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HOLMBERG: A new house in the middle of a Richmond park?

Posted at 1:04 AM, Oct 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-23 08:41:17-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Oregon Hill, historically, is known as one of the scrappiest neighborhoods in Richmond.

For much of its life, it was all white and largely populated by Irish immigrants who manned the city’s police and fire stations, or the penitentiary that once sat across US Route 1 there (which is a street called Belvidere that edges the Hill).

More than a few of those residents were street fighters and Golden Gloves champs.

So it’s hardly surprise that this neighborhood of rustic frame houses and somewhat renegade residents is fighting mad over a simple oversight by the city that has one tiny, garage-sized lot being bought up in the middle of their Linear Park.

It’s a long, narrow park that runs alongside Belvidere all the way down to a bluff overlooking the James River. (It’s the strip park on the other side of that rust-colored brick wall on the west side of Belvidere.)

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"Absolutely, it no longer becomes Linear Park," said Oregon Hill resident Bob Fuller. "It becomes more like a prison yard."

The proposed house already in the planning pipeline would back right up to the large “Guardian of the Park” monument, commissioned by the city and created by one of Oregon Hill’s history-minded residents, Charles Pool. The house would cap off the park about three-quarters of the way down to the river, creating a visual bottleneck at Holly Street. (It won’t be the first time the long park has been capped off by development, by the way. A chunk further north was also intruded upon.)

Richmond’s Fifth District City Councilman, Parker Agelasto said the little lot was identified in the City’s Master Plan but "we failed to acquire it."

Once they found out the easternmost Holly Street lot was sold, Agelasto worked to negotiate a deal – a land swap – but it fell through. He said he believes the building permit for the house is still under review.

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CBS 6 went by the property owner’s home Wednesday night, but she wasn’t at home. She owns other property in Oregon Hill.

It’s a prime little spot. Who can blame her for wanting a little house there?

“It will definitely be the prime view in the whole city,” said Oregon Hill resident Michael Gahan. “You got the city skyline, the river, the bridges, some trains. But it’s in the middle of the park.

Agelasto said he’s working on a better system of keeping up with the city’s strategic acquisitions so this doesn’t happen again.

Oregon Hill residents don’t want this one happening either.

But it’s a neighborhood that has fought more than a few battles for its identity, and has more than a few of them, parts of its dramatic riverfront.

CBS 6 will continue to follow this story.