12-story tower proposed at Broad and Lombardy

A rendering of the proposed U-shaped tower, looking east along Broad Street. (The Opus Group)

The new-to-Richmond development firm behind a proposed 12-story tower at Broad and Lombardy streets says it has been working with city planning staff for nearly a year to tailor the project to the city’s new transit-oriented zoning – even if that zoning has yet to reach that stretch of the Pulse bus-rapid-transit corridor.

Minnesota-based The Opus Group has filed plans with the city for a 168-unit residential tower at the northwest corner of Broad and Lombardy. The 240,800-square-foot structure would replace the Sunoco gas station and Fast Break convenience store on about a half-acre at 1600 W. Broad St., beside the Lowe’s and across Lombardy from the Dollar Tree store.

Ben Angelo, senior director of real estate development for Opus Development Co., said Thursday that the project fits what the city has in mind for the Pulse corridor with its new TOD-1 “transit-oriented development” zoning district, which has been creeping along Broad through city-initiated rezonings and calls for taller buildings up to 12 stories in height and denser, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development.

The 12-story building would total 168 residential units.

Angelo said the firm has been in talks with the city since May about the project, which he said was designed knowing the TOD-1 district is on its way.

“This market is one that we’re really excited about. We’ve had our eyes on Richmond for a number of years,” Angelo said. “This particular site makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Its location and proximity to VCU was a big deal for us, and being on a major corridor is another criteria for us when we’re searching a market.”

Opus is applying for a special-use permit to accommodate the project, as the property is currently zoned M-1 light industrial, which restricts building heights to 45 feet, or about three stories.

Despite the existing zoning, Angelo said the project aligns with the vision laid out in the city’s Pulse Corridor Plan, which recommends TOD-1 zoning along the corridor, specifically in the areas of the Pulse bus stops. The city in recent years has added the zoning along the corridor in the Scott’s Addition area, Monroe Ward and across from the Science Museum of Virginia.

“They looked at it as, we’re not there yet with the zoning, but this fits our plan and fits our vision and we could totally support this type of project here, because eventually we anticipate that this TOD zoning will make its way to this property,” Angelo said.

“It all came together in that fashion: we had an idea for a project, and it just so happened that it really aligned well with planning staff’s vision of what would happen along this corridor. We worked very closely with them on designing the project.”

The development would be Opus’s first in Virginia since the recession over a decade ago, Angelo said. The firm’s portfolio includes commercial, industrial and residential buildings. It has seven offices across the country in addition to its headquarters in Minneapolis.

A view of the tower facing south along Lombardy.

The Broad Street tower, labeled in plans as “Opus at Richmond,” would consist of a mix of residential units ranging from studios to four-bedroom floor plans. Plans do not specify whether the units would be for sale or lease. Renderings indicate units will have balconies.

The U-shaped building would include a 3,500-square-foot retail space at the corner of Broad and Lombardy, as well as 30,000 square feet of parking space totaling at least 77 spaces. Some of the parking spaces would fill part of the ground level, while most would be underground in a one-level basement garage.

Vehicle access would be off an alley on the north side of the building. The project would include parking areas for bicycles.

Angelo did not share a cost estimate for the project, and he said rental rates for the units have yet to be determined. He said the units would be market-rate and would be marketed to a broad demographic, not just students.

Angelo said the building’s proposed height is based on what the anticipated TOD-1 zoning allows. He said it’s not a case of proposing big with the goal of ultimately building shorter.

“It’s not our intent to propose a big project and then scale back,” Angelo said. “We didn’t want to play that game.”

Opus is working with local attorney Andrew Condlin of Roth Jackson on the application process.

Its SUP request was introduced to City Council on Monday after being added that evening to its meeting agenda. The case was referred to the Planning Commission, which would make a recommendation at an upcoming meeting.

Should the project receive approval after a series of public hearings, Angelo said the firm is aiming to break ground this spring and finish construction by summer 2021.

The property, consisting of two parcels, is owned by Noephel Inc., a company registered to Shakil Rehman. City property records show the company purchased the property in 2005 for $1 million. The latest city assessment valued the two parcels collectively at $1.61 million.

The corner facing the intersection would include a street-level storefront and indoor-outdoor space on the second floor.

