City’s land buy could move Larus Park project forward
Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities has agreed to buy a tract of forested land adjoining Lewis G. Larus Park in South Richmond, a decision Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration is presenting as a solution for a stalled plan to expand water service to Chesterfield County ratepayers.
The city agreed last week to pay the Redford Land Trust $420,000 for 18.2 acres bordering the 106-acre park located off West Huguenot Road, near Stony Point Fashion Park, the city announced in a news release Monday.
If approved by the Richmond City Council, the land purchase could end a monthslong standoff with residents over a proposal to lease existing land in the park to Chesterfield for the construction of a new pumping station and storage tank to provide 5 million additional gallons of drinking water to county residents each day.
“This is a better outcome and a win-win for our residents,” Stoney said in the news release.
Under the proposal, Chesterfield would spend $7.5 million to
build and operate a new water pumping station and tank on 1.2 acres the county would lease from the city for $1 per year. The county, which has an existing agreement to purchase water from the city, would increase its water consumption from 27 million to 32 million gallons daily.
The agreement was first proposed in April. The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors has approved it.
City officials have said the agreement could net $4.1 million in additional revenue in the next five years and improve water service to city water users, too. Plans call for the facility to be operational by fiscal year 2020.
Some city residents voiced their displeasure with the proposal, saying it would eliminate too many trees and disturb the public park. They also questioned whether the agreement would violate city code forbidding the leasing of public parkland for redevelopment or the 1978 agreement transferring the property to the city, which includes a provision stating the city should leave the land in its natural state.
In July, the Richmond city attorney’s office said the restrictions in question did not necessarily apply in this case, but advised that the council could simply amend the language if necessary to move forward with the proposal.
More than 1,300 people signed an online petition opposing the agreement and construction of the facility. About a dozen residents delivered the petition to the mayor in September. Facing discord, Richmond officials tabled the proposal, and Stoney’s administration said it would work toward a solution that could satisfy all parties.
Jeannie Reinick, a 4th District resident who started the online petition, said she planned to meet with city leaders and discuss the new proposed course of action but, at first glance, it seemed like it addressed the concerns she and other residents had raised.
“I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s a better solution than what was previously put together,” Reinick said.
Chesterfield will pay $91,136 to the city for trees it will cut down to build the pumping station and storage tank. The city will put the sum toward the land acquisition, the city news release stated.
Beyond the 1.2 acres necessary for the pumping station and tank, the additional 17 acres the city is seeking to acquire would expand the park’s footprint. The city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities would be responsible for maintaining it.
City Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who represents the district in which the park falls, said in an interview that she had not reviewed the administration’s new proposal as of Monday afternoon, but she planned to hold a meeting next Monday to gather residents’ feedback.
“I think it’s important to hear from the public on this,” Larson said.
Kimberly Gray, a member of the council’s Land Use Committee, said she’s unsure how the city plans to pay for the purchase, which the council did not budget money for. She also questioned whether the overall proposal would still be profitable, given the price tag for land acquisition.
“If we’re purchasing 18.2 acres, that definitely changes the numbers for whether or not this is revenue-generating or whether it’s going to be subsidized by Richmond taxpayers to provide water to a surrounding locality,” Gray said.
The council’s Land Use Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed agreement at its Nov. 21 meeting.