Description & Need

Timeline

Subject to the normal variability that comes with any major real estate project, the seminary began construction in May 2017 and work is expected to continue for 18-20 months.

Description

Union Presbyterian Seminary plans to partner with a developer to build apartments on a portion of its Westwood Tract property. Under a plan approved by the school’s board of trustees, 15-acres of the 34-acre property will be used to replace student housing that is inadequate and outdated, attract new students, generate rental income and reduce the draw on our endowment. Up to 301 apartment units will be built, while leaving 19 acres untouched as open space. We can’t promise this land will never be developed, but we have no immediate plans to do so.

Though some of the 301 apartments being constructed on the eastern portion of the Westwood Tract will be needed to house seminary students, the majority of the units will be available for lease to the public. By leasing units to the public, the seminary will create the income needed to then subsidize rent rates for its own students to make living in the new apartments affordable for them.

Need and Benefits

As prospective students evaluate their seminary options, and when they visit with us here in Richmond, our facilities, particularly our housing facilities, needs to register as equally strong and as positively as our faculty, student body, curriculum, supervised ministry opportunities, and placement rates after graduation. Our sister Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminaries have built new family student apartment complexes over the last several years. Advance Apartments, our newest student housing, was built nearly 50 years ago. The new apartments will feature both surface parking and garage parking. A clubhouse with fitness center and a swimming pool also will be a part of the project.

History

According to Church History Ph.D. alumnus William Sweetser, the Westwood Tract was the last parcel of land in Richmond purchased for the seminary. Walter W. Moore was president at the time. The eight original buildings, finished in 1898, on the 11-acre quad were already in use, but President Moore realized even then, with very little developed land around the seminary, that the seminary needed other land for future resourcing of the school. In 1900, when Dr. Hunter McGuire died, his property was placed on the market for $17,000, a significant sum of money at that time. The property apparently takes its name “Westwood” from the nickname that the McGuire family gave to the farmhouse country home erected on the site. Even though the seminary was already in debt for the buildings it had recently constructed and was running a small deficit, Dr. Moore thought it critical that the seminary acquire the financial means to secure this nearby property for the school’s future use. Dr. Sweetser notes that while it is unclear who came up with the idea, 12 seminary supporters organized the Westwood Land Company in 1901 and purchased what is now known as the Westwood Tract. Their avowed object was to hold the property till the seminary could purchase it, but they would allow the seminary to make full use of it in the meantime. By 1910, however, nearly all the stockholders had donated their stock to the seminary.

Dr. Moore was correct in realizing that the land would be invaluable to the seminary. It has to date been a resource for seminary housing. Across the years the land has made it possible for faculty homes, the denomination’s mission court for missionaries on sabbatical, and most importantly, apartment complexes for married students and their families to be constructed and put into the service of the institution. And, since 1901, whatever portions of the land were not occupied for seminary use were left as open space or developed as recreational space. Neighbors have been and remain as welcome to the use of that space as are the members of the seminary community itself.

Plan of Development

Drawings that were submitted as the Plan of Development to the City of Richmond June 3, 2015.

3D Rendering

This is a view looking southwest from the intersection of Brook Road and Westwood Avenue.

Westwood Tract 3D

Color Elevations

Potential finishes that might be used on the exterior of the Westwood Tract apartments.

RICHMOND SEMINARY_COLOR ELEVATIONS_061815  option 1

RICHMOND SEMINARY_COLOR ELEVATIONS(OPT2)_061815  option 2

Site map

Untitled

News Release

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15 thoughts on “Description & Need

  1. I’m glad you are moving forward with this project! We need more density in Northside to attract businesses to foundering commercial districts, like Brookland Park Boulevard. We also need density in places like this, close to downtown (only 3 miles by car and next to a frequent bus route and a future bike lane) and other amenities (VCU and commercial areas like Main St and Carytown); it’s much better than more sprawl in the counties!

    The most disappointing thing is how you’ve reduced the project from four stories to three, and increased setbacks; NIMBYs complain about this project no matter the size, so you may as well build the density you’re allowed to by zoning (the is a multi-family residential parcel) and maximize profits for the Seminary and use for our future neighbors. (It is appreciated that you are keeping open 19 acres for public use; you have no duty to do that, but that you’re doing it anyway shows how neighborly you are!)

