Carytown Place is a step closer to reality

Developers seeking to transform an office building on the edge of Carytown into a retail center cleared a major hurdle Monday as the planning commission voted in favor of their plan.

The proposal to convert the Verizon office building on Nansemond Street into a retail center called Carytown Place has generated a fervor over the past several months among residents, the developers and neighboring businesses. Both opponents and supports formed websites and organized campaigns to sway the undecided.

The developer, Baltimore-based Maryland Financial Realty, was thought to be in talks with Whole Foods as the anchor tenant of the project.

At Monday’s meeting, the developer’s attorney, Andy Condlin of Williams Mullen, revealed that the proposed tenant is actually Fresh Market. That North Carolina grocer also has stores on Huguenot Road in Chesterfield County and Parham Road in Henrico County.

Condlin said the developers changed several parts of their special use permit in light of concerns expressed by neighbors, including a limit that any one tenant cannot occupy more than 25,000 square feet of the proposed 45,000-square-foot finished space. The developers also changed their original plan to limit operating hours and eliminate a vehicle entrance on Nansemond Street.

“We were told to work with the Museum District Association, and we did. We made significant changes,” Condlin said.

Last week the Museum District Association issued a statement saying it supported the projects, a reversal from its previous position.

In his arguments before the commission, Condlin emphasized that the property was not economically viable as office or multifamily and that its proximity to Carytown lent itself to retail use.

“The redevelopment is for the benefit of the entire area,” Condlin said.

Several others also spoke in support of the project, including a Fan resident who was undecided until recently.

“I thought if they do it right it could be a really good thing,” said Beau Cribbs. “It’s not the big bad wolf everyone thinks it might be.”

Kay Adams, co-owner of Anthill Antiques in Carytown, said she believes the development of the property will help other businesses in the area.

“We are in major need of more foot traffic,” she said.

An even longer line of citizens lined up behind the podium to speak in opposition of the project.

Alexander MaCaulay, attorney for the Don’t Big Box Carytown group that formed last summer to oppose the development, said that they would rather see multifamily on the site and that a number of offers had been made to Verizon by experienced multifamily developers.

Scott Dickens, a Museum district resident and former owner of the Glass & Powder shop in Carytown, spoke strongly against approval.

After seven years in Carytown, Dickens said he decided to open a second store at Short Pump Town Center, which ended up closing.

“I thought the proximity to the big boys would help my business. I found out it doesn’t quite work that way,” Dickens said.

Dickens said his losses at Short Pump caused him to close the business entirely. He argued that opening the door for more national chains in Carytown will hurt the small shops that make up the bulk of the area.

After hours of listening to public comments, the board voted to approve the SUP, 7 to 1. One member was absent at the time of the vote.

“I do not believe its going to have the adverse impact that people legitimately fear,” said Melvin Law, committee chairman.

In addition to approving the SUP, the commission also voted to change the zoning  of the property from transitional office to community commercial.

Both proposals will move on to City Council for a final vote.

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