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Manchester Green Site Work Begins

Robin Miller and Dan Gecker’s Urban Development Associates, LLC have begun their long anticipated “Manchester Green” development. The massive project consists of 22 parcels and encompasses an entire city block bordered by 12th, 13th, Bainbridge, and Porter Streets. The project follows a tidal wave of new development in the booming Manchester neighborhood.

As originally reported in Richmond BizSense back in January of 2015, the project team was hopeful they could break ground as early as the Spring of 2015: “It is expected that 80 new units will be available once the project is completed.

It will feature a variety of residences, with some one- and two-bedroom condominiums and three- or four-bedroom townhomes available for sale. Rental options will include duplexes or a multi-family building. It could also feature some commercial space on the corners.”

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City Plans-But No Action = Kiss that Greenspace Goodbye

Ironically, the City proposes in its Master Plan for the Manchester Green block to become an urban park connected via a Greenway linking the neighborhood to the riverfront. It bears mentioning that the City once proposed a different nearby block (bounded by 12th, 11th, Porter, & Perry Streets and also owned by Miller and Gecker) to become an urban park as part of this plan. That plan fell to the wayside however, as Miller and Gecker have already developed the block with a series of duplexes.

It sounds harsh, but the City has been asleep at the switch. As we reported previously, the City put the Manchester Neighborhood Plan together 21 years ago in 1996, but has done virtually nothing to implement that plan. So you can hardly blame Miller and Gecker for getting along with their development as the City appears to have had no real interest, money, or visible leadership pursuing that plan. And all the while the property continues to increase in value as the neighborhood improves, thereby making the pricetag for the City to acquire the block for greenspace that much higher. In other words, the City simply waited too long.

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Alice Fitz Park

As we reported recently, multiple property owners have banded together to privately improve the City owned Alice Fitz Park. The park is admittedly much smaller than those proposed by the City in its Manchester Master Plan. But it will provide critical, and fast disappearing, greenspace for the neighborhood. And while the residential development in the community and the resulting density it creates is critical so that amenities such as a badly needed grocery store become possible, we also need greenspace. No one wants to live in an urban setting entirely devoid of nature.

Luckily, the first phase of the park improvement has already begun. The chain link fence has started coming down. New plantings and landscaping in the terraced area between the cobblestones has been installed. It is a great first step in what is going to be a transformation of this important park for the community.

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The City’s Other Manchester Green

We should also mention that Miller and Gecker’s development is not to be confused with the City’s other “Manchester Green” project. Proposed by the City of Richmond as part of its Riverfront Plan, the elevated Manchester Green park is located on yet another large parcel of land it does not own: the Norfolk Southern Railway Co land behind the Manchester Floodwall.

And just like the Manchester Neighborhood Plan…the City has done virtually nothing to implement the Manchester side of the Riverfront Plan, including the restoration of the Manchester Canal. So while we wait on the City to secure greenspace, implement riverfront plans, and pondering what type of Manchester Canal we want, private property owners and developers are getting the show on the road. Good, bad, or indifferent, the neighborhood is changing at a blistering pace.

So buckle up, it is going to be an interesting ride.

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