    The other disappointing thing is how much parking there is. The students will undoubtedly be walking to campus and so won’t need cars for commutes, and amenities are pretty close. Many VCU students live without a car, biking and taking the bus to active social lives. Given that there is a frequent bus route on Chamberlayne (every 13-20 minutes, until 2 a.m.) and planned to be a bike lane on Brook (which will connect to downtown and the current one on Lombardy), many of these students will decide to save money and not own a car. Given that, you could remove some parking spaces and put in more apartments (or green space), which would reduce the cost per unit of the project (and possibly bring rents down). (Parking spaces cost $4,000 per spot for a surface lot, which will get passed onto the renters in rent; the lost opportunity cost of not building more dense housing is even more.) Certainly you will want some parking, but one-to-one seems like way too much given the intended residents.

    Lastly, it would be nice if the buildings were more street-oriented and less inward/cul-de-sac/subdivision like. Have you considered extending Lamont south to Rennie and making all the apartments face a street, with community buildings in the center? Facing the street will connect your apartments more with neighbors and make them shine more on Brook Rd.

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    • David, thank you for your feedback and support! To maintain our tradition of being a good neighbor, we listened to the community’s concerns and made the decision to reduce the height of the buildings and number of units.

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  2. I would strongly encourage the Seminary to examine the possibility of making the development mixed-use, meaning the inclusion of some retail and commercial space. This would add still more the the neighborhood, which does not offer any retail within easy walking distance.

    Please also consider making specific provisions for bicycle parking. This will be a definite plus for your students as well as residents who — considering the ongoing expansion of bicycle use and infrastructure — would likely use a bicycle to commute to VCU or downtown from this location.

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    • BikeableRichmond, the land is currently zoned for residential purposes, so it will not support mixed-use development. We are bicycle enthusiasts too and will share your ideas with the project coordinators.

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      • I would second the mixed-use idea. I believe that you can’t hurt your position by asking the zoning board for a variance.

        It is inevitable that any seminary development of residential space will gentrify the community to a degree. Richmonders in general are likely to view seminary students as desirable neighbors. You will attract young professionals to this complex, by which I mean young U of R and VCU graduates and the like.

        Mixed-use would allow the seminary to make more money and to decrease rental rates for undoubtedly cash-strapped seminary students, who are probably pretty decent and righteous people on the whole, as they’re 1) planning on giving their lives to God and 2) are smart enough and organized enough to get into seminary in the first place.

        People will be upset that you’re planning to put a Starbucks in the basement, but wherein would they ground their feelings? Mixed-use would allow you to employ local residents. Many of the folks on Chamberlayne Avenue and nearby have problems when it comes to employment because many of them do not have cars, and finding a job on a bus route, consistent with the times the bus is scheduled to run, is a logistical challenge for them on an everyday basis.

        (Translation: taking the bus to work can be a pain in the neck. Walking a few blocks to work is much easier, especially when inclement weather strikes, the bus routes/times are altered, and your boss expects you to be at work anyway on pain of being fired.)

        You could even sweeten the deal by trying to put a Head Start or a not-for-profit preschool of some type in the lower level, so that local residents employed at the complex could have childcare while they work. This would be excellent practice for your students who are getting a master’s degree in Christian education.

        I’m coming to this proposal a bit late in the game, and perhaps proposing mixed-use would have been more feasible some time ago, before the architects drew up their plans. Nevertheless, mixed-use may be something you’d like to consider in the future, for the benefit of all parties concerned, including local permanent residents.

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  3. I live a few houses off of Brook Road on Rennie ave. Our neighbors and community were strongly against this plan and were under the impression that the Seminary wanted to remain a good neighbor to the residents of this community… I want to know what this will do to the value of my home. I realize that these are intended to be higher end apts. but I would have moved downtown if I wanted to be among the congestion of 3 story apt buildings. I am very concerned about the extra traffic on Rennie Ave. as many people use Rennie Ave. as a cut-through from Brook Road to the interstate off of the Blvd. This used to be a very quiet area and this will change the entire enviroment. I am so disappointed. I wanted to put our house on the market this spring and now with plans of major construction and development, I will not be able to sell my house.

