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Commission Chairman Elaborates on VCU, State

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The Jan. 23 article about the city's draft downtown master plan and my role in evaluating it ("Planning Chair Seeks Self-Preservation?" Street Talk, Jan. 23) contained a substantial omission: The City of Richmond has no authority to review, approve, modify or deny plans for any construction project proposed by the state or Virginia Commonwealth University.

In Virginia, the state and its agencies are exempt from complying with a city or county's land use plans and processes. Therefore, my role as a principal with Commonwealth Architects, which does business with the state and VCU, does not present a conflict of interest with my duties as a member and chairman of the City of Richmond's Planning Commission and does not require me to abstain from discussing the city's draft downtown master plan. To the contrary, I believe I would be remiss in my duties on the Planning Commission if I did not actively take part in analyzing and suggesting improvements for the draft of the downtown master plan.

Since the city has no authority over state plans, references to state projects in the city's downtown master plan are not appropriate. A walk along Franklin Street shows how well VCU has preserved and reused existing structures. But if the state or VCU determines that a building is obsolete and should be demolished, the city has no authority to intervene. The state's studies have determined that West Hospital, with its inefficient floor size and configuration, column spacing and floor-to-floor heights, should be replaced with a state-of-the-art research hospital that will provide the community with the latest advances in health care. This is a decision that the city's downtown master plan, Planning Commission or City Council cannot change. Those who disagree with VCU should address their opinions to the appropriate officials at VCU.

Additionally, to clarify some apparent confusion, a downtown master plan does more than create a vision. If the draft downtown master plan were just a vision document, I would be ready to vote today for its approval. A downtown master plan is a primary land use document affecting the development of privately owned parcels. That has major implications on property rights, growth patterns and economic development, and we have to get this right in our document.

I look forward to continuing to work with the community to complete the best possible downtown master plan to lay the foundation for the best possible downtown Richmond.

Robert Mills, Chairman
Richmond Planning Commission





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