Downtown apartment plan hits 2nd snag

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 on "Downtown apartment plan hits 2nd snag"

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Susan Dubuque
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… Read more »
Jay Rich

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.

Bob Steele
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… Read more »
John-Lawrence Smith
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… Read more »
Bruce Anderson

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?

Marcus Squires
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… Read more »
Sean Craft
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… Read more »
Brent Spencer

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!).

Erin Parkhurst
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… Read more »
Deniz Ataman
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… Read more »
Bob Steele
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… Read more »
Lisa Bacon
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… Read more »
Jay Rich

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.

Torrey Munford

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.

Brent Spencer

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.