Guest Commentary: A Manchester view from Manchester

A rendering of what the new view from Legend Brewing’s deck would look like with the proposed apartment towers built. (Images courtesy of Avery Hall Investments)

In a recent guest commentary in Richmond BizSense, Ed Slipek made several good points about the Old Manchester neighborhood and improvements that can be made in development, though it missed the broader issues associated with the now 550-unit apartment towers proposed by New York City-based developers Avery Hall.

The proposed project (one 16-story tower and one 17-story tower) would “be situated in the mother of all cul-de-sacs,” to quote Slipek. Only one way in and one way out for nearly 1,000 people seems like a potential traffic nightmare and serious public safety situation to me. The proposal would create the tallest buildings in Manchester and largest apartment development in the city by far and would have a significant impact on the overall Manchester community.

Don’t get me wrong, the development of Manchester is a good thing for Richmond and our neighborhood. However, fast-paced building development coupled with little to no work on efforts to make Manchester more “livable” is a recipe for long-term disaster.

Unfortunately, the sole focus in Manchester for the past 8-10 years has been on “density” and how aggressively can developers be courted into building yet more rental property on every available lot. One look at the interactive map on Richmond BizSense and you will see almost nothing but proposed developments.

There are currently at least 20 current or proposed projects bringing more than 3,000 new rental units in various stages of development in Manchester, on top of many that have been completed in recent years. Just walk or drive around the neighborhood… you can’t avoid the closed streets, closed sidewalks, cranes and construction workers. And yet, there are no concurrent projects going on to make this neighborhood more “livable” or to reduce one of Richmond’s “hot zones” or to create safe spaces for our residents to walk or bike or play.

Investment in parks and green space is lacking. There has been little done to address parking, traffic, and pedestrian and bicycle safety. We’ve seen no affordable housing developed. And there is little to no investment in or support for the local businesses that have chosen Manchester as their home. Addressing these and other subjects has lagged far behind the aggressive pace of development in Manchester over the past several years.

The massive Avery Hall project will need a special use permit to build as proposed due to its intentional excess of what is allowed and ignorance of other requirements. And that requires getting input from the community, followed by decisions by the Planning Department and City Council. Based on conversations with folks sitting on the deck at Legend brewery, with neighbors, and with other business owners, there will be plenty of input provided.

Special use permits are intended to review projects that exceed normal regulatory requirements to ensure that they are not detrimental to traffic congestion, will not create fire, panic, or other hazards, will not overcrowd land, or cause undue concentration of population, etc. And they are intended to be “special,” but they are becoming “standard” in Manchester.

The 2.2-acre Avery Hall site sits just north of Legend Brewing Co. (BizSense file images)

The proposal, even as amended to address the concern over the view from Legend’s deck, remains wildly unpopular among Manchester residents, business owners and visitors.  Significant questions remain over the broad impact such a massive project will have on our neighborhood. Mr. Slipek is correct that these subjects need continued discussion and creative, cost-effective solutions. We welcome him to this conversation. The City of Richmond included these issues in the Richmond 300 Master Plan (and a previous Manchester-specific plan). But all the things that make the neighborhood more livable are not a priority while apartment development moves forward at warp speed.

Aside from this specific Avery Hall project, we should not continue down the “full-speed ahead” path for development coupled with the “stuck in neutral” path for green space and for addressing other prominent issues. The residents of Manchester do not want to live in a concrete jungle that resembles the exceptionally ugly 1960’s and 1970’s urban development in places like Crystal City in Northern Virginia. We want a vibrant, walkable, diverse community that has trees and sidewalks and bike paths and views of the wonderful James River from our local spots.

It’s time to hit the pause button on additional development in Manchester until a clear path forward is outlined addressing residential development, green space, traffic, affordable housing, parking, and all the inter-related issues impacting our neighborhood. It’s time to harmonize development with all those things that make a neighborhood livable.

We need to engage in a more serious dialogue about how to bring more parks and green space, address parking challenges, find ways to reduce the speed of cars racing down Commerce Road, Seventh Street, and other streets before someone gets hurt. And yes, we need to talk about where and how further development and density should be accomplished. Density for density’s sake is not a mantra that the City of Richmond should embrace.

Manchester has a great future ahead of it, but let’s take a pause to make sure we get it right.

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Susan Mossem
Susan Mossem
12 days ago

Well said.

