A commercial renovation project in Charlottesville, Va., underscores the importance of proper glass selection based on local requirements—particularly in historic jurisdictions.

After unveiling a new façade renovation last fall, owners of the Violet Crown Charlottesville theater will replace all of the tinted glass in its large row of storefront glazing. The glass was not approved by the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) prior to installation.

Photo via city council meeting agenda documents.
Photo via city council meeting agenda documents.

According to the guidelines for the city’s architectural design control, “[D]arkly tinted or mirrored glass is not an appropriate material for windows in new buildings within the historic districts … Glass shall be clear. Opaque spandrel glass or translucent glass may be approved by the BAR for specific applications.”

In March 2014, the BAR approved plans for the Violet Crown that specified “clear insulating glass PPG Star[phire] or equal” would be used. Architect Mike Stoneking, according to the approved submittal, was the original designer. Missouri-based TK Architects, however, completed the design and made multiple changes, including the glass.

Those changes were not approved by the BAR. Attorney David H. Pettit, who wrote a letter to the City Council in December on behalf of the cinema company, insists it was an honest mix-up.

“The mistake was made in good faith, because TK was not aware of the clear glass requirement in the design guidelines, and Violet Crown was not aware of the change in the specification,” he wrote.

The city council was set to decide Monday evening whether or not it would allow the glass to remain, but according to preservation and design planner Mary Joy Scala, the owners said they wanted to defer before it was heard. They will instead present a revised plan to the BAR.

“They’ve decided that they think the storefront can be improved and they would like to work with the BAR to come up with a solution that everyone will be comfortable with,” Pettit told CBS19 in Charlottesville.

Pettit said in the letter that the replacement of the glass would cost approximately $50,000 and that TK determined the glass originally specified didn’t meet requirements of the Virginia Energy Conservation Code. He said the glass currently installed is more energy efficient and noted that 17 other mall facades in the area have tinted glass.

Scala, however, wrote in a staff report prior to the Monday meeting that while other buildings do have tinted glass, some were built prior to adoption of the regulations in question, and none are “as extremely dark” as the theater. Additionally, she said high energy efficiency can be achieved without tinted glass, and in regard to code requirements, the theater wasn’t required to meet the 2008 energy code since the theater renovations were considered to be a rehabilitation, not new construction.

She said failure to uphold the BAR’s decision would “create uncertainty about guidelines that are very important to the character of a historic district” and “send a message to other applicants that they may disregard the BAR’s decisions, and may install the material and design of their choice without consequence.”