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 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.