Ryan Perry
Ryan Perry
12 days ago

As a Manchester Resident, I support this project. This commentary misses that there are multiple street projects in the works, including the East Coast Greenway, Future BRT expansion, new Mayo Bridge and Hull Street improvements. We are already next door to the largest park in the city (James River Park System) which is also slatted for future upgrades. A few of the 20+ projects are income restricted and/or mixed income. The best way to make a place more affordable is to make it more walkable. That includes density, mixed use and removing minimum parking requirements. Give a household the opportunity… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Ryan Perry
Justin Reynolds
Justin Reynolds
12 days ago
Reply to  Ryan Perry

Agreed, Ryan. Manchester was first an industrial area and out of that it’s growing more dense while next to the vast James River Parks System. I agree Manchester could use more trees and other infrastructure improvements, just like Scotts Addition, which has even less than Manchester. However to say we need to slow down growth doesn’t make sense. Manchester needs a critical mass of people to support the livable components this writer desires. Bedrooms always come before retail.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
12 days ago
Reply to  Ryan Perry

We are already next door to the largest park in the city (James River Park System) which is also slatted for future upgrades Just because Manchester is close to the river doesn’t mean developers should not be responsible for what they build. Also it’s laughable on it’s face that all these high end high rises benefit anyone’s access to the river. By their very nature all these riverfront high rises block views, restrict access and add pollution to the river. Unless you are a tax break/rebate funded developer or the target market for these high rises, you have to admit… Read more »

Ryan Perry
Ryan Perry
12 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

How does the high rise block anyone’s access to the river? Is there a public path that is being cut off? How will increased tax revenue not support getting the things we need in the city? If your argument is about tax distribution throughout the city, then that would be valid. People are moving to Richmond and they need somewhere to go. Limiting the supply only causes rents/home prices to go higher. If you can provide valid evidence of the contrary, we’d all be happy to hear.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
7 days ago
Reply to  Ryan Perry

“How does the high rise block anyone’s access to the river? Is there a public path that is being cut off?”
It is the exact same strategy as is being used on beaches on both coasts. You can’t park there, you can’t cross the private land, but sure the shore line is a free resource for all.
Public access needs to be saved, or the private owners need to step up and pay specific waterfront taxes.

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
12 days ago

Did I read that the developer adjusted the site plan to create an in-ground parking structure at great expense to accommodate concerns about the viewshed of a private business? I’ll assume this expense is offset by the increased density requested by the developers. They could, in fact, build by-right what was originally envisioned for the site and ignore everything the community was asking for. Attempting to extract additional, and costly, concessions from the developer for this project risks killing the project altogether. Does this person really live in Manchester? The congested, unsafe traffic along 7th Street and a lack of… Read more »

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
12 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Stein

It is really funny to watch developers act like sodalists when they want something, expecting everyone in the region to subsidize the infrastructure for roads, transit, power, water, and dealing with waste. If you don’t realize that every person in Manchester wants a GROCERY STORE you either need your ears checked, or your eyes checked. Also as some one who grew up under the reign of terror the Silvers imposed on Fredericksburg, demanding that developers put up amenities FIRST before being allowed to reap profits off an area is only common sense. Once the lease is signed on the last… Read more »

Ryan Perry
Ryan Perry
12 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

There are two buildings in the works that are marketing toward a grocery store. Are those developers bad too? How is the city supposed to force a grocery store into opening? They need customers and the way to get customers is to increase the headcount.

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago
Reply to  Ryan Perry

Precisely, Ryan! 100% agreed. Without a critical mass of residents nearby, a grocer is not going to make the investment necessary to open a store in Manchester. The very fact that NO grocers have invested in a Manchester location – YET – is a true and accurate indicator that the population of the district is not nearly large enough yet to support such an investment. It’s GETTING there – make no mistake. But it will get there a LOT sooner (and by extension, so will a grocery store) with developments like Avery Hall’s towers helping to boost the population closer… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Peter James
Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
8 days ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

I’ll echo the Silvers’ absolute stranglehold in FBG is not a model to emulate. Always demand the appropriate amenities up front, in writing, and hold them to it throughout the process, or you end up with a mess. That family is greatly responsible for some of the traffic woes from exits 130 and 133.

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
1 day ago

How is this relevant at all to Avery Hall’s ONE development in Virginia?

Your beef seems to be with the City lacking an enforcement mechanism to extract development proffers city-wide for public amenities and infrastructure. So your frustrations seem wildly misdirected at the wrong people.

Stop the one developer’s proposal because you don’t like the city-wide process? Care to elaborate how this is supposed to make sense?

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
1 day ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Isn’t what is happening the mirror opposite of what you are claiming?

