Watkins family looks to sell chunk of 800-acre Midlothian site

About 123 acres in far west Midlothian is gearing up for more commercial development, including a 450-unit apartment complex. (Google Maps)

With a 450-unit apartment deal already in the works, a Chesterfield County family is freeing up another chunk of the 800 acres it owns near the Midlothian Turnpike and Route 288 interchange for future development.

John Watkins, who manages his family’s estate, said they are looking to sell off the balance of a 123-acre plot across the turnpike from Westchester Commons to accommodate more commercial uses.

The Watkinses have up to 65 acres of the property on the market, with an eye on luring hotels, restaurants, a brewery, potential office users and service-oriented retail.

“We know certain big box (retailers) is something that is not going to work for this site,” said Watkins, a former state senator. “You can get that at Westchester Commons.”

That potential commercial development would join a $90 million apartment project in the works on 18 adjacent acres the family owns along Watkins Centre Parkway. Charlottesville-based Castle Development Partners is behind that development.

The family has enlisted CBRE | Richmond’s Joe Marchetti to field interest on the commercial property.

“We want to see more service and entertainment options open up there,” Watkins said. “We feel it’s something that is missing from that area.”

Watkins said none of the land has been sold to commercial users to date, but some of the site has been marketed to several potential hotel users.

He said the family has owned the land since the 1800s and it has been used primarily for farming and planting for its 140-year-old business, Watkins Nurseries, which operates a wholesale and retail outlet up the road at 101 Dry Bridge Road.

During the mid-2000s real estate boom, the family shed the 800-acre site’s agricultural designation to accommodate light industrial and medical uses.

“At the time, the development was really moving in this direction,” Watkins said. “We had the rail line south of the property, the interchange and the on and off ramps to Route 288, which at that time made it ideal for that type of development.”

But as housing development cooled in the wake of the recession, industrial users never took to the area, prompting the family to sell off pieces. That ushered in non-industrial users including the former Village Bank headquarters and Bon Secours Westchester Emergency Center and Neurology Clinic.

More recently they’ve focused on rezoning the 123-acre parcel to accommodate a mix of residential and commercial uses, getting county approval in February. The remaining 680 acres will remain zoned to accommodate light industrial or medical uses, Watkins said.

The family’s latest efforts are prompted in part by an apartment boom in far west Midlothian that’s rivaling density growth in the city of Richmond.

Nearly 2,100 units have either been approved or are in planning stages within 1.5 miles of the future Watkins Centre Apartments.

“That was what we needed,” Watkins said of the looming apartment development. “The density is moving back to this area, and fast.”

Work on Winterfield Crossing’s first phase of apartments is underway. Midlothian West, a development comprising 275 apartments and 170 townhomes, is in the works across the street.

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 at the northeastern edge of Westchester Commons.

Watkins added that the River City Sportsplex and planned $35 million water park development off Genito Place and Genito Road south of the property also are draws for potential commercial users.

“Those are going to be big draws to the area, and there is going to be a need for places to sleep and eat,” he said. “Given the access to (Route) 288, those are good users for this parcel.”

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9 Comments on "Watkins family looks to sell chunk of 800-acre Midlothian site"

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Bruce Milam

The Route 288 corridor is going to become Chesterfield’s cash cow with literally thousands of Class A apartments (2100 is a bit short of the mark), entertainment, shopping upscale homes and hopefully some office options. The industrial zoning along Route 60 west of Watkins Center was never a good plan. The County needs to bring sanitary sewer service six miles north from its terminus if it wants to exploit the potential of the Route 60 frontage.

David Humphrey

It is really hard to make residential uses of any kind into a cash cow. You need a certain amount of industrial and office to balance the books.

Bruce Milam
Class A apartments require very few services from the County. Most of the apartments, roughly 90%, will not have school-age children in them because there are very few three bedroom units. The real estate taxes from each and every one of these new communities will result in millions of dollars of new income to the County though. And each apartment will be occupied by consumers, spending money at the local stores, and registering their vehicles in the County. The result is taxes, taxes, and more taxes with very low costs to the community. Class A apartments are commercial enterprises in… Read more »
David Humphrey
For a single family house to break even on taxes/services it usually needs to be up in the 750-1mil range depending on the locality. If you think there will be no school age children in those apartments you are sadly mistaken. Not every family lives in a detached single family house for a wide variety of reasons. Does the Chesterfield government think there will be no children in there? Ask a local government finance person if residential and retail are a good tax base and I bet you won’t get a single yes. Apartments are commercial enterprises, but still cost… Read more »
Bruce Milam

I’m not ” sadly mistaken”. I said that 90% of the class A apartments will not have school age children. That holds true. Class B (25-30 years old) are generally larger, more three bedrooms, and cheaper on a square foot basis. They have school age kids in public schools. Class C will have even more. But the new Class A apartments are populated by singles, young couples, and step down boomers. They are consumers. They are good for the tax base.

Robert Jones

David and Bruce you make good points…………However, metro-Richmond is slowly becoming overly saturated with Commercial (vacant) units. With more already approved or being built.

Chesterfield does not need anymore Commercial Units.

Change the zoning back to Agricultural.

The Watkins family “forced the hand” when he was a state senator in VA to make route 288 go through and next to their land…A BIG PAYOUT!!!!!

Al Meyer
The Magic of Photosynthesis has already demonstrated its miracle on the site for generations. Stuff grows there! Fifty miles south & west of DC near Culpeper there’s a second generation agricultural family growing lettuce – huge quantities in greenhouses. A real factory farm. Maybe schedule a tour to see what they are doing. This lettuce can be found in the boutique grocery stores looking fresh & certified organic in their plastic shell covers. The first generation arrived here from somewhere in the north of Europe with their tulips. (Belgium, The Netherlands???) Don’t remember exactly. Once here their potted plants found… Read more »
Bruce Milam

Robert, what is a “commercial unit”. I’ve only been in the business for 40 years so I may have missed this term.

Robert P. Jones

The Robert Jones who posted the above is not Robert “Peppy” Jones, the planning commissioner for Midlothian District of Chesterfield County. The opinions of that Robert Jones do not reflect County Commissioner Jones’ opinions.