Judge to decide fate of condo project for Church Hill

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Did the Richmond city council break city laws? That's what a judge will decide this month.

A Church Hill neighborhood took the city council to court this morning to fight a decision to allow a developer to build condos on their street.

Fulton Hill Properties owns an empty lot between East Broad and East Marshall Streets in the historic Chimborazo District. It's zoned for condos and that's what the developer wants to build here; 33 units called Oakwood Heights.

Kristen Heckman is a spokesperson for the developer and told NBC 12 in an earlier story, "We've spent a lot of money and paid mortgages on vacant land. We need to get going."

After 4 years, 3 architects, and various versions of the project, the developer couldn't get approval to move forward. So she took her fight to City Hall. Council overturned a decision by its own appointed commission (C.A.R., which is better known as the Commission for Architectural Review). The city council voted to allow the project to move forward and get building permits.

Kristen Hughes lives next door to the project and says, "We really just want them to let the commission of architectural review do their jobs.  They're experts on historic districts.  They know what they're doing. The city council, we feel like they just ignored the experts on this."

Neighbors here say the project is too big and doesn't fit the character of the historic district. They held yard sales and bake sales to raise money for an attorney.

David Branch told the judge, the city overstepped its own laws when it reversed the decision. He went on to say, "The court has to decide whether or not the city council followed their own ordinances, their own procedures." He also says the plans weren't detailed enough and were required by law to specify things like paint colors and materials. Branch says, "You don't want to be surprised after the building is built and see that something is there that no one was anticipating."

City Councilman Bruce Tyler was asked to testify on behalf of the city has an expert on architecture. He says the plans are clear and actual do lay out what colors and materials will be used. Attorneys for Oakwood Heights and the city said in court that the plans meet a standard for review that's been in place for 30 years. The attorneys say city council was within its rights.

This case could set a precedent in Richmond for new development in old historic districts. The judge will make us his mind on who was right later this month.

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