Despite similar concerns from neighbors who opposed the projects, two development proposals on opposite sides of Short Pump have met opposite fates in Henrico County.
Rebkee Co. has scrapped The Shire, a mix of apartments and commercial space it proposed for an 8-acre tract at the convergence of John Rolfe Parkway and Pump and Church roads. The developer, which has owned the site for more than a decade, withdrew requests for rezoning and permit approvals ahead of last week’s Planning Commission meeting.
Rebkee principal Rob Hargett said the decision was due to opposition by area residents and a lack of support from the planning commissioner and county supervisor for that district.
“We thought we had a good plan. There was some opposition,” Hargett said. “I think the supervisor and planning commissioner decided it was too much opposition to support, so I’ve got to come up with something else.”
Hirschler attorney Jim Theobald, who represented Rebkee, said opponents took issue with the project’s apartments and potential impacts to area traffic and schools. The Shire was proposed to have 225 apartments and 18,500 square feet of commercial space that would have filled the vacant tract on the west side of the parkway at its intersections with Pump and Church.
The proposal was the latest attempt by Rebkee to develop the land since purchasing it in 2006 as part of a $4.55 million multi-parcel sale. It had previously proposed a strictly commercial development, and Hargett said the property remains zoned for as much as 65,000 square feet of commercial space.
Supervisor Pat O’Bannon, whose Tuckahoe District includes the site, noted the existing zoning as well, adding that Rebkee could go forward with a commercial development by right. With social distancing due to COVID-19 preventing a traditional community meeting from being held, she said communicating such points to those opposed to this latest proposal proved challenging.
“If this were a regular year or time, I would have spoken with those people personally at any meeting, and I was unable to do that because of COVID,” O’Bannon said. “It was not going well, and that’s what I told the developer.”
The case had previously been deferred a month to give Rebkee time to hold a meeting, which it did in late July. A county staff report said seven people attended the meeting in-person and about 40 participated online.
Concerns expressed at that meeting dealt with project density, building height and traffic, according to the report. Rebkee also had posted a website presenting the project to the public.
O’Bannon, who said she’s still fielding emails from constituents even though the case has been withdrawn, reiterated that the site can be developed for commercial use as it’s currently zoned. She said Rebkee had proffered “a lot of really good things” and that, under different circumstances, this latest proposal may have been received differently.
Hargett, whose company is working with the county on a planned rehab of Virginia Center Commons, said he’s not mad about the withdrawal and will go back to the drawing board.
“We’ve owned it for 13 years, and it’s just a drag,” Hargett said. “I just want to find something to do with it, get it back on the tax rolls.”
He added, “I’ve got to think of something else. I am not going to donate it as a park.”
One Pouncey project endorsed
Meanwhile, a comparable project that also had opposition from neighbors received a unanimous vote of support from the commission last week.
Blackwood Development’s One Pouncey project, which would put 295 apartments and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on 10 acres near Twin Hickory, was sent to county supervisors with a recommendation for approval.
Theobald, who also represented Blackwood in that case, said the endorsement came despite similar opposition from neighbors, whose concerns he said likewise focused on apartments and impacts to traffic and schools. He said the opposition, which he called “significant,” came from residents of Twin Hickory and the adjacent Townes at Pouncey Place townhomes.
Despite the similarities to The Shire — the projects also share the same architect, Poole & Poole Architecture — Blackwood’s project advanced with support from the whole commission, including the Three Chopt commissioner representing that district.
A staff report supporting the requested rezoning and permit noted that Blackwood had responded to concerns received in a virtual community meeting by committing to road improvements and fencing between the site and the neighboring townhomes. Theobald said Blackwood also had reduced the amount of retail space in the project by more than half, and reduced building heights closest to the townhomes.
Theobald said the site, at the southeast corner of Pouncey Tract Road and Twin Hickory Lake Drive, had previously been proposed for a 24-hour Wawa gas station and convenience store, which he said also was met with opposition. He said the site at one time was zoned for industrial use, describing One Pouncey as a considerable change in use.
“We could put 90,000 square feet of retail on there tomorrow,” he said, noting the site’s current B-2 Business District zoning. “I portrayed it as a downzoning that would have much less impact on area traffic. But we were still doing all of the road improvements that were suggested. This seemed to be a more likely development in terms of market acceptability.”
The project, which Blackwood estimates at $40 million, now goes to county supervisors for a deciding vote. The board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its Sept. 8 meeting.