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RRHA, Club 533 seek rezoning for new development

Jeremy Lazarus | 7/26/2018, 6 a.m.
The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” appears to be at work in Jackson Ward. ...

The old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” appears to be at work in Jackson Ward.

Six years after the collapse of a plan to build an eight-story hotel on North 3rd Street next to the interstate, a new effort is being mounted to make it happen.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is joining with Club 533 to seek rezoning of a 3.4-acre block in Jackson Ward bounded by 2nd and 3rd streets between Jackson and Duval streets to clear the way for such development.

RRHA owns most of the land, while Club 533 owns the rest.

According to the application, the goal is to install zoning that would make it simpler to secure development of a hotel and related commercial uses such as restaurants, while leaving space for Club 533.

Neither RRHA nor Club 533 has disclosed the names of any parties that might be considering development in the block, which is mostly vacant land except for the current home of the social club that was founded in 1956 and was long a base for civil rights activists and business planning.

The proposal filed by the partners calls on the city to replace the block’s current R-53 zoning for apartments with B-7 mixed business zoning that would allow a hotel and retail businesses.

The request for a zoning change goes to the city Planning Commission on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and if it clears that hurdle, advance to City Council for final consideration.

What is clear is that there is new interest in the block that has been central to a nearly 30-year city effort to bring new life to the northern section of Jackson Ward.

Around 1990, then-City Manager Robert C. Bobb won City Council approval to have RRHA buy virtually all the largely fallow acreage between 3rd Street and Chamberlayne Parkway north of Jackson Street and a small portion of Leigh Street at Adams Street.

At the time, the vision was to bring new housing to a largely decaying area that had moldered since the federal government, state and city built the interstate highway through the area in the mid-1950s. That work isolated Gilpin Court north of the interstate, destroyed the Navy Hill community east of Jackson Ward and ended Jackson Ward’s reign as the business, cultural, political and social center of the black community. One of the few survivors was Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church.

But despite several attempts, the vision of change largely went nowhere. At least two developers of new homes tried and failed.

The Windsor/Aughtry Co. of Greenville, S.C., sought to buy most of the 3rd Street block for $3 million in 2010, but quit after two years in part because Richmond tourism was down because of the Great Recession and RRHA and the city allegedly dawdled in handling the company’s hotel proposal.