It’s Legend’s and a small handful of NIMBY residents that seem to “want something” extracted from an independent development. I would go so far as to say kill the development altogether just for their own personal, short-term gains.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
12 days ago

“Wildly unpopular” ? Get real.

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Well said!

Kelly O'Keefe
Kelly O'Keefe
12 days ago

Sorry Joe, you’re just wrong about this. High-density development is not only the future of Richmond, it’s the future everywhere. It is both economically and environmentally friendly and it paves the way for more affordable living for residents. And if it’s the view of the river you’re worried about, that view will now be available to many more people than the crew that frequents Legend. (Which I’m happy to be a part of.) Also, your characterization of Ed Slipek’s remarks makes the impression he is opposed to the development when his article is actually supportive. Not cool.

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago
Reply to  Kelly O'Keefe

Kelly – that’s a very good and accurate point. Professor Slipek was, in fact, supportive of the development and his chief concern was that the city should be called upon to provide better, stronger infrastructure to support these kinds of developments – not that the development be halted. Unfortunately, Mr. Yates’ opinion piece is filled with mischaracterizations that paints a totally incorrect picture regarding this project, and sorely overlooks the fact that while the developer has bent over backwards to address neighbors’ concerns at GREAT expense, it is, in fact, the neighbors who are being the bad-faith actors by constantly… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Peter James
Will Bennett
Will Bennett
12 days ago

I think the author is mischaracterizing the use of a Special Use Permit in this case. My understanding from the last Manchester Alliance meeting was that the developer had an as-of-right scheme with a similar number of units that would have obliterated the Legends views, and that the current taller but narrower scheme was to accommodate them because of all the fuss Dave Gott kicked up. If that’s the case, then this SUP is not “intentional excess of what is allowed and ignorance of other requirements” but is in deference to a local business with long roots in the community.… Read more »

Austin Hobson
Austin Hobson
12 days ago

I lived in Manchester just up until about a year ago, my brother lives there now. We both support this project. I’d have loved to continue living in Manchester but unfortunately the housing stock is woefully lower than what it needs to be, something these apartments and all the other developments are helping with. Otherwise wealthy people are just gonna snag the single family homes when they are put up for sale and drive out the previous residents anyways, something I never hear mentioned when there’s talk of “hitting the pause button” on all new construction. And finally I have… Read more »

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
12 days ago

It’s time for a quality supermarket in Manchester with some, but not a great deal of complimentary retail. If the City of Richmond micromanages the growth in Manchester developers will vanish. The blueprint, in my opinion, has been Scotts Addition.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
12 days ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

Perhaps an ALDI or something similar could fit nicely on the Legend’s Brewing parcel? Everyone wins (except Gott)!

karl hott
karl hott
12 days ago

I’ve lived in Manchester for 19 years and I couldn’t put it better myself. Most residents aren’t opposed to growth overall or growing up. But amenities at the ground level are being overlooked (parking, green space, traffic, etc.). All that citizens like myself are asking for is a 360 approach to development. Manchester is exploding and explosions usually creates shockwaves (for better and worse).

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
12 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Except that’s not the responsibility of a single developer and their plot of land. What ground level amenities is your residence providing for the community?

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago
Reply to  karl hott

Fine – ask for infrastructure improvements. The city can and should provide better traffic control, better street lighting, better sidewalks. Green spaces you have in DROVES – JRPS is literally right there on the riverfront. What more do you need? Asking for better infrastructure is a reasonable ask. Demanding a slowdown or halt to Manchester growing is not. We don’t need to stop the whole machine to get it upgraded. If you want ground-level, street-level amenities, you need a critical mass of people to support such things. There have been no such amenities in Manchester for decades because there’s been… Read more »

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
6 days ago
Reply to  Peter James

“The city can and should provide better traffic control, better street lighting, better sidewalks. ” So all the taxpayers in the areas can subsidize the developers investments?

The “Critical mass” will be the food dessert the bad polices are already creating.

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
1 day ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

How is this relevant at all to Avery Hall’s ONE development in Virginia?

Your beef seems to be with the City lacking an enforcement mechanism to extract development proffers city-wide for public amenities and infrastructure. So your frustrations seem wildly misdirected at the wrong people.

Stop the one developer’s proposal because you don’t like the city-wide process? Care to elaborate how this is supposed to make sense?

