A coalition of area residents says it will keep fighting Dominion's tower. 


When Richmond City Council voted unanimously Nov. 26 to give Dominion Resources the right to build a 160-foot-high tower along the banks of the James River, droves of protesters mourned and went home.

An even greater army of supporters — including Richmond Renaissance, Greater Richmond Partnership, Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Richmond Riverfront Development Corp. — cheered and went home.

But now, still licking their wounds, members of the city's newest coalition, Citizens Advocating Responsible Riverfront Development, maintain the fight's not over.

"Until the tower is built, we're not giving up the Dominion issue," asserts Gayla Mills, co-organizer of the group.

After all, the coalition was created for one reason only: to thwart the giant power company's prodigious proposal.

Mark Lazenby, a spokesman for Dominion, has this to say about the group: "With regard to CARRD's efficacy, we're not going to editorialize on how effective it is. … We do respect CARRD's right to its opinion, and we've tried our best to find a design that is agreeable to everyone concerned, not just with CARRD."

But now, after what it perceives as abandonment by City Council and an unfair rebuke by some city officials, CARRD is reshaping its strategy and broadening its mission. In addition to continuing its protests of a high-towered Dominion, CARRD, which Mills reports has a few dozen members, now promises to weigh in on other proposed developments along the river.

Specifically, the group plans to begin studying in January a slew of projects slated for Rocketts' Landing, the area of flood plain that stretches east of Tobacco Row along Route 5 and into eastern Henrico County. Future plans for the site include the construction of a marina, retail shops and restaurants, and upscale residences.

Mark Strickler, director of community development for the city of Richmond, says that so far "there are no applications pending" for the Rocketts' Landing site, though he acknowledges plans for its development are certain.

That's precisely why CARRD hopes to get involved.

"We knew we were going to start with the Dominion issue, but we didn't know whether we would become more than a one-issue group," Mills says.

That has changed.

Though it was not able to convince City Council to reject Dominion's proposal, CARRD has managed to win at least one major victory. Earlier this fall, the Richmond Planning Commission voted unanimously against Dominion's request for B-4 zoning, which would have meant no height restrictions for the company's new buildings.

"That was successful and a lot of people were amazed that we beat Dominion," Mills says.

Strickler agrees. "I would certainly argue that they were successful," he says about CARRD's effort to prevent the initial rezoning of the site, which is to house more than 1,100 Dominion workers.

In the quest for a compromise between Dominion and its opponents, Strickler says: "A lot of progress has been made."

But CARRD's Mills hardly calls it progress. She calls it politics.

Just days before City Council was scheduled to vote on the zoning change and special-use permit for Dominion, Mills says she sent a letter to Mayor Rudy McCollum expressing CARRD's staunch disapproval of the plan as it was proposed. The letter also warned that McCollum represented five neighborhoods — Woodland Heights, Oregon Hill, Jones Park in Randolph, Cary Street South and Byrd Park — whose neighborhood associations opposed Dominion's plan, too.

Within hours, Mills says, CARRD members met individually with five Council members. At least three indicated they might vote against the proposal, she says. And based on conversations CARRD had with Council members, she contends, the group had reason to believe that Reva Trammell, Delores McQuinn and Sa'ad El-Amin all had reservations about Dominion's plan.

On Nov. 26 no one on Council voted against it.

"We suspected we were going to lose," Mills concedes. "Council slammed us by unanimously voting against us. But what's worse is the way they did it."

Mayor Rudy McCollum and five members of City Council were in Atlanta for a convention and could not be reached for comment. El-Amin's liaison could not be reached for comment. McQuinn and Trammell who did not attend the conference, could not be reached for comment. But McQuinn's liaison says she does not recall McQuinn having spoken with CARRD.

Mills says some Council members and city officials criticized CARRD unfairly, decrying its members for not helping to bail out Richmond's ailing schools and other blighted neighborhoods. And the media, Mills contends, made matters worse.

"It served to minimize the issue instead of presenting it as a citywide issue," says Mills, explaining that the group was rarely identified as CARRD and was referred to as Oregon Hill residents concerned only with saving their river view.

Mills insists CARRD's opposition to the 160-foot tower is not about scenic views but about being a good neighbor and developing land responsibly.

City officials, she says, know CARRD's position but chose to ignore it. "It all boils down to fear," Mills says.

In July, the first public-information meeting was held to describe Dominion's $70 million plan to develop 13.8 acres of land it owns on Tredegar Street. Oregon Hill residents — mostly skeptical — packed a nearby church to hear how their neighborhood might be affected. From the beginning, residents were concerned that the plan would bring inordinate traffic into their neighborhood and eclipse the wondrous view of the James River from Oregon Hill's bluff. Consequently, the Oregon Hill Neighborhood Association formed in hopes of protecting those interests and identifying others.

But soon, says Mills, the neighborhood association's members realized that the sheer scope of Dominion's development would likely be important to others outside Oregon Hill. Neighborhood associations like those in Woodland Heights, Byrd Park, Southampton and Church Hill, and preservationist or environmental groups like the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and Scenic Virginia joined with the plan's opponents from Oregon Hill to provide a more regional voice. The result was Citizens Advocating Responsible Riverfront Development, or CARRD.

"This had to go outside the neighborhood," says Mills. "And from the outset we had overwhelming support."

It's support that CARRD hopes to cultivate, somehow, even with Dominion, even as plans materialize.

"We're in the process of shifting focus," says Mills, adding that just because City Council approved Dominion's plans doesn't mean they company must implement them.

"We would like to convince [Dominion CEO Thomas Capps] that Dominion could be a better corporate neighbor and there are more alternatives," says Mills.

"Will Dominion change its mind?" asks the Fortune 500 company's Lazenby. He makes it clear that it's not likely. "We've worked hard to accommodate a serious proposal that's needed for our projected space," he says. "I can't give a signal that there will be any changes."

Last Wednesday, a group of about 30 CARRD members met at the William Byrd Community House to confirm its mission to study riverfront development.

How effective CARRD will be determining the future of Rocketts' Landing is anybody's guess.

James McCarthy, executive director for Richmond Riverfront Development Corp. says he is unfamiliar with CARRD or its mission and has not spoken with any of its members.

But that could change.

"It all depends on the energy level of the group," explains Mills. "Right now you're catching us at a low ebb.

"One thing about [the experience with] Dominion: We had the arguments on our side," Mills insists. "It's the politics that created a bad vote that supported bad

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