Developer seeks to build apartments on former Northside scrapyard

Virginia Beach-based The Lawson Cos. is planning a 200-unit apartment development on the site of a scrap yard at 1207 School St. near VUU. (The Lawson Cos.)

A Virginia Beach-based development firm is looking to scrap a former Northside recycling plant and replace it with apartments.

The Lawson Cos. is under contract to purchase 1207 and 1207-A School Street, a 5.3-acre site between Brook Road and Interstate 64 near Virginia Union University, where they plan to build a 200-unit apartment development.

Kristopher Knepper, Lawson’s director of development and acquisitions, confirmed the deal. A plan of development for the unnamed apartment project was filed with the city’s planning department this month.

The site is home to a large scrap metal recycling facility run by Material Management and Recycling.

Plans call for the property to be cleared and four five-story buildings with a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units to rise on the site. Other planned amenities include a clubhouse and surface parking for residents and guests.

While Knepper would not disclose a cost estimate for the project, he said the firm is examining whether the units would be a good fit as market-rate housing, a student-centric complex or applying for low-income tax credits to make it more of a mixed-income project.

“Our preliminary market analysis tells us that there is demand across the board for quality housing in good locations,” Knepper said. “We will narrow our band of focus as the design and diligence process continues.”

The 5-acre site sits between Brook Road and Interstate 64. (Jonathan Spiers)

Pending city approval for the project, Knepper said Lawson hopes to the close on the property by the first half of 2019.

Lawson’s in-house general contractor, RA Lawson Corp., will complete the construction of the apartments, Knepper said. Virginia Beach-based TS3 Architects is the design lead, while Timmons Group is the civil engineer.

Construction would begin immediately following closing, Knepper said, taking about 24 months to complete.

Planners and area developers see the Chamberlayne and Brook Road corridors, long viewed as an important gateway into the city, as a next frontier of development.

The VUU-Chamberlayne Neighborhood Plan recommends improvements and new development to turn the area along Lombardy Street between Brook and Chamberlayne into a mixed-use village. It would include pedestrian crossings and enhancements, residential and retail along Lombardy, and redevelopment of underutilized parcels with mixed-use projects.

Transitioning the School Street industrial site into multifamily housing has been the plan since the current property owners purchased it in 2008, said Shane Burnette, Richmond division president of Schell Brothers who is one of four partners behind the entity that owns the property.

The group, which invested in the site with now-imprisoned local developer Justin French, paid $1.7 million for the property at the time, according to city property records. It most recently was assessed by the city for $982,000.

“We knew that it was a great investment when we all decided to purchase it,” Burnette said.

But the grips of the Great Recession and French’s 16-year federal prison sentence hamstrung the group’s plans for years.

That all changed last year, when the owners had Divaris Real Estate brokers Peter Vick and Harrison Hall reach out to Spy Rock Real Estate Group to propose a deal to develop 200 apartments on the site.

A prolific developer of mixed-use and multifamily development in Scott’s Addition and Manchester, Spy Rock wasted no time getting the site rezoned to a B-7 mixed-use business district — a zoning designation that allows for a wider array of residential and commercial uses, and encouraging denser development in the fast-transitioning neighborhoods in the city.

Spy Rock’s previous plan for the property called for two buildings comprising 200 apartments and straddling a central surface parking lot.

Plans to convert the scrap yard into apartments were moving expeditiously, Burnette said, until the project was not approved for low-income tax credits. That once again put the site in limbo.

Burnette, whose firm is developing a 250-unit apartment project in Chesterfield’s sprawling Magnolia Green development, contemplated building apartments on the site.

Ultimately, the group placed the site back on the market earlier this year.

“We all have a lot going on, and developing this site on our own is not an option because we wouldn’t have the time to dedicate to it,” Burnette said. “So, we decided the best thing to do was sell it.”

As VCU gobbles up more territory along West Broad, North Belvidere and West Marshall streets, apartment developers are turning their attention to the Northside.

A development team led by Richmond-based general contractor Loughridge & Company Construction Services is slated to build a nearly $32 million, 224-unit apartment complex at 2009 Brook Road, which is less than one-half mile from Lawson Cos.’ pending project.

The City Council is slated to vote on the group’s special-use permit at its Nov. 13 meeting.

Lawson ultimately beat out suitors from around the country, Burnette said.

“With what’s happening in the area, there’s no doubt in my mind they are going to be successful,” Burnette said. “We’ve always recognized that this area was going to pop given its proximity to VCU, VUU and downtown. We just didn’t know how quickly it was going to take shape.”

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bruce Milam
bruce Milam
3 years ago

Lawson is an excellent developer and property manager. They’ll be closing and building on three acres on German School Road to build 100 units early next year as well. They are one of the states top affordable builders.

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
3 years ago
Reply to  bruce Milam

This is HORRIBLE design. It looks like something built for Chesterfield. This is NOT what the Master Plan or area plans calls for in a mixed village feeling. Bland buildings, no mixed use, not a grid street layout to make it feel neighborhood oriented. Probably going to be gated too! This could be pulled right out of the Hull Street corridor. It is not a urban or even new Urbanism design.