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago

I support the Avery Hall development 100% and look forward to it not only enhancing Manchester’s burgeoning skyline but more importantly helping Manchester reach a critical mass of people necessary to create a vibrant, lively 24-7-365 section of the city capable of supporting amenities such as a grocery store, street-level retail/dining/entertainment, etc. As others who have responded in the comments section have correctly stated, Mr. Yates opinion piece is miles off base in a number of areas, and I won’t rehash them since they have been articulated so well by others. I WILL say, however, that “hitting the pause button”… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Peter James
Ray Olson, Jr.
Ray Olson, Jr.
12 days ago

I support the opinion represented in this article. As a residential owner these are important points. I would support more owner occupied space than rental to provide some balance for our neighborhood.

Peter James
Peter James
12 days ago
Reply to  Ray Olson, Jr.

Regarding owner-occupied dwellings in Manchester: I would be 100% in favor of high rise condominium buildings being added to the mix down the road. Adding in a few condominium towers would open up home-ownership opportunities and, by themselves, would boost the amount of tax revenue available from new development, a definite win for the city. They would also help maintain Manchester’s momentum by continuing to encourage density, helping to create the critical mass of residents necessary to draw significant business investment into the neighborhood, including a grocer, street-level retail, dining and entertainment opportunities, and even office development. That component (office… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Peter James
John Richmond
John Richmond
12 days ago

To answer the narrow question of what to do about traffic speeds on Commerce, I’d like to see a lane get taken away in each direction and turned into a bike/bus lane. This would reduce speeds, drag racing, and traffic noise. Commerce does not have an amount of traffic that requires three lanes each way and it is unlikely that it ever will.

Leslie Brown
Leslie Brown
10 days ago

Asking for a balanced approach that says with development should come some affordable housing, some accessible family green and play space (and no, while a lovely hike, the JRPS is not a family park and is only for the fully mobile), some community space and some consideration of pedestrian traffic seems very reasonable. My understanding of the Avery Hall proposal was that without the SUP approval it was about 75% less dense… so contributing to a more balanced community seems a fair trade-off. As community members, we need to worry less about the developer’s (fairly typical) expense in revising drawings,… Read more »

Peter James
Peter James
10 days ago
Reply to  Leslie Brown

So can you please explain with verifiable facts exactly how Avery Hall’s revised development in any way precludes Manchester from having places for people to walk, to play with a dog, to push strollers, to bike to work, to sit under a tree? You say you want folks to have places to go to play chess, to shop, to have a coffee or a beer – those kinds of places are far more likely to be organically drawn to Manchester if/when the district reaches a critical mass of residents living there to support such things. Projects such as that which… Read more »

Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones
10 days ago
Reply to  Peter James

You’re check from Avery Point must have just cleared.

Peter James
Peter James
9 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Jones

Nice! Clearly unable to make any cogent argument based on legitimate facts related to the TOPIC, yeah? Amazing how when one lacks actual facts they veer from discussion of the actual topic and fall back on pointless personal attacks – because they have no real, legitimate points on the topic at hand and have absolutely nothing meaningful to bring to the discussion.

Last edited 9 days ago by Peter James
Linwood Hines
Linwood Hines
10 days ago

The city should be ashamed. The planning department, the mayor’s office, all of those PEOPLE who don’t have the guts to say enough is enough! For God’ssake, for the peoples’ sake, leave a balance of green to gray! The city, et al, has ruined the shoreline of one of the most wonderful, most beautiful rivers in the world by cramming concrete towers to any square foot of precious earth for what? Tax revenue? Salary increases of top line officials? Or are they just prejudiced toward natural earth? Do they hate Legend Brewing, and the wonderful sight of what’s left of… Read more »

Austin Hobson
Austin Hobson
9 days ago
Reply to  Linwood Hines

Ah yes, the weed strewn abandoned lot that those towers would be on is such a loss of green space /s. Don’t forget that there were warehouses there just a decade ago so its not like this is old growth forest we are losing.

And yes, as a city constrained by our ability to annex new land or exist within a larger county we absolutely need to increase tax revenues to the city. Something large residential towers will do. How else are we going to afford all the services the city needs?

Last edited 9 days ago by Austin Hobson
Peter James
Peter James
9 days ago
Reply to  Linwood Hines

Respectfully, this is the most non-sensical, inaccurate and flat-out fallacious take I’ve ever seen on these forums over the years. “Cramming concrete towers into every square foot”? Seriously? Sir, no one – NO ONE – will confuse the Richmond landscape, which is replete with vast seas of vacant, undeveloped lots, with Midtown Manhattan or Hong Kong or Dubai. Ruined the shoreline? Have you compared the RVA shoreline with ANY city of comparable size recently? Obviously not – otherwise you would clearly see that the amount of greenery that lines both sides of the James throughout the city has no equal… Read more »

Last edited 9 days ago by Peter James