Two separate proposals to bring a combined 500 apartments to South Richmond

elmington richmond site Cropped scaled

A nearly 7-acre site across from Fire Station 17 is being eyed for income-restricted apartments. (Mike Platania photos)

More than 500 apartments are in the works near the intersection of Semmes and Cowardin avenues in Richmond’s Southside, courtesy of two out-of-town developers. 

Dallas-based Trammell Crow Residential is planning three apartment buildings totaling 260 units at 2000 Semmes Ave. and 418 Cowardin Ave., while Tennessee-based Elmington is planning roughly the same number of units at 2201 McDonough St.

Trammell Crow’s project would rise on a 5.3-acre plot that’s been eyed for a variety of uses over the years, including a Wawa, office space and retail outparcel. Elmington, meanwhile, is looking to build on a 6.7-acre parcel that was formerly a mobile home park, located downhill of Semmes Avenue and across from Richmond Fire Station 17. 

The new developments would flank Harper Associates’ Belle Heights townhome development. Harper Associates, which is based in Richmond, owns the land that Trammell Crow and Elmington are targeting for development. 

trammell crow alexan manchester rendering2

Renderings of the various buildings Trammell Crow Residential is planning. (City documents)

Trammell Crow touts itself as one of the largest developers in the United States, having built over 265,000 residences in its 40-plus-year history. It’s a subsidiary of Crow Holdings, a real estate firm whose chairman, Harlan Crow, has made national headlines over the last year for the lavish gifts he’s given to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

According to a plan of development filed with the city last week, Trammell Crow’s project would consist of three separate mid-rise apartment buildings. Two of those would house 100-plus units and reach five and four stories at 1802 and 2000 Semmes Ave., respectively. A four-story, 48-unit building is planned for 418 Cowardin Ave. 

The property at 1802 Semmes Ave. was where now-defunct virtual reality startup Vytal Studios was once planning to convert a warehouse into office space. The Austin, Texas-based company had made a deal with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in 2021 to relocate its headquarters to the site, but that deal fell apart in 2022, and Vytal closed up shortly thereafter. 

The 418 Cowardin Ave. site is located on the corner with Semmes and once housed a gas station, Chinese restaurant and Lucky’s convenience store. Throughout the late 2010s the 1.7-acre site drew interest from the likes of Wawa and Chipotle, but ultimately sold to Harper Associates for $1.9 million in 2022.

trammell crow alexan manchester site Cropped scaled

Once set to become a Wawa, 418 Cowardin Ave. has sat vacant for years.

The new apartments would be under Trammell Crow’s “Alexan” brand, which its website describes as “unique, upscale communities” with “state-of-the-art amenities.” Plans show over 300 parking spaces across the three-building development. 

Dwell Design Studio is listed as the project architect. VHB is the engineer, and Nyfeler Survey is the surveyor. 

It’s unclear whether Trammell Crow has the land under contract or when it hopes to begin construction. The company did not respond to requests for comment, and Harper Associates’ leadership wasn’t available for comment by press time. 

elmington richmond site2 Cropped scaled

Though it sits downhill of Belle Heights and Semmes Avenue, 2201 McDonough St. does not sit in a floodplain.

Down the street at 2201 McDonough, Elmington is looking to construct three buildings on a lot once eyed by Harper for a second phase of Belle Heights townhomes and later a proposed apartment project

Elmington is based in Nashville and builds single-family, multifamily, senior living and lower-income housing. It counts more than 10,000 units in its portfolio and is active mostly in the Sun Belt. 

Its McDonough project would be for low-income residents through its Elmington Affordable subsidiary. The units would be available only to those earning about 60 percent of the area median income. 

The developer unveiled its plans at a community meeting last week held by Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, at which Elmington senior associate Erik Smith said the firm has the land under contract. 

elmington richmond siteplan

A site plan of Elmington’s proposed development. (Screenshot)

Each of the three buildings would reach five stories, though because they’d be downhill of Belle Heights and Semmes Avenue, the development team said they’d appear to be around three stories from street level. The site is not in a floodplain. 

