Petition stokes controversy over “The View That Named Richmond”

A new battle is brewing in the war over the historic river view for which the city of Richmond was named. Nonprofit preservationist group Scenic Virginia is leading the charge against a high-rise development that threatens the view, in hopes of buying the property from its owner, turning it over to the city, and building a park. The problem is, the developer says it's not for sale.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The view down the James River from Libby Hill looks very similar to the upriver view from Richmond Hill at Richmond Upon Thames in England. The striking resemblance led William Byrd to name Virginia’s capital in 1733.

“These views from Libby Hill Park are cherished by people here in Richmond,” said Leighton Powell, executive director at Scenic Virginia. Powell says those views are in jeopardy. Developer USP Echo Harbour, LLC owns the 5-acre parcel between Libby Hill and the James River, with plans for high-rise buildings.

In March, Richmond city council voted 8-1 to allow the developer to relocate a combined sewer overflow pipe to make the site more favorable for the project, which would be made up of office spaces with some retail and restaurant space.

Richmond’s own downtown plan recommends that the city buy the property and turn it into a park.

“The benefit of that is that in putting a park there, you preserve the view as well,” Powell said. However, since city council passed the plan in 2009, no action has been taken to acquire the privately owned parcel.

Powell said the parcel is very difficult to develop, which has led many to hope those obstacles would make it attractive to the owner to sell the parcel at some point.

According to Powell, a representative for the developer says the property is off the market. Powell and hundreds of others are now petitioning to preserve the panoramic views through buy the land for a park.

“We’re not expecting the city to come up with the money. We are going to privately fund raise, purchase it and turn it over to the city or a conservatory,” Powell said. Fundraising efforts are already underway.

“What we’re hoping is that the citizens of Richmond who love this view and recognize the value of having an enhanced riverfront park below the view will be interested in helping with the purchase of this parcel.”

Preservation groups are working with the Trust for Public Land to figure out how to structure a deal with the property owner.

8News reached out to Richmond City Council and its planning commission, but has not heard back as of this publication.

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