January 14, 2014
There have been complaints of vandals, graffiti artists and unsafe conditions surrounding the skeleton of the Landmark Hotel on Charlottesville's downtown mall. Now, the city is taking steps to do something about it.
The Landmark Hotel was developed as a multistory luxury hotel, but the structure has stood incomplete for several years.
On Wednesday, the planning commission was tasked with making recommendations to city council on how to repair or dispose of the structure.
In a unanimous vote, the planning commission deemed the unfinished building a blighted property -- meaning it is detrimental to the safety, health or welfare of the city.
"We think that it's in unsafe condition because people can readily gain access," said city AICP director Jim Tolbert.
Tolbert says the graffiti marking the inside and outside of the building is not only proof people are entering the structure, but it's a violation of the city code.
Tolbert says property owner John K. Dewberry of Dewberry Capital has been made aware of the issues involving the building, but hasn't made the requested improvements.
"I would say that since September, at least, when we made the notification, there's been ample time to do the simple things that we've asked for to cure the blight," said Tolbert.
Charlottesville resident Michael Williams lives near the building. He was one of a handful of people to voice their concerns during Tuesday's public hearing.
"I know, since we live right there, that at least every six weeks, someone is in the building fooling around," Williams told the planning commission. "We hear noises, we see people constantly."
Members of the planning commission were considering two routes of action -- either recommending security improvements to be made, or demolition.
The group ultimately chose to recommend improvements for now, but aren't ruling out future demolition.
"We want something to happen to secure the building at this point in time, but in addition to that, we're not going to wait around and play this game for years to come," said planning commission member John Santoski.
Some of the recommendations to be passed along to city council require installing additional fencing, removing graffiti, installing security cameras and giving police permission to remove people from the building for trespassing. It also gives Dewberry 30 days to weatherize the building and provide a structural plan for the historic portion of the building.
Under the recommendation, Dewberry, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, would be asked to complete these tasks. If he does not, the city would do it and bill him.
The planning commission also passed a motion that includes longer-term remediation for the site. That motion asks the property owner to provide a structural report of the building within 90 days, as well as an additional report every four months.
If there is evidence the deterioration has progressed, the commission will consider demolition.
The planning commission's recommendations will go before city council on February 3.