The Seven Hills of Richmond– Church Hill

Article from The Richmond Times Dispatch 1946

The Seven Hills of Richmond seem to have always been a controversial topic in RVA. Today, many people consider the Seven Hills to be a myth.

The truth is, the official Seven Hills were declared in a 1937 ordinance by the City of Richmond but the ordinance was never passed.

Since then, the confusion has only grown larger. In 1947 The Richmond Times Dispatch published an article that attempted to clear the air about the Seven Hills. The article said that there were various lists of Richmond’s original hills and the hills that were found in 1937 were not accepted by the City Council.

Although the Seven Hills were never made official, those neighborhoods have shaped the city’s history and are a part of what make RVA unique.

Church Hill is Richmond’s first neighborhood and home to most of RVA’s original 32 blocks. The Church Hill area is filled with Richmond’s oldest history from the red brick sidewalks and gas street lamps to the classical architectural styles.

St.John's Church 1865

St.John’s Church 1865– Library of Congress

The center of the historic district is  St. John’s Church, built in 1741, it’s where Church Hill gets its name.

St. John's Church 2012 St. John’s is the only Colonial structure in the area that remains intact.

During the 18th century Church Hill was the stomping ground for America’s early revolutionaries, like Patrick Henry. Who’s most well known for his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech at St. John’s Church in 1775.

Richmond Va, Church Hill c. 1850s

A photo of Richmond from Church Hill in the 1850s –Valentine Museum

Classical Church Hill homeHome in Church Hill across from St. John's Church Hill homes near Libby Hill Park


*1742– Church Hill population reaches 250.

The history of Church Hill radiates from the streets since most of the area’s real estate was built before the Civil War.

The classic architecture is what makes Church Hill one of Richmond’s most unique neighborhoods.


Architectural styles on display throughout the neighborhood include: Greek Revival, Italianate, Federal, and Queen Anne. By the 19th century Church Hill was booming and the population in Richmond had reached 5,730.


People began moving to the area for job opportunities in local tobacco factories like the Pohlig Box Factory located on 25th street just blocks away from St. John’s Church. Tobacco factories and industrial buildings provided Church Hillians with jobs and boosted the local population…

Read the rest of this entry »

Venture Richmond Forum Unveils New Developments in RVA

After years and years of work throughout the city, Downtown Richmond is finally getting the attention it deserves, thanks to a nearly $1 billion dollar makeover from the state.

This makeover was the highlight of discussion at Venture Richmond’s Annual Downtown Development Forum last Thursday, May 31st, as Richmond’s business leaders, developers and architects met to reveal their latest ideas for up and coming projects.

Proposed projects included the VCU School of Medicine building, the Virginia Biotechnology Park, a 150,000-square-foot addition for Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc, as well as several apartment buildings in the Manchester and business districts.

Over $120 million is going into creating more residential spaces across the downtown area, according to, who says the recent heightened demand for apartments is a result of the drop in the Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI).

Fyi, the MVI measures the multifamily housing industry’s perception of vacancies which has recently dropped to a level of 31, an all time low.

“Multifamily construction continues to be a bright spot in the overall housing market,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe, in a report by

Residential development across Richmond was a large part of the revitalization plans discussed at last Thursday’s forum.  For more information about how the State is funding these different projects, click here.

Another project in the works is by the Franklin Development Group, who is working to revitalize the Manchester District by building a 17-acre development at the Reynolds South Property.

“We’re a long way from closing,” said Franklin Development’s Manager, Thomas Wilkinson, who discussed the possibility of  over 300 apartments, office space and an upscale grocer at Thurday’s forum.

Although the project plans aren’t official yet, Wilkinson assures Richmond-ers  that the development will revitalize the Manchester district and appeal to the area’s increasipopulations on.  Checkouts Richmond BizSense’s coverage of the Reynolds Development for more info.

Millions of dollars from the City are being put into new construction on the VCU campuses, as well as some of Richmond’s most beloved landmarks, including the Main Street Station Clock Tower and 17th Street.

The idea behind Richmond’s makeover? To transform traditonal buildings and warehouses into modern, revitalized structures for public use.

Be sure to keep your eyes open, as these new developments pop up across the city!

Brown Greer Goes Waterfront on Rocketts Landing

Five years ago, Rocketts Landing – the rural neighborhood of Richmond bordering Downtown and Churchill along the James River – was desolate, barren and considered as just a watering hole by local fisherman. It was pretty much unheard of by the general public.

Two years ago, that all changed with The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing opening in 2010 and The Conch Republic soon after in 2011. The area was completely transformed into an attractive, scenic stretch of restaurants along the James and tourists, visitors, locals, couples, families and Richmond-ers flocked like seagulls.

Today, Rockett’s Landing is making an even bigger splash. One of the Richmond area’s biggest law firms, Brown Greer, is relocating its headquarters to the 38,000-square-foot Cedar Works Building along the riverfront on Dock Street.

Although the building still needs to be renovated, there are major factors in favor of moving to Rocketts, according to Principal Orran Brown: convenient parking, the location, and the long-term prospects of what Rocketts Landing could develop into.

