Efforts to bring a dense swathe of housing into the Willow Lawn area have met an unexpected speed bump.
Thalhimer Realty Partners and Crenshaw Realty recently shelved part of their plan to build two large apartment buildings in the neighborhood, primarily to give the county and the GRTC time to figure out how best to accommodate bus service and commuter parking at the Willow Lawn Pulse bus station handle , the last stop on the Pulse line.
The project was originally planned as two 7-story buildings totaling 585 units to replace a row of five aging office buildings on Willow Lawn Drive and Byrd Avenue.
After lengthy discussions with neighbors and at the request of Henrico County Supervisor Dan Schmitt, developers have shelved the Byrd Avenue portion of the project while they proceed with the Willow Lawn Drive portion.
Originally planned for 330 units over seven floors, the 1506-1510 Willow Lawn Drive location is now earmarked for 256 units in a structure that would be four stories at the property line and rise to five stories further back on the lot.
The downsizing was a concession to neighbors in the surrounding single-family homes, who were concerned about height, traffic, parking, and other factors.
A rededication proposal for the Willow Lawn Drive portion was recommended for approval by the District Planning Commission earlier this month. A board vote is expected next month.
Thalhimer and Crenshaw recruited attorney Andy Condlin with Roth Jackson to help with the reassignment process.
The building would be on the west side of Willow Lawn Drive, where three 1960s office buildings currently stand across from Kroger. The 2.5 hectare property is owned by Crenshaw, who is collaborating with Thalhimer on the project.
The building would house a mix of one and two bedroom apartments with a parking deck integrated into the structure.
Poole and Poole Architects are the designers of the home. The group has yet to hire a general contractor and has not yet finalized funding.
As for the second location in question at Byrd Ave. 1904-1910 is concerned, his future is less clear.
Community meetings and discussions with neighbors since the project was first proposed in September have focused on citizen and county concerns about bus service and commuter parking.
Concerns centered on commuters taking up too much parking space along surrounding streets and in the Willow Lawn retail area due to the lack of an official parking lot for bus drivers. Another issue is the current route of buses through the neighborhood: They are forced to travel from the westbound Pulse station on Willow Lawn Drive to Byrd Avenue, returning on Broad Street to the eastbound Pulse station.
That’s where Schmitt came in.
After Henrico first joined the GRTC board of directors, Schmitt asked Thalhimer and Crenshaw to agree to a long-term deferral of the rededication case for the Byrd Avenue portion of the project.
Schmitt said it will take time to find land for a proper park-and-ride space and potentially eliminate the buses that run through the neighborhood.
“We need to get a transfer station or some kind of park and ride,” Schmitt said of the Willow Lawn stop. “It’s the busiest Pulse station because it’s the end (of the Pulse line).”
The problem is that GRTC and the county have yet to find enough land in the right place and at the right price for a park-and-ride facility.
“We tried to find land,” Schmitt said. “We’ve looked at five locations and haven’t nailed it yet.”
Todd Eure, deputy director of Henrico’s public works department, said the need for additional Pulse parking at this end of the track has been a priority for some time.
“The county has been working with GRTC and the City of Richmond over the past several years to identify potential locations that may be suitable for parking at the west end of the Pulse Corridor,” Eure said in an email.
Eure said up to two acres will need space for commuter parking, a bus transfer and loop area, and a break and restroom area for bus drivers.
Federal funds might be available for an acquisition, but only if certain requirements are met, such as: B. That the location for the next Pulse station is fully ADA accessible.
An idea on the table to potentially solve most of the problems is to extend the pulse a little further west of Willow Lawn to create a new terminus on the line that could be near more available land, said yours.
“We are also beginning discussions with GRTC to consider extending the Pulse further west on West Broad Street to serve more of the county, as well as exploring parking and interchange options outside of the Willow Lawn area,” he said.
With all of that hanging in the balance, Schmitt said he couldn’t vote in good faith on a rezoning for the project until those bus issues were resolved.
“There are too many unknowns,” Schmitt said. “I hesitate to change the zoning from an office to a dense residential area when I don’t even know where the bus station will be. I don’t know where the transfer station will be. I asked (the developers) to pause this and they were kind enough to do so.”
Jason Guillot, a director at Thalhimer Realty Partners who is leading the effort, said they have technically dropped the case to repurpose the Byrd Avenue site, which amounts to a long-term postponement of likely nearly two years.
“We are waiting to understand what kind of solution GRTC and the district will develop there,” said Guillot.
A permit plan is still required for the Willow Lawn Avenue project. Guillot said the process will likely continue through the fall, delaying the start of construction until early next year. The construction period is expected to last around two years.
Though half of the project has been put on hold, Guillot said he still believes in the need for multi-family density as part of the Willow Lawn area.
“The transformation of the Willow Lawn Mall over the past 15 years by (Willow Lawn owners) Federal Realty and the County is a great success story, and we believe the complementation of single family homes and condos in the neighborhood with apartments across the street is supportive the investment that was made in the 450,000-square-foot mall,” he said. “Mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods are more sustainable in the long run.”
While there was much discussion with neighbors about the plan, Guillot said one issue agreed by all involved was that there was a better use for the two properties in question than aging office buildings.
“The three 1960s office blocks are well past their prime and maintaining these functionally outdated structures has been a major challenge for the Crenshaws…just ask the neighbors. This was the first major consensus point at our community meetings: these buildings are looking tired and need to go,” said Guillot.
The Crenshaw buildings are occupied by smaller tenants such as lawyers, non-profit organizations and real estate and marketing offices.
Office tenants in the Crenshaw buildings are beginning to vacate ahead of the new development. Among them is the Two Rivers Law Group, which relocated to 2820 Waterford Drive in Chesterfield earlier this year.