Guest Commentary: ‘Moaning over the loss of a great view will solve nothing’

The view from Legend Brewing’s deck would be impacted by a proposed high-rise apartment building. (BizSense file photos)

I don’t recall other news that the Richmond Times-Dispatch published on its front page one day recently, but a three-column headline caught my eye: “Proposed Manchester high-rise may block views of the city’s skyline.”

Geez, stop the presses.

In Manchester, the folks at Legend Brewing Co., who operate a dining room and outdoor deck at 321 W. Seventh St., are understandably concerned. A 350-apartment high-rise is proposed for the block across the street at 301 W. Sixth St. It would block most of the iconic view of the downtown skyline that’s made the brewery a destination. Ellen Robertson, the city councilwoman who represents the neighborhood, reportedly says the proposed project, by developer Avery Hall Investments, won’t be approved until neighborhood stakeholders have had a say.

Legend, which opened in 1994 as a smaller operation in Manchester when the neighborhood looked like something akin to the set of a “Mad Max” movie, has long been the only Southside eatery with a sweeping vista from downtown to Church Hill. The simple, salt-treated wooden deck extends northward from its dining room along a slight ridge that’s parallel to both Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and a stretch of the Manchester floodwall. It’s a multi-generational destination where the pub grub is mitigated by the glorious view and occasional live music.

Trouble is, Legend doesn’t own the popular view. And years ago the brewery couldn’t have foreseen the fast pace of changes in Manchester. But anyone who’s not been under a river rock for the past few years knows the district has witnessed a tsunami of apartment construction. Legend may be the oldest craft brewery in the state, but its current urban environs are almost unrecognizable contrasted to what they were in the ’90s. The City of Richmond has no code or design restrictions that regulate building heights along the river, or setbacks. Some former city planners have advocated for gradual increases in building heights, stepping back from the water. Other planning officials cite the practical complexity of devising and enforcing such an aesthetic approach. And it’s no secret that instead of placing lower structures closest to the river and ever taller ones behind these, the American way is to maximize (and monetize) the view you have while you can.

When the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank built its shimmering tower by architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1978, it pushed its gleaning shaft close to the James River’s edge. And isn’t CoStar flexing its corporate muscle by threatening to build an even taller building nearby? In Manchester, one of the newest and tallest apartment buildings is South Falls Tower, designed by Walter Parks Architects, a crisp-looking complex at 111 Hull St. that’s built flush to the floodwall.

Of course, there’s moolah in the sky and in many cities great views from residential and office towers can spike rents 25 percent. Some cities even tax great views. And yes, somebody measures these things. According to the Lawn Love website, Honolulu offers the best city views, with Atlanta and San Francisco coming in second and third, respectively.

Legend’s misgivings about the proposed behemoth to its north also reflects a general reluctance for folks hereabouts to embrace the current rapid pace of apartment construction.

“We’re getting to be like Northern Virginia,” is a frequently heard lament. And when a laid-back institution like Legend loses a beloved and beautiful amenity, nobody is happy.

Richmond developers try to maximize the profit they can get from buildings with a view.

I stopped by the Legend deck recently at dusk. Clear skies illuminated the financial district across the river. In the gradually dimming daylight, the parabolic concrete arches under the Manchester Bridge performed a reflected light show of their own. I then swung my chair 180 degrees away from the view of train tracks, floodwall and The View as I looked west toward Seventh Street.

It has become a critical thoroughfare in the neighborhood since it’s the only cross street that slices completely through industrial Manchester south from Semmes Avenue to Hull Street and beyond. Diagonally, across Seventh Street from Legend, a massive, 255-unit, 6-story apartment complex under construction at 700 W. Seventh St. has taken shape.

Peering through the willow oak trees past the Legend parking lot and up McDonough Street and across Commerce Road, a new vista emerges. One sees the residential Terraces at Manchester, the Link Apartments, and the UPS Freight building meld to form a strong urban wall. To the north of Legend, a block of new townhouses named McCrae & Lacy, an architecturally underwhelming housing block, bookends the brewery. It’s beginning to look like a real city around there.

Legend’s management and even more recent homesteaders sense that they are losing things —like a beloved view. But what are they gaining? Well, hundreds of new resident neighbors, potential customers, and others who will write the neighborhood’ s next chapter.

Legend should embrace the new residents, many of whom will stroll to the pub and not require parking. Why not spruce up Legend’s secondary patio that fronts Seventh Street so it doesn’t look like another marginal roadside attraction but something that elevates the scene?

Why not push the city for new and improved sidewalks and curbside landscaping? Let’s widen the too-narrow streets that lead to the proposed 350-apartment structure on Sixth Street and make sure emergency equipment has access. Consider, the proposed Sixth Street apartment site will be situated in the mother of all cul-de-sacs.

