Seminary enters the real estate business

The open area at Westwood and

The open area at Westwood Avenue and Brook Road is the future site of a seminary-owned apartment complex. Photo by Evelyn Rupert.

A Northside seminary is looking to move ahead with a slightly downsized version of a $50 million apartment development.

Union Presbyterian Seminary will submit a plan of development for its 34-acre property, known as the Westwood Tract, to city hall later this month. The school wants to build 310 apartments on a 15-acre slice of the property. That number has been trimmed from 349 units since the project was introduced last month after it was met with pushback from neighbors.

The 34 acres are bounded by Brook Road, Loxley Road, Westwood Avenue and Rennie Avenue. Union Presbyterian has owned the property since 1910 and now wants to build apartments to house its students and to lease out to other tenants.

See the Westwood plans (rendering is for the unrevised 349-unit plan).

See the Westwood plans (rendering is for the unrevised 349-unit plan).

The development plan has drawn concern from some nearby residents who worry the proposal is still too dense, could cause traffic problems on Brook Road and may hurt property values for nearby homeowners.

School president Brian Blount called Union Presbyterian’s housing “woefully inadequate and outdated” at a previous community meeting, and he said the school needs to build new to recruit more students with competition from other seminaries in the region.

The land’s current zoning designation would allow up to 1,179 apartments on the 34 acres, which is currently mostly green space with some tennis courts. At a community meeting last month, the seminary rolled out a plan to put 349 units on the Westwood tract spread throughout about 20 apartment buildings.

To get down to 310 units and try to ease the opposition’s concerns, Union Presbyterian is keeping a similar site plan but cutting the three planned four-story buildings down to three stories. All 20 buildings would then be three stories or less.

The development plan will also leave 19 acres of green space on the Westwood Tract, land stretching towards Loxley Road that Union Presbyterian has said it will not develop for at least two more years.

Union Presbyterian is also seeking to generate a “reasonable return” off of its 34 acres. Andy Condlin, an attorney with Roth Doner Jackson who represents the seminary, pegged that targeted return at about $10 million, which comes out to about $300,000 per acre.

At meetings in August and Thursday night, residents expressed concerns about what could happen to the 19 acres of remaining green space after Union Presbyterian’s self-imposed two-year moratorium runs out.

Union Presbyterian Seminary. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

Union Presbyterian Seminary’s main campus sits just across Brook Road from the apartment land. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

Condlin noted Thursday that if the school has to cede density and income now, it may need to make up lost revenues on the remaining real estate later.

With its initial proposal, Condlin said the school would look to generate about $5.3 million from the remaining 19 acres through more development, a sale or another method of stirring up the cash.

Union Presbyterian will build the first 15-acre phase of the development with the Bristol Development from Tennessee and Newport News-based Drucker & Falk. Drucker & Falk will handle property management duties for the project. The apartments will be marketed to the public as well as seminary students.

Rental rates will average about $1,350 per month across the full array of apartments. The least expensive units will run about $875 with the most expensive units ranging up to about $1,700.

Union Presbyterian currently has about 125 students at its Richmond campus and estimates about 60 of them would live on the Westwood complex.

If the school sets the project in motion as planned this month, it could break ground by next spring and open its first apartments in 2016.

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