Eager teen-age beavers jump the gun and rip down Church Hill houses without city permits ... 

Street Talk

Smells Like Teen Spirit, And Maybe Natural Gas
Berry-Burk Building May Bloom Soon
Debate Still Stirs Over Warehouse
After Dispute, Garden Center Stays Put
Life-Saving Honors Go To Hanover Family

Smells Like Teen Spirit, And Maybe Natural Gas

Three dozen youngsters with hand tools made quick work of two rundown houses in Church Hill last week.

Too quick, says Jennings James, who issues demolition permits for the city. The kids, volunteers from an Episcopal school in New Hampshire, were helping Interfaith Housing Corp., a Richmond nonprofit group that builds affordable housing for low-income families.

James says they didn't have the permits required to tear down the old houses, which Interfaith Housing owns. And while it appears any danger was minimal — utilities had been turned off long ago — the fact that natural gas lines were still connected from the property to the street main necessitated an emergency visit from a city crew. The demolition was put on hold for several hours while the crew drilled holes in the 1200 block of North 27th Street to "kill" the gas connection completely, James says.

"They jumped the gun," he says of the teens' premature eradication of the houses. "It's a glitch in ... communication with the nonprofit."

That's how Interfaith Housing Executive Director Pat Patterson sees it, sort of. "It's a communications snafu, that's all," he says, adding he thought there was a verbal agreement with the city to proceed with the demolition.

"All I'm going to say is the permits hadn't been issued before they started," James says. He otherwise applauds Interfaith Housing and other community-development groups for building affordable housing in the city: "The bottom line is they are making a difference."
— Rob Morano

Berry-Burk Building May Bloom Soon

It's been a long time coming, but the historic Berry-Burk building at 6th and Grace streets downtown finally has a buyer and plans for development.

"I've had the building for sale in one way or another for eight years," says Tucker Adams, president of Adams Property Associates, Inc., the company that aggressively marketed the 1928 Egyptian Renaissance-style building to Robert P. Englander, Jr. of the CathFord Group.

Englander is best known for his other spectacular downtown purchase — the old Central Fidelity Tower at 3rd and Broad streets.

According to Adams, the five-floor Berry-Burk structure, with a mezzanine and a theater in the basement, will be converted into a type of extended-stay hotel with suites offering amenities like fax machines and computer hook ups.

Its proximity to the new convention center, the Carpenter Center and the Capitol — where the General Assembly convenes — convinced Englander of the building's potential to draw a crowd, says Adams.

And the sale price: $1 million.

"You couldn't rebuild that building today," says Adams. "At $20 a foot, it's very reasonable."
— Brandon Walters

Debate Still Stirs Over Warehouse

Will the Superior Warehouse building at 24th and East Franklin streets in Church Hill stay or go?

Citing its 19th-century industrial architecture, the Historic Richmond Foundation told Style in February it wants the building to stay.

But Tobacco Row residents have a different take on the issue, according to Eric Anderson, president of the Shockoe Bottom Residents Association. They support Forest City Residential Group — the developers who own the land and plan to have the building demolished to make room for a new full-service grocery store. Anderson's group has long awaited the day when such a store would move in and make life easier — nixing the need to trek miles to the closest grocery store.

On Feb. 22, the city's Architectural Review Commission voted down Forest City's petition for demolition. According to John Albers with the city's Office of Historic Preservation, the group had until March 9 to file an appeal. And, says Albers, they made it with a day to spare.

Now the two groups wait for an answer.

It's one that could take 75 days. That's how long City Council has to vote on whether or not the building will come down. In the meantime, something else has caught the attention of residents and preservationists alike. According to preliminary plans for the grocery — that insiders say is connected with Richfood and Ukrop's — 24th Street between Main and Franklin streets would have to close.

"That's necessary because it's right in the middle of the street," says Anderson about where the store could be constructed.

Hmm. The Jefferson Hotel recently convinced City Council that with its new entrance it needed Jefferson Street from Franklin to Main.

Still, Albers explains it's far too early to talk street closings. "The commission has not reviewed any proposal for that," says Albers. "It's not in the cards yet."
— B.W.

After Dispute, Garden Center Stays Put

After nearly five months spent looking for a new location, North Side's Azalea Mall Garden Center is staying right where it's been for the past six years.

It's just sprouting alone.

The crumbling mall that once stared at Brook Road passersby has been torn down. But that's not why Mike McLaughlin and his family are especially happy.

Instead, it's because they are allowed to stay. Despite resting snugly in the corner of a cracked and barren parking lot that sees scarcely any traffic, the McLaughlins like it here.

And when Atlanta developer Dewberry Capital Corp. threatened to weed out the garden center when its lease ran out in December, it became clear that neighbors like them there, too.

As reported in the Oct. 19, 1999 issue of Style, the situation grew dim when Dewberry Capital Corp. — the group that owns the former-mall property — asked McLaughlin to be a community liaison for the company, then withdrew its support of the garden center.

McLaughlin says that's now all in the past.

"Things have happened since the article," he says.

The big-city developers and the little garden center reached an agreement.

It's all because their North Side neighbors refused to let the garden center go.

"They wrote to [Dewberry]," says McLaughlin excitedly, "and Roy West, the former mayor, was one of them."

Letters followed from myriad Bellevue residents and loyal garden center customers.

"A representative flew up," from Atlanta says McLaughlin, "and met with Mr. West. And they assured him that they weren't going to make us move."

"We're still not knowing what's going on with the mall," he says. Neighbors say Dewberry Capital Corp. has scrapped plans for its quasi-retail-residential complex that was in the works, and is now looking for a buyer.

Either way, McLaughlin's confident he's there to stay. "I think it's great," he says. "And now we've got pansies blooming and the primrose. It's a great time to mulch."
— B.W.

Life-Saving Honors Go To Hanover Family

Misty Colgin of Hanover County says she still gets a word of thanks now and then from the itinerant worker whose life she and her family saved last year.

The middle-aged man, who apparently lives in King William County, was cutting wood at Colgin's neighbor's house in December when his chain saw kicked back and severely gouged his neck and chest.

Colgin was drawn by her neighbor's screams. "It was just total terror," she recalls. "I didn't know what to do."

Actually, she did. As she saw the man bleeding and unconscious, her Red Cross life-saving training kicked in. "God forbid you ever have to use it," she says. "But it worked." She and her husband, Allen, used Allen's shirt to help stanch the man's wound, and they called for their children (Sara, 11; Laura, 9; and Michael, 7) to bring towels and a comforter from the house, which also kept the man from going into severe shock.

Bill Harrison, spokesman for the Greater Richmond Chapter of the American Red Cross, says Colgin's and her family's aid saved the man's life. They will be honored with the Red Cross' highest awards March 29 at its annual volunteer appreciation luncheon in Richmond.

While Colgin says the now-recovered man has dropped by her home a few times to say thanks, Harrison says efforts to obtain his address have failed. Because the Red Cross awards weren't determined until after the injured man's last visit to the Colgins, the family didn't know to get the man's address. The neighbor who hired him in December might know his address but is out of the country, Colgin says.

Colgin, a bus driver and elementary school aide, hopes the man will be contacted in time for him to attend the banquet.
— R.M.

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