Note: This story has been updated to include the development entity behind the project and the involvement of developer George Emerson.
Eight years after Westchester Commons opened for business, the shopping and entertainment center at the crossroads of Midlothian Turnpike and Route 288 is slated to receive its first set of residential rooftops.
Westchester Development Partners, made up of Chesterfield County developers Casey Sowers and George Emerson, is proposing two buildings totaling 236 apartments on a 5-acre parcel overlooking 288, on a bluff at the northeastern edge of the center.
The one- and two-bedroom apartments, tentatively named “Westchester,” are the first residential pieces proposed for the 100-acre Westchester Commons, which is anchored by a Regal Cinemas and consists primarily of retail and restaurants, alongside a number of undeveloped parcels.
Sowers, whose developments in the area include Winterfield Place, said a goal is to add more density – and people – in and around the shopping center, which he said has yet to spark the level of development envisioned when it opened in 2009, right around the time of the economic downturn.
“There’s no mystery that there’s empty retail space in and around that corridor. And there’s been zoning for literally thousands of residential units in and around the area, but, really, nothing’s sparked out there yet. Nothing’s caused it to happen,” Sowers said.
“We’ve been looking to get some density in there – get some rooftops, so to speak – in a spot where the infrastructure is there and will hopefully balance real well with the retail and commercial that’s there now, and hopefully some new commercial that will precipitate from it as well.”
In addition to Emerson, whose Southside developments include Meadowville Landing, Sowers is working with Midlothian-based Poole & Poole Architecture on the apartments, which he projects will cost about $39 million to develop. Berkadia Commercial Mortgage is financing the project. A contractor has not been selected, Sowers said.
He said his company is under contract to purchase the 5-acre site from Zaremba Metropolitan Midlothian LLC, the ownership entity tied to Ohio-based Zaremba Group, which developed Westchester Commons. The development was the brainchild of former state Sen. John Watkins, whose family owned the land and once operated a nursery there.
The center is now owned by CalSTRS, short for California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which co-owned Westchester Commons with Zaremba Group until 2014. Property manager Mark Bowen, who oversees Westchester Commons for management company Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, said the center was a joint venture between the two parties until CalSTRS bought out Zaremba’s stake that year.
Sowers described the 5-acre parcel as “pad-ready,” in that road access, utilities and other infrastructure are already available to the site.
“Very rarely do you see a site like that for any type of multifamily development so prepared already for the project,” he said. “It’s a spot that doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting to get going.”
The apartments will range in size from 750 to 1,150 square feet, with monthly rents ranging from about $1,000 to $1,500 and higher for upper-end units. Each apartment will have a balcony, and both buildings will have elevators, Sowers said. Community amenities will include a pool, an exercise room, courtyards, dining areas and a “sky lounge” overlooking 288 and the surrounding area.
Sowers said the plan is to take full advantage of the hillside location and high visibility from the highway.
“The views out of that building are really going to be extraordinary,” Sowers said,
“It’s a really unique place. It’s a real gateway location into Chesterfield,” he said. “It’s one of the first things you’re going to see when you drive into Chesterfield from Goochland and Henrico. That’s why we felt some responsibility to build something there with a high degree of quality and visibility and style.”
Sowers said such access to the shops and restaurants, as well as the apartments themselves, should appeal to both millennials and retirees.
The project has been in the works for more than a year, as Sowers said he needed time to negotiate with and convince the property owner that the apartments would complement the retail and restaurants at Westchester Commons.
A requested rezoning for the project is set to be heard by the county planning commission at its July 18 meeting after being deferred last month. Should the project receive approval from county supervisors, Sowers said construction could break ground by the end of this year, with completion targeted in spring 2019.
Farther east along Midlothian Turnpike, BWS Enterprises LLC is looking to develop up to 445 apartments and townhomes on both sides of Old Otterdale Road. Up and across the turnpike, developer Guy Blundon plans to start construction this summer on 238 apartments beside Winterfield Crossing, a long-debated development that would include 250 age-restricted units.