Great Scott!! Look What’s Happening to Your Addition!

The Altamont apartments

by James A. Bacon

The Scott’s Addition area of Richmond, Va., is the last place most people would want to live. It’s a gritty neighborhood of warehouses and light industry comprised mostly of boxy and unadorned brick buildings, grungy gravel parking lots and a few stunted trees. Indeed, it’s the kind of place normally zoned to keep renters and homeowners out. Yet it’s one of the hot, up-and-coming neighborhoods in the City of Richmond. Young people, it appears, like living there.

The neighborhood has a great location within bicycling distance of downtown and Virginia Commonwealth University, not to mention it’s a hop, skip and jump from Interstate 95 and the Powhite Expressway. Property is still relatively cheap. And, oh… anything goes.

Max Musto doesn’t have to go far from his apartment in Scott’s Addition to practice with his band, Dr. Con, a power funk outfit, according to the Times-Dispatch, which profiles the Scott’s Addition comeback today. “We can go all night, you know, because it’s an industrial section,” he says. He chose the neighborhood because it’s cheap and “away from everybody.”

The renaissance of Scott’s Addition, which was named after General Winfield Scott, is fascinating in many ways. One storyline could be that the revitalization sprang out of nowhere. No one at City Hall anticipated the redevelopment that occurred there. It never hit the radar screen of the city’s booster groups. With some assistance from historic rehabilitation tax credits, redevelopment happened all by itself.

The other storyline — the one that I will elaborate upon today — is that the Scott’s Addition renaissance calls into question the notion that it is necessary and desirable to rigidly segregate industrial land uses from residential. The very concept of zoning originated as a way to separate housing from nasty, polluting industries that befouled the air and water nearby. It was a public health and safety issue. But 50 years of ever-tighter environmental regulations have obviated the need for separation except in rare instances. There are no significant public health issues associated with living in Scott’s Addition today.

Grunge. What makes Scott’s Addition inexpensive.

In fact, the proximity of residential and industrial-warehouse space is a good thing. Not only does Max Musto get to jam with his band but woodworkers, glassblowers and other local artisans can lease space near where they live. People who work in Scott’s Addition — not just in light industrial jobs like rug cleaning, sign printing, auto body repair — can live there, too. Meanwhile, there is an increasing array of non-industrial businesses, including restaurants, craft breweries, coffee houses, and even Moseley Architects, a respected, midsized architectural firm. 

Let me repeat for emphasis: It’s a good thing when people have the option to live near where they work. It’s good for the workers, who spend less money on transportation. It’s good for others because it keeps cars off the main roads. It’s good for the employers because employees who live nearby are less likely to encounter transportation-related problems getting to work. It’s good for the environment because burning less gasoline translates into less air pollution. It’s good for the city because revitalization bolsters the tax base.

Every locality should re-think zoning codes that prohibit the intermingling of industrial, commercial and residential uses except in rare instances in which a manufacturing facility poses a manifest risk to the health of neighbors, such as a company that uses toxic chemicals in its industrial processes. My friend Dan Slone goes a step further and advocates the creation of eco-districts in which the waste heat from clean manufacturing processes is recycled to power HVAC for neighboring residents.

What has arisen in Scott’s Addition is unique in the Richmond area and all-too-rare anywhere in the country. It’s an environment where anything goes. No one moves there unless they’re willing to put up with the noise and dust of tractor-trailers and machine shops… and Musto’s rock band. It’s not a place for blue noses. There are two — count ’em, two — gentlemen’s clubs. It strikes me as the kind of place where all manner of wild, creative things can happen.

By formalizing what is evolving on the ground in Scott’s Addition, the City of Richmond could create a national showcase for urban revitalization.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


20 responses to “Great Scott!! Look What’s Happening to Your Addition!”

  1. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    This calls into significant question the plan to build a ball field in the bottom so that the boulevard can be developed. This area is only a block away from that area and seems to be coming along on its own. The Richmond Food Co-Op is looking closely at Scott’s Addition.

  2. I’ll tag on to Les’s comment. Did this happen without any effort or support from the city? what has changed to make what was formerly not an appealing place to live o one that now is -?

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The Scott’s Addition story is actually one of organic, up-from-the-bottom growth. It happens a lot in Richmond as it does in other places. The reason it happens are:
    (1) Old time industries such as bakeries and small production and storage facilities are moving out.
    (2) Rents are cheap.
    (3) Younger people move in and despite Mr. Bacon’s sense of aesthetics, many creative types prefer the industrial cityscape to 1950s strip malls or 1980s office parks.
    (4) It happens WITHOUT the city’s help. The same is true with Richmond and it’s First Fridays. These monthly events happened bottom-up around parts of Broad Street by artists and younger people who opened galleries because rents were cheap and encouraged monthly viewings. Bars responded by offering First Friday specials. This all happened without the city or local chamber of commerce and various pooh-bahs who wouldn’t attend anyway DECREEING that this or that place was an ARTS DISTRICT because they had just been to a junket in Austin or Greensboro and that’s what they did there. What this shows is just how irrelevant the Metro Richmond chieftains and their ilk are. If they want to be helpful, they should just stay away,.

