Protect our neighborhood’s historic character!

In 2006, residents successfully achieved Old and Historic Neighborhood (OHN) status for Springhill. Accordingly, new construction plans must be approved by the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR) to ensure their compliance with the OHN design guidelines and their general fit with the historic character of the neighborhood. This means residents don’t always get to use their property precisely as they see fit, with CAR approval required for matters as simple as replacing a window.

However, significant loopholes in this system appear to exist for moneyed developers. Dobrin Properties is building a house at 617 W 21st Street in our neighborhood. From the beginning, this developer has not been honest about his intentions in the neighborhood. Time and again the city has failed to enforce the city code regulations for OHN on his project, no matter how loudly we protest. The strategy of simply ignoring the city and the neighbors has worked well so far, and the city must address this situation fairly and seriously in order to prevent further damage to the neighborhood.

There are two chief problems:

  1. Dobrin did not dig a deep enough foundation, raising the house’s total height several feet above what the plans say, and
  2. Dobrin did not build the porch to match the height of neighboring porches as required.

Because of these problems, we asked the Planning and Development Review (PDR) department to get involved. These discrepancies somehow were not caught in building inspections that PDR claims to have conducted (we have an outstanding FOIA request for the foundation inspection records). While issuing a stop work order, they have twice performed “internal reviews”. These reviews always result in a statement that Dobrin is in “substantial compliance”, even while any layman can see the issues clearly.

On March 25, 2019, PDR sent the neighborhood an email outlining the final resolution. Dobrin could simply pile dirt up on the foundation in order to artificially raise the ground level, thereby making the height of the building compliant. The house is located on a property already featuring significant slope and elevation (we are, after all, on Springhill). The dirt-piling option will obviously result in erosion and runoff, setting aside the absurdity of the approach on its face.

When we took our case to City Council that day, we got significant support from Councilmembers Hilbert, Agelasto, and Gray to increase the scrutiny on this project and get some sort of more workable resolution from PDR. However, in defiance of the stop work order, the developer quickly and illegally erected a second floor on the property. All day long we furiously emailed PDR to send an inspector, but nobody showed up. The day after that, neighbors discovered prefabricated rafters ready to be put up.

Residents and developers should have to abide by the same guidelines and regulations. When residents are out of compliance, we must reverse any noncompliant work. There is no appeal, no ability to get the city to call our work “substantially compliant”. That loophole seems reserved for developers who know the system’s weaknesses. This inconsistent enforcement of the guidelines makes it difficult to ensure that the character of our neighborhood is preserved.

If Dobrin wishes to build a different house than they represented to CAR, those plans should go before the Commission again. That would allow residents to weigh in on the actual building they are constructing, instead of the plans for a house they never intended to build. What is the point of having CAR if the guidelines only apply to the residents who do the least amount of changes to the neighborhood?

All we ask is that the city enforce its own rules and protect us from a developer seeking to exploit our historic neighborhood. If you’d like to help, please write to Kim Chen at PDR as well as CAR and city council. Also, please spread the word about this on social media. Thanks for your support.

written by Jeremy Weiland

Volunteer Neighborhood Cleanup

Thanks to our neighbor Kellen, we have an opportunity to clean up our neighborhood on Saturday, April 23rd starting at 10AM. He shares more details:

Spring is here – let’s join together and spruce up the Springhill neighborhood. We’ll convene near the 22nd street entrance to Belle Isle and break into groups to target certain areas in our community needing some trash pick-up and minor landscaping.

The James River Park System will donate their equipment (trash grabbers, gloves, and trash bags). Additionally, they will coordinate trucks to collect the bags of garbage.

All you need to do, is show up! By accepting the invite, you’ll be considered “in” to volunteer. Please share with others.

It would be great if we could have 20-40 volunteers lend a hand in this overall project. If you spot specific areas, please list the location in the comment thread. I will consolidate the areas needing cleaned up and post a map before the project of areas to target.

In addition to trash clean-up, an application to the Love Your Block program has been submitted and may cover funds to plant flowers at the Richmond Rehabilitation Housing Authority at Stonewall Place. (Stonewall & 20th street). Shortly, we should know whether this grant has been awarded. If so, we may need some more experienced hands to help plant the flowers and trim the hedges.

There is a Facebook event where more discussion and signup is occurring.

Final neighborhood workshop postponed

The third and final Storefront for Community Design neighborhood workshop will be moved from this coming Saturday to next Saturday, April 13. We’ll meet at Storefront’s office from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM at 205 E. Broad St. It appears more developers are trying to get involved, so it’s very important you come out and make your voice heard!

