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.
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.
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.
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.