New Darden “vision plan” includes student housing

A presentation on potential changes to the master plan for the Darden School of Business prompted a conversation among members of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors about whether enough space has been reserved for future housing units there. 

At least, that’s one takeaway from listening to the September 15 meeting of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. That group recommends positions on land use decisions at UVA. (agenda) (presentation)

University of Virginia Architect Alice Raucher showed a slide which depicted how the Darden School fits in with the Emmet Ivy Corridor as well as the athletic precinct. Central Grounds is a halfway point between North Grounds and the Downtown Mall.

“And it’s so important that all the work we’re doing at the Emmet Ivy Corridor and Athletics Grounds as well as the [Darden] master plan that we’ll be presenting, it really starts to break down this perceived distance with these pulses of activity.” 

A slide from Raucher’s presentation depicting the relative positions of Darden, Central Grounds, and the Charlottesville Downtown Mall (Credit: Office of the University of Virginia Architect, RAMSA)

Darden’s Master Plan was last updated in 2017 by the firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects and since then construction has begun on the Darden Inn and Arboretum that was part of that revision. Now the firm has been hired to update a vision plan for the future that’s a little different.

“It’s an expansion of the faculty office buildings both north and south, and it proposes student residential facilities both north and south,” Raucher said. “North ringing the existing garage with a proposed green roof on top of the parking garage to form a residential courtyard.”

The southern residences would be part of a proposed mixed-use building to be built on Leonard Sandridge Road with a potential pedestrian bridge to cross to Ivy Gardens.  Ivy Gardens is a 440-unit apartment complex owned by the University of Virginia Foundation for which a master plan has been adopted. (read my June 2021 story on Information Charlottesville)

Raucher stressed that the committee was just being asked to approve the vision plan and that any specific buildings would come back to them for review. 

“Any plan here would not impede the master plan for Ivy Gardens that you approved last year,” Raucher said. “In fact, if Ivy Gardens should move forward sometime in the future, there would be an ability to really connect the pedestrian and bicycle linkage between Central Grounds, North Grounds, and Darden.” 

Scott Beardsley, Dean of the Darden School of Business, said the updates are necessary to prepare for the future in a place the school has been for less than three decades. 

“Our student body has evolved from 550 students and we will be by 2025 at around 1,200 students, of which 700 are residential,” Beardsley said. “We have also doubled the number of faculty individuals, and also the staff. So basically, Darden is out of office space.”

Part of that is because of the loss of 15,000 square feet at Sponsors Hall after that building was demolished. Beardsley said peer institutions have also been updating their vision plans to compete for applicants. 

“Stanford, Tuck, Harvard are very well known for their residential components and their housing,” Beardsley said. “Darden relies completely on the community for housing and a third of our students live all over Charlottesville so we suffer from the same housing crunch.”

The updated vision plan (Credit: RAMSA) 

Beardsley said the hope is to eventually be able to house 80 percent of first-year graduate students in the new housing, but he is hoping that Ivy Gardens will be renovated in the near future as well to provide new options. 

“The structural housing shortage in Charlottesville means that it is also a contribution to solving the University’s housing problem,” Beardsley said.

There are currently no plans to move forward with the master plan for Ivy Gardens, which would not be reserved for UVA students. The plans would increase the number of units from 440 would increase that to as many as 718 units while also adding commercial and non-residential space. 

At least one member of the Board of Visitors suggested building more housing at Darden. Beardsley said they’re not anticipating doing more.

“We view Ivy Garden as part of the solution,” Beardsley said. 

Other nearby projects

Nearby there is also the Old Ivy Residences development before Albemarle County which would see as many as 525 units. The private developer in that project asked for a deferral in June when it was before the Albemarle Planning Commission. A revised set of documents was submitted to the county in August and are now under review. 

The Buildings and Grounds Committee did vote to approve the demolition of University Gardens, an apartment complex on Emmet Street built in 1948 that was acquired by UVA in the 1960’s.

“The condition of these buildings is very poor and so in 2019 we stopped assigning them to graduate students,” said Raucher.  “We were ready to tear them down back then and then COVID happened and we said, oh gee, maybe we could use them for isolation and quarantine housing which we did to a limited extent.” 

Raucher said it would be prohibitively expensive to make them habitable again as there is no central air conditioning and the plumbing system is not in good shape. There is no specific plan for what will happen in the long-term. 

“The site itself is probably more valuable to the University without the buildings on it because of where it’s located,” Raucher said. “The University owns all of the land on that side of Emmet Street from the railroad bridge north to Carruthers Hall.” 

Potential uses could include residential halls for second-year students, but there are no immediate plans. In the short term, it may likely be used for surface parking. There was no comment from members of the Buildings and Grounds. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the September 20, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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