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Open Wide, Forest Hill

Road-widening puts county commuters ahead of neighborhood, residents say.

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Charles White summed up many of his neighbor’s sentiments when he took the microphone.

“You’re doing this for Chesterfield and Henrico,” the Forest Hill Avenue resident told Richmond Department of Public Works staff and consultants. “You listen, but you don’t hear. I don’t know what else to tell you, but we don’t want it.”

Whether or not they want it, the widening of a nearly one-mile stretch of Forest Hill seems inevitable at this point. The city planning commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the conceptual plan, after which it will go back to the public works department for further design. Were the city to scrap the project, they’d have to pay back federal money already spent.

About 50 residents questioned city staff and consultants at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church on Wednesday evening. A scant, quiet few sat in support of the widening, which the city says is needed to improve safety. But most residents opposed it as an unnecessary, property value-destroying project done for commuters at the expense of their neighborhood.

“Let them use Chippenham Parkway, Hull Street,” White said. Forest Hill is considered a major arterial highway under the city’s master plan, much to the dismay of residents who consider it, well, residential.

City Council President Kathy Graziano, who represents the area and is also a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which signed off on the project, remained mum through most of the question-and-answer session. At one point, resident Anne Davis asked her if she considered the street a residential road or an arterial highway.

“I would say arterial highway,” Graziano said.

Davis harrumphed. The process, she said, was all “smoke and mirrors.”

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