2017-07-26 / Featured / Real Estate

Commission greenlights Westchester apartments


Casey Sowers and George Emerson plan to build upscale apartments at Westchester Commons on Midlothian Turnpike. 
RENDERING COURTESY OF POOLE & POOLE ARCHITECTURE Casey Sowers and George Emerson plan to build upscale apartments at Westchester Commons on Midlothian Turnpike. RENDERING COURTESY OF POOLE & POOLE ARCHITECTURE Is Westchester Commons, a shopping center on the affluent, western edge of Chesterfield, in need of revitalization?

According to the Planning Commission, the answer is yes. The commission voted 3-1 last week to rezone a four-acre tract at Westchester – sans proffers – to allow local developers Casey Sowers and George Emerson to build a 250-unit apartment complex on the property.

The county’s Transportation Department opposes the application for amended zoning because the developers fail to address the project’s impact on local roads.

Under the county’s road cash proffer policy, residential developments located outside targeted revitalization areas must provide either cash or transportation infrastructure improvements worth up to $9,400 per housing unit.

But Chesterfield Economic Development supports the waiver of those fees in this case, hopeful that the new apartments will provide a much-needed boost to retail shops and restaurants located along Westchester’s Main Street corridor.

“We’ve been looking at ways to stimulate the retail, and multifamily [residential development] is a key part of that,” said Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director.

Westchester Commons originally was envisioned as a mixed-use project, with single-family homes and apartments located close enough for residents to walk to retail stores, restaurants and other amenities within the sprawling development at the intersection of U.S. Route 60 and state Route 288.

That plan was abandoned following the collapse of the real estate market in 2008. Today, Westchester looks much like any other suburban shopping center: major retailers such as Target, fast-food restaurants and a movie theater, amid of a sea of asphalt parking lots.

Sowers and Emerson see an opportunity to breathe new life back into its residential component. They think their upscale one-and-two-bedroom apartments will appeal primarily to young professionals looking for urban-style amenities and easy access to a major regional roadway.

“I’m sure there’s nothing like what we’ve proposed in Chesterfield County,” Sowers said .

The planned site for the new apartments is located within easy walking distance of Westchester’s pedestrian-friendly Main Street area.

“It’s why this project is so important from a market perspective,” said the developers’ attorney, Brennen Keene. “Main Street has struggled in terms of leasing [retail] spaces. There’s a pent-up desire to have some activity to help the commercial get off the ground and begin to thrive.”

Hart said that if the Westchester apartments are successful, it could prompt other residential developers to purchase vacant parcels and build there.

“I would just as soon have 450 [apartments],” he added. “The denser, the better. That’s what the market demands.”

The sticking point at Westchester is cash proffers. According to county transportation staff, to address their project’s impact on nearby roads, Sowers and Emerson either would have to pay $1.4 million in proffers or provide in-kind transportation improvements.

The developers are seeking to avoid that expenditure altogether. Keene suggested the waiver of proffers is justified because past and present owners of the Westchester Commons shopping center already have paid more than $10 million for road infrastructure, which he described as adequate to handle additional traffic generated by the new apartments.

He also noted that the Board of Supervisors waived cash proffers as an incentive during the county’s redevelopment of the old Cloverleaf Mall property on eastern Midlothian Turnpike.

There is now more than $165 million in private investment at that site, Hart said, including a thriving Kroger supermarket and the upscale Element at Stonebridge apartments.

It’s not an apples to apples comparison, though, since the Board of Supervisors has identified the eastern Midlothian Turnpike corridor as a revitalization area. That’s not the case at Westchester, which is located in the most affluent part of Chesterfield.

In registering the lone vote against the rezoning request for the Westchester apartments, Clover Hill Planning Commissioner Gloria Freye said Keene had yet to provide Transportation Department staff with documentation to support his request for a waiver of cash proffers.

Michael Jackson, planning commissioner for the Dale District, abstained from voting.

Commissioners Peppy Jones (Midlothian), Gib Sloan (Bermuda) and Edgar Wallin (Matoaca) sent the case on to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval. ¦

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