    I am surprised that Mr. Bacon didn’t know about Scott’s Addition. It ain’t news. It has been going on for a decade, but it obviously was news to the out-of-touch Richmond Times Dispatch (no surprise there) since it’s publisher-in-chief has no real idea what’s going on beyond his office window..

    Bottom line: Wonkdom and smart growth for neanderthals or whatever and tons of obscure reports and white papers are a separate reality. This kind of stuff happens without all of that. Please try not to F*&k it up!

    1. re: “it happens bottom up”

      Peter, how would you compare this (or not).. with gentrification?

      bonus question: do you think the Richmond Poobahs are D or Rs ?

      double bonus: if you asked the Richmond Poobahs whether they support “Smart Growth” or not would they support it and would they consider the “rules” in Richmond as supportive of it or way too restrictive and needing change – i.e. need to do away with land-use rules that restrict density and/or get rid of regulations and rules that get in the way of entrepreneurial efforts?

      1. I’m not Peter, but I’ll answer your question anyway. What’s happening in Scott’s Addition is very similar to gentrification… with one big difference. Because it’s an industrial zone, no poor, existing residents are being displaced. Therefore, the trend has generated no political backlash.

        1. re: gentrification-like re-uses of former industrial locations

          Isn’t it pretty common in a lot of major cities to see “warehouse” districts which have converted from industrial to residential?


    2. Mr. Galuszka, why would you say this: “I am surprised that Mr. Bacon didn’t know about Scott’s Addition”?

      What evidence do you have that I didn’t know about the changes there? The fact that I wrote a blog post based on a T-D story? The fact is, I have reason to go to Scott’s Addition fairly frequently and am well acquainted with the changes there and nearby on the Boulevard, as evidenced by the fact that much of the material in my blog post did not come from the T-D article. The T-D article simply provided a peg to make two points:

      (1) The revival was not “planned” (the very same point you make) and
      (2) The idea that industrial and residential land uses are inherently incompatible doesn’t hold water anymore.

      I know you like to tweak me — fair’s fair, I like to tweak you — but don’t presume ignorance on my part unless you have concrete evidence of it!

  4. these questions are an attempt to further calibrate the issue of whether or not urban areas should pursue “liberal” policies to “smart growth” or “conservative”/”free-market” policies towards encouraging Smart Growth.

    what should be the role of the government in Richmond?

    1. “What should be the role of the government in Richmond”

      Get the heck out of the way, for starters. Cut through the red tape and absurd zoning rules that hinder redevelopment and business growth. Pull the plug on the stormwater tax- the city is planning a ballpark and condos in the James River floodplain, how can it justify taxing residents and businesses for rooftop/parking lot runoff?

      1. but all of that nasty red tape – did not prevent young folks from moving into warehouses.. right?

        and the storm-water? going to have to fix that – or else even more damage is going to occur in the future – and insurance companies will bail – and that will be the end of commercial in the Shockoe Slip .. so then a ton of land will be available for a stadium.

        this is no alternative with storm water. If you donj’t deal with it .. it’s going to cause the insurance companies to leave.

        1. We don’t know what it took, from a regulatory standpoint, to get these buildings occupied.

          As for stormwater, my point was clear: how can the city justify a tax on residents/businesses while building a ballpark and condos in the floodplain?

          If we are talking about a fix for stormwater, well that begs the question of what is the city doing with that revenue collected from the stormwater tax? Using it to mitigate for the Shockoe bottom plan does not constitute a “fix”, not by any means.

          1. re: ” we don’t know”.. well.. I would think the folks that are saying we need
            less restrictive regs would know and would make a point of it… right?

            re: stormwater – I just don’t see stormwater connected to anything else.. it’s a separate issue that has to be dealt with no matter what else in going on…

            the stormwater is being driven by new state regs… it’s going on across all of Virginia… the how and why of what any locality will do with the stormwater money is an issue.. and one would hope there is, will be, some kind of approach similar to how we prioritize repairs/improvements to water/sewer systems..

            but if I recall correctly Gaston in 2004… right?


          2. Larry- your argument is a mess. Stormwater is of course connected to “anything else” when it is subject to taxation on residents and businesses, as it is in Richmond. I questioned whether this tax is just, as the city is planning to embark on major redevelopment in the floodplain which will cost in the hundreds of millions for mitigation to state/federal environmental agencies.

            And so what if all this money in “stormwater mitigation” is the result of new state regulations? What makes you think that the regulators have it right this time around? In spite of all these costly rules the water quality of the Chesapeake tributaries has only gotten steadily worse over the past three decades.

            And that flooding incident in Shockoe- what’s your point there? The city did a crummy job of managing stormwater then, and it does a crummy job now. Please tell me what your solution is to this problem, other than a flawed rationale for more taxes and regulation.

