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

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.

Celebrate Winter Solstice on Belle Isle

Via HIlls and Heights and James River News Hub:

For the third year in a row, the Friends of the James River Park is marking the Winter Solstice with a low-key yet heartwarming gathering on Belle Isle. Meet at the Tredegar side of the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21 to walk across the river as the sun sets. We’ll warm ourselves up with togetherness, perhaps a poem or two and by giving gifts to the amazingly devoted James River Park System staff. Bring your own hot chocolate (and a flashlight).

Revised Proposal for 617 W. 19th Street (UPDATED)

The neighborhood meeting on Saturday was a great success. The developer and architect with Daniel & Company, Inc. were very open to neighborhood concerns and constructive criticism as they explained their plans for the properties at 615, 617, and 619 W. 19th St.

They intend to renovate 615 and 619 in a fashion fitting to the neighborhood, cleaning up much of the old trees and deteriorating structures on the property. On the lot at 617 they are proposing a more modern design for a house and brought a draft rendering to show the neighborhood. Incorporating feedback from the community, the architect has recently shared a new proposed design with us:

617 W 19th St, Version 4

617 W 19th St, Version 4

I hope this meeting marks the start of a great addition to our neighborhood. Thanks to Mr. Daniels, the architect, and all my neighbors ensuring this neighborhood continues to improve!

UPDATE (8:40 PM)

We just received updated plans for the 617 W. 19th St proposal have been provided me and can be found here. This new package includes floor plans as well as front, side, and back angle views. This is what will be going in front of the Committee of Architectural Review (CAR) for approval.

I will be writing a letter on behalf of the neighborhood expressing our position to CAR. If you have any comments or concerns you’d like included in this letter, please post them here in the comments or use the contact form. We must have all input by Thursday evening so we can get the letter out in time for the CAR meeting. Thanks!