News and Resources on Libby Hill Viewshed Developments

PSG is committed to the revitalization of the Richmond region through robust public process, including extensive involvement in major planning and zoning decisions. To that end, this page offers information about two significant projects proposed for the foreground of Libby Hill Park.

 Both projects have been under review by the city, but have involved little public discussion, and are now on a short timeline.  PSG is reviewing the projects, which have prompted significant concern among community residents and regional and state preservation groups.

1)  A large office complex with heights from 105 ft to 144 ft on an over 900'-long site along Dock Street, previously known as Tarmac, Echo Harbour, USP, and now Richmond on the James; and,

2) A 16-story condominium proposal on Pear Street at Cary, The James at River Bend.

We will strive to keep this page as updated as possible - please contact us at reply [@] psgrichmond.org with questions or additional community meeting dates, related documents, or articles.

 

 

Click here to view related project applications and City responses.

 

 

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Public Meetings

 

More information on the Richmond on the James project

 

More information on the Pear Street - The James at River Bend project

 

Advocacy Groups

 

News, Opinions, and Additional Resources

 

 

 

Public Meetings

 

Regular City Council meeting on July 14 (5 pm Informal Session; 6 pm Formal Session), City Hall Council Chambers, 2nd Floor


Past:

 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014:  Richmond City Council  to consider The James at River Bend project (Access proposed ordinance here)

 

Monday, April 21, 2014:  City of Richmond Planning Commission to consider The James at River Bend project

 

 

 

Richmond on the James

 

Click here to view related project applications and City responses. 

 

  • USP, LLC (application submitted by Robert Mills of Commonwealth Architects; developer is George Ross) is proposing three office buildings on an extended parking podium along Dock Street, with heights ranging from 105 feet at the east end to 144 feet at the west end. In a previous application, the owners had proposed residential high-rise development which would have required a Special Use Permit.
  • This project is technically “by-right” in that it has the zoning that would allow an office development. The site is in an M-2 Heavy Industrial District  which permits any use allowed by the M-1 Light Industrial District, which in turn permits uses allowed by the B-3 General Business District, although M-1 specifically excludes the residential uses allowed by B-3.
  • However, local community members and regional and statewide preservation groups have expressed significant concerns about the impact of high-rise development in the historic viewshed from Libby Hill Park.
  • During the development of the Downtown Master Plan, in which over 800 Richmond residents participated, there was strong public support for preservation of this site as parkland. The entire site lies within the 100 flood plain and some of it is within the floodway, such that occupied spaces must be set at 36 feet above the mean height of the river and 8 to 17 feet above the current ground level.
  • The Downtown Master Plan includes the provision: "Preserve views to the river by limiting building heights and protecting important viewsheds," and the plan states that, "It is essential that rezoning of land and new construction in Downtown be carefully considered and that building heights be controlled to protect these historic views." (page 3.15)
  • The Downtown Master Plan included this parcel in land that should be acquired by the city for a park (page 4.47)
  • One of the main obstacles to development has been the existing Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) pipe that runs the length of the property, which will cost several million dollars to move (one estimate was $30 million). However, on September 3, 2013, the Planning Commission approved moving the pipe and associated easement to the riverbank with the Virginia Capital Trail located on the surface, with the cost to be paid by the developer.
  • City Council postponed to Feb 10th their review of the easement and may limit their decision to a temporary easement for the trail, while deferring the issue of permanent easement for the Virginia Capital Trail and CSO along the riverbank.
  • There is no fixed timeline, but as soon as the developer satisfies the issues raised by the city staff, the city Planning Director could approve the development administratively.  A final decision is possible in late February or early March.

Echo Harbor/USP, LLC./Richmond on the James Timeline

9/3/13 -- Planning Commission reviews/approves gift of easement/utility relocation for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) and Virginia Capital Trail

10/22/13 -- Applicant submits proposed Plan of Development (POD) under current zoning

11/22/13 -- Planning staff responds with comment letter

12/20/13 -- Applicant submits revised proposal

1/17/14 -- Planning staff responds with comment letter

1/27/14 -- City Council meeting -- original date for considering the easement for the Virginia Capital Trail (deferred)

 

*The City Planning Director reportedly has approved this as a by-right development.  Some community groups would still like to see private foundations and public funds combined to purchase the land as part of the James River Park system.

 

City planning staff requested clarification about the POD's treatment of the Virginia Capital Trail and views toward and access to the James River.  In his response letter to the City Planning Dept., Robert Mills of Commonwealth Architects writes:

 

While the Downtown Master Plan serves as a guide for development, the Plan of Development must ultimately only be measured against the legal requirements of the M-2 zoning district.  As such, the Virginia Capital Bike Trail should not be a requirement to the approval of the Plan of Development.  Notwithstanding that, the Plan of Development does not physically preclude the future installation of the Virginia Capital Bike Trail once the Combined Sewer Main Relocation has been finalized.

