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.”
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.”