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Proposed Apartment Building in Church Hill, Reduced in Size, Moves Forward

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The Planning Commission approved a rezoning request Monday to build a five-story apartment building in Shockoe Bottom, making way for a new version of the project that drew vocal opposition two years ago.

Before the 7-2 vote, Josh Bilder spoke in opposition to the proposal for 2801 E. Main St., saying he represented the people of Church Hill.

“There’s still some unanswered questions,” he said of the project, known as Pear Street.

But the chairman of the Planning Commission, Rodney Poole, pushed back. “If Church Hill [Association] had opposition to this,” he said, “they would be here in force.”

The discussion was in stark contrast to 2014, when the association organized strongly against a building that would be between 11 and 13 stories. Residents said the project would block a historic view from Church Hill.

Developer Brian White of Historic Housing says the new plan will keep the building at five stories and not obscure river views.

New commission member Jack Thompson asked if the developer would consider four stories. But another member, Dave Johannas, noted that the neighborhood association supported a five-story proposal when the taller one was being considered.

Thompson said he was surprised there wasn’t more of a Church Hill Association presence and wanted more time. “Once you’ve blocked the view from the river,” he said, “you’ve blocked the view from the river.”

The developer, White, said the land was zoned industrial and could be the site of “something huge,” noting that the master plan called for the area of Shockoe Bottom to be mixed use.

“We’re just trying to connect that space,” White said, “rather than leaving it something industrial.”

He added that the developer would prefer no additional height restrictions, noting that the city wanted increased density on the route of bus rapid transit.

Thompson and White briefly debated whether the river could be seen through that portion of land from Libby Hill Park.

The zoning decision will go to City Council for a vote.

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