Renovating Headaches? City to Open Help Center 

To help residents navigate urban planning guidelines, ACORN and city plan permanent design center.

Update: The upcoming charrette for the design center is July 22, at the Edgeworth building in Tobacco Row, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Charrettes -- those frenzied urban planning sessions -- are fleeting by nature. Over a few days, a team of planners descends on a neighborhood, titillates city boosters and leaves as quickly as it came, watercolor streetscapes quivering in its wake.

But David Herring, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, wants the charrette process to have a more permanent presence in Richmond, and this month he and 7th District Councilmember Cynthia Newbille are rolling out an effort to establish a standstill urban design center where city residents can seek advice on home renovation projects, including those subject to the city's Commission of Architectural Review guidelines.

As Herring and Newbille envision it, the design center will have a resource library and serve as a space where citizens can set up appointments to discuss neighborhood improvements with architects, planners and developers -- at little to no cost.

Herring is looking at property around the Broad Street and Hull Street commercial corridors for the future location of the center. A planned public meeting July 22, at the Edgeworth building in Shockoe Bottom, is intended to brainstorm a more articulate vision for the center.

“The city of Richmond has committed funds and we have some private funding, but there will be a concerted fundraising component to launch this thing,” Herring says.

Newbille became involved following the recent community debate surrounding Union Hill's designation as a city old and historic district. City Council's approval of the district was mired in a contentious debate over what some residents considered the too-stringent policies of the Commission of Architectural Review, the city-appointed body that regulates all exterior renovations in such districts to ensure they're in keeping with historic authenticity. Last July, City Council created a task force led by 1st District Councilmember Bruce Tyler to review the commission's policies; Tyler is slated to present the recommendations of that task force at a July 20 land use committee meeting.

“One of the concerns and therefore commitments on my part was to make sure that we figured out how to better partner with individuals who live in old and historic districts,” Newbille says. “We need to provide resources that make it as easy as possible for them to be there.”

Newbille says she's looked at neighborhood design centers in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Baltimore and Pittsburgh as possible models for the planned Richmond center, and hopes for future satellite locations “throughout the city.”



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