Amenities at the proposed tower would include an outdoor terrace with pool, an indoor fitness room and lounge areas, and a second-floor indoor-outdoor space overlooking the intersection.

The building’s façade would consist primarily of metal, aluminum and glass, with concrete and brick along the street-level base. Opus designed the structure, plans for which were drawn up by local engineering firm Draper Aden Associates.

The project would add to other tall buildings beginning to rise along the Pulse corridor. A six-story mixed-use building by SNP Properties is rising at 3022 W. Broad St. in Scott’s Addition, while another six-story building led by developer Tom Papa is under construction nearby.

Farther west along Broad, a hotel-anchored mixed-use development by Spy Rock Real Estate is underway on part of the UMFS campus, coinciding with Kotarides Cos.’ redevelopment next door of the former Department of Game and Inland Fisheries property.

Correction: The two parcels involved are located on the northwest corner of Broad and Lombardy and are assessed at $1.61 million combined. An earlier version of this story described the wrong corner and listed the assessed valued of only one of the parcels.

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
9 months ago

These are exciting times in Richmond. Per bizsense, SWA is planning a 12 story building behind the old hotel that they are repositioning as an apartment building. The Mayors initiative to allow third party permitting and inspections to free up the backlog of applications at City Hall as well as Councilmans Michael Jones’ proposal to incentivize more affordable housing will contribute to a better City.

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
9 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

are they making 3rd party inspections official? It’s been a thing for a while with ad hoc by engineers, but I’d love to hear more of this, this is the first I’ve heard of it.

It would be a great program. I’d gladly pay to avoid that hellish disaster that is the Richmond Permits office

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
9 months ago

He announced such in the State of the City address.

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
9 months ago

Not a beautiful building, but that’s a good location for it – the gas station corner it will replace is pretty awful. And given it’s target market, VCU students, it’s a great location.

I hope the city will support it

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
9 months ago

If their target market is truly college students I question the wisdom of having balconies all the way up to the 12th floor. You are kind of asking for hijinks with that combo.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
9 months ago

168 units and only 77 parking spaces?
The city is going to have some kind of rule PREVENTING people who live there from owning cars.

Garry Whelan
Garry Whelan
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

I think the lack of provided parking and proximity of transport will do a good job of appealing to the carless. I have no idea how or why you would prevent someone from owning a car, but it does say a lot about the Land of the Free (Terms and Conditions Apply).

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
9 months ago
Reply to  Garry Whelan

I’ve been hearing for quite a while that we were moving to a less car centric urban environment. I still don’t see the support for public transit to make it happen. What i do see is less and less off street parking.
If you’re going to do the part that saves developers money (not building in traditional levels of parking) you’ll need to explain where the funding for public transit comes from.

Garry Whelan
Garry Whelan
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Public transport is being funded. The Pulse is there. The support needed is exactly this sort of development. High density and right on a public transport route. Public transport exists in the context of the built environment, the city. That city needs to be aligned with public transport, in a way the streetcar-aligned development once was. More high density along key bus routes is necessary.

Peter Dylan
Peter Dylan
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

If they want a parking space, move to the burbs or pay up in the city, the way it should be

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

I want to see where the deck will empty out. It won’t be on Lombardy or Broad so the alley/driveway into Lowes??

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
9 months ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

you can see on the pdf given to city council and forwarded to planning, it’s got the floor layout. No idea how to link it, but should be searchable.

2 floors of parking (and bike room) all empty out into what I think of as the Lowes driveway, but must be a city road. So north side center of the building

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
9 months ago

A few years ago there were some preliminary city planning documents that showed restoring Marshall Street in front of Lowe’s via that driveway, so it sounds likely to be city property.

John Lindner
John Lindner
9 months ago

This placement and density seems smart. There’s a VCU deck in the next block on Leigh, and I suspect some residents will park there.

Crystal ball: neighborhood objects. City council balks. Developer scales down to 6-8 stories.
Crystal ball 2: VCU buys it in 5 years.

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
9 months ago
Reply to  John Lindner

Very good crystal!

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
9 months ago
Reply to  John Lindner

I don’t live that far away, and am pro it, as it’s density where density belongs. Given it’s on the north side of the street and replacing a horrible gas station, it might get less pushback.