Smith said Elmington anticipates around 260 units for the project, with a ratio of about 1.2 parking spaces per unit. Elmington is pursuing a low-income housing tax credit to help finance the project. Smith said the company expects tenants to pay around $1,100 per month in rent. 

The land is not currently zoned for residential uses, so Elmington is applying for a special-use permit to greenlight the development. The company is working with Williams Mullen’s Megan Nedostup and Preston Lloyd on the SUP process and could go before the Planning Commission sometime this summer. 

Neither Trammell Crow nor Elmington’s proposed developments have any commercial space. The projects are the developers’ first foray into Richmond. 

POSTED IN Commercial Real Estate

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Brett Themore
Brett Themore
3 days ago

On the corner of Semmes and Coward, one of the busiest intersections in the city, and the decision is to build residential? Seems a difficult sell to me, shouldn’t that be commercial, like uh… maybe a desperately needed grocery store? At a minimum, some ground floor retail? It is commercially zoned after all. On the Semmes ave site, another special use permit? Another 5 story apartment? That’s the norm… but this time in a neighborhood of, single family homes, many of which are 1 or 1.5 stories. Some new construction nearby is 2 stories and the new 3 story town… Read more »

Evan Price
Evan Price
3 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

It does seem out of place. Almost gives me the impression of the companies had a building designed and were just looking for a place to build it, rather than having a place and designing something to fit.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
3 days ago
Reply to  Evan Price

The site is too small for a grocer, at least the kind we are used to seeing. I think you’ll see one someday at the corner at 10th and Semmes.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
2 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

The site is not to small, I just did an overlay with the Kroger near VCU and the proposed Cowardin and Semmes lot… VCU Kroger footprint is smaller. Confirmed using City Parcel mapper. VCU is 175,111 and this combined site is 242,833… seems big enough to me.

Charles Frankenhoff
Charles Frankenhoff
3 hours ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Bruce is an expert you realize? And the footprint of an existing store is really not relevant.

The issue is not whether it is big enough for you, but whether it is big enough for the grocery chains. Who want size and demographics.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 days ago
Reply to  Evan Price

Well, they DO have designs ready, that much is true, but your characterization seems off — this site isn’t built into a seaside cliff in Italy, and it’s not like they don’t build bldgs all the time…

Randolph Moore
Randolph Moore
3 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Unfortunately, grocery stores seem only to be built after an area has grown to the point where its profitability can be sustained. I don’t have a problem replacing single-family homes in an area so close to downtown but I would like residential development that promotes more street level pedestrian activity. When I drive through Manchester, it is disheartening to see empty sidewalks; an indicator that the people living there are still automobile centered.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago
Reply to  Randolph Moore

I understand your desires — and I could get with them if it weren’t such a spitting in the wind activity. The reality is that even most urban dwellers in smallish cites like Richmond are not really “urbanists” and they tend to WANT car friendliness. Meanwhile, the Evil Developers will, and can, build whatever the people and their govts want and will pay for — and frequently the Ideal or, the Perfect, in many people’s minds (and this includes me when I am dreaming, but the difference with me is I know I am dreaming) is that even when some… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

If that site was great economics for a grocery, someone would build a grocery there — trust me.

What these projects will do is ENABLE someone to sooner build a grocery somewhere nearby.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
2 days ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

The issue is not the Economics, it’s the already oversaturated market. No grocer wants to build more here, they are already overextended. An an area like this, With more and more lower income housing, it further disincentivizes investment.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Well, though I won’t downvote this, I am not sure I agree without some numbers. Why? Two things. While I agree with you that I can’t understand why grocers keep expanding here (and before anyone reflexively downvotes this, know that you are downvoting the idea that we seem to be Over-Grocered in many areas and part of that assessment has to do with the razor-thin margins of grocers, even supermarkets and the riches of grocery variety hereabouts (MANY people I know drive past at least one supermarket to get to another, and I go to, get this — SIX supermarkets… Read more »

Martha Lee
Martha Lee
2 days ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Interesting. But only if it the “correct” economics are perceived. I taught in the City of Richmond for years. Most of my families shopped at convenience stores and gas stations. Food deserts in Richmond are real, my friends.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago
Reply to  Martha Lee

I guess we are talking about Cuba or Venezuela as far as “correct” (politically?) economics are concerned? Magical economics, where theory is over fact?

