Agreement between Richmond, cement company clears way for bike trail [Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.]By Michael Martz, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
July 09--Richmond has struck a deal to acquire a key riverfront property that would improve public access to the James and also allow the city to complete its portion of the Virginia Capital Trail in advance of the world cycling championships coming here in 2015.
City officials and Lehigh Cement Co. have reached an agreement to clear the way for extending the Capital Trail while allowing the company to continue operating its East End distribution terminal through early 2015.
The city plans to complete its $2 million purchase of the 1.5-acre Lehigh property on Water Street in February and then lease the site back to the cement company at $104,000 per year for two years, under an agreement that will go to the Richmond City Council for approval.
After Lehigh vacates the property in February 2015, the land will become city-owned open space along the James. "The whole purpose of acquiring the property is to provide public access to the river and to accommodate the Capital Trail," said Jane Ferrara, deputy director of economic and community development.
Once the council acts, Lehigh will begin the long process of converting the rail line serving its property to a segment of the 52-mile Capital Trail from Williamsburg to Richmond.
Lehigh said it also will move a fence along its property to allow the trail to be built and used before the company relocates the distribution terminal to a site in Chesterfield County in February 2015.
"They're willing to do this to accommodate us in return for us accommodating them," Ferrara said.
Jeff Sieg, spokesman for Lehigh Hanson, the cement company's Dallas-based parent, said it would continue to use the distribution terminal to serve customers in Virginia, relying on trucks and direct train shipments until it moves to a location in Chesterfield with a rail connection.
"We want to accommodate the city and support the Capital Trail," Sieg said.
The arrangement will allow Richmond to move forward with completing its section of the trail from Rocketts Landing at the Henrico County line, through Intermediate Terminal, and the former Tarmac property to an existing trail segment that ends at Great Shiplock Park.
Richmond expects to complete the 0.75-mile section of trail by June 2014, well in advance of the UCI Road World Championships in September 2015.
The trail also got a boost last week from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which awarded a $7 million contract to Henderson Inc., a Williamsburg firm, to design and build the New Market Heights trail section. That segment of trail will extend more than 10 miles from Kimages Road in Charles City County to Long Bridge Road in Henrico.
Construction already has begun on the Sherwood Forest segment of trail from the Chickahominy River to Charles City Courthouse.
That would leave only the trail section planned through Varina to Rocketts Landing, and the final pieces of the puzzle along the Richmond waterfront, including the Lehigh and Intermediate Terminal properties.
"That's the one area that the city can control," said Jakob Helmboldt, the city's pedestrian, bicycle and trail coordinator. "It's the gateway to moving forward."
Richmond plans to extend the trail from Rocketts through the Intermediate Terminal property, though not the portion that restaurateur Michael Ripp and his family plan to buy. The Ripps are exercising an option to buy the terminal warehouse that arches over Water Street and part of the city-owned property.
George T. Ross, who proposes to develop the former Tarmac property on the other side of Lehigh, also is partnering with the Ripps on the Intermediate Terminal project. The project could include offices and a restaurant, he said.
Ross is revising the Echo Harbour project proposed on the Tarmac property, owned by USP Echo Harbour, to conform to existing zoning and avoid the need for emergency access to serve residential development.
The original Echo Harbour proposal would have required rezoning and emergency access to accommodate a condominium tower that caused protests on Church Hill over potential damage to the view downriver from Libbie Terrace.
Those concerns have not gone away. Church Hill residents told the Richmond Planning Commission last week that they continue to oppose any development that could affect the view that supposedly reminded William Byrd II of the River Thames as seen from Richmond-Upon-Thames in England.
The proposed Richmond Riverfront Plan shows the property, zoned M-2, as being developed, rather than turning it into city parkland, as proposed by previous city planners.
"It's a privately owned piece of property and they can develop it by right," Ferrara said.
Ross said he is waiting for the completion of the riverfront plan, which he supports as proposed. Eventually, he said, he would submit a development plan that would include offices and possibly a hotel, but not obstructing the view from Libbie Hill.
"If you want the continuation of the Capital Trail and all of the things that would make for a better overall riverfront, that's what we're for," he said.
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