Rocketts Landing Memorial Day 2012 event

Check out these recent articles in the Times-Dispatch and Richmond BizSense, which give a more detailed look into Brown Greer’s latest urban development.

In the mean time, be sure to visit Rocket’s Landing on Sunday, May 27th for Rocketts Red Glare.  The event will feature the Kings of Swingband and a fireworks display to benefit the Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton.

The Economics of Urban Sprawl and What It Means For All US Cities


“New” development north of Broad on Staples Mill

About once a month I get a question about the large, vacant property that borders Staples Mill Road that is just north of West Broad Street, right over the Henrico Count line. My answer is always that it was an old, rundown neighborhood that was purchased and cleared with the intention of rebuilding, and that the developer is the same group that is doing the project at Monument Avenue and Willow Lawn Drive — Gumenick Properties. As to why it hasn’t been started, well just look around at new building all around the country. The developer was obviously waiting until the economy turns around.

But, I always have to give that answer with the caveat that the last official word I had heard about it was a few years ago. I couldn’t even be sure that the same plans were in place. Thankfully I can point to this article on that gives us the lowdown on the current situation — which is pretty much as described as above. It sounds as though things are just on hold, but the same big plans are still on the books. In fact, this project is expected to take 10 years even once they finally get underway.

You need to go read the article to see all of the reported details, but I thought I would share a couple of details of the plans here:

What: Staples Mill Centre, proposed to include 1,096 apartments, 571 condominiums, 391 townhouses, 32 single-family homes, 60,000 square feet of offices, and 100,000 square feet of stores.

Where: About 80 acres between Staples Mill Road, Libbie Avenue and Bethlehem Road, near Interstate 64.

View larger map

How much of an impact do VCU & UR have on Richmond?

Richmond isn’t a college town by any stretch of the imagination. During the breaks when all of the students go home, the campus gets quiet (mostly) — but the city is still buzzing with activity. In fact, a lot of the students live here full-time, even when class is out.

If you haven’t heard yet, VCU & UR’s basketball teams have both made it into the Sweet 16 and Richmond is getting a lot of national attention for this feat. (check out this article in the NY Times and this article on

All of this attention and excitement is wonderful, and has been a long time coming with the athletic programs at both schools gaining more and more traction. BUT the schools’ contributions to our fair city are quite a bit more involved than just succeeding at athletic competitions. Both schools have made quite a large economic and cultural impact over the years, and they continue to do so.

Mark Holmberg from CBS6 did a very interesting piece on how much Virginia Commonwealth University has done to improve the city and gives us a snapshot of VCU’s footprint here in Richmond:

VCU and its hospital and health system now have nearly 19 thousand employees.  It has become the largest employer in the metro Richmond with an annual payroll of $1.2 billion, and look at all the construction jobs and other support businesses for the 32,ooo students and all those employees- which equal a fourth of Richmond’s population.

VCU now owns 142 acres of Richmond, and has 203 buildings.

As for University of Richmond, it doesn’t have the massive scale that VCU does, but it has a great deal of influence and presence in the city as well. From the facts and figures portion of UR’s website:

  • 350-acre suburban campus located six miles from downtown Richmond
  • 379 full-time faculty [couldn't locate a total for the entire staff]
  • 4,405 total university enrollment

And let’s not forget some of the other fine schools here in town that are also educating and providing economic development (and jobs!) — Virginia Union University, Randolph Macon College, and two Virginia Community Colleges (J. Sargeant Reynolds &  John Tyler) serving this area.

How to make zoning easier to understand

Government regulations are typically so complicated that not only can the lay-person not understand what they mean, but they are written in such a way that even people that think they know what is meant are left arguing completely different interpretations.  Zoning regulations are no exception.

In fact, in NYC the zoning regulations are so convoluted that “In a recent case, a judge said the word “development,” which appears at least 2,500 times in the [zoning] resolution, did not mean what the city said.” (source: New York Times article — we’ll see more about that article in just a minute)

The Planning Commissioner for NYC, Amanda Burden, is attempting to make the zoning regulations a little more accessible to the general public by issuing a new city handbook with plain explanations and cartoon drawings that illustrate what particular zoning designations look like and what they mean.  Check out the coverage in the New York Times about what she has been doing to bridge that gap.

While this may not be the right approach for every locality, the idea is one that every local government should take to heart:  Start building tools that puts control of the government back into the hands of the people.  Sure, we elect officials to represent us and we should not be ruled by mob mentality (see: California), but the people also need to be able to understand what is being done — especially when we are expected to interpret these rules and abide by them.

I have seen far too many business and property owners try to follow the rules that have been laid out, only to find a health inspector or building inspector come in with a totally different understanding and cost the owner thousands of dollars in hard cost and lost business because the rules were not clear enough.

What do you think, Richmond? Have you had any issues with the local zoning regulations (city or county)? What would you suggest could be done to make the rules more clear?

