More civic engagement is needed before Broad Street rezoning

10/1/2020, 6 p.m.
On Monday, Sept. 28, the Richmond City Council tabled for 30 days a rezoning ordinance allowing 20-story and taller buildings ...

On Monday, Sept. 28, the Richmond City Council tabled for 30 days a rezoning ordinance allowing 20-story and taller buildings on Broad Street between Belvidere Street and Arthur Ashe Boulevard. This delay benefits all of Richmond because it provides the opportunity to bring all parties into a citywide consideration of new zoning that creates growth everywhere.

Yes, we want to bring benefit to Jefferson Davis Highway, Midlothian Turnpike and Broad Rock Boulevard, along with proper incentives to foster the ongoing revival of Broad Street.

Equitable incentives are a leading issue. No reasonable case has been made to concentrate high-rise buildings on one section of one street when widespread, mid-rise development could confer multiple benefits on Hull Street, Mechanicsville Turnpike and Chamberlayne Avenue, all prime entryways into the city and areas that are in need.

As we work together on economic justice and racism, planners need to hear civic associations on issues of equity.

Another significant issue is appropriate height, scale and context — how to create new urban districts we genuinely love and are drawn to. Studies since the 1970s have shown that mid-rise buildings are more affordable and environmentally friendly; enhance a sense of community; and do more to create a sense of place than high-rises, which create concrete canyons.

Already in place is a Pulse corridor plan, approved by City Council in 2017, that specifically calls for mid-rise buildings up to 12 stories, in keeping with the existing height, scale and context of Broad Street and adjacent neighborhoods. Rather than introduce zoning that would codify buildings of 20-plus stories, surrounding civic associations support maintaining project- by-project approval by special use permitting. These same civic associations want to engage with other neighborhoods all over the city to work for the common good — to bring profit to developers, more tax income to the city and more vibrant and human-scaled streetscapes to everyone.

The proposed rezoning puts the cart before the horse. That is why no less than eight civic associations requested setting aside the ordinance until all parties come together — developers, businesses and civic associations. We need a community-driven vision in balance with what is already in place.

The foundation of a healthy community is transparency, inclusivity and authentic engagement. Join us on this path of developers, businesses and residents working together.

Cities that thrive have had the foresight to do this, resulting in inspiring, vibrant places like Washington, D.C., Greenwich Village in New York, Charleston, S.C., and Portland, Maine.

That is not happening here, not yet. When concerned residents raise issues about proposed rezoning and the city Planning Department staff tells them, “Don’t worry, this won’t happen for a long while,” that’s a problem.

Other problems are questions left unanswered, illustrations failing to show proposed high-rises in scale with existing buildings and failure to respond in a timely manner to a FOIA request.

What’s happening on Broad Street is happening in other places. It is happening, again, in Oregon Hill.

Eight civic associations – Carver, Fan District, Jackson Ward, Monument Avenue, Newtowne West, the Coalition of Concerned Civic Associations, the Fan Area Business Alliance and West Grace Street – invite you to join us in a coalition of associations to bring our voices to the table and become an equitable partner in planning that will benefit us all and create a community we are truly proud to call home.

Please contact Jonathan Marcus, president of the RVA Coalition of Concerned Citizens, to join — jonmarcus59@gmail.com



The writer is a member of the RVA Coalition of Concerned Citizens and the West Grace Street Association.