Local Richmond residents are voicing their concerns about a historic block of downtown Richmond set for demolition

Photo by Mikey Maulding.
Photo by Mikey Maulding.

Oregon Hill residents are protesting plans to tear down four historic buildings on the 800 block of West Cary Street, where a four-story, 100-unit apartment complex is set to take their place.

The $18.5 million project, 805W, will encompass the four vacant buildings and area behind them, according to Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Richmond residents and members of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association held a rally March 18 in opposition to the construction of 805W. More than 50 people stood outside the buildings set to be torn down, demanding the property be saved from demolition.

Todd Woodson, president of the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association, said the buildings are particularly pertinent to Richmond’s historic character.

“(These buildings) are the gateway to our neighborhood and to downtown,” Woodson said. “(They) should be conserved and used as a part of the development.”

All four properties are separately listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places, Woodson said.

Two of the buildings date back to the 1830s, making them two of the oldest buildings in the Oregon Hill Historic District, according to a history report about the structures by Charles Pool of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council. The other buildings date back to the early 1900s.

The two oldest properties were built by Benjamin Green, an architect who played a pivotal role in the early stages of Oregon Hill’s development. In detailing the history of the block, Pool said the properties cannot be torn down.

“These structures connect with the… legacy of Benjamin Green in constructing modest working-class dwellings in the neighborhood,” Pool said. “The highest priority should be placed on preserving these important landmarks.”

A statement released by the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association expressed the organization’s belief that the structures hold enough historic significance to stay standing.

“The existing buildings on this block are profoundly important to the intrinsic fabric of our historic district,” the statement read. “These buildings stand as a testament to the craftsmanship and ingenuity of our forefathers. They deserve to be saved and preserved for the future.”

The 805W project isn’t the first time new building projects have resulted in the demolition of some of Richmond’s most historic structures. Woodson said construction around the Oregon Hill overlook had a similar result in 2002 when more than three full blocks of antebellum housing were torn down to make space for a student housing development.

In addition to public demonstrations, Richmond residents are protesting the 805W project through an online petition. The “No805W — Save Oregon Hill Historic Buildings” petition has garnered local support, with more than 900 signatures since its publication on March 18.

Woodson said the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association is fighting the project construction and plans to take the matter to the Board of Zoning Appeals, if necessary.

“Oregon Hill has a big heart and soul to its community,” Woodson said. “Part of that soul is in our love for the history and the architecture that has drawn us here and we are committed to preserving it.”

Saffeya Ahmed, Staff Writer

1 Comment

  1. My friends who own the properties just west of the “805w” project heard about this “development” through the INTERNET. They’ve received NO notices from the city nor from their “representative” on the city council. From what they’ve been told, there were NO public hearings, nor were they given an opportunity to weigh in on this project being built right up to their property lines.

    This is quite ODD, considering that property owners traditionally get city notices whenever a nearby property owner plans to build on a vacant lot, add a wing to his/her property or to even build a sun deck. Such notices include a hearing date whereby property owners can raise any objections they may have. This “805w” project appears to have been a DONE DEAL, with NO regard to the concerns of other property owners on that block.

    HOW is that existing zoning has been modified to allow for a project this size that is out-of-scale with other properties on the same block?

    WHY does the city of Richmond completely disregard historic integrity, allowing developers to build ugly new structures as high and as dense as they please all over the city, with NO consideration toward the community being directly affected by their projects? (The destruction of old buildings and subsequent homogenization of West Grace Street, east of Harrison, as well as long swaths of West Broad Street east of Harrison, comes to mind.)

    WHY is the city encouraging development of “market rate” housing in low-middle income areas, causing long-term residents to be pushed out of their homes in favor of a monied transient demographic when the city should be PROTECTING affordable housing for its non-transient residents?

    It is laughable and galling to see the developers of this project use the few remaining “cool” restaurants and cafés along the strip they plan to destroy as selling points for their intrusion on this historic block!

    That row, which could easily be restored to its former glory, may not be “sexy” or appealing at the moment, but those low-density structures, built for working class families and residents who built Richmond deserve a better fate than demolition and replacement by the non-descript ugliness that has been approved by the city, which is clearly NOT ‘representing” the interests of its long-term residents and property owners.

    At this rate, Richmond’s irreplaceable architectural gems will be wiped out, save for a few “protected” rows here and there.

    Soon, Richmond will look like and feel like ANYWHERE USA.

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