Brookwood’s “Slopes of Evil”

For C-Ville Weekly, Erika Howsare calls out a new housing development for generally sucking, something that ought to be done more often. Brookwood, off Fifth Street Extended, is being built by Southern Development, and appears to be particularly badly sited. Built on the side of a steep hill, they caused some significant erosion that left Rivanna Trail joggers having to wade through muck. Howsare writes that “the site has to be literally hacked out of a cliffside, which is then shored up with massive ugly retaining walls, which in turn face directly into people’s tiny bedroom windows.” Infill development is a good and necessary thing, but there are some places where it just doesn’t make sense to build. (Via Lonnie Murray)

17 Responses to “Brookwood’s “Slopes of Evil””


  • “wade through…a couple inches”

    Really, now are we not being a bit hyperbolic? What are the chances you might get your feet dirty when trial running?

    It sounds like she tip-toed. But hey, it the Cville Weekly, where credibility goes to die.

  • Why do we bother having a critical/steep slopes ordinance at all when developers are handed waivers right and left? Infill is good… except when it’s not. It’s sad that our city planners and commission sometimes have difficulty telling the difference.

    The buzzwords “infill”, “density” and “affordable” start planners drooling in a classic Pavlovian response. The developers know this, and can cynically get what they want by throwing a few tiny crumbs in the direction of NDS and the PC. Blind adherence to the tenets of density and New Urbanism creates a shortsighted rubber-stamping methodology of approval. These should be loose guidelines that are tailored to both the topography and existing structures in the individual areas of the city where infill is planned. They need to reflect and improve upon what we already have that makes us an attractive and livable city. Failure to think more creatively, and less reactively, regarding infill and density, will destroy Charlottesville for generations to come.

  • “something that ought to be done more often”

    You don’t think people complain about new developments in the city enough? um.

    I don’t know enough about this particular development to make aesthetic judgments either way, but I hear over and over how this or that project is an utter travesty. Urban greenspace is lost. The squirrel habitats destroyed with a nasty bulldozer. Our quality of life flushed down the drain.

    Yet we all still like infill … in theory.

    Personally, I would like to hear more about the recent developments that have enhanced our urban environment, increased supply of housing stock, allowed more alternatives to driving, etc. Where are the good infill projects?

  • You don’t think people complain about new developments in the city enough?

    No, I don’t think that media outlets complain about bad developments enough.

  • Personally, I would like to hear more about the recent developments that have enhanced our urban environment, increased supply of housing stock, allowed more alternatives to driving, etc. Where are the good infill projects?

    Yeah, if anyone could come up with a list of those, I’d really like to hear about them.

  • Well, at one point, most housing in Cville filled in one greenspace or another. Just a matter of perspective. One persons old established area was once a farmers blight on the bucolic meadows of outer Cville, now Barracks road, or Greenbriar, or somewhere else.

    Hell, its all blight and bad infill to a the indigenous population of 1450.

    Or are we all just NIMBY?

  • … I’m still waiting for that list, too.

    I think that, on the whole, development is handled very poorly in Charlottesville. While I agree that suburban sprawl can be harmful, packing folks in like sardines in a tin isn’t exactly healthy either.

  • It is my understanding that the Planning Commission did not get a draft of the city staff’s proposed steep-slopes ordinance until AFTER the site plan for Brookwood was approved. The people at Brookwood worked with the city’s staff for over two years before the plans were made public. It is also my understanding that the PC was not given a draft of the staff’s stream protection ordinance until AFTER the Brookwood developments site plans were approved. I doubt if either was a coincidence.
    Put on the list, The Holsinger. I would include Village Place (Johnson Village South)if it were connected to 5th Street SW or Cleveland Avenue. I would include Burnet Commons if eroding grading wasn’t done. I would include Walker Square if it had adequate ingress and egress for transit. Isn’t it Palatine Street where there are plans for a subdivision? The city bent over backwards to see to it that excessive runoff didn’t end up in Moore’s Creek and eventually the Bay. Also, extensive sidewalks and a walking trail was included at one point. What happened to that development, I don’t know because it’s out of sight and thus out of mind.

  • http://www.villasatbrookwood.com/master_site.php shows a picture of the siting. Imagine that development cut from the top of Ridge Street, around the side of a mountain, down to 5th Street. Notice the streams that were not protected and, according to a friend who lives near there, received a lot of runoff from slopes too steep for someone to scale vertically. Notice the little portion in the lower right hand corner that was filled with unbound fill dirt. Where did the dirt go during storms? Notice the massive retaining walls are not included in the marketing.
    I find Brookwood particularly interesting when I think of a PC meeting I watched on TV where the developer was asking for shorter driveways than code called for (the city really doesn’t have many standards that apply to Planned Unit Development). It was revealed that a car parking in some of the driveways nearest Ridge Street would over hang the public sidewalk. It was approved by the PC anyway. Southern Development obviously didn’t bring in enough fill dirt to build sidewalks on both sides of the street, parking on both sides, bike lanes on both sides or room for a bus. Imagine in this day and age. Imagine the new urbanists in city hall allowing such a thing. Imagine that the previous developer was unable to get anything approved by city staff and therefore gave up any attempts at developing anything on Hurt’s land. This development is a disgrace when judging by today’s standards. Southern Development now has its eyes on developing the pproperty on the corner of Ridge/%th St and Elliot Cherry. Their presentation to the city at a PC meeting included a layout that showed vehicles entering the property from Ridge Street, then exiting almost in the middle of the hill on Cherry Avenue. Smash Bang Screech Sirens. Watch that road any time it rains in the winter. Watch out for the trash trucks. No bus service in the transit town. Watch out for the speeders trying to get through the light. Watch out for the football fans coming in off of I-64 on their way to the stadium.

