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Downtown apartment plan hits 2nd snag

Burl Rolett January 29, 2014 15
Monument Construction and Marc Galt of Sensei Development want to put 70 apartments at First and Canal Streets. (Photos by Burl Rolett)

Monument Construction and Marc Galt of Sensei Development plan to put 70 apartments at First and Canal Streets. (Photos by Burl Rolett)

A team of downtown development veterans will have to hold off on digging at First and Canal streets.

A planned five-story, 70-unit apartment building for the second time hit a snag Monday with developers and neighborhood members at odds over the size and parking requirements of the project.

Monument Construction, in a joint venture with Marc Galt of Sensei Development, is under contract to buy the lot at First and Canal, where they had initially planned 93 units. They scaled back to 70 units in December before taking their rezoning request to the Richmond Planning Commission this month.

The request, which would change the zoning on a six-parcel section of downtown that is less than a half-acre, got the okay from the Planning Commission on Jan. 6. But it has been twice delayed by City Council, most recently on Monday, after concerns were raised by a handful of nearby business owners over property values, potential loss of riverfront views, traffic congestion and parking.

A rendering of the planned building at First and Canal streets. (Photos by Burl Rolett)

A rendering of the planned building.

John-Lawrence Smith, owner of the neighboring Cape Fear Publishing at 109 E. Cary St., said the showing was the result of a last-minute drive to get the word out about the developers’ plan.

“Everyone has been caught so flat-footed on this – nobody knew about this project,” said Smith, whose company’s building sits just northeast of the planned development. “You don’t know what rezoning means, or what the consequences are. There were certainly no fliers or boards put up saying ‘there’s going to be a 93-unit apartment building here.’”

The zoning application was continued for the second time Monday to add an amendment that requires development at the site to have one onsite parking spot per apartment.

Monument Construction principal Tom Dickey said this month that the development team scaled back to 70 units because a high water table in the area limited the potential for underground parking and the apartment market calls for one-to-one parking.

Andy Condlin, a Roth Doner Jackson attorney representing the developers, said one parking space per unit is consistent with other apartment projects in the area. Typically, he said, more than one space per unit is only required for student apartment buildings.

“We’re not student housing, we’re not marketing to students,” Condlin said. “We feel like one per unit is more than appropriate in this situation.”

Condlin said that the building would need its full five stories to be economically feasible and that the development team has offered a 30-foot setback from the property’s northern edge in hopes of alleviating concerns over potential loss of river views.

Condlin said the developers have notified nearby neighbors of the plan’s status and will continue conversations with the neighborhood over the next two weeks.

Smith still fears students will end up living at First and Canal and worries that one parking space per apartment unit might not be enough.

“There are going to be 83 beds in this thing and 70 parking places – where are those 13 people going to park?” he said. “They’re going to be jamming the streets, and they’re going to be parking illegally.”

Smith called the one-to-one parking proffer a step in the right direction but said he still would like to see the planned building scaled back.

“I would be very much in favor of an appropriate project in the neighborhood,” he said. “But that to me would be two or three stories high and with all parking onsite necessary to support the demand of the building.”

The First and Canal project will try again to get the green light for rezoning at the Feb. 10 City Council meeting.

Because Monument and Galt are seeking conditional rezoning and not a special-use permit, the precise plans for the project would not need council approval as long as they stay within the zoning restrictions for the property.

Monument and Galt previously collaborated on Shockoe Valley Heights, a $29 million apartment and retail development in the block bounded by Main, Franklin, 20th and 21st streets. Monument is also in the process of converting the Exchange Place office building on Main Street into at 63-unit mixed-use apartment complex.

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15 Comments »

  1. Susan Dubuque January 29, 2014 at 9:03 am - Reply

    My business partners and I own an office building on the corner of Foushee and Cary Streets just one block away from this planned development. Several years ago when the large apartment building on the corner of Canal and Foushee opened, we noticed a decrease in vandalism in our neighborhood. I was very excited to learn that further development was being proposed for the next block. At present this empty lot is messy and unsightly. The addition of an attractive new building—containing businesses and apartments—will add considerably to the vibrancy of our area as well as the value of our property.

    Downtown Richmond has come a long way in recent years—primary thanks to VCU. It is imperative that this development continues to ensure a safe and vital city where people want to live, work and play.

  2. Jay Rich January 29, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

    1. I fail to see how ANY business owner in that neighborhood could see this as anything but a boon for the location (and their property values). This development is certainly preferable to an overgrown surface lot. I could understand if this was being proposed in a more established residential area like the Fan, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward, etc….but this area is certainly not comparable to those locations (yet).

    2. The 1-spot-to-1-unit parking requirement is absolutely ridiculous. It should be significantly cut (and eventually abolished). This is downtown Richmond not Chesterfield County.