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    • Hi Kelly. Opinions can differ, but we believe this revised plan will have a positive affect on property values in the neighborhood. We have been a good neighbor in our community for more than 100 years and we intend to continue that tradition.

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  4. Hi, we live here in the area, and have been here for 12 years. Yours is and always has been a very valuable asset to countless families living in this area, for many years, it’s been a huge part of the quality of life in our area, as nearly every single bit of space is either marked “no trespassing”, and/or fenced and gated off, a lot of it, uselessly, as if to say, stay away, we never walk here, but you cannot either”.. little by little every place one can walk, throw a frisbee, take a child or dog out for a walk, is being removed in what looks like a desperate endeavor to pave everything. Despite having read the plans, I know how construction plans tend to change- I am sending forward, please, for the sake of quality of life for those of us around you who don’t live on a large number of acres and need somewhere to go once in a while, the residents of the area are begging for some space to be left for public, soccer area, tennis courts and handball space has been used for generations: from everyone from families to Maggie Walker students coming here to run and practice. Most of us are devastated at the thought of what this area is losing. We’re hoping you’ll soften this by keeping the families and residents in mind throughout the process and not lose sight of us.

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    • Hi JandK. Thank you for your comments. We hear you. Community space is important to us as well, which is why we will be leaving the remaining 19 acres as they are for families and residents to enjoy. We can’t promise this land will never be developed, but we have no immediate plans to do so.

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      • Thanks for your reply. The latter part of your reply was what I was addressing, and hope I can speak for the community with hoping you remember our concerns.

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  5. I am a 15-year resident of Ginter Park. I have played tennis on the seminary courts, watched my son play soccer with other 3- and 4-year olds on the former Richmond Kickers fields there, and watched meteor showers, lunar eclipses, and July 4th fireworks at the seminary fields. I have always been grateful for their presence and the generous access you allow to them, so it is with sadness that I see them undergo development. They are the last large flat open space on the Northside this side of I-95. That said I understand your desire and right to develop them.

    My biggest concerns are:

    What are the ratios of studio to one-bedroom to two or three bedroom apartments? There is already a large number of one-bedroom apartments on Chamberlayne Ave, and I don’t believe the neighborhood needs any more, unless they are of extremely high quality or reserved exclusively for Seminary students. Two-and three bedroom apartments would seem to attract non-stein art-affiliated couples, families, and others who are more likely to be positive forces in the neighborhood by joining local organizations like neighborhood associations, garden clubs, school PTAs, etc.

    I am concerned about how the non-seminary-affiliated residents will affect traffic on Westwood, Rennie and Brook Roads. Residents nearby must be very nervous about it. It’s all very well to say you will obey all local laws and traffic regulations in designing driveways to the complex, but that should be the bare minimum. Have you truly taken the utmost safety of local current-and-future residents to heart in your design plan?

    The storm water runoff from roofs and driveways and other impervious surfaces at “Bristol at Westwood” is going to hammer the city’s ancient stormwater drains pretty hard. Remember the street and basement flooding from Tropical Storm Gaston in 2004? Could you add rain gardens, infiltration strips, rain barrels, cisterns, or permeable pavements to your design to help lower or slow the volume of water flowing off the property during and after storms? There is a good city program giving reductions in city stormwater fees for adding these features. Our Northside soil tends to be pretty clayey and slow-draining, and I remember the south end of the seminary fields draining slowly, full of standing water and mud until recent years. Please consider stormwater runoff abatement measures in your landscaping plans. Also, native-plant landscaping is a valuable addition to any neighborhood.

    Lastly, can alternative energy sources like solar or wind be used to power some of the complex’s electrical needs? With it being such a wide-open space, it would be ideal for employing these.

    I wish you all the best of luck with this project. The seminary has been a real blessing for the neighborhood and I trust it will continue to be!

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    • Hi Catherine. Thank you for your support and understanding. The seminary has been a good neighbor for more than 100 years and you can trust that it will continue to be. 

      When the Westwood Tract was donated to the seminary in 1910 by a group of seminary supporters for the school’s expansion, early plans called for the full development of the land including housing, a gymnasium, athletic field and library to further the mission of the seminary. The plans were halted by the stock market crash of 1929, but redesigned for full development again in the 1960s.