Moving a few blocks south, what is the increased population density going to mean overall to the comfort level of those who live, visit or work in Manchester? Hull Street desperately needs more traffic lights and markings at pedestrian crossings.

How about parks and public recreational spots, even small ones? Jumpstart the development of Bridgepark, the ambitious plan to create a linear greenway through Manchester along Commerce Road and onto the Manchester Bridge and beyond.

And what about Manchester’s narrow one-way streets? Issues of lack of affordable housing, a grocery store and housing those with no place to live should also be discussed.

Legend knows its home territory. It’s been on Seventh Street for a long time. It can use goodwill, leadership and a sharpened vision to bat beyond its size in asking the right questions. With serious and pressing issues about fast-growing Manchester going unaddressed, moaning over the potential loss of a great view will solve nothing. Try this: ask the developer, Avery Hall, to design Legend a deck in the new complex, and for inclement weather, a room with a view.

The view from Legend Brewing’s deck would be impacted by a proposed high-rise apartment building. (BizSense file photos)

I don’t recall other news that the Richmond Times-Dispatch published on its front page one day recently, but a three-column headline caught my eye: “Proposed Manchester high-rise may block views of the city’s skyline.”

Geez, stop the presses.

In Manchester, the folks at Legend Brewing Co., who operate a dining room and outdoor deck at 321 W. Seventh St., are understandably concerned. A 350-apartment high-rise is proposed for the block across the street at 301 W. Sixth St. It would block most of the iconic view of the downtown skyline that’s made the brewery a destination. Ellen Robertson, the city councilwoman who represents the neighborhood, reportedly says the proposed project, by developer Avery Hall Investments, won’t be approved until neighborhood stakeholders have had a say.

Legend, which opened in 1994 as a smaller operation in Manchester when the neighborhood looked like something akin to the set of a “Mad Max” movie, has long been the only Southside eatery with a sweeping vista from downtown to Church Hill. The simple, salt-treated wooden deck extends northward from its dining room along a slight ridge that’s parallel to both Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and a stretch of the Manchester floodwall. It’s a multi-generational destination where the pub grub is mitigated by the glorious view and occasional live music.

Trouble is, Legend doesn’t own the popular view. And years ago the brewery couldn’t have foreseen the fast pace of changes in Manchester. But anyone who’s not been under a river rock for the past few years knows the district has witnessed a tsunami of apartment construction. Legend may be the oldest craft brewery in the state, but its current urban environs are almost unrecognizable contrasted to what they were in the ’90s. The City of Richmond has no code or design restrictions that regulate building heights along the river, or setbacks. Some former city planners have advocated for gradual increases in building heights, stepping back from the water. Other planning officials cite the practical complexity of devising and enforcing such an aesthetic approach. And it’s no secret that instead of placing lower structures closest to the river and ever taller ones behind these, the American way is to maximize (and monetize) the view you have while you can.

When the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank built its shimmering tower by architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1978, it pushed its gleaning shaft close to the James River’s edge. And isn’t CoStar flexing its corporate muscle by threatening to build an even taller building nearby? In Manchester, one of the newest and tallest apartment buildings is South Falls Tower, designed by Walter Parks Architects, a crisp-looking complex at 111 Hull St. that’s built flush to the floodwall.

Of course, there’s moolah in the sky and in many cities great views from residential and office towers can spike rents 25 percent. Some cities even tax great views. And yes, somebody measures these things. According to the Lawn Love website, Honolulu offers the best city views, with Atlanta and San Francisco coming in second and third, respectively.

Legend’s misgivings about the proposed behemoth to its north also reflects a general reluctance for folks hereabouts to embrace the current rapid pace of apartment construction.

“We’re getting to be like Northern Virginia,” is a frequently heard lament. And when a laid-back institution like Legend loses a beloved and beautiful amenity, nobody is happy.

Richmond developers try to maximize the profit they can get from buildings with a view.

I stopped by the Legend deck recently at dusk. Clear skies illuminated the financial district across the river. In the gradually dimming daylight, the parabolic concrete arches under the Manchester Bridge performed a reflected light show of their own. I then swung my chair 180 degrees away from the view of train tracks, floodwall and The View as I looked west toward Seventh Street.

It has become a critical thoroughfare in the neighborhood since it’s the only cross street that slices completely through industrial Manchester south from Semmes Avenue to Hull Street and beyond. Diagonally, across Seventh Street from Legend, a massive, 255-unit, 6-story apartment complex under construction at 700 W. Seventh St. has taken shape.