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
3 days ago

The 60% ceiling for income as a benchmark for affordable housing has elevated radically in the last 10 years, now about $75,000. These residents are college educated and many will work across the river at CoStar or in the legal and investment firms. If they can afford $1100 per month for a single bedroom, they are making good money. This development is not serving the housing needs of Richmond’s poor. There has to be a better way for the City (and the Counties) to incentivize developers to contribute units for those who make far less than that 60% cap, so… Read more »

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
3 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

I agree. I’ve always maintained that 5-10-15% or whatever of all new buildings over X number of units (maybe 10 sounds good) should be reserved for Low income residents. Don’t ask me what % or development size should require this, that’s for the experts in low income housing (not developers) to decide. There have been countless studies showing deconcentrating of poverty as the best way to bring the next generation above the poverty line. Instead we continue to concentrate these housing types on the east and southside, repeating the errors of the 1950’s – 70’s. Insanity is doing the same… Read more »

Last edited 3 days ago by Brett Themore
David Maughan
David Maughan
1 day ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

Agree that deconcentrating poverty is a good thing. Disagree that mandating for affordable units in very project is a good thing. I learned recently that studies are now showing that it actually hurts overall construction of new units because it makes it more difficult for new housing projects to pencil out financially, so mess housing actually gets built when you have mandates like that across the board. They’re also seeing now that it bifurcates the market because in order to subsidize the low-income units, landlords have to jack up the cost of the other units so it essentially backfires on… Read more »

Beverley Bryant
Beverley Bryant
2 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

There is a disregard for those who are the most in need of affordable housing. Think 30% AMI. Where are the contractors willing to do this? And where is assistance from the city? the counties? The poorest of the poor need us. We need them.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago

Well, the City is borrowing money for a new baseball stadium so, I’m not sure there will be funds left over. As I have pointed out many times, this tends to be either something that WEALTHY enclaves consider to enable their city employees and nurses, etc to be able to live in-town, or it is a Federally originated thing. Some people seem to think that private enterprises should be solving these problems directly and cover their ears when it is explained to them that they WOULD if there was enough profit in it, but when the Federal govt is willing… Read more »

Wes Morgan
Wes Morgan
3 days ago

How many more “upscale communities” does the Richmond area need?

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 days ago
Reply to  Wes Morgan

This is just a classist question.

We need MORE of them in RIchmond, unless we want to remain something like a “Poor City” forever.

Meanwhile, we need more affordable and low income housing — both apts and starterhomes, to be incentivized, probably by the federal govt, for developers to build them at a profit good enough to make it worth the effort and risks.

Will Wilson
Will Wilson
3 days ago

Looking forward to seeing these additional homes go up along Semmes. Welcome to the Richmond region Trammell Crow and Elmington!

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
2 days ago
Reply to  Will Wilson

FYI… Only one of these is on Semmes… and those that are, are on the most busy intersection in the city, buy yeah, let’s put homes there.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

I am not sure “WE” are putting homes ANYWHERE. I don’t know about you, but I am not building any homes, and I kinda resent the busy-body energy of people who are always thinking they know better than the people who drive the changes. I mean, many of those busy-bodies are the types that are demanding more density and to me it is has long been apparent that more density is most easy to accomplish in the greater-manchester area because there are less historical and upper-middle class and ethnicity NIMBYs there, but of course there are subtypes that try to… Read more »

Michael Morgan-Dodson
Michael Morgan-Dodson
3 days ago

Find it interesting that “it is not in the floodplain” comment funny but hey flow the treeline from the Old Manchester Street in the recently developed property of townhomes next to the site over to Bainbridge where the city installed new traffic gates that close during flood events. Where do you THINK the water comes from folks. That bowl has flooded before and will again. The 2018 flood led to condemned of the last mobile homes and fundraisers; 2006 floods washed several units away. I hope the 1st floor is parking or they are planning good drainage improvements at McDonough… Read more »

Peter Hubbel
Peter Hubbel
3 days ago

It is a perfect bowl to collect water and is 100% dependent on storm water drains, which are probably under-sized and/or under-maintained. The “not in a floodplain” classification maybe comes from the elevation relative to the river?

