More cranes and construction crews could soon be seen in downtown Richmond following the adoption of zoning changes in Monroe Ward.
The Richmond City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a slate of zoning and land-use ordinances that officials hope will foster development on the multitude of parking lots between the eastern edge of Virginia Commonwealth University and the state Capitol.
Within Monroe Ward — the area of downtown bounded by Belvidere, Broad and Ninth streets and the Downtown Expressway — about 25% of the area is underutilized as surface parking lots, according to city planners.
“We have a lot of vacant surface parking lots,” said 6th District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, who is one of the two elected officials whose districts overlap the area. “This is where we want development.”
The city began considering the changes to complement the GRTC Pulse, the 7.6-mile rapid-transit bus line GRTC began operating last summer.
Similar transit-oriented zoning changes tailored to the Scott’s Addition area, which is flourishing, were adopted shortly after the City Council adopted the Pulse Corridor Plan in 2017.
The plan outlines the city’s intent to reconsider land uses and promote density in certain neighborhoods surrounding the Pulse line on Broad and East Main streets.
The zoning changes in Monroe Ward will prohibit surface parking lots as a primary use, reduce parking requirements for new buildings and encourage denser development.
In addition to the zoning changes, the plan specifies that in a 73-block area, any new project that exceeds 1,000 square feet must go through a special review process to make sure it is consistent with the Pulse Corridor Plan’s design guidelines.
“We altered the district to remove some high-traffic and incompatible uses, making it more reflective of where we are now as a city, versus where the city was in the 1970s when the district was created,” city planner Anne Darby said in an email. “Planning staff and the Planning Commission are very confident that this rezoning is what Richmond needs to re-build a great neighborhood in Monroe Ward.”
Second District Councilwoman Kim Gray, who also represents Monroe Ward, said the new review process will be less onerous than it is now for developers who need special-use permits for projects that do not conform to the existing zoning.
She said streamlining the process and reducing parking requirements could help foster growth and reduce project costs by giving developers more certainty that they won’t be delayed by existing review processes.
“With VCU’s ever-expanding footprint, there are more and more opportunities in that area for private development,” Gray said. “I’m hopeful we expand our tax base and start to see development move forward.”
Darby said existing parking lots and buildings not in compliance with the zoning can remain in perpetuity, but new development on those sites must fit within the new regulations. If a noncompliant property remains vacant for more than two years, the city will require that it fit the new zoning when it’s reoccupied.
The zoning changes were adopted with a few dozen other resolutions and ordinances in the council’s consent agenda Monday.
Although several historic preservationists and organizations on Franklin Street had been concerned about the rezoning as originally proposed, city planners assuaged those fears by amending their proposal to maintain a de facto building height restriction and the current zoning for residential and commercial uses within that corridor.
In an interview before Monday’s meeting, Historic Richmond Foundation Executive Director Cyane Crump said she supports the changes.
“I think what they’re proposing tonight better protects the historic fabric of Monroe Ward,” she said. “We’re pleased to see the care and attention the city’s planners have devoted to the revitalization of Monroe Ward as a walkable, transit-accessible urban neighborhood.”