  • Well, the cities problems are not getting smaller and the extra .5M in taxes will help that out.

  • I can not imagine cars pulling out onto Cherry Ave. in the middle of that hill. That is insane. A new development went in off Palatine Ave. a couple of years ago–your standard cookie cutter suburban-type houses, all sharing a view of a storage facility and built on the Moore’s Creek flood plain. There’s a second development planned for the same area, called “Rialto Beach” which wins the prize for the all-time dumbest subdivision name, ever. As far as good infill projects are concerned, I like the look of the development off Rose Hill Drive, near Burley Middle School.

  • The city’s going to have some major problems if those Brookwood houses get caught in a mud slide.
    I think that’s the development on Palatine I’ve been reading about.
    @Patience, is the development off Rose Hill the townhouse infill that’s been there a few years?

  • I think that part of the problem is that we’re trying to emulate neighborhoods in big cities like some of NYC’s boroughs– Brooklyn, for instance. Brooklyn developed the way it did over time. We’re trying to recreate a big city experience in what is, by comparison, a sleepy southern town.

    In my neighborhood, the Woolen Mills, the businesses located there comprise a whopping 27 acres of automotive junkyard (that is now, for all intents and purposes, a brownfield), a scrap metal recycling place, a storage place for port-a-potties and “honey wagons” etc. They don’t employ neighbors and neighbors are not the primary customers. We get the pollution, noise, and associated blight, but none of the benefits. Businesses locating within residential neighborhoods should ideally be more reflective of the residential character– providing walkable access to small groceries, shops, cafes, and that sort of thing.

    Belmont is the closest thing we have to the real neighborhood model, but they are now losing every bit of green space to ever-increasing density via PUDs. Considering how many of the houses in Belmont are multi-family and affordable, they probably already have a nice livable density level. It would be sad to see those lovely old houses replaced by ugly tall buildings that block out the light. Sad to see the trees and gardens go as well.

  • IMHO, we shouldn’t be trying to emulate Brooklyn, but rather older neighborhoods where the community was walkable and mixed use naturally. Good infiil should be less of a process of clearing the slate and starting over from bare dirt, but rather selectively “upgrading” elements of existing neighborhoods to make them more walkable and more mixed use. (For example, putting a small grocery store, restaurant, or theatre in a residential area) I think Belmont is actually a great example of where that sort of thing has been done well.

    Of course, this strategy has it’s problems too. It can result in genrification, especially if you take an area that used to be affordable housing and then make changes that inflate the price of homes there. To some degree, this is unavoidable, but it can be done in ways that are sensitive io the existing community.

    Of course, this approach isn’t really interesting to big development companies, and I think at one point in the past Waldo may have mentioned that basically they are the problem. They make their business kind of like Walmart, by mass producing little boxes. It’s pretty hard to create responsible development in that model. That said, I think there are areas and situations where one could create a successful and sustainable model like redeveloping large underperforming Shopping centers or industrial sites.

    I think where greenfield development does occur then there should be a process of evaluation of the site to ask things like, “Will this permanently remove productive farmland?”, and “Will this impact healthy forests, wetlands or other ecosystems?” Excuding those, I think you still end up with plenty of spaces that can be developed. For example, the space for the new whole foods (if it gets’ built) was a pretty ecologically barren area smothered in Kudzu. The only thing of merit there were a few passionflowers (which could be included in the landscaping plan). In some of those cases, redevelopment can even improve the ecological health of a site if done correctly.

  • The big developers make it harder for the other builders to survive, too. That’s is probably the worst thing about it. Less diversity in the market, more money going to distant boardrooms at the top.

    It’s like Wal-mart. The product is marginally cheaper for the buyer, but the whole economy gets weaker when everything is cheap crap.

  • @C’ville eye, I’m referring to those attractive houses all painted in different colors. The architectural styles are different, so it looks less like a “product” and more like a neighborhood. I’m pretty sure they’re all single family houses.

  • If you are worried about getting your running shoes dirty, watch out for the new sewer line. They will be tearing up a nice swath of land running along the creek beside Brookwood. Poor trees too. I bet they won’t do a tree survey prior to cutting those hardwoods down either. Interesting how when the city is doing the development work the rules and regulations they put the builders/developers through just go by the wayside. I thought the rules and regs were meant to protect the environment, not just protect it from private citizens.

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