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    In the Mix – Suburban commercial developments get an urban ambiance…

    At the southeast corner of Dominion Boulevard and Innslake Drive in Innsbrook in Henrico County, an unassuming brick office building is nestled behind a screen of mature trees. The building is currently home to Benchmark Mortgage, but it will soon have some new neighbors, as development plans for the area call for the addition of a pair of five-story apartment buildings and a structured parking deck.

    The project, Innslake Place, is the first in what may be a series of steps to urbanize the circa-1980s office park.

    “We’re seeing the office space evolve into something much different than it has been for the last 25 years,” says Joe Marchetti Jr., a Richmond-based commercial real estate broker. Marchetti is the owner of WAM Associates LLC, which purchased the 4-acre parcel of land at Innslake Drive and Dominion Boulevard in 2008. In April 2017, the Henrico Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the rezoning under its urban mixed-use designation.

    “We’re seeing the younger [workers] looking for their work to be closer to where they live, and they are looking for recreation and entertainment opportunities.” —Joe Marchetti Jr., commercial real estate broker

    Marchetti points to places like Ballston and Clarendon in Arlington County, where multistory, vertical mixed-use structures developed over the past couple of decades have given an urban look and feel to suburban commercial and residential areas.

    “What’s happening in the workplace are the demographics are changing,” explains Marchetti. “We’re seeing younger [workers] looking for their work to be closer to where they live, and they are looking for recreation and entertainment opportunities — things like beer pubs and parks.”

    “Innsbrook is located very close to all the best restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the area,” he adds. “What’s not in Innsbrook is the various types of housing that the workforce is now looking for.”

    The apartments planned for Innslake Place will be “true urban apartments,” according to developer Richard Souter, a partner in WVS Cos., which joined Marchetti in the project in December. WVS is the developer behind Rocketts Landing.

    “There aren’t three-story, garden-style walk-up apartments,” says Souter. The apartments will be five stories and 100 or more units each and will include a pool and clubhouse among other amenities.

    Souter echoes Marchetti’s take on the transformation of the suburban office park. “This is a trend that’s been going on across the country,” he says. Office parks are a natural place to begin densifying development, according to Souter, because they already have ample infrastructure in the form of roads, sewers and parking. He sees other urban-style projects going up in Innsbrook as Henrico continues to develop. “Innsbrook really could be the downtown area of Henrico,” he says.

    In 2010, the county released its Innsbrook Area Study, which made recommendations for future land use in Innsbrook, including recommendations for development consistent with the new urban mixed-use designation. The study was motivated in part by increased vacancy in office buildings in the park, estimated at 25 percent at that time.

    Construction is slated to begin this summer for Innslake Place. “The beginning of the Innsbrook transformation is just starting to take place,” Marchetti says.

    Sub-Urbanization

    Although Henrico officially adopted the urban mixed-use designation in 2009, the first of this type of project to get off the ground in the county was Rocketts Landing in 2002. “[Rocketts Landing] was really what I could call the county’s first true urban development,” says Joe Emerson, planning director for the county. At the time, the urban mixed-use designation required an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan.

    “The county was beginning to realize its supply of land wasn’t necessarily endless,” Emerson says. “The western area of the county was beginning to have more density because the available land was less and less. We were seeing more infill.”

    “People more and more want to park their car on the weekends and walk somewhere.” —Kathryn Howell, professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

    Emerson adds that it was clear the market was trending toward urban mixed use, and zoning recommendations were made to accommodate those trends.

    Similar to other mixed-use designations, such as suburban mixed-use, which is used for neighborhoods like Twin Hickory or Wyndham in Glen Allen, urban mixed-use blends residential development with nonresidential spaces and usually includes a variety of housing styles. But urban-mixed use places more emphasis on pedestrian-accessible commercial and community centers and encourages vertically mixed structures — for example, apartments or condos built on top of commercial and retail centers.

    GoWest_Broad_Village_JAYPAUL_rp0518.jpg

    West Broad Village in Glen Allen is a prime example of the county’s urban mixed-use projects. But Emerson also points to redevelopment projects like Libbie Mill as successful implementations of urban mixed-use to transform existing suburban areas.

    “We’ve discussed the possibilities of using that [model] for the Regency redevelopment as well,” Emerson adds. “That site is designated in the comprehensive plan for mixed-use development.”

    The comprehensive plan features a map showing where the county recommends future urban mixed-use zoning. Sites extend as far west as the county’s border with Goochland.

    Live, Work, Walk

    Dr. Kathryn Howell is a professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and an expert in housing trends. She notes that young adults today have spent more of their early adulthoods in cities than previous generations, in part because they’ve waited longer to buy homes. They’re accustomed, she says, to living within walking distant of amenities and sometimes even workplaces. When they do consider a move outside the city center motivated by factors like housing prices and schools they often want to maintain some of the lifestyle they’re used to.

    “People more and more want to park their car on the weekends and walk somewhere,” she says. (Both Emerson and Marchetti echoed Howell on this point.)

    GoWest_LibbieMillLibrary_CHRIS_CUNNINGHAM_BCWH_TAPPE_rp0518.jpg

    Millennials’ preference for walkability is not new information, but now there’s evidence, Howell suggests, that older generations, many of whom don’t want to be dependent on a car as they age, are looking for the same thing.

    “There’s also the realization that [walkability] builds community,” she adds. In 2015, AARP launched its Livability Index, which assigns numerical ratings to communities across the U.S. The index gives more favorable ratings to neighbors that are compact. “Compact neighborhoods make it easier to accomplish errands by foot, and make it more likely that neighbors will have the type of chance encounters that build community,” states its website.

    According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, together millennials and boomers bought nearly two of every three homes sold in the U.S. last year.

    “The demand is there,” Howell says. “The developers see this.”

     

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