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Tree Hill Farm


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The opening presentation charrette at the Jefferson basically had a packed ballroom. The Times-Dispatch said it was about 300 people and I didn't expect that many people to show up. The presentation was lead by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the project director and founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism. She and her husband, Andres Duany, and their Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ) firm is internationally known and first received recognition for their Seaside, Florida. Plater-Zyberk brings with her the concept of the charrette which brings together the community and residents with the developers, government officials, and business leaders to participate in a forum to discuss and plan the development. It's different from what usually happens where the developer already has an idea of what's going to be built, has already sought approval from the local government, and presents the finished or near finished concept to the public where by that point, the community reacts to the plan. This charrette process includes the community's input to gage what it would like to see and address any concerns.

There was an overview of the goals and principles of this kind of development as well as the farm. A few questions at the end dealt with transportation issues for the future of the area, not just the site, the flood plain, and not having the farm becoming a new Reston or sparking that kind of development for the area. By next Monday there may be an idea of what Tree Hill could be based on all of the input given throught this week.

I made the Wednesday night meeting for the community at the Omni. This was definitely where the ideas and concerns came pouring out. Overwhelmingly, Varina's residents hate Ryan Homes-esque sprawling development and it seems as if they would rather see the farm stay a farm. However, they know that is not possible and generally like the idea of New Urbanism as a smart way to develop the land. They were not used to the idea of a charrette, having wanting everything spelled out for them as to what was going on the farm, but it was explained that this was about wanting to hear what they wanted.

The residents also were concerned over Rt 5's traffic, its status as a scenic bypass, as well as the protection of the skyline view from it. There will be a connector road as in Henrico's 2026 plan that could be brought to connect Tree Hill with 895 and Wilton, which seems to be still alive. Wilton's plan has a grid and it's most definitely how Tree Hill will be laid out.

The reason the farm was chosen was because it was a "remarkable property," it's close to the city, "overlooked," history and significance, and it is a "once in a lifetime opportunity," as expressed by a member of the development team. Some residents were offended by the terms "overlooked" and "untouched" and is not what they think of the property.

There would be public access to the river, a greenway along the river with a bike trail that would link it with Wilton, and the creeks, marshes, and site of a Native American village would be protected. They also seek to preserve as many of the views of the skyline as possible as well as opening the house to the public in ways so that it can pay for itself. Perhaps it could be the site of meetings, occaisons and such. All of the outbuildings would be preserved too.

Unlike the in the west end, the Colonial Pipeline that also runs through this property will not be built upon. The residents really wanted to know what will be placed on the site. At the moment it is uncertain, but it will not have the density of Rocketts. Ideas are for a mixed-use community with its civic/public buildings, retail, single family homes, townhouses, and apartments/condos. The prices are unknown at the moment.

Some have said they had liked the farm as a buffer from the city, and that they felt they were not prepared for a development like this. Another resident had a concern about the loss of the nightime dark sky and suggested there be hardwood trees planted and downcast lights. One man that the "small city" idea was good because basically after WWII, the zoning laws that were created allowed for crap to be built and everything's so separated. Another seconded they loved the smart growth and community idea but they did not want to see a "luxury" community where ordinary people can't live. This was answered that there would be "economic diversity." Other suggestions from the community were that they hope that the development would honor the history of Varina and that whatever is built, may it be nice.

When I first heard that the farm would be sold (which has not been finalized yet), I was flat out in mourning for the farm. It was spectacular news to hear that Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk would be involved and that this would be New Urbanism's real deal for the Richmond area. I am satisfied that my nightmare would not come to be, that there would be the typical sprawl like neaby Almond Creek or Glenwood Lakes ruining the splendor of Tree Hill Farm. It has my support.

I am sorry if I rambled on at all or if I did not describe anything well enough. I am sleepy and I am lucky my sentences make sense at all. I tried to take pictures of the pictures from and of the farm at the Jefferson, but the lighting was too dim. Perhaps I can get them at Glen Echo on Monday. The city at dusk and at night from there... what a sight!

Here's a map of the farm (in tan) from Henrico's map.


Larger version (sorry for the differences in color, everytime I used the paint bucket it colored everything).

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There's a picture of people looking at the plans that have been drawn... it looks pretty neat! Unfortunately the pics are not online...

It seems like the reporters sat on a portion of this article since Wednesday's meeting. And now I understand what they were laughing about about the deer. I had completely missed that.

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The drawings will be on the site soon.

Sorry for some blurriness.



Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk

Some of the boards showing views of and from the farm.


Looking south


Looking north toward the city


There were three shots of the skyline, one during the day, dusk, and night, but at this meeting I only saw this one. The ones at the Jefferson didn't come out.

Variations of the plan




The one presented


It's similar if not the same plan as the middle one above.



An alternate version of the public square that allows for better traffic flow.


5 minute walking distance


building classifications


The manor house with outbuildings and possible additional new construction for community use.


Aerial showing the school


Aerial looking northward across the farm


An idea of how hosing may look on top of the hill


Possible corporate headquaters

They went around Richmond looking for ideas for achitectural inspiration.


I took pics of the possible buildings and floorplans too. They seem to be based on some of those buildings above if you can see them.

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I also like the way this plan was presented. Thanks Cam for collecting and presenting the information. I really like the way they are keeping with the general Richmond architecture and developing homes and other buildings that maintain that Richmond character. This land is just ripe for development and this is a very good use of that land IMHO. The article says that this project could start in 2 years? I believe that's what a read. What a great development! I like it.

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Excellent reporting and presentation, Cam. Apparently the charettes mollified critics. I think it looks like a super plan for the Tree Hill property.

So a new road off of Rt. 5 between Rocketts Landing and Tree Hill will run thru the town square and continue all the way to Wilton. If I understand corectly, Rt. 895 will run thru the middle of Wilton. I'd like to see plans for it.

When I was returning from Williamsburg recently, I noticed some land clearing underway at Curles Neck Dairy Farm. Has anything been announced for that tract? And where is it in relation to Wilton and Tree Hill?

With 3000 units at Tree Hill, 5000 at Wilton and an unknown number at Rocketts, Varina district will see a swell of population probably by as many as 20,000 new residents in the next 10 years.

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Thanks Burt! They had a pic from the Wednesday night meeting on the site... :( I wasn't in it... had they panned just a tad to the left...

Shakman, I think it's near impossible to get on the property now. The last time I went, they were working on the house and the man did not want me there. I had asked some other workers if it was okay to take pictures there and they told me they didn't know, the owner was there skeet shooting... and maybe the hint was in "shooting."

Well the first time I went it was vacant and only the actual farm portion had life and after I had taken my pictures, a farm hand told me it was best to leave... but then again, had I not beckoned for him to come to me from the bottom of the hill, maybe he wouldn't have told me that! The second time, I went at dawn on a Sunday, but it was still vacant then.

The farm has not been sold just yet. They will be wrapping that up by the first of the year.

I am glad that they will preserve the view for the public though, so it won't be private and guarded so much.

They would prefer that they start near the house first.

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I was reading the TreeHill posts- very interesting..

Any other development plans in that district? Probably be higher than 20k with by-rights infill pods.

Are there any parks projected for that area other than inside the UMU I wonder?


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