David McGrann
David McGrann
3 days ago

Yeah, I used to live about five blocks west. If it’s not in a floodplain, then there are no floodplains.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago

Def a job for the City to ensure that the site and the construction meet any geo-challenges of this site.

It is my understanding that it is only larger projects that can justify the expense of such, so no new trailer parks (not that that is an option really anywhere these days) for instance, and no new townhomes either.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 days ago

It’s really nice to see companies located in such hot and growing housing markets as the Dallas area (don’t look at the Dallas Stats — look at the suburban localities AROUND Dallas) and TN deciding to invest in RICHMOND, and in the city no less!

William Samuels
William Samuels
3 days ago

The site at 2201 McDonough Street has flooded a number of times during the 40 years that I have lived nearby. There used to be a small mobile home park on the property and it wasn’t that long ago that the residents had to be rescued by boats. At one point the bottom area was known as Tanyard Bottom for the leather tanneries that used to operate there. Topographically, it is the lowest point in a hilly neighborhood and I’m sure it will flood again in the future. Also, building mega-block apartment buildings on the site is totally out of… Read more »

Jeff Stein
Jeff Stein
2 days ago

a very strange comment. I count at least 4 apartment tower blocks within four blocks of this site. One being almost 20 floors of brick towering along the riverfront.

The site plan could use a lot of revisions though. The setbacks don’t relate to anything built along Semmes and the building orientations are extremely odd. I get that it’s an odd site to work with but this concept doesn’t relate to Semmes or McDonough Street at all.

William Samuels
William Samuels
3 minutes ago
Reply to  Jeff Stein

The ‘tower blocks’ you refer to were built 50 to 75 years ago and the tallest one at 15 floors, 2000 Riverside, was constructed by Weinstein Properties (and still owned by them). It was built to take advantage of stunning river and skyline views (probably the best residential views in the Richmond area). It’s a great example of highest and best use and it’s too bad we don’t have more buildings like it in Richmond. Weinstein still owns a lot of land next door and could build something similar, but I’ve been told (accurately or not) they are not interested… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago

Thank you for the historical details.

I think what you describe is actually an argument FOR something resembling “megablocks” and if there are “Neighborhood NIMBYs” thereabouts, the only thing that else that would be viable would be something like a PARK, not small-scale housing.

Flora Valdes-Dapena
Flora Valdes-Dapena
2 days ago

For anyone curious about the strange shape of the 418 Cowardin parcel, that’s the original right-of-way of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. It continued in use the 1980s. The line crossed underneath the intersection of Cowardin and Semmes and into a small railyard. Before ~1970 it continued on a bridge that crossed the river to the ACL’s freight yard at the current site of the Richmond Fed building.

Jeff Ensley
Jeff Ensley
2 days ago

Would that be the bridge that the T Potterfield pedestrian bridge is built on?

Peter James
Peter James
2 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Ensley

I believe so, yes. The location is right.

Peter James
Peter James
2 days ago

I remember that bridge on Cowardin Avenue vividly – it was one of my favorites when I was little. No idea why – but I loved it, with the concrete arches rising up from the bridge deck and the railroad tracks running below the bridge to the Southern Railway (now Norfolk-Southern) rail yard on the Manchester riverfront. Wow – Flora, thanks for bringing back a wonderful childhood memory for me!

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
2 days ago
Reply to  Peter James

Yeah, you and I have something in common, strange liking of certain odd bridges! I had a favorite one on the river in the city I lived in in my early 20s that was pretty obscure and I was pretty excited by all the bridges in Pittsburgh the last time I was there (but of course the Dark Side of a place with a lot of bridges is traffic jams and maintainence issues….

Arnold Hager
Arnold Hager
1 day ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Speaking of bridges- How would a bridge crossing the James River east of I-95 from Manchester over to Fulton help traffic flow?

Arnold Hager
Arnold Hager
1 day ago
Reply to  Arnold Hager

Imagine if you will; extending Midlothian Tnpk east across the James River connecting to Williamsburg Rd. giving easy access to the airport from Bon Air. All you’d have to do is hop on Rt. 60 and cruise directly to the airport, no turns.