Venture Richmond’s new tune strikes a chord with planning commission

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. The overgrown area is part of the canal. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. The overgrown area is part of the canal. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

After more than a year of wrangling at city hall, organizers of a popular downtown music festival got the green light to build a new venue.

Venture Richmond can begin construction on proposed amphitheater on Tredegar Green after the city’s planning commission Monday approved a scaled-back plan for a new venue to host the group’s Richmond Folk Festival main stage.

The amphitheater site takes up 4.5 acres of land bounded by Second and Tredegar streets to the north and south, and Belvidere and the Second Street Connector to the west and east. The planned project has stirred up debate over the past months about its potential effects on the neighboring Oregon Hill neighborhood and the Kanawha Canal that bisects the site.

Venture Richmond earned approval after offering three amendments to its original plan to build the venue. The economic development organization owns most of the land and leases about 1.6 acres of the site from the city.

“We got 90 percent of what we wanted today,” said Jack Berry, Venture Richmond’s executive director.

Venture Richmond conceded a few points. It agreed that it wouldn’t do land grading and bank cutting work on sections of the city-owned portions of the property. It also agreed not to use certain parts of the property for its amphitheater plans.

The amphitheater site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The amphitheater site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The planning commission has jurisdiction only over the city-owned piece, which makes up about 1.6 acres of the site. Venture Richmond is free to modify the canal on its portion of Tredegar Green.

Planning’s 6-2 vote in favor of the project came six months after Venture Richmond received approval for a conceptual amphitheater plan. At the time it said the project would cost around $500,000.

In January, the commission delayed a decision on the project in hopes that Venture Richmond could restructure its lease for the city-owned land. The commission wanted to add a condition that would require Venture Richmond to pay for upgrading the canal if building the amphitheater compromised a potential rewatering project.

Both sides proposed lease amendments. But “conceptual differences” got in the way as Venture Richmond began to be pressed for time, said its attorney John Bates.

“I don’t think they were anything that couldn’t be overcome with some discussion, we just didn’t have the time to do it,” Bates said on Monday.

The Tredegar Green amphitheater drew considerable opposition in two previous planning commission public hearings, and about 10 people spoke out against the project Monday.

Charles Pool of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council suggested that the project should be sent back to the urban design committee to review the amendments Venture Richmond had proposed.

He said the watered-down version of Venture Richmond’s plan also dodged oversight from the city and the state Department of Historic Resources because the newest iteration of the amphitheater will not touch the canal, and therefore will not require a wetlands review from DHR.

Planning commission members Amy Howard and Doug Cole voted against Venture Richmond at Monday’s meeting.

Cole said planning commission members only recently received notice of Venture Richmond’s amended plans and he had not had a chance to digest them.

“We didn’t get this until Friday,” he said. “I can’t vote on something that I can’t review.”

Venture Richmond is clear to hold events at the amphitheater for up to four days a year with its current zoning. Berry said the organization will eventually seek to rezone Tredegar Green for expanded use, but there is no firm timetable in place for that change.

City Council approval is not required for the amphitheater, so Venture Richmond is clear to put shovel in the ground with Monday’s ruling. Berry said he hopes to begin work in May, five months ahead of the Folk Festival.

“We are desperate to get started on this project,” he said.

 

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. The overgrown area is part of the canal. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

The site of the proposed amphitheater, with the Virginia War Memorial in the background. The overgrown area is part of the canal. (Photo by Burl Rolett)

After more than a year of wrangling at city hall, organizers of a popular downtown music festival got the green light to build a new venue.

Venture Richmond can begin construction on proposed amphitheater on Tredegar Green after the city’s planning commission Monday approved a scaled-back plan for a new venue to host the group’s Richmond Folk Festival main stage.

The amphitheater site takes up 4.5 acres of land bounded by Second and Tredegar streets to the north and south, and Belvidere and the Second Street Connector to the west and east. The planned project has stirred up debate over the past months about its potential effects on the neighboring Oregon Hill neighborhood and the Kanawha Canal that bisects the site.

Venture Richmond earned approval after offering three amendments to its original plan to build the venue. The economic development organization owns most of the land and leases about 1.6 acres of the site from the city.

“We got 90 percent of what we wanted today,” said Jack Berry, Venture Richmond’s executive director.

Venture Richmond conceded a few points. It agreed that it wouldn’t do land grading and bank cutting work on sections of the city-owned portions of the property. It also agreed not to use certain parts of the property for its amphitheater plans.