  3. Bob Steele January 29, 2014 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    As an architect with an office a couple blocks away on 1st Street, I support this endeavor. The property is in need of sensible development.

    A five story structure with residences fits the bill. The property is a block from the on ramp to the Downtown Expressway, convenient to bus routes, and has ample on street parking spaces surrounding – about 50 by first count.

    Reducing the unit count to 70 and keeping an open green space to the north along 1st Street are both wise decisions.

    The real challenge is the creation of a well designed building – architecture that makes our City proud is in order.

    It is sad testament that our neighborhood’s concerns are about parking per suburban standards, and not architecture.

    Imagine?

  4. John-Lawrence Smith January 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Dear Susan, Jay, and Bob,

    We are opposed to the 1st and Canal Residences as it is currently proposed, because a 5 story, 70 foot high building is out of character with the environment of the neighborhood. Also, 70 parking spaces for 83 beds is obviously unsustainable. Where are the other 13 people going to park? What about parking for people living more than one to an apartment? And then there are staff and guests to consider. Street parking is full during the day, and adjacent parking lots are nearly sold out. Additionally, there are dozens of cars and trucks currently renting in the vacant lot. They will be displaced by construction, and will fill most all of the available private parking nearby. It may sound mundane to be concerned about parking, but it is a very real problem.

    The development features no green space along 1st Street, nor Canal, nor the Canal Street alley. The 1st Street alley has parking against it, not green space. No businesses are going in the development, only apartments. Entrepreneurs have improved the 100 block of East Cary, not VCU. These entrepreneurs have turned this neighborhood from severely run down to the vibrant, bustling community that it is today; and ironically an attractive target for an apartment developer.

    No one is going to be more greatly affected by the development than the property owners on this block, and every one of us is opposed to it as it is currently written. However, we would be strongly in favor of a more appropriate plan, such as a high-quality, 2 to 3 story building with sufficient parking, well designed green space, and good architecture. Imagine indeed.

  5. Bruce Anderson January 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    I’m with Bob Steele. A well designed building should be a priority. It should also be of non-combustible construction. It’s high time Richmond put an end to building multi-story apartment structures with wood framing. This is the 21st century after all, not the 19th. Not sure what’s wrong with 70 parking spaces for 83 beds. Do babies and little kids drive?

  6. Marcus Squires January 29, 2014 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    Honestly, there is ample parking in that neighborhood. As a VCU student I can always find many empty streets in the Monroe Ward neighborhood to park my car for free. Unless there has been a dramatic shift in where people are parking in the last 40 days I see this project as an excellent addition to the neighborhood which is in DOWNTOWN RICHMOND and not Colonial Williamsburg and the project in question was posted about on this website a long time ago, it is your city so become more informed and check the development threads for upcoming projects. (Here is one) http://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/index.php/forum/202-richmond/

  7. Sean Craft January 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    The new, recently built apartment building on Canal St, along with the newer apartment complexes built in the Shockoe Bottom corridor, all look the same to me. They are of a prefabricated nature that looks like it belongs in Orlando, not historic downtown Richmond. These newer apartment complexes accompanied by the prefab look of the new VCU parking decks and buildings are slowly erasing the historic character of Monroe Ward, Shockoe Bottom and The Lower Fan in my opinion. Is there a place for modern architecture? Sure, quality architecture, not prefab.

    As Bob Steele points out, it is the architecture and quality of the structure (which like the building that surround it, may last 100 years or more) that sets the tone of the project. In looking at the rendering above, it is clear that this building does nothing to attempt an integration into the size, scale, style and building materials of the surrounding neighborhood. How a building relates to the surrounding neighborhood is far more important than 13 parking spaces..Why not a townhouse style facade on the first three floors? Why not try and integrate with the same building materials as already present. So many things to consider here.

  8. Brent Spencer January 29, 2014 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    2-3floors? It is pure lunacy to advocate a building of such low density in this area. 5 floors is an appropriate scale (though still too small) for this area. There is an 8 story apartment building just two blocks away (and another that size on the way, check out VCU’s master plan)!

    The parking issue is completely fabricated. People tend to keep different schedules. Not all residents will be home at one time AND they won’t be parking at home until after your business hours. I suspect a few won’t even own a car (gasp!).

  9. Erin Parkhurst January 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Sensible development should consider the needs of all members of the community that it impacts, and to this point, it appears that little thought has been given to those of us who work on this block. My employer, John-Lawrence Smith, has raised a number of reasonable questions about the proposed development, including how the immediate area will absorb the increased need for parking the building will create. For those of us who work here, this is not a trivial issue. If you have commented that there is ample parking available, you must never have tried to park a car on this block. If you had, you would know that it is at a premium. It has not been mentioned yet that we will lose more than half of our current parking while construction takes place. After the building is complete, an already tight situation will only get tighter and more challenging. I think the issue, like the many others that the development has raised, deserves thoughtful consideration, not derision.