Springhill Neighborhood Workshop Series begins tomorrow (UPDATE: location changed)

Interested in working with your neighbors to articulate a comprehensive vision for our neighborhood? The first in a series of workshops for just this purpose has been sponsored by our new 5th District City Council Representative Parker Agelasto. Here’s more information from the Storefront for Community Design page for our neighborhood:

Storefront for Community Design invites residents and property owners in the Springhill neighborhood to take part in a three-part workshop series. The purpose of the Springhill Workshop Series is to define and illustrate the neighborhood’s vision for the future, with special emphasis on land uses, traffic and pedestrian circulation, and infrastructure improvements. Please come share your ideas about your neighborhood!

Three workshops will be held at the Stonewall Place Community Meeting Space located at 1920 Stonewall Avenue. UPDATE: The first workshop will be held at the Storefront for Community Design offices at 205 E. Broad St. Check back for the location of subsequent workshops.

  • Saturday, March 9 (10am – 12pm)
  • Saturday, March 23 (10am – 12pm)
  • Saturday, April 6 (10am – 12pm)

Stakeholders in the Springhill community will create a vision statement that will impact future development and infrastructure projects in the neighborhood.

All residents, renters, business and property owners are encouraged to attend. Light refreshments will be served. Please call Storefront at (804) 322-9556 or email to RSVP or for further information.

Residents and property owners who are unable to attend these workshops may leave comments on this website or stop by Storefront for Community Design during business hours (Monday to Friday, 9-5pm). Storefront is located at 205 E Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia.

Please go to their website for more information and to monitor the materials created, and make sure to RSVP for the meeting tomorrow.

Meeting with Incoming Council Member Agelasto on Wednesday

Springhill residents are encouraged to attend a neighborhood meeting with the newly elected fifth district councilman, Parker Agelasto, on Wednesday, December 12 at 6:00 PM at the newly constructed Fire Station #17 (2211 Semmes Ave). This is our opportunity to discuss our concerns with him. On our agenda:

  • Richmond Overlook Apartments
  • City View Apartments Special Use Permit
  • James River access problems
  • Parking
  • Crime problem areas
  • Sidewalks/storm drain/curbs (or lack thereof)
  • Tricycle Gardens + 21st St lot
  • Adjacent parcels (Allegheny warehouse, neighborhood edge conditions)
  • Storefront community design

Neighborhood Concerns about the Richmond Overlook Development

The residents of Springhill have welcomed newcomers for as long as our historic neighborhood has existed. Whether they are purchasing a home, renting, or developing new long-term projects, our community thrives on the vibrancy that newcomers introduce. Like any neighborhood, we look to those newcomers to contribute positively to our little corner of southside. When we see anybody threatening it, whether that’s burglarizing homes, littering, or otherwise spoiling the nature of our neighborhood, we stand up and speak out.

Petty crime is something we’ve been struggling with for some time, but there are other kinds of attacks that can be at least as damaging without being illegal. Because of our central location in the city and our view of the river and skyline, developers have been encroaching on our neighborhood for decades. Sometimes a development contributes to our neighborhood, and we are able to work with the developer to ensure everybody’s interests are met. Other times we have had to fight developers who want to shoehorn their fast money projects into the neighborhood.

The pending development of the Richmond Overlook apartment complex on the 600 block of Cowardin Avenue unfortunately falls in the latter category. It is a classic case of tax credit farming to dump yet more dissonant construction on a small neighborhood that is already doing its part to support a diversity of Richmond citizens.

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Neighborhood Meeting Wednesday on Encroaching Development

An out of town developer has submitted plans for constructing low-income housing on the vacant lots on the 600 block of Cowardin Ave. This impacts our neighborhood tremendously, and in response the neighborhood is holding a meeting on Wednesday, June 27 at 7:00 PM at 603 W. 19th St.

Springhill resident Jason has compiled a list of reasons why this development is undesirable:

Our small neighorhood already supports a 70 unit low income facility.  With less than 40 single family homes in the neighborhood, we are already taking our share of the low income burden in the city.  A google search shows a significant concentration of these types of apartment properties, exclusively on southside and northside; none turn up in the areas west of VCU.  My concern is that we have reached our “Threshold” and we risk overconcentration.  Which in the study by arizona state university suggests reasults in “stagneant or decling property values.”

The city should focus it’s development of low income homes/apartments in areas not already burdened by it.

Studies on crime and low-income housing done by Indiana University and Purdue University state that “rates of violent crime are generally higher in Areas with high-density Residential development.”  I cannot recall the exact numbers, but neighborhood is actually one of the most densly populated areas in Richmond thanks to the 3 large apartment buildings.

We are historically an area of single family homes,  and are being overun by high density development.

I do not believe this particular devlopment provides zoning minimum, parking, setback, open area requirements, floor to area ratio’s of building to buildable open space.  We already have a parking problem and are working with the city to solve it. (i was unable to park infront of my house lastnight.  It happens 1-2 times a week.)

Please post a comment if you cannot make the meeting or have further questions.