Planning concerns send Westhampton Theater redevelopment project back to drawing board

City planning officials and nearby neighbors cite concerns over the building’s height, among other issues.

The plan to redevelop the Westhampton Theater property at Libbie and Grove Avenues has been sent back to the drawing board, according to 1st District City Councilman Jon Baliles.

Baliles posted his comments on the proposed redevelopment on his website Tuesday morning, noting that he and other planning officials still take issue with certain design features and details. The building’s height in relation to that of surrounding buildings and the zoning of the property are currently chief issues of planning staff and neighbors.

The theater building and an infill building proposed to be built next door would be approximately four stories and 60 feet in height–much taller than the surrounding storefronts, which are, at most, two stories. A mix of retail and office is envisioned for the first floor; residential units would occupy the remaining three above.

“The applicants will have time to review and make moddifications to their plan based on this letter as well as the many emails we have received in support and opposition,” Baliles said in a post on his website. “I expect to host a meeting concerning any revisions sometime in March and hope to announce that date in the coming weeks.”

An excerpt from the staff report:

“In areas designated for Community Commercial land use, the Master Plan specifically recommends B-2, UB, and UB-2 zoning districts. All three recommended zoning districts permit the type of development currently found in the Libbie-Grove Service Area. In addition, the maximum building height permitted is 35 feet in the B- 2 district, 28 feet in the UB district, and three stories in the UB-2 district.

Many aspects of your proposed development are consistent with the recommendations made in the Master Plan and/or the requirements of the underlying UB (Urban Business) zoning. Staff is supportive of the mix of uses proposed for the development, including active uses at the corner of Grove and Granite Avenues, key aesthetic features, including use of a variety of storefront treatments, the stepbacks and setbacks of the upper floors, and a reconfiguration of the site which includes underground parking and closing two driveway entrances to Grove Avenue.

However, the proposed development is for a four-story building with a height of over 60 feet. In contrast, the maximum height of buildings permitted in the UB district is 28 feet. Accordingly, the existing buildings within the surrounding UB district are primarily either one or two-stories. However, there are several non-conforming buildings with heights greater than the permitted 28 feet (including the Westhampton Theater on the subject property at approximately 40 feet). As a result, staff finds that scale of the proposed building represents a change to the character of the LibbieGrove Service Area.

Furthermore, the recent Master Plan study in the area resulted in a consensus that the current pattern of development in the shopping district is appropriate and should remain in place. From our February 10, 2016 meeting, we are aware that you are working to revise the proposal to mitigate the effects of the proposed height and look forward to seeing those modifications.”

View the full planning report here (PDF).

Jason Guillot with Westhampton, LLC, the entity planning to redevelop the property, responded publicly to the concerns of citizens and planning staff, saying in part:

As we have maintained from the beginning, this project is a work-in-progress and we expect to continue to refine and enhance the design, leaning heavily on input from residents, merchants, neighborhood associations, City of Richmond planning staff, and other stakeholders in the neighborhood.

We’ve held over 30 meetings including several with the Westhampton Citizens Association board, the Westhampton Merchants Association, all of the neighborhood reps in the Westhampton area, one public meeting at St Christopher’s, and a great deal of meetings with individuals who have reached out to us- we have not refused a meeting with anyone because we value your feedback, and we’ve been able to make some great improvements to the design as a result of it. Frankly, we appreciate the fact that so many people care about this property and this neighborhood… it’s the reason why my wife and I chose to live here.

It is our sincere intent as developers and as a Westhampton resident myself, to design a project that is high quality & that is a value-add to the neighborhood. While a majority of the people we’ve spoken with are excited about new neighborhood commercial storefronts, the first Taste Unlimited in Richmond, and substantially improved pedestrian features, landscaping and patio space, there are some reasonable concerns neighbors have shared with us regarding height of the proposed project and potential impact to traffic on the streets surrounding the development. We will be working diligently in the coming weeks to address these concerns.

Baliles says a new date for the plans to go before the city’s planning commission will be announced soon.


View all plans here (PDF).

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Renderings and site plans courtesy of Westhampton, LLC

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Trevor Dickerson

Trevor Dickerson loves all things Richmond and manages RVANews’ West of the Boulevard and West End community sites.

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