Just days before it was to go to the City Council for a vote, the latest round of proposed zoning changes tied to the city’s Pulse Corridor Plan has been withdrawn following months of opposition from neighborhood groups.
A city spokesman confirmed this week that administrators have pulled the proposal, which focused on land primarily north of Broad Street across from the Fan District, in and around the Carver and Newtowne West neighborhoods generally between Belvidere Street and the DMV headquarters building.
The council had been scheduled to consider the rezonings at its meeting this coming Monday, following multiple delays and deferrals since the changes were first proposed in May.
But with opposition remaining from a group of area neighborhood and civic associations, administrators decided to withdraw the proposal with plans to revisit it next year, said Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney’s office.
In an email, Nolan said the city “has withdrawn the three ordinances that relate to the Pulse Corridor rezoning” and “will re-engage with the adjoining neighborhood associations to determine a more appropriate zoning in January.”
No specific reason for the withdrawal was given, though the group’s opposition has factored into past deferrals. Mark Olinger, the city planning director who had been spearheading the proposal, referred questions to the mayor’s office.
Intended to encourage higher-density development in those areas, the changes in some cases would have allowed building heights of 20 stories or more — including several spots along Broad directly across from the Fan, a primarily residential area with considerably shorter buildings.
The building heights were a sticking point for the group of local associations, which also voiced concerns on impacts to the Carver and Newtowne West neighborhoods.
City planners later confirmed that such heights could potentially be achieved in a limited number of spots, such as at Sauer Center, in front of and around the DMV building, and in front of the Lowe’s Home Improvement and Kroger stores.
Those areas and others would have been changed to or remained B-4 Central Business District, which determines building heights based on a four-to-one “inclined plane” ratio, in which 4 feet in height is allowed for every 1 foot in width from the center of adjacent right-of-way.
The group had said they were amenable to 12-story buildings, the height limit specified in the Pulse Corridor Plan for TOD-1, the “transit-oriented development” district created when that plan was adopted in 2017. The proposal had originally called for TOD-1 to be applied to street-facing properties along the Fan side of Broad, but concerns from the Historic West Grace Street Association prompted staff to cut those changes.
City Councilmember Kim Gray, whose district includes the bulk of the land involved, said she shared the associations’ concerns.
“There’s still eight distinct civic associations who are in opposition to 20-story buildings,” Gray said last week, after a meeting on the issue that preceded the withdrawal.
“We settled on 12 stories, which I think adds a nice mix of density and preservation of neighborhoods like Jackson Ward and Newtowne and Carver,” Gray said. “These neighborhoods have survived a lot of poor planning and poor highway projects and deliberate dismantling, and I think that this is something that could similarly cause these neighborhoods to be extinct.”
In addition to the West Grace Street association, the group consists of associations for Carver and Newtowne West, as well as the Fan District Association, Fan Area Business Association, Monument Avenue Preservation Society and RVA Coalition of Concerned Civic Associations.
While the city later released renderings depicting potential building heights that could result from the rezonings, Gray said the full extent of the changes were never clearly communicated.
“After months and months of work with the planning department and these respective neighborhoods, they turned around and put B-4 zoning into the mix that was never mentioned at all. And we haven’t seen any renderings that would show us what 20 stories would look like along that corridor,” Gray said.
“Most of the corridor backs up to historic neighborhoods, three of which are historically Black neighborhoods that are constantly in battle for the preservation of their character and housing stock.”
While the rezonings have been pulled, another planning initiative remains on the council’s agenda Monday: potential adoption of Richmond 300, the years-in-the-works update to the city’s master land-use plan. The matter is scheduled for a potential vote along with a public hearing, which starts at 6 p.m.