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Plan to move shelter worries some Richmond neighbors: ‘We just don’t feel [it’s] helpful to our neighborhood’

Posted at 6:46 AM, Dec 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-13 15:41:42-05

RICHMOND, Va. — The Salvation Army Central Virginia (SACV) is seeking permission from the city’s Planning Commission to move its Richmond headquarters for the first time in nearly 50 years. But the organization is meeting opposition from the neighborhood in which it wants to relocated.

SACV has been headquartered at its current location at 2 W. Grace St. since the early 1970s. The organization has requested a special use permit to move to 1900 Chamberlayne Parkway, which is less than two miles away.

“The opportunity at 1900 Chamberlayne, the space that’s available there offers a space where the Salvation Army could host a variety of wrap around services to serve families and individuals who are facing hardship in their lives as well as emergency crisis housing,” SACV spokesperson Matt Pochily said.

Pochily said SACV had considered expanding its current location, but the cost of doing so worked out to the same as relocating to and renovating the Chamberlayne site.

The Chamberlayne property, owned by Eternity Church, is 2.31-acres and has a 47,584 sq. ft. building.

If the special use permit, required because the property is in an M-1 Light Industrial District, is approved SCAV would use the building as an office, group home, cold weather shelter, and for social service delivery.

Pochily said that if SACV moves into the new site, the number of beds they would be able to provide would increase from 55 (33 for men and 22 for women and families) to 97 (74 for men and 28 for women and families). He said the increase is smaller for the women and families because other service providers are adding beds for that demographic.

The new location would also serve as an emergency cold weather overflow shelter with 30 beds (this number had been reduced from the initial application which had 100 beds).

“A move from 2 W. Grace St. to 1900 Chamberlayne would provide a couple of things. One, it would be more services to more people, especially within the emergency crisis housing area,” said Pochily. “But, two, with the greater wrap around services and a larger space, with which we could host other community service providers. When those individuals come through our doors, whether it’s for rent, utility, mortgage assistance, even emergency crisis housing or cold weather shelter, we’ll now have other service providers with a space there where they can help those individuals faster, get back on their feet faster, and into a stable situation faster.”

A staff report written for the Planning Commission earlier this month, recommended approving the special use permit stating, among other things, "the proposed use would not be detrimental to the general welfare of the community involved and would not create congestion in the streets in the area involved."

However, several businesses around the proposed site have sent letters to the city in opposition of SACV’s request.

“We just don’t feel that that’s going to be helpful to our neighborhood. We’ve been fighting stuff like this every few years. I’ve been here for 32 years and every few years…the city tries to throw something over here into our neighborhood,” said Chuck Hemenway, owner of Chuck’s Frame LLC and board member with the Chamberlayne Industrial Center Business Association, who was one of those who wrote a letter in opposition.

Among the comments in the letters of opposition are concerns about the impact on the revitalization and compound the vagrancy problem in the neighborhood. Hemenway added he has concerns about traffic safety.

“Bring them over here, they’re going to be on a busy highway on Chamberlayne,” said Hemenway. “It’s not something that’s going to help the businesses in the area and I don’t know. We’re the last little industrial area in the city and the developers are staring to look at this area because they’re running out of buildings over in Scott’s Addition and, so, they’re kind of starting to look here and this really isn’t going to help any.”

Third District Councilmember and Council Vice-President Chris Hilbert, who represents the area, also wrote a letter in opposition to the special use permit.

Hilbert wrote the “usage of the building as a cold weather shelter is not congruent with the City Master Plan for business redevelopment in the Chamberlayne Industrial Area.”

He added that because the area is within a “Target Enforcement Zone” he is concerned that the people “most helped by the center, would also be the most vulnerable as it pertains to safety and crime issues.”

Pochily said he understands that people and businesses may be opposed to a group like SACV moving in, but points to letters of support written by businesses and organizations around their current location.

“Identifying the type of community partner we have been and the impact of our programs and services and the individuals whom we’ve served have had on their businesses. Which has not been a negative impact,” said Pochily. “So, we hope there’s an opportunity for continued and greater conversation with folks in the Chamberlayne and Edge Hill communities about the programs and services the Salvation Army would provide...and how those programs and services will serve the individuals facing hardship who are right there in that corridor.”

The Planning Commission deferred voting on SACV’s request at its December meeting to allow for more community engagement.

That will be taking place at a special meeting Hilbert is holding about the request on Tuesday, December 17 between 6 p.m. - 7:45 p.m. at the Richmond Police Training Academy at 1202 W. Graham Rd. Representatives from SACV will be in attendance to present their plans.

The special use permit request is next on the agenda for city officials in January 2020.