      Our mission is simple:  to equip the next generation of faith leaders — many of whom stay in Richmond to enrich our community as leaders in churches, hospitals, and nonprofit agencies. To accomplish that mission, we must continue to attract the strongest students. Our ability to create competitive housing on the Westwood Tract is directly related to our mission. We must proceed to put the land to use to do just that. The seminary has permitted open use of the Westwood Tract and will continue to do so as a portion of the property is developed.

      What we are presenting is extremely high quality and a percentage of the 301 one, two and three-bedroom units will be reserved for our students. Many of our students come single to seminary, so making sure they can be appropriately and safely housed in one-bedroom units is important. The neighborhoods surrounding VCU have seen no sign of decline with the many one-bedroom student apartments added there each year and we have no reason to believe our neighborhood will decline either. In fact, we are certain it will prosper.

      Thanks too for sharing your concerns regarding safety, traffic, storm water runoff, and alternative energy. These are priorities for us as well. We are working to address each item and you can trust they will be given serious consideration in the final plans. 

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  6. Comments by André Basmajian, Northside Resident, Sherwood Park, November 4, 2015

    Thank you to Union Presbyterian Seminary for establishing and maintaining its website, particularly with regard to the Westwood Tract Development. These comments are timed to coincide with the Wednesday, November 4, 2015 meeting of the City of Richmond Board of Zoning Appeals.

    While I favor development and the updating of our resources, whether infrastructure or housing, all development as consequences, some of which are desirable and some of which are unintended adverse consequences.

    This beautiful Northside Community in the City of Richmond will clearly be different with the implementation of the development plans for the Westwood Tract and the construction of 301 multifamily rental housing units. Sherwood Park and Ginter Park, the two most proximate neighborhoods will soon have a very large tenant population amidst its homeownership population with the implementation of your development plan. That is a change and one not welcomed.

    As a way of recognizing the inevitable, that is, that the BZA will grant the exception, which will then permit the implementation of the development plan for the Westwood Tract, I ask the UPS policy board and the administration to aggressively protect the attributes which UTS and PSCE so carefully managed for decades, while progressing forward as UPS.

    In the website and one of the Questions/Answers, the narrative provided by UPS states: “Much of the rental income for the seminary will be applied toward scholarships that will offset rental costs four our students.” It may be helpful for the community to see actual numbers for this potential arrangement, so that the neighborhood may better understand the financing implications of this development deal for the income level of its undergraduate and graduate students.

    It may also be more helpful to address the degree to which this multifamily development project anticipates raising more money in an effort to make more than just a break-even amount to possibly increase and improve upon student housing and an individual student’s ability to pay approximately $1,400 per month for a twelve month lease term. Census data, as your developer would know, should reflect “fair market rents” (FMRs) for the City of Richmond, and provide a reference point for values your proposal is using and those collected for this region of the state, moving forward. The FMRs would be specific to your proposal in terms of establishing reference point for 1-bedroom (BR) 2-BR and 3-BR dwellings.

    It appears to be worthwhile to reiterate often, that your targeted objective is “to equip the next generation of faith leaders … to enrich our community as leaders.” Certainly my guess would be that this overall Northside Community, with its multiple faith-based houses of worship, would “buy-into” such a worthy intention.

    To that extent, and finally, I would encourage the developer in turn to encourage UPS, its Board and Administrators, to pay attention to the features of the tract that the community has treasured as amenities and stellar examples of being a “long-term” good neighbor. While the website narrative affirmatively states the UPS position, namely, – – “We have no reason to believe our neighborhood will decline either. In fact, we are certain it will prosper.” – – caring for and immediately addressing the neglect that has fallen upon the tennis courts, the walking trail, the soccer fields and the beautiful green acreage fronting Brook Road and Westwood Avenue, would demonstrate in concrete terms, what you inadequately state in the narrative, “As many of these amenities as possible will be saved.” Your general comments with immediate and specific action addressing the existing amenities will go much further in connecting with the community as UTS-PSCE had done for generations in the past, and which, I believe, UPS can certainly do moving forward in this 21st Century!

    Thank you again for your devotion to ensuring this Northside Community grow as the idilic community it showcases!

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    • André, thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns. They will be given careful and serious consideration as the development plan moves forward. We will continue to be good neighbors and make this community thrive, as we have for more than 115 years.

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