City Council recap: Carytown big boxed?

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

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Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is a freelance journalist living in the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond’s Northside. He is a regular contributor to Pacifica’s Free Speech Radio News, and is a volunteer manager with WRIR 97.3 LP-FM. He specializes in reporting on local politics and the environment, but spends most of his time looking at food blogs with his tiny dog in his lap.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Amy on said:

    Great article, but someone please spell or grammar check this.. Eliminate abandon buildings? Referral’s?

  2. Veronica on said:

    There are many small, local shops in Carytown that I know and love. No matter what businesses are put in the new plaza, I will continue to buy from my local supplier. For example, I LOVE the Belmont Butchery, even if they allowed Whole Foods to come in– I would still go to the butcher. WF is great but my local shops offer products that Big-Box guys can’t. I mean seriously— there is a Kroger and Martin’s across from each other– one more store in there can’t remove the need for the little guy. The only business that will be lost would be battled between the frequent shoppers at Kroger, Martin’s, and Ellwood Thompson’s.

  3. Wolf on said:

    This will also create jobs to design and build the project even before the businesses open (creating more jobs). Hard to frown upon job creation in this economy.

  4. great news. Richmond needs more business downtown. New york doesn’t suffer because Manhattan is full of stores. Let cities be cities

  5. anonymous on said:

    Not every city is NYC. People used to also say that housing prices never fall.

    2010 Retail Store Closings: U.S. Retailers Downsizing or Going Out of Business

    “Many experts believe that the number of retail establishments per capita in the United States was excessive even before the economy recessed. According to the 2007 Economic Census, there were 1,122,703 retail establishments in the United States and a total of 14.2 billion square feet of retail space. That means that there is approximately 46.6 square feet of retail space per capita in the U.S., compared to two square feet per capita in India, 1.5 square feet per capita in Mexico, 23 square feet per capita in the United Kingdom, 13 square feet per capita in Canada, and 6.5square feet per capita in Australia.

    With the tightening of consumer credit, and the loss of wages and personal wealth in the U.S., consumers began spending more consciously and making choices to purchase only what they really needed, and what they really wanted. Same store sales trends in 2009 revealed the chains that consumers judged to have the wrong merchandise at the wrong price in the wrong quantities at the wrong time. Retail stores with redundant, irrelevant, and overpriced merchandise were abandoned in favor for competitors that gave customers what they needed, and also gave them a compelling reason to purchase by offering innovative products at attractive price points. “

  6. mdog226 on said:

    Great article. The neighbors were able to get their concerns aired and the SUP was changed to accommodate those concerns. Traffic and parking are just issues we all have to deal with in an urban setting. Once these local resident issues have been resolved they really should not have any more of a vote on this issue then any other resident in the city. City council looked at it and said, neighbors your not going to be that affected by this project more then you already are by traffic and parking. We can’t stop progress because your traffic or parking problems will increase slightly. If you wanted to park in front of your home then by a house in the burbs with a nice drive way and garage. There is always a ying and a yang. If you want a urban setting, walkability to restaurants and shops then you have to put up with traffic and parking issues. Complaining after you moved here just makes you look like you have not thought this whole thing out very well.

  7. michelle Touchette on said:

    i’m all for developing the building, just not with *another* food store. carytown, or for that matter anytown, does NOT need four major groceries in a five block area!

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