Safety, aesthetics cited among concerns over Union Hill housing proposal

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The future of an East-End development remains in question as some residents say a proposed housing project in Richmond’s historic Union Hill neighborhood is not up to standard.

On Wednesday night, more than 40 neighbors, civic association members, and other stakeholders met with 7th district city council representative Cynthia Newbille in an effort to block plans to redevelop the Venable Street property known as the Citadel of Hope.

“We love our neighborhood,” said Liz Opalak, who lives a block away from the site. “If you need a truck, you borrow theirs. If you just had a hip replacement and need groceries somebody will get them for you.”

Opalak was one of dozens who came the meeting with questions about plans for the site.

“We really want this development to work,” she told 8News.

The Better Housing Coalition owns the property. The nonprofit has plans to build 52 units of affordable housing on the less-than 2.5-acre lot. The Commission of Architectural Review rejected the proposal in November, but BHC has since filed an appeal.

“We’ve worked really hard to try and get BHC on board with the car standards and to try to get our input heard,” Opalak said.

The neighborhood is zoned as an Old and Historic District. Some fear the current plans do not reflect the character and historic nature of the area. There are also concerns over street access, population density, and aesthetics. An online petition demanding the project be restructured has gathered more than 50 signatures.

In an email to 8News, BHC president, and CEO Greta Harris wrote,

newbill“Over the past 20 years, BHC has invested more than $40 million in revitalizing the church hill area, which has helped stimulate its rebirth. Affordable housing is not only important for our families but also the economic vitality of our city. We respect the feelings of uncertainty that proposed changes to a beloved neighborhood can bring. We’ve been very open with Union Hill neighbors about our plans for the citadel of hope site, and have met with them on several occasions to get feedback. As a result, we have redesigned the site plan to incorporate their suggestions.”

However, Opalak and others in attendance at Wednesday night’s meeting said they had not seen the revisions.

“The architecture is appropriate, reflects the historical character of the neighborhood and incorporates high-quality materials,” Harris went on to write. “Investing over $9 million in Union Hill will reduce blight and crime, and transform what is currently a dilapidated neighborhood liability into high-quality, affordable homes for working families. We look forward to the resulting positive impacts to come.”

The nonprofit has until Friday to submit its proposal revisions in order to get onto the January 9 City Council agenda.

“I hope we can get some feedback in from BHC before the next car meeting so that we can go in in support of them instead of against them,” Opalak said.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.       

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