Peering through the willow oak trees past the Legend parking lot and up McDonough Street and across Commerce Road, a new vista emerges. One sees the residential Terraces at Manchester, the Link Apartments, and the UPS Freight building meld to form a strong urban wall. To the north of Legend, a block of new townhouses named McCrae & Lacy, an architecturally underwhelming housing block, bookends the brewery. It’s beginning to look like a real city around there.

Legend’s management and even more recent homesteaders sense that they are losing things —like a beloved view. But what are they gaining? Well, hundreds of new resident neighbors, potential customers, and others who will write the neighborhood’ s next chapter.

Legend should embrace the new residents, many of whom will stroll to the pub and not require parking. Why not spruce up Legend’s secondary patio that fronts Seventh Street so it doesn’t look like another marginal roadside attraction but something that elevates the scene?

Why not push the city for new and improved sidewalks and curbside landscaping? Let’s widen the too-narrow streets that lead to the proposed 350-apartment structure on Sixth Street and make sure emergency equipment has access. Consider, the proposed Sixth Street apartment site will be situated in the mother of all cul-de-sacs.

Moving a few blocks south, what is the increased population density going to mean overall to the comfort level of those who live, visit or work in Manchester? Hull Street desperately needs more traffic lights and markings at pedestrian crossings.

How about parks and public recreational spots, even small ones? Jumpstart the development of Bridgepark, the ambitious plan to create a linear greenway through Manchester along Commerce Road and onto the Manchester Bridge and beyond.

And what about Manchester’s narrow one-way streets? Issues of lack of affordable housing, a grocery store and housing those with no place to live should also be discussed.

Legend knows its home territory. It’s been on Seventh Street for a long time. It can use goodwill, leadership and a sharpened vision to bat beyond its size in asking the right questions. With serious and pressing issues about fast-growing Manchester going unaddressed, moaning over the potential loss of a great view will solve nothing. Try this: ask the developer, Avery Hall, to design Legend a deck in the new complex, and for inclement weather, a room with a view.

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Michael Patterson
Michael Patterson
1 month ago

Fantastic read. Well done, Mr Slipek. Would love to have more guest commentaries like this one more often.

Trevor Dickerson
Trevor Dickerson
1 month ago

You nailed it yet again, Edwin. This applies to so many things around town. Legend is a great spot and the view will definitely be missed if this project moves forward! I have a lot of great memories there. But we need to stop sulking about change and “the way things were” and turn toward building a better future. What a great opportunity this would be to update Legend’s terribly dated building and aging deck and reinvigorate the business with a cool new spot inside the new building facing the river.

Last edited 1 month ago by Trevor Dickerson
Steve Leibovic
Steve Leibovic
1 month ago

Great comments, Ed. Your commentary reflects a full understanding of the development that we have been fortunate to enjoy in the City, as well as a forward looking aesthetic that recognizes the benefits that thoughtful design and development afford the community.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
1 month ago

The proposed Bridgepark is focusing on the wrong bridge. It would remove 2 lanes of traffic away from a bridge that is the perfect conduit between north and south Richmond. The proposed pedestrian park should be built on The Mayo Island Bridge which has long been an inadequate vehicle thoroughfare and problematic on both sides of the river. i tried to cross Hull Street the other day near 7th and discovered that one risks life and limb crossing that street even in the middle of the day. South-bound vehicles are traveling 40 to 50 mph in an attempt to beat… Read more »

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

I like a lot of your thoughts here, but I cannot imagine closing the Mayo Bridge to automobile traffic as it is such an important and direct conduit to Hull from the Eastern sections of the city. Swinging around to 9th St, Commerce, and then back to Hull is a surprisingly large detour and would certainly discourage me from choosing Manchester businesses over others (the better bus access would help).

Perhaps a new river crossing from the Maury St. interchange to the Dock/Main St. roundabout could alleviate this concern (this would help the 14th St./Dock intersection tremendously).

Shelton Fraher
Shelton Fraher
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Very good points. I agree with your concerns but not necessarily your proposed solutions. Manchester needs an overhaul of traffic lights and pedestrian walkways, all over, if it wants to be a traversable neighborhood on foot. Couldn’t this be the solution to foot traffic along Hull St. as opposed to shutting down an entire bridge permanently? Vehicle traffic continues to go to that bridge because it’s the best way to cross from Manchester to Shockoe/get to the east end, especially via dock street, without getting caught in downtown congestion. The Bridgepark concept really only works because the Manchester Bridge is… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
1 month ago
Reply to  Shelton Fraher

The $100MM is for a whole new bridge—not repairs—which will not use the existing piers. Yet, it will still be in the floodplain and they’ll have to buy island ROW and construction access from the Shaias. It solves nothing.