The amphitheater site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The amphitheater site proposal. (Courtesy of Venture Richmond)

The planning commission has jurisdiction only over the city-owned piece, which makes up about 1.6 acres of the site. Venture Richmond is free to modify the canal on its portion of Tredegar Green.

Planning’s 6-2 vote in favor of the project came six months after Venture Richmond received approval for a conceptual amphitheater plan. At the time it said the project would cost around $500,000.

In January, the commission delayed a decision on the project in hopes that Venture Richmond could restructure its lease for the city-owned land. The commission wanted to add a condition that would require Venture Richmond to pay for upgrading the canal if building the amphitheater compromised a potential rewatering project.

Both sides proposed lease amendments. But “conceptual differences” got in the way as Venture Richmond began to be pressed for time, said its attorney John Bates.

“I don’t think they were anything that couldn’t be overcome with some discussion, we just didn’t have the time to do it,” Bates said on Monday.

The Tredegar Green amphitheater drew considerable opposition in two previous planning commission public hearings, and about 10 people spoke out against the project Monday.

Charles Pool of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council suggested that the project should be sent back to the urban design committee to review the amendments Venture Richmond had proposed.

He said the watered-down version of Venture Richmond’s plan also dodged oversight from the city and the state Department of Historic Resources because the newest iteration of the amphitheater will not touch the canal, and therefore will not require a wetlands review from DHR.

Planning commission members Amy Howard and Doug Cole voted against Venture Richmond at Monday’s meeting.

Cole said planning commission members only recently received notice of Venture Richmond’s amended plans and he had not had a chance to digest them.

“We didn’t get this until Friday,” he said. “I can’t vote on something that I can’t review.”

Venture Richmond is clear to hold events at the amphitheater for up to four days a year with its current zoning. Berry said the organization will eventually seek to rezone Tredegar Green for expanded use, but there is no firm timetable in place for that change.

City Council approval is not required for the amphitheater, so Venture Richmond is clear to put shovel in the ground with Monday’s ruling. Berry said he hopes to begin work in May, five months ahead of the Folk Festival.

“We are desperate to get started on this project,” he said.

 

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C. Wayne Taylor
C. Wayne Taylor
8 years ago

The canal at Tredegar Green is listed twice on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 2012 agreement for conveying the canal parcel to Venture Richmond it was stipulated that the purpose was to “maintain the property open to the public.” The Planning Commission review was for the purpose of determining if the proposal was in substantial accord with the city’s Master Plan. The Master Plan seeks to preserve and promote historic assets. George Washington’s canal is an historic assets. The proposal destroys George Washington’s historic canal. Venture Richmond’s plan will make the site steeper and will make is… Read more »

Jack Berry
Jack Berry
8 years ago

Here is what the Planning Department staff said in their report: “After a careful review of the project plans and the historical record, it is the assessment of the Staff that the proposed amphitheater will preserve critical aspects of the canal’s historic character and its potential for future navigability. Staff continues to find the proposal for the portion of the project owned by the City to be consistent with the recommendations of both the Downtown Master Plan and the Riverfront Plan.” And then there is this…”After reviewing documents provided by both the applicant and canal stakeholders (before and after conceptual… Read more »

C. Wayne Taylor
C. Wayne Taylor
8 years ago

The problem with the staff report is that the facts do no support the conclusions. The staff actually refused to answer questions about the conclusions.

Scott Burger
Scott Burger
8 years ago

The City’s Master Plan includes the need for treating historic neighborhoods like Oregon Hill and the historic area of the riverfront with sensitivity and respect. The Tredegar Green amphitheater plan is not consistent with the City’s Master Plan. Here’s a simple question, Jack Berry. Will you go through with the Section 106 review? The review by the Va. Dept. of Historic Resources was repeatedly promised by Venture Richmond at past Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission meetings. Yet from your comments in the Times Dispatch, it appears that you plan on on withdrawing from the Section 106 review. The Venture… Read more »

Mike Jasp
Mike Jasp
8 years ago

As most folks know internet comments more commonly come from folks who feel the need to gripe or grown. Scott Burger and in this case C. Wayne are perfect examples ( see any other major city progress/development story). Lack of knowledge, proper economic, financial, and general business education runs rampant ( see anyone who loosely uses the term “corporate welfare” but is silent on corporate giving or general benefits of corporate employment). Jack Berry, i think you are aware that these “internet comment professionals” are in the extreme typical activist whining minority in this case and many other similar debates.… Read more »