180RVA leading fight against Pear Street, Dock Street developments

04/16/2014 7:40 AM by

The group formerly known as Libby Hill View Watch has rebranded as 180RVA and come out swinging. Their first tweet from Sunday promises a war, and a press release from yesterday outlines the fight against Richmond on the James AKA Dock Street and The James at River Bend AKA Pear Street.

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River View Advocates, Scenic Virginia, and Preservation Virginia

For Immediate Release: April 15, 2014

Eugenia Anderson-Ellis, River View Advocates:
(804) 306-9427 (c)
Leighton Powell, Executive Director, Scenic Virginia:
(804) 363-9453 (c)
Geoffrey Cooper, President, Church Hill Association:
(804) 399-5589 (c)
Elizabeth Kostelny, Executive Director, Preservation Virginia:
(804) 347-6373(c)

Supporting documents:

Group Urges Rejection of Proposed High-Rise, Releases Illustrations of Building’s Impact and Offers Alternative Approach

Richmond, Va. In a letter submitted to the city, a group of city residents organized under the banner of River View Advocates is urging Richmond’s Planning Commission and City Council to reject the special use permit requested by developers David White and Louis Salomonsky for a 16-story high-rise at the end of Tobacco Row and in front of Libby Hill Park. The developers call their project “The James at River’s Bend.”

“Our review indicates that this project doesn’t conform to the city’s Downtown Master Plan, surrounding zoning, or the requirements for approval of a Special Use Permit,” said attorney Bill Dinkin. “The City staff’s initial response to the project registered significant concerns and the failure to comply with the Downtown Plan as reasons not to recommend approval, and we agree.”

Specifically, the August 20, 2013 memo from the City Planning staff stated:

The proposed building neither respects nor reinforces the scale and character of the adjacent buildings. The proposed height of the building is considerably taller than
buildings within the vicinity. Buildings within the Urban Center Character Area [are] generally not higher than five stories….

The proposed building stands in stark contrast to the nearby historic structures. Maintaining the historical character of the area is particularly important for the subject property. . .

Given the proposal’s inconsistencies with the Downtown Plan, Staff would not recommend approval of the project in its current form.

The Richmond City Council adopted the Downtown Plan after extensive public participation from 800+ city residents, city staff, and nationally recognized consulting firms. It was followed by the Richmond Riverfront Plan, which echoed the public interest in preserving views of the river, improving public access to the river, and enhancing parkland along the river. The Downtown Plan includes the Pear Street parcel in the Urban Center Character
Area with heights generally not higher than five stories. The group’s rebuttal letter addresses in detail why the proposed project does not conform to the Downtown Plan and zoning ordinance, or meet the requirements for the granting of a special use permit.

“This is everyone’s view, not one that should be appropriated by a few,” said Eugenia Anderson-Ellis of the River View Advocates. “The 180° panorama offered at Libby Hill Park is much more than the one that resulted in the naming of our city; it is a panorama of our complex history. It is a place where, with appropriate interpretive signage, one could contemplate and visualize the entire voyage from slavery to freedom. Today the park is enjoyed not only by immediate neighbors but a wide diversity of the city’s residents and tourists.”

“Where our most significant river views are concerned, we must proceed with great care,” said Leighton Powell, Executive Director of Scenic Virginia. “In 1851 the Richmond City Council purchased the land for Libby Hill Park specifically because of its scenic vistas, including The View That Named Richmond. A newspaper article at the time noted that City Council acquired the parcel because ‘it affords a commanding and picturesque view of the lower portion of the City, the river, the falls, [and] the railroad bridges.’ Richmond’s citizens cherish their river views. Our modern-day City Council listened to the public and responded by passing the Downtown Master Plan and Riverfront Plan, both of which recognize the value of Richmond’s historic, scenic resources .”

“Preservation Virginia named The View from Libby Hill to the 2012 Virginia’s Most Endangered List to raise awareness of the high stakes surrounding the potential loss of this important vista and the alternatives that would maintain its visibility,” said Elizabeth

Kostelny, Executive Director of Preservation Virginia. “Development in the area need not obscure the public’s access to this expansive view of the James River. Seeking alternatives would in fact be in keeping with the City’s plan to leverage the James River as a community asset and attraction.”

“Without a doubt, the high-rise would forever mar the historic and panoramic views from Libby Hill Park and disrupt the historic integrity of Tobacco Row within the Shockoe Valley and Tobacco Row Historic District,” said Anderson-Ellis. “The illustrations we commissioned demonstrate the inappropriateness of the proposed high-rise, which sticks out like a sore thumb and is likely to have a negative impact on our tourist economy.”

Illustrations produced by VCU planning students show the impact of the Pear Street proposal and the adjoining proposal along Dock Street (formerly known as Echo Harbor, and now called “Richmond on the James”) from various vantage points. The illustrations also offer an alternative building for the Pear Street site that would comply with the Downtown Master Plan and zoning, and a proposed park for the Dock Street site as recommended by the Downtown Master Plan.

“The Church Hill Association’s Zoning Committee and membership reviewed the Pear Street proposal, with the membership voting to oppose the project for the reasons enumerated above. We also fear approval of this proposal will set a precedent for granting special exceptions for similar high-rise structures on nearby parcels from 25th Street to Rockett’s Landing,” said Geoffrey Cooper, President of the Church Hill Association.

The group also cited the failure to study the combined traffic impacts of the Pear Street and Dock Street proposals in conjunction with build-out at Rocketts Landing, as well as other traffic entering from eastern Henrico into the constrained Main and Dock Street corridors, as reasons to reject the requested special use permit.

“The City has strong legal authority to deny the requested Special Use Permit, and should do so,” concluded Cooper.” Permitting this particular high-rise proposal to go forward would harm historic resources and the property values and tourism revenues that these resources generate .”

Additional official documents regarding both the Pear Street and Dock Street (old Echo Harbor site recently approved by city staff for three office buildings) are available at Richmond Department of Planning and Community Development FTP site.




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