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Business owners concerned over potential Salvation Army relocation: ‘There’s a lot of respect for what it does’

Posted at 12:03 AM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 00:05:12-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Julie Weissend envisioned an emerald city overlooking Richmond’s downtown skyline, when she and her husband renovated their construction business on Brook Road.  The beautifully refurbished building is the headquarters for Dovetail Construction, and an inspiration for future innovative designs along the Chamberlayne Avenue corridor.

“When you look down Brook Road, it looks like the Wizard of Oz,” Weissend says.  “The idea of more shops, more apartments and have it be a lively community.”

But a proposed homeless shelter for the Salvation Army, in a now vacant church building in the 1900 block of Chamberlayne Avenue, has concerned several business owners who say the shelter doesn’t align with a 2016 master plan that city and business leaders proposed together to help the area thrive economically and socially.

While members of the Chamberlayne Avenue Industrial Corridor Group say they don’t oppose the Salvation Army relocating to the area, there are fears regarding proposed overflow shelter space for the homeless population on cold nights.

“There’s a lot of respect for what the Salvation Army does and there’s a lot of understanding that there’s a need that the Salvation Army is filling,” Weissend says.  “It’s just a matter of how it’s falling into the (master) plan.”

On Monday, city leaders amended the ordinance and agreed to postpone a vote on the issue until January 27th.  The ordinance still allows 98 beds for men, women and children seeking permanent housing, but it eliminates the overflow bed space for the homeless population seeking temporary shelter.  The original ordinance also allows the Salvation Army to relocate its administrative offices and programs into the new building.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” says Councilwoman Kim Gray.

Gray says a master plan was created for the corridor to help combat crime and blight in the city.

“There are open drug markets, there’s prostitution going on,” Gray says.  “There’s been a lot of recent investment in that corridor to try and bring it up.”

Council Vice President Chris Hilbert, who represents the Chamberlayne Avenue corridor, says he plans to abstain from voting on the 27th because of his wife’s past involvement with the Salvation Army.  He has voiced opposition to allowing an overflow shelter in the area because it doesn’t mesh with the corridor’s long term master plans.

Weissend says she supports any opportunity to breathe new life into the district.

“If it fits into something that is conducive to a community that has needed some tender loving care to really get on its feet.”