  10. Deniz Ataman January 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    It’s a combination of both an awkward aesthetic irrelevant to its surroundings and a lack of consideration to the area’s residents and employees.

    As an employee who works in this area, parking is already a tricky matter. With the meters that have recently sprouted again on Cary Street, space is minimal. The development of this building will turn what’s left of our parking into an alley — what happens then? Rotating cars every two hours? Parking tickets? Extra traffic? How about the residents?

    I understand that living in a city does not always guarantee premier parking to your house or office. But this is an issue that deserves collaboration between both the city and its residents. As said before, there are many factors to consider here.

    The apartment complex is a sign of Richmond’s growth and efforts in continual gentrification, but judging by its appearance and placement, it’s more of a band-aid to an issue that needs deeper consideration and planning. Back to the drawing board….

  11. Bob Steele January 31, 2014 at 7:20 am - Reply

    I hear Baskervill is the architect for the development team. They do fine work.

    Valid concerns of access to the on site parking from the two main streets, and not through alleys, and issues of the building mass upon the lot to ensure respectful light and ventilation to all inhabitants are worthy conversations with the development team. As is the most important discussion – architecture.

    The neighborhood is worthy of such endeavor.

    To suggest that parking from residential use would have a more adverse effect than M1 zoning users that are allowed by right is off target.

    Any planner will tell you this is an excellent use for the site. The 70 parking spaces on site, as long as they are accessed only from either of the two front streets, and not from alleys, shall be fine for the neighborhood.

    The neighborhood and this property are deserving of good architecture. Cities thrive on mixed use and citizens habituating throughout the entire day. Unlike the suburbs, cities need diversity of use and vision to thrive.

    Let Baskervill do their thing. If their client is truly committed to excellent architecture, they shall encourage Baskervill to provide the building that our neighborhood deserves.

    Good architecture shall do more for our neighborhood than surface parking lots.

  12. Lisa Bacon January 31, 2014 at 11:37 am - Reply

    I take exception to comments by Mr. Squires and anyone else who claims there is adequate parking at the location in question. Clearly, they have NOT visited the site.
    I work at Cape Fear Publishing, 109 E. Cary St. When construction begins, we will lose most of our onsite parking. And there will be a ripple effect that will impact not only the many others who work near our block but tenants of the proposed project as well.
    Parking is restricted on three of the four sides of the block and metered on two sides. This means that those lucky enough to get one of the few on-street parking spaces will have to leave work every two hours to move their cars. Where they’ll move them is another question. On Canal Street, cars belonging to others who work in the area line both sides of the street, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. This project not only displaces those of us who work on this block; it also displaces all those who work in the area and park on Canal Street. More importantly, residents of the proposed project should know that their lease does not ensure parking onsite for every resident. I’m curious: Will developers be honest and forthright with potential renters and actually tell them that aren’t guaranteed onsite parking? Agreed, the bulk of residents are only at home on weekends and evenings when parking is relieved. But 70 spaces for 83 beds still has more than a dozen people parking and walking in a neighborhood that, at night, is frankly a bit dicey. I’m sure that statement raises hackles, but you don’t know if you aren’t here. Not too long ago, someone knocked on our door–during business hours–in search of methadone. I could cite more examples, but I won’t here.
    Because this project was well underway before those impacted had any knowledge of it, I have to wonder:
    Will developers be forthright enough to tell potential renters that they will have to strategize to park near their building?

    • Jay Rich January 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Lisa Bacon,

      I’m not sure if you have lived downtown but from my years downtown in several different buildings, I can almost guarantee that unless the onsite parking is free (it may not be) then a number of residents will still opt for parking on the street vs paying.

      I don’t think the lack of guaranteed off street parking will be much of a deterrent. That’s pretty much par for the course with downtown living.

  13. Torrey Munford February 1, 2014 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    The proposed 5 story building in this block seems too large for an already tight space. Baskervill’s current building plans provide no green space along Canal Street nor on 1st Street. For those of us who work in this area, the parking situation is a real challenge compounded with over zealous meter maids. Mr. Smith and others have brought forth reasonable and viable points that should be taken into consideration. In order to have urban development that meets the needs of the community, there needs to be an open dialogue between the city, residents and employees.

  14. Brent Spencer February 4, 2014 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Tree wells in the sidewalk is an appropriate amount of green space for any project this small, anywhere in the metro.

    Parking is not an issue. Thousands of parking spaces go unused everyday in downtown Richmond. No one in any city should expect free parking just steps from their home or place of employment. It has never been guaranteed nor promised. Something that never belonged to you cannot be taken away.
    Rent a dedicated parking space, plan to walk a few blocks or take the bus.

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