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Preserving Monticello’s Viewshed

“On the east side, the front of the building, the eye is not checked by any object, since the mountain on which the house is seated commands all the neighboring heights as far as the Chesapeak. The Atlantic might be seen were it not for the greatness of the distance…the eye may further wish to discover a broad river, a great mass of water…”
- La Rochefoucoucauld-Liancourt, Travels Through North America, Canada etc. (May 1796)

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation appreciates the opportunity to work with the development community and property owners to discuss projects that could affect the historic, cultural, and economic values of Monticello.

Monticello’s mission is preservation and education. Preservation of Monticello extends to interpretation of Jefferson’s landscape. The preservation of 2,600 acres of Jefferson’s original 5,000 was a key factor in Monticello’s 1987 inscription to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Working with members of the community, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has sought to preserve the rural character of this landscape and of the entrance corridors leading to Monticello. Because of this, visitors have the opportunity to view a landscape largely as Jefferson saw it.

Protection of the views is an economic issue as well as a preservation issue. As the region’s top attraction, Monticello generates more than $47 million for our local economy, attracting nearly 440,000 visitors to our region each year. Preservation of the views is vitally important to future visitation to Monticello and our community.

Albemarle County has acknowledged in its Comprehensive Plan Monticello’s value as an historic resource and the importance of protecting its landscape, and views. Monticello and Albemarle County are working to improve the process for those who are developing or building on lands within view of Monticello so that developers are aware of the historic values before they begin the design process. To ensure that property owners and developers have the best information available to assist them when designing new projects or when improving their properties, Monticello has developed a set of voluntary guidelines with design considerations that can that help mitigate visual impacts to Monticello.

Voluntary Guidelines for Development within Monticello’s Viewshed

  • Building colors and materials should be earth-toned and muted.
    Bright pastels and whites on exterior faces of buildings and roofs can be distracting when viewing the natural landscape from Monticello. Surfaces that are prone to glare and reflection increase visibility and should be avoided whenever possible. Muted colors for roofs and walls that blend with the natural landscape (ie. Midspectrum browns and grays, sandy tones) can be substituted for bright pastels and whites on building faces and roofs.
     
  • Design strategies can break up building massing.
    Articulation of building facades and roofs – as opposed to the monotony of flat/monolithic facades – can break up building massing and help minimize the visual impact from Monticello.
     
  • Parking lots should be relegated to the side of the building that minimizes visual impact and/or plantings should be used to visually break up the parking areas.
    When there is no conflict with Entrance Corridor or Neighborhood Model guidelines, the preferred location for parking is on the far side of buildings as viewed from Monticello. Parking lots can be broken up with interspersed plantings of trees and other landscaping.
     
  • Landscaping and a mature tree line can help screen the view from Monticello.
    Where possible, clear-cutting of trees should be avoided. Additional design consideration should be given to development that breaks the mature tree line to camouflage visual impacts. Landscape screening should employ mixed types and sizes of native species, especially those that will generate a lofty canopy. Long, narrow borders of single-species planting should be avoided. If there is no conflict with county landscaping requirements, lower limbs can be pruned to open ground-level views while protecting views from Monticello.
     
  • Lighting for buildings and parking areas should be minimal and shielded.
    Flood lights, up-lights and exposed bulbs are more apparent in the night sky than shielded fixtures. Lighting for buildings and parking areas can use shielded fixtures at lower heights to reduce impacts. Whenever possible, lighting should not be placed higher than the tree line. Regardless of intensity of illumination, lighting for buildings and parking areas should use full cut-off fixtures to reduce/eliminate glare.

Contact Liz Russell for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I’m planning a development project. How do I determine if my project is in the Monticello viewshed?
    Albemarle County’s online GIS-Web Map contains an overlay layer indicating the Monticello viewshed. The Monticello Viewshed map delineates the areas where development might be visible from the Monticello mountaintop, based on visual measurements. This information is intended to facilitate property owners, developers, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in making preliminary determinations regarding a property’s visibility from Monticello. To determine actual visibility of individual parcels, please contact the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

    Direct Contact:

    Liz Russell
    Project and Planning Assistant
    Phone: (434) 984-7589
    Email: lrussell@monticello.org

    As a partner in this process, the County staff’s policy is to notify Monticello of projects that fall within the viewshed so that we are able to engage developers and landowners in a process that ultimately benefits everyone by encouraging protection of the viewshed.
     
  • I own a home in the Monticello viewshed. Do the guidelines apply to me and to future work that I want to do to my property?
    Likely not. The Guidelines for Development, which are voluntary in nature, are intended for public projects or projects that require a special use permit (SUP) or requests for rezoning (ZMA).
     
  • How has this process worked in the past?
    Cooperation with developers has yielded excellent results. The Foundation’s early involvement in the planning and design process with Martha Jefferson Hospital resulted in a design that was sensitive to Monticello’s views while meeting all the program objectives for the hospital. These types of collaborations result in a win-win for the developer and for Monticello.

 

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