City Council, by a unanimous vote, approved a special use permit for the Verizon building in Carytown last night. The decision effectively authorizes a group of Maryland developers to turn the former office space into several retail units, including a grocery store rumored to be a Fresh Market.
City Council, by a unanimous vote, approved a special use permit for the Verizon building in Carytown last night. The decision effectively authorizes a group of Maryland developers to turn the former office space into several retail units, including a grocery store rumored to be a Fresh Market. This ends the almost year long struggle of local group “Don’t Big Box Carytown.”
Debate was heated and long as the two sides brought their arguments to the table.
Aaron Ruby, a life long Richmond resident who now lives in Shockoe Bottom, saw the project as moving the distressed area forward. “Proposed Carytown redevelopment is a continuation of the enormous progress we’ve made in the city for the last 20 years, and I would like to see for the next 20 years.”
The young working professional had approached Council members at past public meetings to discuss the issue. He was excited about the new development. “We are revitalizing an old, vacant, abandoned building and bringing new life into it to fully incorporate it into the life of the city.”
Folks who spoke in support of the project — 12 in total — were from all over town. However, Kay Adams, owner of Anthill Antiques in Carytown, made a particularly dark appeal. She listed 30 Carytown Businesses that had closed in the last few years as “reasons to support this project.” “Consider what you love and where you live has been in jeopardy for some time.” she said.
She saw the new development as a chance to inject new life into a hurting part of town.
“We need the growth, the change, the expansion, and the evolution. Some of the most noteworthy shopping districts to be found, such as Georgetown, Charleston, and Savannah, have been built on successfully fusing the charm of local with the pull of national.”
The Carytown Merchants association made no public statement against or for the project. They had chosen to remain neutral on the issue according to the Times Dispatch.
The folks against the project, members of the community and the Don’t Bigbox Carytown group, were just as vocal and concerned, and often offered alternatives to the project.
“We are for multi-family residential — it would increase Carytown’s customer base and generate less traffic and noise” said Don’t Big Box member Ellis Erin MaCulla. “We are against high density retail which will triple the traffic in the area.”
MaCulla went on to say he wasn’t opposed to redevelopment, but this project’s allowance of large retail space, up to 45,000 square feet, was at issue. “We like our mixed used neighborhoods, but we don’t want the commercial uses to creep into our residential neighborhoods.”
Hunter Jamerson, an attorney representing Don’t Big Box Carytown, said the group could have a legal defense if they chose to pursue the issue. Jamerson said the location’s proximity to an interstate on ramp and the increase in traffic would constitute bringing the plan before VDOT for further input. “Referrals to VDOT are mandatory,” said Jamerson, “and the city, to date, has not complied with this obligation.”
Tanya Cauthen, Owner of Belmont Butchery, spoke briefly in opposition, showing not all local retail was for expansion. After remarking about the studies and numbers she had heard, Cauthen said “I don’t know what the answer is, I’m a butcher, I feed people.” Her fears weren’t over competition from a new retailer, but with the stance the plan took on local small business.
“I see this vote for the special use permit as a vote against small business. There’s a way to develop this for everybody, and this isn’t it. Don’t just look at the short term gain, look at the long term.”
City council weighed in on the issue individually. Most members mentioned how desperately their districts needed retail development. “Everyday someone asks me when are we gonna get a grocery store on the Boulevard?” said Councilmen Charles Samules.
Bruce Tyler, whose district includes the proposed development, started by letting everyone know his firm, Baserkville, represented Verizon, but Verzion was not one of his clients specifically.
He tried to lay to rest two of the largest issues: “There’s (been) appropriate screening and fencing put in place to protect the adjacent property owners.” And, “many hours (have been spent) with growth and traffic engineers…the roads and intersections will remain passable.”
Councilman Doug Connor shared Tyler’s enthusiasm for the project. “I think this will help this area tremendously. When someone comes forward to eliminate abandoned buildings and make something out of them, I think we don’t have a choice, we need to move forward.”
Photos by: John Garcia