That said, excellent prognostication, I wouldn’t really argue against either of those predictions. I would like to see 12 stories on Broad though, it’s the place for it.

Tim Harper
Tim Harper
9 months ago

Well, let’s hear from those Navy Hill supporters who keep ranting about how Richmond is a stagnant, withering city that most businesses are avoiding. Richmond is one of the hottest cities on the East Coast. Every week in the news there is a story about a major project like this. I’m glad my city council is finally standing up for the taxpayers.

John Lindner
John Lindner
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Harper

If all you want in Navy Hill is apartment buildings and dead end streets, Richmond is fine doing nothing. If you want to transform the street grid, add an area, a bus transfer station and a million square feet of office space and affordable housing, it’s going to take some public involvement. To think otherwise is foolish.

Tim Harper
Tim Harper
9 months ago
Reply to  John Lindner

So I’m a fool? What is it with you Navy Hill supporters and the name calling? You’re only driving people away from the project. I originally supported it. Your idea of public involvement apparently does not include a public referendum.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Harper

I’m sure this will get a negative rating, but I’m going to inject some facts. 1-Tax money to pay for an arena is never a good idea— a- https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonnotte/2018/08/17/your-tax-dollars-at-play-how-stadium-tax-scams-pick-fans-pockets/#6ca84f196fb9 b- https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/nov/22/nfl-stadiums-cost-taxpayers-billions-of-dollars/ 2-The current Navy Hill project is not the ONLY option for the navy Hill area. The city didn’t need to pledge it’s tax dollars to Scott’s Addition, Manchester, The Art’s District, downtown, Carytown. It is a false equivalency to say you are either in favor of a massively tax payer subsidies for an unneeded vanity project or you are against growth. How about a modest arena, an updated version… Read more »

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
9 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Scott’s Addition, Manchester, The Art’s District, and Carytown were not restricted by city and state owned land. No one has expressed interest in Navy Hill for decades and then once someone finally does, we expect to wait for other proposals. Do we wait another several decades for another proposal and then complain that it is the only one as this one is long withdrawn? How is three years of work and compromise (this proposal came out June 2017) “jamming one through?”

James Gait
James Gait
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Harper

The Navy Hill neighborhood still is stagnant.

City Council might need to spend a few million dollars on studies and wait another 3 years to come to that conclusion though.

William Samuels
William Samuels
9 months ago

This is good news! The city is thriving. Those of us who moved to the urban core of the city 30-40 years ago knew that Richmond had fantastic potential. It has taken a long time – not too much happened in the city during those years as we watched the region decentralize and the suburbs expand by leaps and bounds. I’m so happy that the pendulum has swung. If you want to read a wonderful essay about the importance of density in cities, check out the article in the arts section of yesterday’s New York Times.

Mike Upchurch
Mike Upchurch
9 months ago

168 units “… as well as 30,000 square feet of parking space totaling at least 77 spaces”… so where are all those other cars going to be parked? No, not the fantasy cars that urban planners contend don’t exist, but the actual cars all those people will be driving? If half of those units have 2 occupants, and we assume a conservative 80% car ownership (2016 avg. was 82%), that’s about 124 cars that have nowhere to park (168*1.5*.8 = ~202 cars – 77 spaces = 124). That does not include parking for the staff that maintains or runs the… Read more »

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Upchurch

Using the city average (which has a large percentage of single family homes) does not fit for a transit-oriented corridor. This development should attract residents that are not reliant on cars and they will not have the added cost of the additional parking spaces that are empty half of the day.

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Upchurch

people who want to park a car won’t live there. Unless they are really too stupid to drive.

This is a business decision by the developers, that they should be allowed to make. Their business, their risk, their decision

Robert Sandkam
Robert Sandkam
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Upchurch

The potential for someone to live there without a car is perhaps higher than anywhere else in the entire city. They will literally be within a block of a grocery store, and a hardware store. If they start to accumulate too much stuff, they are within a block of a storage facility. If they want different food choices, then they can walk to the Whole Foods. They can ride the pulse to any job located downtown. They can ride the pulse to other shopping destinations at Willow Lawn (clothes, shoes, office supplies, drugstores, yet another grocery store). They can ride… Read more »