Chippenham Place: The Right Project in the Right Place

One of the most encouraging development projects in the Richmond region is the recently announced plan to redevelop the dilapidated Cloverleaf Mall in Chesterfield County. Crosland LLC, based in Charlotte, N.C., has purchased the mall from Chesterfield County for $9.2 million. Crosland proposes to raze the old mall by 2008, build 200,000 square feet of commercial space and erect more than 500 residences by 2011. (See the article by the Times Dispatch.)

Cloverleaf, built in 1972, was one of the region’s first malls but it fell into decline as Chesterfield’s growth frontier pushed south. As with so many malls built in the 1970s, the retail complex had nothing to offer but its newness. It was architecturally undistinguished, and it was surrounded by strip shopping-center dreck, which has outlived its planned obsolescence as well. Rather than integrating with the surrounding community, the mall stood apart from it, separated by vast parking lots, unwalkable roads and physical barriers. Meanwhile, the old, 60s- and 70s-era housing in the region, paragons of early “suburban sprawl,” had failed to create the sense of place, or character, that inspires homeowners to reinvest and upgrade. Instead, the middle class abandoned the area for bigger houses on the development frontier, and they were followed by lower-income residents who couldn’t keep them up.

Despite its prime location at the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and the Chippenham Parkway, Cloverleaf has been plagued by the loss of tenants and business traffic. Just since 2000, retail sales have declined from $45.3 million to $11.7 million. Seeing potential for a major re-development project, Chesterfield County acquired the property in 2004 with the aim of stimulating private-sector interest.

The beauty of this new Chippenham Place project is that it will move 500 people closer to the Richmond New Urban Region’s core. They will be served by existing infrastructure — water, sewer and superb road access. There is no need (I think, but have not confirmed) to build new schools, police stations and fire stations. Although Chesterfield County is preparing an unspecified “economic development package” for Crosfield, anything the County spends is likely to be a fraction of what it would cost to provide infrastructure and services to the huge new projects sprouting along Rt. 288 on the region’s southern growth frontier.

If Chippenham Place accommodates the population growth of the Richmond region by 500 households, that’s 500 households that the Commonwealth of Virginia doesn’t have to provide new transportation infrastructure for. Question: What does the state transportation plan do to encourage more re-development projects like Chippenham Place? Instead of dumping money on new roads in fast-growth counties in a hamster-in-a-treadmill effort to keep up with new growth, why isn’t the state doing everything it can to bolster revitalization projects all around the state?

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3 responses to “Chippenham Place: The Right Project in the Right Place”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, lets ignore the fact that it sat mostly vacant for years despite the fact that an African American church did make an offer- this is racist Chesterfield, after all.

    But how about making it a real transportation center by putting in light rail with the former mall as a center station? Or is that just too worrisome for all those local car dealerships and gas stations?

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    In the interests of balanced perspectives:

    Growing problem: In rare move, officials oppose bid to add homes”
    The vote to recommend denial is a statement by the Planning Commission that it will not recommend approval of development in areas of the county where infrastructure is currently lacking and in which there are no plans in the foreseeable future to improve the infrastructure,” said

    … The proposed rezoning that triggered Donegal Glen’s vocal opposition isn’t big. It’s a 53-acre area Dan Gecker, chairman of the commission.

    “This is not a matter of stopping growth,” he said. “It’s a matter of better managing it.”

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I am 100% in favor of re-development. I consider it to be recycling, on the highest order. It is far more important than recycling pop cans.

    I spend an inordinate amount of money repairing old vehicles and equipment, but when the time comes to give up, they go to the scrapyard.

    It is next to impossible to repair or recycle household appliances. The gasket for a refrigerator door can cost half as much as a new refrigerator.

    Unlike a refrigerator that will go to the scrapyard, we have to live with potential redevelopment sites. It behooves us to do our best with them.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean more density for the site. Maybe the existing infrastructure won’t handle it. Maybe, the best thing to do with it is convert it back to open space.

    We need to start the analysis of each and every one of these opportunities with a blank sheet of paper. Look at what has happened around it. Maybe other stuff has over absorbed the infrastructure that this place once used.

    I have a real problem with the idea that more density is always the best way to preserve open space and reduce costs.

    I have an equal problem with the idea that development should be excluded where infrastructure doesn’t exist, unless you can show that the infrastructure is needed. There may be areas where well and septic is sufficient, for now. There may be areas where the roads are uncrowded, now.

    Lrry Gross has accurately described, it seems to me, the problem of incremental failure. “Hey, the road is empty now, I’m not causing a problem.” Hey, the road is almost empty now, I’m not causing much of an additional problem.”

    So, what’s wrong with a provisional permit. “OK, we will let you do this now, but, in the future, when LOS reaches X, we reserve the right to raise your taxes.

    Isn’t that more or less what has happened? We are going to raise your taxes now.” OUCH. MAJOR HEARTBURN. The only difference is that the planners didn’t have the foresight to put their plans in writing.

    That is kind of a universal failure of planning.

    If they had only said, OK, we will let you early adopters go ahead, recognizing the hardships you will endure (building your own well and septic). However, be FOREWARNED, that the day will come when your next neighbor will trip the wire for tax increases. DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU. Enjoy your grace period, but, when the time comes DON’T BLAME IT SOLELY ON YOUR NEIGHBOR. YOU WILL ALL PAY.

    Some rural areas have adopted just such a strategy. Before you can build in arural area, you must sign a statement. The statement says that you understand that your (prior) neighbors may engage in practices you don’t necessarily approve of, like hunting, night farming, pesticides, stray animals and so on.

    It says we cherish our dark sky and security lights are frowned on. Etc. Etc.

    THEN, when someone stands up at a public hearing to raise some objection, the BOS is free to pull up the agreement and say, yes, but didn’t you sign this agreement, not to interfere with your neighbors?

    But, back to redevelopment. It seems to me the same idea should work in reverse. Yes, you had this development. No, you did not maintain it acording to community standards. Yes, the surrounding area has developed beyond our ability to keep up. NOW YOU WILL ALL PAY MORE, to bring everyone up to current standards.

    Or, Your neighbors will buy you at full value, and turn you into a park, in order that THEY can avoid the new tax.

    Take your pick.

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