In 1986, the land that is now the Fontaine Research Center had been slated for commercial development. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for a shopping center called Fontaine Forest on a 4-2 vote that January over the objections of both Charlottesville and UVA.
At the time, UVA officials expressed interest in the property.
“To assure that there is no misunderstanding, the University notes that this property is of a type that the University may have an interest in acquiring someday and, while the future uses of properties of this type are not known, the probably exists that the University’s uses at some future date could be just as intense as those proposed by the petitioners,” reads a letter from Raymond Haas, the Vice President for Administration at UVA in 1986. (view the minutes, page 16)
The incident led to the ultimate creation and adoption of the Three Party Agreement between Albemarle, Charlottesville, and UVA that sought to set some guidelines for regional land use decisions as well as the creation of the UVA Foundation, which later purchased the land. In 2023, the area is still a convergence of the interest of all three entities.
Alice Raucher, the University of Virginia Architect, said there has been significant investment at the Fontaine Research Park over the years. The UVA Foundation owned the site until January 2018 when UVA took over the title.
“Coupled with significant amounts of available land, this really makes Fontaine prime for development,” Raucher said. “We knew there was a great opportunity for transdisciplinary initiatives and so in 2018 we embarked on developing a master plan to envision the future of Fontaine.”
That master plan is slowly coming into fruition. In March, the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Visitors reviewed the conceptual plan for three buildings.
Earlier this month, the panel approved the schematic designs for one components and reviewed the plans for two others.
One of those is the $350 million Institute of Biotechnology that will be constructed on what’s currently a surface parking lot on the park’s western edge. There will be a total of 350,000 square feet of space with food service on the ground floor.
“The biotech institute is approximately three times the size of the majority of the other buildings at Fontaine yet the design approach of an L-shaped plan enabled the building to be a floor shorter and better situated in the surrounding context.,” Raucher said. “It’s the first building of the master plan with the newer, taller buildings on the perimeter of the park, ringing the lower buildings in the center.”
Committee Chair John L. Nau III said the design could use some refining to have it fit better into the landscape.
“It sits at the highest elevation in the Fontaine Area so it’s going to be a major message,” Nau said. “Candidly I think we still have a little bit of work to do on the roof and try to mask what is sitting up there and maybe bring down the profile a little bit.”
The schematic design for the Institute of Biotechnology will come back to the Buildings and Grounds Committee at their December meeting.
The future of Fontaine also includes a need for more power to support an ultimate total of 1.5 million gross square feet of floor space. The Central Energy Plant will be located in a back corner of the park.
“Significantly this will be our first zero combustion fossil fuel free energy plant on Grounds,” Raucher said. “We’re proposing the cladding of the exterior to be a dark, warm bronze to allow the building to recede into the background landscape.”
That schematic design was the one that was approved by the Buildings and Grounds Committee last week.
The master plan also includes a new 1,270 space parking garage to support the full build-out including space for buses to pick up passengers for destinations elsewhere.
“Now with the imminent Institute of Biotechnology, we need to enable our University Transit to access the park, enabling connections with Central Grounds and the health system,” Raucher said.
Nau and at least one member of the panel asked for more work on the aesthetics of the structure which will be parallel to Fontaine Avenue and screened with trees.
“Especially when you realize that for about three or four months, those trees are going to have no leaves on them so the visual impact becomes even greater,” Nau said.
In addition to the new garage, the committee reviewed a new roadway network through the park including a roundabout. These will be connected to proposed infrastructure just outside Fontaine.
“Part of our focus has always been to look for ways to increase transit and pedestrian connectivity to the park,” Raucher said. “There is currently a bike-ped path connecting to West Grounds and [Scott] Stadium that’s heavily on game days. The city will be constructing sidewalks and bike lanes along Fontaine Avenue as part of their Smart Scale program and we’ll continue these sidewalks and bike lanes into the park.”
The University of Virginia has contributed $5 million to the Fontaine project which was first awarded to the city in 2016 with a geographic scope that ends at the city limits.
Preliminary engineering for the project is complete and the right of way phase is underway now. Construction of the $18 million project is slated for FY24 according to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year-improvement program.
Another idea for the future is a pedestrian bridge crossing Fontaine Avenue.
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