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Neighborhood Groups Seek To Block Broad Street Rezoning

richmond city hall building
FILE PHOTO: Richmond City Hall (Craig Carper/VPM)

UPDATE 5 P.M. Monday: A Richmond Circuit Circuit Judge threw out the request from the RVA Coalition of Concerned Civic Associations to prevent a vote on zoning changes along Broad Street, from Belvidere to Arthur Ashe Boulevard. 

Judge Eugene Cheeks denied the coalition’s request for an emergency injunction at a hearing Monday morning, meaning Richmond City Council can move forward with a vote. But Monday night, City Council chose to continue the paper for another 30 days. 

ORIGINAL STORY:

A coalition of various neighborhood groups and civic associations in Richmond has requested an emergency injunction to stop a vote by City Council to rezone Broad Street between Belvidere Street and Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

The package of rezoning ordinances is the next phase of the Pulse Corridor Plan, which Richmond City Council approved in 2017. The plan calls for increased density along the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit line to encourage public transit use. The city also hopes that increased density could grow housing stock and lead to more affordable housing options. Disagreement between city planners and the group RVA Coalition of Concerned Civic Associations has emerged over just how dense new development should be. 

Jonathan Marcus, president of the coalition, said they are concerned that the proposed rezonings could allow for 20-story buildings, under certain circumstances, to be built along Broad Street without the need for special permits and robust community engagement.

“Even on the Downtown business part of Broad Street, City Hall, which is 19 stories, looms over the city,” he said. “Trying to imagine a building of that height next to The Fan is crazy.”

The coalition includes The Fan District Association, the Historic Jackson Ward Association, Historic West Grace Street Association and others. The injunction request filed earlier this week was first reported Thursday night by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

In the petition, the neighborhood groups argue that the proposal to rezone the land as B-4, or Central Business District, violates the original Pulse Corridor Plan. The 2017 plan called for buildings along Broad Street  to be classified as “Corridor Mixed-Use,” which is described as “Medium density, buildings generally ranging from 2 to 10 stories with additional height where appropriate.” The B-4 zoning, however, has no specific maximum height restrictions by law. The height is limited instead by  a complex formula based on street width.

Some areas north of Belvidere Street, particularly around VCU, are already zoned B-4 and do not have buildings 20 stories or taller.

Marcus said the coalition’s opposition to the rezoning is not about opposing density but about supporting ‘smart density’.

“We favor density but within context, which is exactly what the Pulse Corridor Plan says,” he said.

The coalition also argues in its petition that the proposed rezoning does not account for the character of the historic neighborhoods adjacent to Broad Street in that area.

“The Pulse Corridor Plan calls for appropriate development ‘sensitive to the context of the neighborhood,’ and the proposed ordinances violate that requirement,” the petition states. 

Mark Olinger, who heads Richmond’s Department of Development and Planning Review, declined to comment Friday, citing the pending litigation. 

Currently, Richmond City Council is scheduled to take up the proposed rezoning at a meeting Monday night. But Richmond Circuit Court Judge D. Eugene Cheek Sr. will hear arguments on the motion for an emergency injunction Monday morning, which could decide whether council will be able to vote on the measure.

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