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Historic Church Hill storefronts razed over city's objections

Heavy equipment sits among the rubble of two historic buildings
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Richmond-based C&M Properties plans to build a mixed-use structure along East Marshall Street, where a pair of buildings previously stood for more than 100 years.

Mixed-use building planned for East Marshall Street.

Some Church Hill residents are perplexed after a developer demolished two historic buildings last week, despite orders from the city’s Commission on Architectural Review to maintain the buildings’ historic façades.

The demolished plot where the 100 year-old storefront once stood
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A cornice sits among the rubble of demolished buildings along East Marshall Street in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood on Sept. 1.

Richmond-based C&M Properties plans to build a mixed-use commercial and residential building at 3304 and 3306 E. Marshall St.

The city fined the developer $200 for razing the 100-plus-year-old storefronts. It issued a stop work order Wednesday for conducting a demolition Monday and Tuesday without a permit. The city then issued a zoning violation notice for conducting activities in an historic district that did not have a Certificate of Appropriateness, which is required before any exterior work proceeds.

Allan Rosenbaum lives across the street from the site and owns several properties in the neighborhood.

“They were simple buildings, but they were part of the historic fabric of the neighborhood,” Rosenbaum said. “That’s why I wanted to see them saved. I didn’t want it to look like a brand-new suburban development.”

Rosenbaum said he hopes the developer can try to rebuild the old storefronts.

“You can’t make history into these buildings again, but perhaps they can get back some of these materials or they can find similar materials,” Rosenbaum said.

C&M Properties initially planned to demolish the properties entirely, but after going through the city’s architectural review process in 2021, was told it would have to make changes to the plan — including preserving the storefronts.

The gray exterior of a salon along East Marshall Street in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood.
Blythe King
The pair of buildings recently demolished by C&M Properties were located in the eastern portion of the Church Hill neighborhood.

The notice of violation requires the developers to fix the violation, which is now practically impossible, or file a new application with CAR for a second Certificate of Appropriateness.

C&M partner Casey White said he plans to work with CAR to restore the storefronts as best he can with the remaining materials. He said in an interview with VPM News that he did not intend to demolish the structures but ran into unexpected problems, and “we weren’t going to risk the building potentially collapsing.”

Kevin Vonck, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development Review, said in an email Friday, to the city’s knowledge, the storefronts had no structural issue.

“If the contractor encountered a safety concern during demolition, then he/she should have contacted the Commissioner of Buildings to request an inspection and permission to deviate from the permit to address an emergency safety concern,” Vonck wrote in an email.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.