The would-be buyers of a piece of riverfront land in Manchester are looking to set a new high bar for density in the area, but at the expense of a beloved neighborhood view.
Brooklyn, New York-based Avery Hall Investments is planning to build a pair of residential towers reaching 11 and 17 stories at 301 W. Sixth St., where another developer once planned a twin-tower project called River’s Edge II.
Avery Hall’s 11-story, L-shaped building would be on the eastern end of the Sixth Street plot and house around 350 apartments. On the western end of the parcel closer to the Manchester Bridge, the firm is planning a 17-story tower that’d be the tallest high-rise in Manchester. That building is set to have around 175 units.
In total, Avery Hall is looking to add 525 units to the neighborhood, a count that’s 181 more than what River’s Edge II’s original developers first proposed in 2019. Those developers — Guy Blundon, Mark Purcell, Keith Woodard and Ludwig Kuttner — put the land, as well as the approved plans and permits for River’s Edge II, on the market in late 2021. By May, Avery Hall had it under contract.
Relative to the original River’s Edge II design, Avery Hall’s plan would more substantially obstruct the view from neighboring Legend Brewing Co.’s deck, which has offered a panorama of the city skyline and James River since 1994.
It wasn’t until last week at a meeting of the Manchester Alliance neighborhood association held coincidentally on Legend’s deck, that Avery Hall unveiled its scaled-up plans for the site.
Dave Gott, Legend’s vice president of operations and board member of the Manchester Alliance, said he much preferred the initial design of River’s Edge II, noting that Blundon’s group went out of their way to preserve as much of the view as possible with the design.
“We’re very disappointed that we’re going to be losing the majority of that view. I suspect a lot of Richmonders are, too,” Gott said last week.
Brian Ezra, a founding partner of Avery Hall, said they recognize that the change is significant and that they don’t make it lightheartedly.
“It’s a really great opportunity to create architecture with a capital ‘A’ that would have a very positive impact on Manchester and Richmond as a whole. We also recognize that comes with change and we’ll be as sensitive as we can be to that,” Ezra said. “We really, genuinely try to build the best buildings that’ll be as well-received as possible.”
Avery Hall has its own in-house architecture division, but Ezra said they typically hire an outside, local architecture firm to collaborate on the design for its buildings, an approach they plan to use with the Richmond project.
Other details of the buildings haven’t been decided yet, such as whether they’ll include any for-sale condo units or retail space. The group also hasn’t ironed out specifics regarding the layout and amount of parking, though Ezra noted that they do plan to have at least one parking spot per apartment unit.
The site’s RF-2 Riverfront zoning district caps building height at 13 stories, which would require Avery Hall to pursue a new entitlement for the project.
Founded in 2013, Avery Hall got its start developing smaller condo buildings with fewer than 40 units in its hometown of Brooklyn. Ezra said they eventually grew into working on larger apartment buildings and began looking outside of New York.
He said migrations out of major cities during the pandemic in 2020 led them to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Avery Hall now has about 650 units in the pipeline. Richmond got on Avery Hall’s radar after company representatives stopped in town on the drive between Charlotte and Brooklyn a few times. Ezra said they see Richmond as the type of small-to-medium-sized city that’s poised for continued growth as more people look to leave major cities.
Avery Hall currently has about 2,000 units either under construction or completed in its portfolio.
In addition to views from Legend, Avery Hall’s first Richmond project would also impact the views of neighboring residential projects like Eagle Construction of VA’s McRae & Lacy townhome development, and 7West, a high-end townhome project from Jeremy Connell that was completed last year.
Homes in McRae & Lacy, many of which are still under construction, have sold thus far from $700,000-$850,000. 7West’s 12 units sold for $750,000 up to $1.3 million.
Kirk Johnson lives at McRae & Lacy with his wife Janet Woodka, who sits on the Manchester Alliance’s board. He said the view of the city and river was an absolute contributor in their decision to move to Manchester last February, noting that he was in favor of Blundon’s original design as he felt it struck a reasonable balance between adding density while also protecting Legend’s view.
“There’s a great opportunity for smart development of Manchester that takes advantage of all the neighborhood has to offer, that brings more growth and density, but not at the expense of businesses that have been there three decades,” Johnson said after last week’s Alliance meeting. “It’s extremely alarming and we’re not going to just sit idly by.”