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Neighborhood Seeks Swanky Status

The case of Springhill and its candidacy for the "old and historic" designation is somewhat of a departure for the city's notoriously hard-line Commission of Architectural Review — a group some regard as the "paint police" or "architectural dictators."

In Springhill, instead of the rare anti-bellum estate and much Georgian and Colonial brick, there are cottages, bungalows and two-story, wood-frame Victorians. There's even aluminum siding and two '60s-style apartment buildings. Tucked in by Semmes and Cowardin avenues, and Canoe Run Park and Riverside Drive, Springhill sprang up in the 1920s as a matter of affordability and convenience.

But its working-class pedigree, indeed its diversity, appears to have captured the attention of CAR.

"This is truly a grassroots effort by residents," says Lisa Wood, chairman of CAR's public relations committee. For nearly a year and a half, Springhill neighbors have been compiling historic data on the area and working with the city's Department of Community Development. The review process can be grueling. But the Springhill residents have done remarkably well proving their case, Wood says.

"It's a unique district in that it was a streetcar suburb of Richmond," says Saul Gleiser, senior planner with the city's Department of Community Development and secretary for CAR. "It's very different from all the other old and historic districts in that it's always been more of a workers' housing district. Even Jackson Ward in its heyday was upscale."

Springhill resident Melissa Linkous, who is the district's sponsor for the effort, hopes a historic designation will provide recognition, protect their investments and prevent incompatible development.

"The architecture of the neighborhood may not be as grand as in some other city neighborhoods," Linkous says, "but it is very charming in its informality and represents the sort of architecture that was accessible to the average family of the time."

Following a public information period in April, CAR will submit its recommendation to City Council, which, in turn, will send the ordinance to the Planning Commission, which decides on the measure. Then City Council must give final approval to the designation — which comes with implications, Linkous says.

"We're the first neighborhood you come to when you cross the Leigh Bridge," she stresses. "It'll be great for the city." — Brandon Walters

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