Neighbors in south Richmond are battling the expansion of the Shops at Stratford Hills shopping center.
Property owner Harper Associates is asking for the city to change the area’s zoning, in order to add a Valvoline and AutoZone in a lot next to the shopping center.
The move comes after the property owner already cleared three acres of trees, bordering where the shops are planned to be built, upsetting residents in the area.
"The fact that they cut those trees down has been bemoaned by most of the neighbors over there,” said neighbor Andrea Steegmayer, who’s been vocal against the shopping center expansion and clearing of the land. “This is a beautiful area. We do not want to have this turned into Hull Street."
Harper Associates is pitching the two new auto shops and new parking space near the Starbucks. Some trees and other landscaping are included in the plans. But some neighbors in the Stratford Hills and Southampton communities argue it's not enough.
"The development has to include a lot of landscaping. That's why we agreed in 2000 and 2001 to the kind of development that includes the Target and (the former) Martins,” said neighbor and former Southampton Citizens Association president Jonathan Young. "The current proposal includes none of that, or at least, very little of it."
An attorney for Harper Associates, Preston Lloyd, said they were well within their rights to cut down the trees, and that they are only asking for permission to build the Valvoline and AutoZone. Lloyd says Harper Associates doesn't have any specific plans for the cleared land, other than it always being slated to be part of the Shops at Stratford Hills.
A statement from Lloyd reads in part:
For over a decade, the Shops at Stratford Hills has been a key Southside Richmond retail destination. Its manager, Harper Associates, is committed to enhancing the economic competitiveness of the shopping center for the future. Based on feedback from existing retail tenants, we propose a number of changes in order to enhance the customer experience. These include enhanced signage, improved vehicular access, supplemental landscaping, and several new national tenants to add to the diverse mix of retail destinations. Following over a year of discussions with community stakeholders, including the Southampton Citizens Association and others, the current plan has evolved to incorporate considerable constructive feedback. We look forward to presenting these changes to the Planning Commission and City Council in coming weeks and remain committed to engagement with the community concerning the future of the Center.
"Once they open this (plot of land) up to business, anything can go in there, and we do not want that,” continued Steegmayer. "You want to maintain a certain look to a neighborhood, not just mow it all down, making parking lots, and cars and signage, and clutter."
The matter is set to go before Richmond’s Planning Commission, Monday. The Richmond City Council would have to approve any final changes.
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