Redevelopment plans for Carytown get nod from Museum District

The redevelopment of the old Verizon building at 10 N. Nansemond Street has been hotly debated and contested. (see: the official site for the Carytown Place; Don’t Big Box Carytown‘s website; & this post and the accompanying comment thread on Caramelized Opinions for a good summary & feel of the debate)

The Museum District Association had originally ruled to oppose the redevelopment based on the original plans, but Friday they sent out a press release announcing the reversal of that position.  The gist of the situation can be summed up from this one paragraph in the press release:

The Board voted 13-1 in November to oppose the original SUP and subsequently provided the applicant with detailed requests for further changes to make it more amenable to the neighborhood. The applicant responded by altering the SUP to remove vehicular ingress/egress on Nansemond Street as well as reduce the number of available uses of the property to 10 uses. The applicant also agreed to limit the usable floor space of any one tenant to no more than 25,000 square feet, ensuring there would be multiple tenants in the building and ruling out a single, larger “big box” tenant.

The whole press release can be read here on the MDA’s website (right now it’s at the top, but it will shift down the page as new releases are issued).

What do you think? Are you satisfied with the MDA’s ruling, or are the changes in the plan not enough for you? In that case, what changes would be enough to get your support for the development?

Exciting times for a local revitalization organization

The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (A.C.O.R.N.) has worked diligently for more than a decade to “promote the purchase and renovation of vacant and abandoned buildings in Richmond’s oldest neighborhoods.” This past Friday, ACORN announced some big news that will help them in that mission, and that’s exciting for all of Richmond. I’ll let their press release speak for itself:

The Alliance
to Conserve
Old Richmond Neighborhoods

Press Release
January 21, 2011

The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhood Joins Better Housing Coalition

The Alliance is pleased and excited to announce a new step in its evolution and a greater opportunity to improve lives in Richmond. As of January 31, 2011 The Alliance will be moving to become part of the Better Housing Coalition (BHC) family as its Center for Neighborhood Revitalization. The Center will expand BHC services for the Richmond community and continue to provide educational programs and urban revitalization tools for communities and residents.

The Alliance brings to BHC both experience and programs that benefit prospective homeowners in their desire to renovate and preserve older and historic properties; and this opportunity allows The Alliance to increase its capacity of programs and services, thereby continuing its mission of conserving and rebuilding Richmond’s neighborhoods.

The Alliance executive director, David Herring, will become the vice president of BHC’s Center for Neighborhood Revitalization.

The Alliance property director, Lane Pearson, will support BHC’s Center programs as revitalization strategy manager.

“Moving Richmond’s affordable housing climate forward often requires preserving its past,” said T.K. Somanath, president of BHC. “With the skills and knowledge The Alliance staff brings to the table, we can bolster our work to revitalize Richmond’s urban core featuring well designed, walkable developments that mix residential and commercial uses, integrating the places we live, work and shop.”

John McCann, chairman of BHC’s Board of Directors, said, “We also look forward to tapping the talents of Board members from The Alliance, who have provided unwavering support for The Alliance’s mission and outreach.”

The two organizations are delighted to be integrating programs of The Alliance into Better Housing Coalition in order to continue to strengthen Richmond communities now and for the future.





Richmond’s next frontier?

Style Weekly has an interesting article this week about a part of Richmond that has been largely ignored, Northside’s Brookland Park Boulevard.  There is a lot of great information in the article, so be sure to go here and read the whole thing, but I felt like this part in particular was a great summary of the past and present of this area:

Brookland Park Boulevard was a bustling commercial corridor in the 1950s and ’60s, with popular bakeries, restaurants, a theater and a nightclub. And today, despite the many vacant buildings, several businesses still do a thriving trade.

On Saturdays, the area’s many beauty and barber shops are packed. Soul food restaurant Sam’s Kitchen is doing well, Epps says, as is his brother’s newly opened restaurant, River City Seafood. The cheerful yellow Michaela’s Bakery, which opened in 2005, sells six-layer cakes and strawberry shortcakes wholesale. Owner Michael Hatcher wishes the city would think of some way to bring more customers in — something historic, he says, or a tourist attraction. Another longtime business owner, florist Sylvia Richardson, says loiterers are the biggest deterrent to business. She says she doesn’t feel comfortable even walking to the convenience store across the street.

The one thing on which the merchants agree is that Brookland Park Boulevard has potential. Car traffic is plentiful, because the boulevard connects the city’s North Side and East End, and the area is served by two bus lines. The street has some architectural gems, such as an old theater and an ornate bank building. Richmond Community High School, a school for the gifted, moved onto the boulevard in 2009. Young people are buying up houses in nearby neighborhoods.

Brookland Park Boulevard reminds me a lot of other Richmond gems like East Grace Street near the Carpenter Center and Manchester’s Hull Street.  A rich history, a questionable present, and a lot of enthusiasm and support to make the area a thriving community.

For another great write-up on the area, take a look at this very thorough post on This Decrepit Victorian from March 2010:  The Brookland Park Historic District.

What’s next for Brookland Park, I wonder?