          3. Johns – it’s as “connected” to anything else as much as any tax is.

            would you similarly “question” ..say the sales tax or the property tax in the same way that it’s not “just” to have those taxes if the city is going to build a stadium? why is the storm water tax related and not the others?

            in terms of “having it right” – jesus – it is what it is … you can question ANY tax as to whether it is “just” or not.. what is the basis for the assertion for this particular tax?

            the Bay water has gotten worse BECAUSE the prior regulations have resulted in enough pollution removed and stormwater is the one that is the last to be regulated…

            this is across the state and totally disconnected from any other development plans that Richmond – or any other city in Va has.

            my only point in Gaston was that there are two dimensions to storm water – the first is the pollution and that it ends up in the river…

            but the second dimension is the volume of it and what you do with it and you do not store/sequester it – then it causes flooding and if it runs into sewers then you have sewage overflows also.

            when you talk about something being “just” – you have to include not only the taxes designed to address the problem – but the damages that occur – if you don’t. Is it “just” for people in Shocoe Slip to lose their businesses because the city has inadequate stormwater retention facilities (separate from the new law)?

            you’re opposed to the stormwater tax – correct? that’s the central part of your complaint?

          4. It sounds like we have a fundamentally different view of government. I don’t just assume taxes solve problems, and yes I question the rationale behind them (whether they are just). To me the stormwater tax in Richmond, which I believe is the one of the only jurisdictions in the state to assess such a tax, is not a just/fair tax on homeowners and businesses. Especially given that the city is pushing for a major redevelopment plan in the James River floodplain which will cost millions in “mitigation”, but may not improve the status quo with respect to stormwater impacts. I also question why certain property classes are exempt from this tax in Richmond and the methodology behind the assessments.

            I really think that I have made myself clear on this and would like to hear your thoughts on the issue. You have to admit- a stormwater tax is quite different from property or sales tax, is it not? Why don’t Richmond’s neighbors (Henrico and Chesterfield) tax stormwater?

          5. John S asked, “Why don’t Richmond’s neighbors (Henrico and Chesterfield) tax stormwater?”

            Richmond has been under the gun for years to clean up its sewage pipes that combined with stormwater overflow during heavy rains, the result of century-old infrastructure. The Feds allow Richmond to reduce its capital expenditures if they undertake other mitigation projects, which the city decided to pay by means of the stormwater tax.

            Neither Henrico nor Chesterfield have been under the gun in the same way, although that could change in July when new stormwater standards come into effect. To my knowledge, neither is considering a stormwater tax. I’m not sure what they’re planning to do.

            I believe that if a locality is under the gun to clean up stormwater, which Richmond is, that a stormwater tax is the fairest way to pay for it. How else will you pay for it? With general revenue? Given the necessity of imposing taxation of some sort, it strikes me that the fairest thing to do is to base the tax on the amount of stormwater generated by a given property.

            You may have a point that the Richmond stormwater tax is being applied unfairly. I’m not familiar enough with the details to say one way or another. But that’s the background.

          6. older cities have additional stormwater issues – combined sewer overflows because stormwater goes into the sewers – and overflows the treatment plants as a result – then raw sewage into the river.

            the more recent stormwater regs are for stormwater per se and affects all counties and jurisdictions and allows different implementations for funding – within the current property taxes ..a separate storm water district with separate tax levy, etc..

            it goes into effect on July1 and many localities have waited until now to deal with the regs – i.e. adopt the newer regs and set up a funding strategy.

            it’s wrong to think we’ve “already fixed the problem” with prior rules.
            we have made progress .. but we still have problems which has necessitated further regs – in particular, how to go about retrofitted older storm water facilities that no longer meet the standards for new development and are contributing to continuing impacts to the Bay.

            in terms of “just” – like a lot of tragedy of the commons issues – which we sometimes classify as “externalities” is unjust to pollute the bay and harm others who benefit from the Bay in personal and business ways.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka


    Your headline read “Great Scott!” and that suggests it is news to whomever wrote it.
    You also assume some things that industrial and residential uses are incompatible. Sez who? White paper writers?

    Look at Brooklyn. Red Hook and the Navy Yard area are being flooded with young residents, artists, movie producers, etc. Similar migrations have happened to older industrial urban areas for years.
    I don’t know how well you know Scott’s Addition, but the way you pitch your blogs, i.e. headlines and cutlines, reach pretty far and make it all sound like news. Thus, one must conclude that you do, too. Plus, you tend to knock down straw men who really weren’t standing anyway, i.e. the supposed wall between industrial and residential. They weren’t really standing up other than in the wonk world.

  6. re: fundamentally different views of taxes
    perhaps. ..but we’ve not found the edges yet.

    we pay taxes for services and infrastructure that we need and use from roads to schools to prisons to law enforcement, fire and rescue, libraries, water and sewer… etc.

  7. re: the “justness” of taxes.

    are we opposed to any/all taxes?

    or just certain ones?

    or think we pay too much for what we get?

Leave a Reply