Neighbors express concerns over Riverbend project development

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on Mar 13, 2019 - 12:51 PM

Photo: Hillside Drive homeowner Chuck Thompson stands along the property line of the Riverbend Apartments project currently under construction in Gloucester.  Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Hillside Drive homeowner Chuck Thompson stands along the property line of the Riverbend Apartments project currently under construction in Gloucester. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Residents of the Hillside Drive neighborhood asked the Gloucester County Planning Commission at its March 7 meeting if proffers made by the original developer, Zandler Development Corporation, are being strictly followed by the new developer, Nusbaum Realty, in the construction of the Riverbend Apartments.

The developer, in comments to the Gazette-Journal, cited weather holdups and said the project is on track to comply with the rules set down, with one condition due to be met this month.

In addition, county officials said no certificate of occupancy will be issued until all proffers are met.

The property is on Route 17 just south of Gloucester Court House where the old Post 75 American Legion building was located.

During last Thursday’s public comment period, Hillside Drive homeowner Chuck Thompson said that he was selected by his neighbors to represent them and their concerns. The citizens are concerned that several of the terms, including a 30-foot buffer zone with 10-foot-tall berm, have not been met by Nusbaum Realty, despite being agreed to by the original developer, Thompson said. He said they also feel the project and its target demographic have changed substantially from what they were promised in 2014.

The master plan, originally created by Zandler, which Nusbaum is legally bound to follow, states “A buffer consisting of continuous 10’-15’ tall berms, a minimum of 6’ tall fencing, and evergreen landscaping on top of the berm spaced 10’ on center, shall be required on the multifamily parcels along the common property line … prior to the construction of any buildings.”

Prior to last week’s meeting, Anne Ducey-Ortiz, Director of Planning and Zoning, said the property has to be in line with its proffers to receive a certificate of occupancy. “They won’t get a Certificate of Occupancy until everything is complied with or with landscaping, a surety is in place,” she said, “but the final project requirements, as stated in the proffers and approved Master Plan and site plan, are not required to be completed until CO unless they proffered a timeline, which they did proffer a phasing plan.” 

An inquiry with Nusbaum regarding the buffer garnered a response from Jeff Knowles, president of HOY Construction (which is working on the site), who stated: “We have installed the berm and are within 2’ of final required height in most portions. We have continuously been working on completing it but the record amount of rain we have had since beginning the project has slowed its completion.”

Knowles stated that footings and foundations have been under construction but that “we had never planned on going vertical with framing until the berm was complete.” He expects the berm itself to be completed by the end of the week, with the fence installation beginning March 18. Evergreen installation, he said, would follow the fence construction.

In the original public hearing held before the Gloucester County Planning Commission in 2014, the development was pitched by Zandler’s Charles Records as being “similar to what we’re doing down at Coleman’s Crossing,” and was estimated to be mostly adults and older residents with an average of .19 children per housing unit. 

After the parcel was bought by Nusbaum Realty for just over $2.6 million in 2016, the focus apparently shifted. The website of TS3 Architects, the builder who was contracted by Nusbaum Realty to build out the Riverbend Apartments, lists the project as “an Affordable Housing development” with “HUD financing” and “Tax Credits: 9 percent Competitive and Accessible Supportive Housing.”

“The premise as proposed and approved for Z-13-01 Planning Commission Meeting 05 Oct 2014 was a high-quality, town center type, free-market property,” said Thompson of the 2014 hearing. 

Ducey-Ortiz said the developers received tax credits but the project is not for subsidized (Section 8) housing. “It will still meet the proffers … affordable housing is not Section 8, it’s based on median income and Gloucester has a pretty high median income.”

The tax credits total $795,000, per the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), and are administered by the Virginia Housing Development Authority. Per the VHDA, the project is deemed “affordable housing” and “provides incentive for private investors to participate in the construction and rehabilitation of housing for low-income families.”

Ducey-Ortiz said prior to last Thursday’s meeting that “the project’s land use—multifamily housing—is the same land use that was approved by the board. “We can’t regulate the price points for the products,” she said.

During the planning commission’s public comment period, planner Ken Richardson stated “we have no enforcement capability” once the item of business went from the planners to the county board. The planners advised the residents to submit their concerns to the board of supervisors for further consideration.

Thompson and the homeowners who selected him as their spokesman say they plan to do so.

Gloucester County Administrator Brent Fedors, in direct communication with Thompson, said: “At the understanding that your inquiries were being addressed by others … It didn’t seem like there was much more to say.” He said, “The planning commission and the board approved a plan, and we will ensure that the developer builds in accordance with the approved plan.” Fedors said he was of the opinion that the planners and county board could not impose further requirements.

Ware Neck hearing

A public hearing was originally scheduled to be held at last Thursday’s planning commission pertaining to a potential business in Ware Neck; however, it was determined that since the planners had already heard a similar proposal from the applicant for the same site within the last 12 months, they are not permitted to revisit the matter until a year has elapsed per a code amendment.

 

The matter instead will be revisited by the board of supervisors at its April 2 meeting since they never acted on the initial proposal following the applicant’s request of a delay.