A Presbyterian seminary is trying to put available land to use in a way that will benefit its students and generate some income for the school, but community members are expressing opposition to its development plan.
Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPS) in Richmond, Va., has plans to develop 349 apartment units on its 34-acre Westwood tract of land to provide married student and family housing, as well as units available to the general public. The development of those units would help generate a revenue stream that would provide for the sustainability of the seminary.
However, there are a number of community members upset about the plan to develop the apartment units on land that has long been used as a green space and neighborhood park.
Neighbors have expressed their concern over loss of the green space, the impact on their home values, the interaction of a larger number of people in the area and potential traffic problems if the units are built.
Brian K. Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary, explained that the school is merely trying to meet a need by putting one of its resources to good use.
“The driving interest is trying to build housing for married students and families, and thinking about how we can financially use a resource we have: land,” Blount said, noting that the school is in partnership with a development company to build up to 60 units for UPS students with the rest available to people in need of housing.
There currently are two housing units on the UPS campus. One built in the 1950s was closed and the other built in the ‘70s is in need of replacement.
The revenue that would be created by renting the apartments for UPS students and their families as well as non-students would be used for the school’s endowment fund, providing for its long-term sustainability.
The tract of land, owned by the seminary since 1910, is located in a district zoned R-53 or high-density multi-family. The entire piece of property could house up to 1,179 apartment units. Using the land in such a way would generate income needed for the endowment as well as student subsidies.
“Anytime you can bring income to your endowment it helps,” Blount said. “We have wonderful donors who like us to use monies for scholarships. A plan like this will help undergird the financial security of the seminary’s future and be a very helpful source of funding for the school.”
Even though it is working with a developer on plans to build the units on its land, UPS has no intention of getting in the real estate business. The school would not serve as a landlord for those living in the units. It would merely get a slice of the revenue pie generated from renting the units once a memorandum of understanding is developed.
The proposal by the seminary is to use 15 acres of the Westwood tract and leave the other 19 acres of green space untouched, leaving open the possibility of discussions with a potential use for that land in the future.
“We have owned that land since 1910, and many people have been surprised to learn that it belongs to the seminary,” Blount said, noting that it is used by UPS students as well as community members. “We understand its use is a concern, and we don’t want to lose that green space either.”
There have been several meetings about the proposed plan, and community members have voiced their opposition to it.
“We understand what the concerns are and are trying to work with the neighborhood,” he said. “There was a good bit of opposition to the first draft proposal so we made changes to it for another meeting. We’re trying to work with the neighborhood to develop a plan that would be helpful for us and the least difficult for neighbors.
“If we develop the land as we hope to, we’ll not please everyone, so we’re trying our best to listen to all voices and adjust as much as we can. Obviously, we can’t meet every concern, but we’re trying to be as open as possible.”
The goal is to have the units available for students by September 2016 once a plan of development with the city has been reached.
In the meantime, Blount said seminary and development officials will continue to have conversations with community members to develop the best possible plan moving forward.
“We’re going to hear as many voices as possible and address as many issues as we can to make this a workable, viable project,” he said. “We want to develop a quality complex and find a way to allow as much open space as possible. We’re willing to work with the community on the use of the other 19 acres.”
Union Presbytery Seminary was established in 1812 at Hampden-Sydney College and moved to its current location in 1898. It has approximately 200 students enrolled at campuses in Richmond and Charlotte, N.C., with about 130 of those at the Virginia campus.