After months of back-and-forth between city boards, a planned mixed-use conversion of a century-old duplex in Church Hill is moving forward.
The Richmond City Council on Monday approved a special-use permit allowing for a renovation of the building at 3101 E. Marshall St. with a modern-style addition that would result in nine apartments and two commercial spaces.
The three-story addition, which would rise at the corner of Marshall and North 31st Street, would fill a vacant lot between the existing brick building and 31st Street. Plans call for rehabbing the 5,200-square-foot building and connecting it with the addition, which would house the bulk of the market-rate apartments.
The project, proposed in late 2020, had first come before the council in July, when it was introduced and referred to the Planning Commission for a recommendation. The city’s Commission of Architectural Review (CAR) had endorsed the plan months earlier.
When the case came back to the council, however, it was sent back to the Planning Commission due to a procedural issue. At their meeting, commissioners had narrowly voted down a motion to recommend approval. But a subsequent motion was never made or passed, leaving the council without a formal recommendation.
When the Planning Commission revisited the case in October, commissioners voted by majority to recommend approval, with added conditions that required further revisions to the plan, such as restoring on-site parking that had been removed based on prior feedback.
In light of those revisions, and the duration of the process, City Councilmember Cynthia Newbille, whose Seventh District includes the site, led the council in voting to approve the permit Monday, describing “significant responsiveness” from the applicant to issues raised by the commission, CAR and planning staff.
Acknowledging as well that the project had received support and opposition from the neighboring community, Newbille said, “There were a variety of concerns that have been addressed with the developer.”
The decision clears the way for the project to move forward, though with one other procedural issue needing to be addressed. At Monday’s meeting, Kevin Vonck, the city’s director of planning and development review, said that because a year had passed since CAR’s endorsement, the certificate of appropriateness it had awarded had expired.
As a result, Vonck said, the project would require one more look from CAR, which would need to award a new certificate.
The applicant, Sean Jefferson, who’s been leading the project for property owner Datapro Investments LLC, said Tuesday that he’s slated to have a meeting with the city in the next week to resolve the issue, which he chalked up to staffing challenges and impacts from COVID.
“There were a lot of things that didn’t get done efficiently because they had staffing issues and COVID delays,” Jefferson said. “All in all, planning has been great. They’ve helped me out a lot. I just think the city has some real challenges with staffing right now.”
While the process took time, Jefferson said he was pleased with how it played out. Following permitting and construction plan reviews, he said work on the project would start as soon as possible, with an eight- to 10-month construction schedule expected.
Three residents spoke in opposition to the plan at Monday’s meeting, including immediate neighbor John Trotta, who said they had a petition with signatures from 183 people requesting that the case be delayed and reworked. The speakers called the project too dense for the size of the 0.12-acre site and said the addition would eliminate existing greenspace and increase heat levels and stormwater runoff.
“We are not anti-development; we believe that this corner lot should be improved,” Trotta said. “We simply ask for an opportunity to come back here in the future and support a better-designed project that will positively impact our immediate community.”
No one spoke in favor of the project in the hearing, though Kevin Vonck, the city’s director of planning and development review, noted that the city had received letters supporting the project, including from the Church Hill Association. Vonck said staff determined the project’s density is in line with similar developments in the area.
Jefferson, whose other projects in the area include a conversion of a former horse stables building at 1809 E. Franklin St., and a rehab of a vacant building at 1509 E. Main St., said the review process, while lengthy, went the way it’s supposed to go.
“You go through the iterations, you go through the process of listening to the stakeholders, which in this case would be first and foremost the community, the historic constraints with CAR, and then zoning,” Jefferson said. “Everyone has their own purview of what they’re looking for, so that’s why it takes a little longer, and COVID definitely had a big impact.
“End of the day,” he said, “the process worked.”