Significant landscape and hardscape materials enhancing the property have been shown on the original Plan of Development submission.  Existing vegetation along the river's edge will be trimmed or removed to open up views to the river.

 


The James at River Bend

 

Click here to view related project applications and City responses. 


  • Last June, Rocketts View SCP, LP (David White of SWA Construction) applied for a Special Use Permit for a 16- story high-rise condominum on Pear Street between Dock Street and Main Street. The building would rise 13 stories above Main Street or about halfway between the water tower and the Lucky Strike smokestack.
  • The developer's application states, among other justifications, that this site merits an iconic building and that ownership units are needed in this area.
  • The site is zoned M-1 Light Industrial District  but is bracketed by B-5 Central Business District (5-story) parcels. The Special Use Permit (see Chapter 17) is required because of the request for residential use and the proposed height.
  • Provisions in the Downtown Master Plan appear to limit the height of this parcel to heights compatible with Tobacco Row.
  • The Downtown Plan includes the provision: "Preserve views to the river by limiting building heights and protecting important viewsheds," and the plan states that, "It is essential that rezoning of land and new construction in Downtown be carefully considered and that building heights be controlled to protect these historic views." (page 3.15)
  • The Downtown Plan defines the heights for the Urban Center Area planning designation, which appears to encompass this parcel, at 3 to 5 stories (page 3.25).
  • In a Jan 17  report from the planning director to the Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall, the planning director recommended the application be advertised for formal public review by the Planning Commission on March 17 and City Council on March 24.
 
In its Application for Special Use Permit, Rocketts View SCP LP writes:
The unique setting of the proposed building calls for an iconic structure, which punctuates the end of Cary Street as a landmark, much like the Carillion does at the end of the Boulevard, or the Tuckahoe does at the end of Three Chopt.  This building should not simply blend with its surroundings but should create a visual landmark for the end of Cary Street and Tobacco Row.  This can be done without affecting in any way the "view" from Libby Hill to the bend in the river and without adversely impacting adjacted property owners in Shockoe Bottom and Tobacco Row.  (p. 7)

Pear-Cary Street/The James at River Bend Timeline

6/6/13 -- Applicant submits proposal for a Special Use Permit

8/20/13 -- Planning staff responds with comment letter

9/11/13 -- Applicant submits revisions

10/29/13 -- Planning staff responds with comment letter

[Unknown if applicant resubmitted with additional revisions]

1/17/14 -- Planning staff sends report to Chief Administrative Officer recommending the application be advertised for the formal public review process

2/24/14 -- Scheduled for advertisement for public review

4/21/14 -- Planning Commission to review project 

 

5/27/14 - City Council hearing 

 

 

Advocacy Groups

180RVA

This group aims "to celebrate and protect the panoramic view that named the City of Richmond by encouraging community appreciation and responsible development."

 

River View Advocates' Letter to City Planning Director

July 29, 2013

In their letter, the River View Advocates express concern about the Pear Street project, The James at River Bend, and describe alternative approaches to development of the site.

 

Replenish Richmond - East End Riverfront Park Project

Replenish Richmond describes the East End Riverfront Park Project and calls for the USP/Echo Harbour/Richmond on the James property to be returned to public domain.

 

News, Opinions, and Additional Resources

 

City Council passes resolution favoring Medicaid expansion

*Pear Street condo project amended and continued

June 9, 2014

Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

Council to take up condo tower near Libby Hill tonight

June 9, 2014

Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

Understanding the Libby Hill Viewshed

City of Richmond Senior Planner Tyler Potterfield's 3-part presentation Understanding the Libby Hill Viewshed as given to the Planning Commission in 2013

 

Ripple Effect: The high-rise Libby Hill condominium threatens to disrupt the urban landscape and should be relocated.

May 6, 2014

Edwin Slipek, Style Weekly

 

Planners Say Yes to Shockoe Bottom Condo

April 23, 2014

James A. Bacon, Smart Growth for Conservatives

 

City planning commission gives nod to The James at River Bend

April 22, 2014

Michael Martz, Richmond Times-Dispatch 

 

Proposed High-Rise Condos Offer River Views to Some, Will Block Others

April 16, 2014

Tina Griego, Style Weekly

 

Richmond to review plan for condos near Libby Hill

March 27, 2014

Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch

 

City to review plans for 13 story building at foot of Libby Hill

March 26, 2014

Richard Hayes, RVA News

 

The James at River Bend set to go before Planning

March 26, 2014

Church Hill People's News

 

The James at River Bend AKA Pear Street

February 4, 2014

Church Hill People's News

 

Richmond on the James AKA Dock Street

February 4, 2014

Church Hill People's News

 

This View Is Our View

October 13, 2009

F.T. Rea, Richmond.com