircondition their 30,000 square foot mansions…If you put them in a one bedroom basement apartment on the busline and make them work a minium wage job, almost all would jump off the nearest bridge..They lack substance….

Comments are currently closed.

Sideblog