Ben Hoppe
Ben Hoppe
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

This right here. The Mayo Bridge would make a perfect pedestrian park and support the communities on both side. Proposals have been floated to close the Mayo bridge for a multi year expanse while cutting off pedestrian access to the north side. With no core businesses, many are dependent on Shockoe businesses for necessities like groceries and pharmaceuticals. Many residents in Manchester work and/or attend at VCU and walk to work/school and that will cause this to no longer be feasible. Closing the bridge would be an anti-pedestrian move that will hurt the community at large. Moving the bridge down… Read more »

Will Willis
Will Willis
1 month ago

Why not work with the developer and build a roof top bar and tasting room on the new building? That would give them unparalleled views of the city and allow them to expand the production facility or event space in the original building.

John Lindner
John Lindner
1 month ago

Great story. Spot on comments. Time to look forward, not backward.

Favorite line in the piece: “…when the neighborhood looked like something akin to the set of a Mad Max movie.” We need more writing like this!

Matt Merica
Matt Merica
1 month ago

New sidewalks and streets widened and curbside landscaping by the City? Now your article turned into fiction

Jeff Ensley
Jeff Ensley
1 month ago

Slipek finishes his commentary with the same lament I’ve had about recent construction along the river in Manchester… why does none of it contain a commercial portion that fronts the river and offers guests a great view to go with their food and drink? If the new structure could incorporate a tasting room and patio for Legend with a view superior to their current one, there would be no debate. The question is, will this really happen based on recent construction and if it doesn’t, why not?

Carl Schwendeman
Carl Schwendeman
1 month ago

Apartment rents are skyrocketing due to overpopulation and Richmond can’t sprawl it’s way out of this housing shortage the only way to go is to tap the limitless space that sits above city.

I honesty think Richmond should rezone the whole city to allow everything to be a minimum of 4 stories tall to deal with the housing shortages.

Leo Melvin
Leo Melvin
1 month ago

What so many people don’t understand is that for a long time very few people wanted to live in the city. As recently as the 1990’s, Richmond was known nationally as the murder capital. Suddenly, around the early 2000’s almost overnight, attitudes changed and the number of people moving here from other areas, especially Northern Virginia, increased exponentially.

Manchester is an urban industrial neighborhood, so high rises must be allowed. That being said, however, it will take many years of construction to truly ease the housing shortage.

Mary Conner
Mary Conner
1 month ago

Ed as a friend I have to be honest as I always enjoy your knowledge of Richmond and your historical presentations throughout the years, however don’t agree with you on our riverview. Legend and all of Manchester and the Richmond Community deserve to enjoy the lovely view. Raised in Studley, Virginia and having known the Manchester area since my youth as my father’s family operated their W. S. Donnan Hardware I frequented lots. As well know the Legend facility too and Tom and his Mom and Dad have done so much since 1994 to improve the area. Just like Hanover… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
29 days ago
Reply to  Mary Conner

Imagine that — there’s someone here that doesn’t want more Wegmans — and likely misses Ukrops.

Virginia is FILLED with farmland, and it is often the LEAST productive use of suburban land — which is why it gets sold to developers.

Tim Pfohl
Tim Pfohl
1 month ago

sadly, you can’t protect a viewshed unless you control it through ownership, easements or other land use controls, and Legend is bound to lose a good chunk of that uninterrupted view. however, I expected Ed to discuss the idea of breaking up the massing (rather than simply the height) of large riverfront structures to ensure light, air, views, and avoid the walling off of the river and its views and access to only those with the property most adjacent to the river. a well-crafted riverfront overly district could accomplish several public and private goals

Last edited 1 month ago by Tim Pfohl
Jeff Ensley
Jeff Ensley
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Pfohl

Church Hill would beg to differ. They’ve Nimbyed a couple high profile developments in Shockoe Bottom based on them having their view altered. While they could technically argue the view was historic, I tend to think their deep pockets had more to do with them winning over City government.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
29 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Ensley

I think you should add to your theory that there are MORE deep pockets, since I think that would be more accurate —- seems to me that the people who enjoy the views in Church hill are more numerous — and judging from the size of this bldg, more people will enjoy the view there near Legend AFTER it is built — even if they won’t be owning the views, just renting them.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
30 days ago

Thank you for presenting something a little different from the usual conservative Richmond “Preservationist” theme of “Don’t change things” I think that things worth preserving are worth preserving; but deciding what fits that description is where the real arguments are, and should be. The whole “We are becoming NOVA” is itself a very provincial viewpoint — the problem with NOVA is NOT tall bldgs — as someone who lived in Falls Church for two years and had to drive around a LOT up there, I can tell you that, other than parking issues, the best parts of NOVA TEND to… Read more »

karl hott
karl hott
29 days ago

I’m sure Legend won’t mind the boost to their business that comes with hundreds of new residents moving in just a block or two away. Tell me a restaurant that wouldn’t want more people, a lot more people, within walking distance.