Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Hopewell takes action on future of city’s vacant lots and buildings
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 1, 2013, 13:06

photo by Caitlin Davis The closed up Hillcrest Apartments have structural issues that need to be addressed.

A future for the 12-acre Bluffs property was voted on at the Hopewell City Council Works Session on Tuesday.

After hearing a presentation from the planning commission about possible plans for the lot, the city decided to move forward.

Councilor Wayne Walton moved to advertise a request for proposals to see what development companies would suggest for uses of the lot, which once featured 104 family units.

“I was wondering if there was some interest now,” Walton said. “A white knight to come in here and give us something great. It can’t hurt. You put something out there.”

Walton also moved to have March Altman, Assistant City Manager for Development, begin talks with Urban Land Institute, or ULI, to see if a $10,000 study might provide the city with good ideas for the land.

Planning commission recommended council move forward with ULI, noting the institute’s Technical Assistance Panel, or TAP, program would assist with the comprehensive plan and development plans for the lot.

That $10,000 buys a two day session with developers, engineers, and realtors from across the region. During a meeting on Jan. 22, Altman told council that, for the price and for the expertise, working with ULI would offer the “best bang for their buck.”

The planning commission said that sites nearby the Bluffs, including the City Marina, currently undergoing a $1.5 million renovation, also have an impact on the Bluffs property.

The city is currently considering next steps for another one of those neighbors, the boarded up Hillcrest Apartments building, which were closed in the fall of 2012.

“The biggest issue there, when we went and met with the city and a bunch of engineers, was structural issues,” Kyle Stephenson, President of KRS Holdings in Richmond said.

Stephenson was made receiver of the property in March of 2012. A receiver is defined by the court system as a person appointed by the court for the protection or collection of property that has become the subject of claims.

KRS was granted receivership of several properties, once belonging to Hopewell Partners, LLC., including Prince George Terrace, 600 E. Broadway and Hillcrest.

Stephenson said it was the decision of the lender to close down Hillcrest, noting only a few tenants had to be relocated.

Stephenson said that engineers even studied the soil 20 ft under the buildings when determining that the existing structure was not suitable for habitation.

The lender is currently taking a close look at properties requiring attention, a list that includes Prince George Terrace and Hillcrest, and drawing up plans for improvements, Stephenson said.

“It’s a pretty fulfilling experience,” Stephenson said. “It’s exciting to see things come back to life.”

At the works session, councilor Jackie Shornak said that she wants to make sure the money set aside for ULI will be well spent.

“I’m not against the $10,000,” she said. “What I do want to see is, of that $10,000, what are they going to give me for that amount of money.”

Councilor Christina Luman-Bailey said one of her concerns was putting out an RFP and not accepting any bids for the piece of property.

“I just don’t want to put ourselves in the position of someone coming forward with a proposal that has 10 single family homes on it and asking the city to help out with the road or something like that and we say, ‘No that’s not in our best interest,” Bailey said. “And then we’re being bad mouthed all over town because we’re not going for a proposal that someone came up with.”

Luman-Bailey added that even if an RFP is put out for the Bluffs, she is still not sure what the recommendations for the property should be.

“Again, residential development is not a money maker,” Luman-Bailey said. “I think everybody needs to keep that in mind when we’re making our decisions.”

Altman said that putting out an RFP and participating in a market study from ULI will not hurt the city’s position. He said both will help towards the end goal of bringing something to the vacant lot.

“You put the bid out there. It runs it’s course,” Altman said. “Let’s assume we get good proposals, they’re going to tell you what they think will work, what the market will bear on that property, whether it’s a 100 story high rise condo building or 30 single family homes and houses. They’ll say, ‘Based on our experience in the market, this is what we think the market will bear in Hopewell. Then it’s up to council to decide if that is what you feel is the best use of the property.”

Altman added that a study also helps the city get a better picture of how the development community sees the property.

“What the study allows you to do is say up front what you’re looking for,” Altman said. “...This approach is just letting the development community do some of the lifting up front as opposed to the city.”

All councilors, aside from Brenda Pelham, voted to send out an RFP for the property and authorize the planning commission, along with Altman, to begin discussions with ULI.

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