Clarification: In the revised plans for the Victory Rug apartments, the developer will provide eight parking spots, not 15 as originally stated.
A local developer pulled off some last-minute acrobatics and sent his controversial development in Oregon Hill sailing through the planning commission on its way to City Council.
Guy Blundon of CMB Development, who is planning a rehab apartment project in the old Victory Rug building at 407 S. Cherry St., on Monday struck an eleventh-hour deal with the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association to drop its opposition to the development, allowing Blundon to gain unanimous approval for his project at the city planning commission.
“We finished that deal outside before the meeting,” Blundon said. “We signed the papers just before going in.”
In exchange for having the neighbors back down, Blundon agreed to restrict VCU students from leasing the units, other than “clearly responsible adults” such as military veterans and married couples.
The neighbors had launched vociferous opposition to Blundon’s original plan to build 24 apartments in the 18,500-square-foot building, using an adjoining vacant lot for parking.
After more than a year of wrangling, Blundon reduced the number of units to 12, and he will use part of the vacant lot to build a three-bedroom, single-family home that will screen the parking lot from its frontage on Albemarle Street.
“These are going to be unusually large apartments,” Blundon said at the hearing. “Rents based on price per square foot are going to be significantly lower than in comparable properties.”
Blundon originally estimated the cost of the development to be about $3 million. The final cost, with the reduced number of units and the addition of a 2,000-square-foot house on the vacant lot, isn’t yet clear.
He is financing the project with Xenith Bank.
Blundon told the planning commission he was going to ask between $1,300 and $1,800 per unit for rent.
Todd Woodson, the treasurer of the Oregon Hill neighborhood association, told the commission that the neighbors were still not thrilled about the impact on parking in the neighborhood – Blundon is providing 8 parking spots – but that the developer’s effort to keep students out of the apartments was enough to warrant their support of the final plan.
Several residents did speak out against the project at Monday’s meeting despite the neighborhood association’s official stamp of approval, saying that the language in the agreement didn’t go far enough to exclude all students from living in the apartments.
Residents have maintained that the large number of VCU students living in the Oregon Hill area drag down the neighborhood because they make too much noise.
Amy Howard, a University of Richmond professor and member of the planning commission, questioned the deal to keep VCU students out, asking if it might be discriminatory to exclude students.
Blundon said it was a tricky solution but one he thought would pass legal muster.
“I’ve checked with my lawyer on this one, and it turns out that college students are not a protected class,” he said. “It’s a minefield, but I think it’s doable.”
Blundon said that as long as he was not specifically discriminating against anyone for matters such as race or age, he should be able to stick to the agreed upon restriction.
Blundon and his company CMB Development most recently developed the Link Apartments in Manchester in partnership with Dominion Realty Partners and Grubb Properties. He has also developed senior housing apartments, including the Atlantic at Twin Hickory and the Atlantic at Brook Run.