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Sources: Mayor Stoney to advance Coliseum project for Downtown

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/2/2019, 6 a.m.
The grand, but still stalled $1.4 billion plan to replace the now-closed Richmond Coliseum and potentially create thousands of new ...

The grand, but still stalled $1.4 billion plan to replace the now-closed Richmond Coliseum and potentially create thousands of new jobs is supposed to include development of nearly 3,000 affordable and market- rate apartments.

There’s just one small problem — the current suburban-style Coliseum Mall Zoning District that covers the 10-block area near City Hall where the development is proposed to take place doesn’t permit housing or the tall buildings that are being contemplated or even the kind of signage that might be needed.

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Mayor Stoney

The snafu, which was first noted last winter, is getting fresh attention as Mayor Levar M. Stoney prepares to announce the project and all of its details, according to sources.

While nothing had been announced as of the Free Press deadline Wednesday evening, the mayor was scheduled to hold a press conference 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at City Hall with area black contractors hoping for a big share of the work, if the project proceeds.

A highly placed source told the Free Press that “all of the financial kinks” have been worked out, and this is the day when the mayor will announce he is sending the development packages to City Council to consider.

The council earlier agreed to hold a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 5, for the introduction of papers, but as of Wednesday, that meeting was not listed on the official schedule of public meetings maintained by the City Clerk’s Office.

Still, if the project is to proceed, the identified flaws in the current regulations for the CM Zoning District would need to be corrected.

With little fanfare, notice of the problem was given to City Council before it voted in late December to give the green light to the city Planning Commission and the staff of the Department of Planning and Development Review to prepare and introduce proposed changes to the rules governing the CM Zoning District.

Fast forward seven months, and nothing has been proposed — despite the assertion of the planning department’s leadership last winter that the staff was in the process of “finalizing” the changes.

The department indicated the proposals were being developed after talks with representatives of the Navy Hill District, the private developer led Dominion Energy’s top executive, Thomas F. Farrell II. The Navy Hill District is proposing to take on the huge public-private endeavor in which taxpayers would pay for a new Coliseum and other offices, hotels, apartments and retail operations would be paid for by private investments.

According to a Dec. 17, 2018, report to the council, Mark A. Olinger, PDR’s director, wrote that the his staff “has discussed the (land) uses and signage with the (Navy Hill) development team in great detail as it works toward finalizing proposed CM District language changes.”

Along with addressing CM Zoning District regulations now in place, Mr. Olinger also wrote that the PDR staff “intends to include the six design principles of development from the Pulse Corridor Plan ... to ensure the future development provides a walkable, human-scale environment” and that the proposal also includes “publicly accessible open space.”

Mr. Olinger did not respond to a Free Press query about why the proposed have not been delivered.

As a precursor to the press conference, Navy Hill last week quietly filed a request with PDR to make the changes to the language that stand in the way of the project.

A veteran commercial real estate attorney, Jennifer D. Mullen of the Roth Jackson law firm, filed the request with PDR on July 26 on behalf of Navy Hill.

Ms. Mullen confirmed the filing Tuesday after the online business news operation, Richmond BizSense, spotlighted the filing a day earlier. She declined to offer any further comment.

According to PDR, such language changes can take a mini- mum of 90 days to go from development to the council docket for approval. The timeline could be speeded up if PDR has the amendments ready to introduce as part of the paperwork the mayor would submit to the council.

Any decision is still months away. An advisory commission that the council has established is still being set up, and that commission is to have 90 days to review the plans once the mayor presents them.