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City Council Approves Richmond Master Plan With Amendments Coming

aerial photo of downtown Richmond
FILE PHOTO: Craig Carper/VPM

Richmond City Council gave final approval Monday night to the Richmond 300 master plan, which will guide the city’s growth until its 300th anniversary in 2037.

The 256-page master plan lays out future land-use and other changes that will be necessary to accommodate new residents in a growing city. According to Richmond officials, approximately 32,000 people have moved to the city in the last two decades. Another 40,000 people are expected to move to Richmond by 2037 under the most conservative growth estimate provided by VCU’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. The master plan also includes an ambitious list of goals for city leaders over the next 20 years, including expanding access to green space and public transit, as well as creating thousands of new affordable housing units. 

“[Richmond 300] is built on a foundational understanding that with equity-and sustainability-centered actions, Richmond can grow into a beautiful city where all residents can thrive,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said. 

As Richmond’s population grows, not all areas of the city are expected to grow equally. 

The Richmond 300 master plan encourages city officials to incentivize growth and new development in certain neighborhoods or “nodes.” These include Greater Scott’s Addition, Jackson Ward, Downtown and Shockoe Bottom north of the James River, and Southside Plaza and Manchester south of the river.

Mark Olinger, head of Richmond’s Department of Planning and Development Review, said these nodes fall into two categories: areas that are experiencing organic growth and will likely continue to grow; and areas with ample vacant land that could be enticing to developers with some infrastructure or land improvement from the city.

“Things don’t happen overnight, and so you have to start laying the groundwork for people feeling comfortable with making investments in new uses or businesses or residential,” Olinger said. 

Thousands of city residents participated in dozens of community consultation meetings and surveys throughout the development of Richmond 300, but Monday’s vote was not without opposition.

The Richmond-based Partnership for Smarter Growth, along with progressive advocacy groups Richmond For All and Legal Aid Justice Center sent a letter to Mayor Levar Stoney and City Council on Dec. 11, asking for amendments. They include bigger commitments to incentivize affordable housing and requiring one-to-one replacement of public housing units during redevelopment.

“Every Richmonder deserves a safe and affordable place to live,” the letter reads. “We deserve to age in place, and we deserve the right to stay in the communities that we call home.”

Some neighborhood groups, like the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association, also voiced opposition to future land-use designation changes. Under the plan, Oregon Hill’s future land-use is designated as “neighborhood mixed-use,” rather than the neighborhoods’ current zoning designation of “residential.” Some residents fear that if the plan leads to a zoning change it could invite in more private developers, including VCU. 

Opponents of the Richmond 300 master plan as adopted said they have been asking for these amendments throughout the process. If Richmond City Council had adopted the requested amendments on Monday, the City Attorney’s Office said the plan would have to be sent back to the Planning Commission, potentially delaying final passage for months.

Instead, Council Members agreed to pass the master plan and offer amendments later. City Council President Cynthia Newbille asked other members to consult with the communities they represent, with plans to begin vetting requested amendments in January.

Following the vote, Stewart Schwartz, vice president of the Partnership for Smarter Growth, said he was happy with how the process will move forward.

"We are very encouraged our concerns were heard on affordable housing and that amendments are already in the works to address this critical issue," Schwartz said.