St. Luke Building tagged with graffiti

11/3/2017, 1:10 a.m.
The owner of the vacant St. Luke Building is furious after a brick annex attached to the historic Gilpin Court ...
Graffiti mars bricks on the annex to the historic St. Luke Building at 900 St. James St. in Gilpin Court. Now vacant, the annex provided housing for visiting agents of the former Independent Order of St. Luke. The owners lack permits to fence both buildings.

By Jeremy M. Lazarus

The owner of the vacant St. Luke Building is furious after a brick annex attached to the historic Gilpin Court structure was vandalized with graffiti.

Wanda Stallings is accusing Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration of enabling the damage by refusing to authorize a permit to allow planned redevelopment to begin, preventing security measures from being taken.

“We have not been allowed to place security fencing around the building or put up cameras because the city is blocking us from gaining the permits we need,” Ms. Stallings said on Tuesday.

She and her partners are seeking to invest $3.6 million to put upscale apartments in the annex and the main four-story building that was once home to the Independent Order of St. Luke, a once flourishing, but now defunct fraternal group that was led during its heyday by renowned Richmond businesswoman Maggie L. Walker.

The project would be the first development project in Gilpin Court in decades.

Ms. Stallings said this is the second time vandals have struck the property at 900 St. James St. Two weeks ago, she said someone broke in and spilled paint across a floor in the main building.

“We were promised to receive a building permit for eight units, but officials have broken that promise,” she said. “Someone at City Hall does not want this project to take place. We have complied with every request, and we are still being blocked.”

In response, the key city official who oversees the issuance of permits, Mark Olinger, director of planning and development review, denied any efforts to block the project. He stated that he and others want the buildings that are part “of the legacy of (Maggie) Walker preserved and brought back to life.”

But Mr. Olinger also acknowledged the city is not yet prepared to issue a building permit for a portion of the work. “There are some issues that ownership needs to address before we can issue” a building permit to allow for development of an initial eight to nine apartments, he stated in an email, although he did not specify the issues. Still, he said, the development team “is aware and hopes to have all those issues settled shortly.”

He also noted his staff is working with the St. Luke team to try to get a special use permit introduced at City Council on Monday, Dec. 11, to enable development of a total of 14 apartments and some commercial space, which he said is not currently allowed by the existing zoning. The annex would get two of the apartments.

He stated that the special use permit request would be introduced if the St. Luke team provides “all of the remaining information within the next week or so.”

Ms. Stallings said that the graffiti was discovered on the same day the city delivered what she called a fresh effort to stall the project.

She said the development was notified on Tuesday that the city would not accept an application for an encroachment permit, which would be needed once the development is complete and the apartments ready for occupancy.