For at least the third time in its history, Willow Lawn is being eyed for a major transformation.
Owner Federal Realty Investment Trust recently unveiled a long-term plan to redevelop the shopping center and its 37 acres into a new mixed-use district, that over time could include over 2,200 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space.
The Maryland-based real estate firm spelled out its plans in a request it filed last month in Henrico, seeking to rezone Willow Lawn to the county’s Urban Mixed-Use Planned Development District designation.
“Changes in the way people live and work, the need for more housing, and the renewed interest in mixed-use areas have led (Federal Realty) to revitalize the area and allow Willow Lawn to be reinvented again,” Federal Realty’s application states.
In a statement sent to BizSense Monday morning, Federal Realty spokespeople said the firm is “taking the first steps to provide a future vision for Willow Lawn to continue its evolution and relevancy for upcoming generation.”
Initially built in 1956 as one of the first major shopping centers outside of downtown, Willow Lawn was bought by Federal Realty in the 1980s and transformed into an enclosed mall. The company reversed course in 2005 and converted the mall back into an open strip center. Another renovation followed in the early 2010s.
Willow Lawn currently has around 620,000 square feet of commercial space spread across a mix of about 10 big-box, in-line and outparcel storefronts. Construction continues at the center today as new restaurant and retail tenants prepare to open.
While Federal Realty’s rezoning request doesn’t explicitly lay out the specs of each new building it’s hoping to build, planning documents show that the firm is looking to replace many of the existing commercial buildings with mixed-use structures, some reaching as high as 175 feet – equal to 16 or 17 stories – in pursuit of building a moderate-to-high density development in a “compact, walkable setting.”
The document states that most of the new construction is envisioned primarily on the existing surface parking lots.
The Gold’s Gym, Ross Dress For Less and Michaels buildings and surrounding 8 acres would be redeveloped to house 715 residential units and 34,000 square feet of retail space. The Kroger and Dick’s Sporting Goods sites would be transformed to include 120 apartments and 140,000 square feet of commercial space.
The redevelopment would break the property down into 11 mixed-use areas to be built in phases over a stretch of 20 to 30 years.
“Redeveloping Willow Lawn will occur over time as retail tenants move and change and opportunities become available to add residential, retail, and office uses,” the company states in its rezoning materials. “The rezoning request will allow the applicant to respond to the market and continue to improve the property.”
The company states in its application that architecture at the new Willow Lawn would be inspired by the former Miller & Rhoads department store building at 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, which now houses office space for home security firm SimpliSafe as well as restaurant and retail space for tenants like Cava and Lucky Road Run Shop.
Also included in plans are open spaces consisting of recreational areas like pools, plazas, ball courts and rooftops, and Federal Realty states in its application that its plans include streetscape sections with landscaped medians, parking lots and sidewalks. As the redevelopment occurs, new street grid would be built, some with one- and two-way traffic and others with and without on-street parking, per the rezoning application.
A central courtyard is also planned, and a proffered condition calls for building the courtyard before more than 745 residential units could be constructed.
Many of the current surface parking lots at Willow Lawn would be replaced by new buildings and structured parking decks, the latter of which would be required to be wrapped with residential or commercial uses.
A parking study by local engineering firm Timmons Group that was included in Federal Realty’s rezoning request shows the redevelopment would require over 4,600 parking spaces at completion.
Poole & Poole Architecture helped prepare the master plan booklet for the rezoning request.
Federal Realty’s rezoning request is scheduled to be heard by Henrico’s Planning Commission at its Aug. 10 meeting. However, Henrico’s planning staff recommended deferring the matter to give Federal Realty time to clarify some of the project’s proffered conditions.
In its report to the commission, planning staff writes that Federal Realty’s request meets the intent of the Urban Mixed-Use District and that the proposal would, “add residential and additional civic uses to an established commercial development in close proximity to major transportation corridors and public transit.”
Federal Realty held a community meeting regarding the project last month.
Another high-profile employment of the Urban Mixed-Use zoning in Henrico is at Innsbrook, where multiple developers are working on residential projects in the office park .
Other developers have been circling Willow Lawn for residential development in recent years, including Scott Boyers, who’s planning a six-story apartment building on Augusta Avenue. Thalhimer Realty Partners and Crenshaw Realty had also been looking to build a pair of 7-story apartments across Willow Lawn Drive, but shelved plans for one of those last year while the county and GRTC work out how to handle bus and commuter traffic near the Willow Lawn stop on the Pulse bus line.