The planned redevelopment of the former Westhampton Theater and a neighboring building was given the unanimous thumbs up by the Richmond City Council on Monday night, despite a vocal, organized audience of detractors.
The council voted to grant a special use permit to Westhampton LLC to build a 12-unit, three-story apartment building at 5702 and 5706 Grove Ave., where the shuttered Westhampton Theater sits. The project is dubbed the Westhampton on Grove.
Jason Guillot and Stefan Cametas are the developers behind Westhampton LLC. Guillot said in a statement late Monday he and his partner were pleased with city council’s vote to approve the plans.
“Westhampton on Grove is the result of eighteen months of thoughtful design and community engagement,” Guillot said. “The numerous comments we received from the surrounding community made this a better project overall. We are excited to begin the next phase of this development to bring Taste Unlimited and other high quality businesses to Westhampton.”
The plans approved Monday are a scaled-back version of what Guillot and Cametas initially proposed after buying the theater building in 2014. They tweaked the design from four stories to three; dropped the height from 60 feet to below 40 feet; decreased the total size from 85,000 square feet to 49,800 square feet; and switched from nine condos to 12 apartments. Restaurant chains Taste Unlimited and Tazza Kitchen will be tenants, as well as Mango Salon and Long & Foster.
As was the case at the July 19 meeting of the Richmond Planning Commission, Monday’s council meeting generated lengthy, impassioned pleas to deny and approve the developers’ plans. Concerns raised by those opposed to the plans included traffic congestion, parking, pedestrian safety and the loss of the neighborhood’s character as development increases.
“Other developers are just waiting and watching in the wings,” said one of 11 people that spoke in opposition on Monday. “Short Pump here we come. The city is handing out special use permits left and right like candy at Halloween.”
The eight people who spoke in favor of the Westhampton on Grove said they thought the development makes Libbie-Grove more appealing, brings in more tax revenue and called the closed Westhampton Theater an eyesore.
“They’re the ones that have a plan to save Libbie and Grove,” said a supporter of Westhampton on Grove, referring to the developers.
Citing concerns over congestion and traffic, city council member Charles Samuels said he was voting in favor of Westhampton LLC’s special use permit “reluctantly and with great trepidation.”
“The ripple effect of this might not be felt immediately,” Samuels said. “This development is beautiful. It won’t blight the physical image of the neighborhood. It may destroy the quaintness of the neighborhood.”
City Council member Jon Baliles represents the 1st District where Westhampton on Grove will sit. He said the Westhampton LLC’s application met all of the city’s requirements. He said it was a hard decision and that he knew it may cost him some friends.
“I didn’t make a decision until about five and a half hours ago,” Baliles said, adding he has kept an open mind.
Two other developments on last night’s city council agenda were continued until Sept. 12: a special use permit for developers Louis Salomonsky and David White’s plans to convert a warehouse at 1650 Overbrook Road into apartments; and a special use permit for Dominion Resources’ tower planned for 701 E. Cary St.