It’s take two for a collection of old warehouses at the edge of Manchester, after a local developer’s initial plan for a grocery-anchored retail center didn’t materialize.
Richmond-based Harper & Associates is seeking a special-use permit to transform the former site at 1802 Semmes Ave. into a mix of 106 townhomes and about 4 acres of future commercial space.
The project is a change of course from the “Manchester Town Center” concept Harper originally considered when acquiring the 13-acre property in 2015 with the idea of bringing a grocer to a neighborhood that has yet to reach the density or demographic mix to lure a grocery chain.
Preston Lloyd, an attorney with Richmond-based Williams Mullen who represents Harper & Associates, said a special-use permit would enable the firm to build the townhomes on the site and reserve the commercial component for later development.
“[Harper] originally acquired the property … with the intention of developing a grocery-anchored center on the site,” Lloyd said. “But attempts to market the site to a grocery anchor proved challenging given several disturbances in the area’s grocery market.”
Harper hosted several neighborhood meetings to learn what residents want to see happen to the property.
The overwhelming theme: Make the property a mixed-use site.
“There was a concern for the traffic; that came up a lot during the meetings,” Lloyd said. “But we won over a lot of converts, and [Harper] sees this as the best use for the property.”
The 106 townhomes would go on about 9 acres of the site, while reserving about 4 other acres for retail development.
The planning commission will hold a public hearing about Harper’s request Feb. 4. The city council will consider the request at its Feb. 11 meeting.
A cost estimate for the overall project, presently dubbed Belle Heights, has not been determined.
Talking to a builder
Harper, a retail-centric developer that’s constructed several large-scale commercial developments such as the Walmart and Lowes on Sheila Lane, is in talks with NVR Inc., parent company of Ryan Homes, to build the townhomes, Lloyd said.
Details about NRV’s involvement in Belle Heights were not released, including whether the company would purchase the 9 acres set aside for the townhomes. Lloyd did say the townhomes would be sold, not rented.
Despite adding townhomes to Belle Heights, the site would remain zoned M-1 (light manufacturing).
“This is not a rezoning request,” Lloyd said.
Under M-1, Harper could construct the retail component of Belle Heights without seeking city council approval. However, Lloyd said the firm wants to execute the residential development first, hoping that would lure a grocery store to the site or surrounding area.
“There’s not a large concentration of households with a median income that could sustain a grocery store at this site at the moment,” Lloyd said. “The idea is to put additional residences on the property to make attractive to a grocery to look at the area again.”
If Harper’s request is granted, Lloyd said demolition of the existing 300,000-square-foot warehouse complex could begin within 30 to 60 days.
Belle Heights is one of several residential projects coming to the Manchester and Swansboro neighborhoods.
Across Cowardin Avenue, Alabama-based LIV Development is proposing a seven-building, 289-unit community on 15 contiguous parcels totaling about 7.3 acres near the Lee Bridge at 1400 Railroad Ave.
The Monument Cos.’ Chris Johnson and Tom Dickey are teaming up with Howard Kellman of The Edison Co. for an initial $6.5 million redevelopment of the former Muse Buick car dealership property at 1400 Semmes Ave.. Also, Ohio-based Brickhaus Partners is under contract to purchase the 2.2-acre tract on the west side of Cowardin Avenue at the southern end of the bridge for a future multifamily development.