Eagle swoops in on long-debated Ashland development site

LauradellSitePlan.jpg

Read the full article on Richmond BizSense here.

A tract of Ashland farmland that for decades has been floated for development is now slated for scores of homes with a $35 million project that recently signed a builder.

The 52-acre parcel between Chapman and Thompson streets that was once eyed for a mixed-use project called Green Acres was purchased May 11 by Markel | Eagle Partners, the local private equity firm whose sister company, Eagle Construction of VA, will build the nearly 150 homes planned for the site.

Markel | Eagle, which is in the midst of a $25 million raise, paid $2.99 million for the parcel, according to the Hanover County assessor’s office. The seller was YSJ LLC, an entity tied to Ashland resident Yancey Jones.

Jones, an executive vice president of The Supply Room Cos. and the son of company founder and former Ashland mayor Meade Jones, purchased the land just west of the town’s central business district in 2016 after a previous development proposal stirred controversy in the so-called “Center of the Universe.”

That proposal, from Rogers-Chenault Inc. and its building arm R-CI Builders, initially called for more than 300 homes but was scaled back to 200 before Ashland Town Council considered a requested rezoning in 2015.

A cancelled public hearing prompted a pair of lawsuits from Rogers-Chenault and then-landowner Green Acres Associates LLC, who disputed the town’s claim that a prior approval for the Green Acres project required a retirement complex to be included.

The lawsuits were dismissed by the end of that year, and Jones purchased the property the following April, paying $2.35 million, according to county records.

Jones enlisted Keith Whipple with Waterstreet Studio, an area landscape architecture and civil engineering firm, for a new plan to develop the property as a residential neighborhood. That plan, for 148 homes with a neighborhood park and walking paths, received zoning approval from council in September, with LeClairRyan attorney William Shewmake representing Jones in the process.

Will Kennedy, land acquisition and strategy director for Eagle Construction of VA, said the firm and Markel | Eagle were approached for the project by Whipple and frequent collaborator John Nolde, the local developer behind the Huntt’s Row townhomes and condos in Richmond’s Fan District.

“They felt that we were the best fit with our product and price point,” Kennedy said. “Keith in particular was instrumental in helping us work through constructibility issues on the site and work with Ashland staff and the owner to produce a site plan that we felt would meet what the town, the owner and we would want to build there.”

Called “Lauradell,” the project is the first for Eagle in Ashland and will consist of detached houses and cottage-style homes that Kennedy described as a new product for the builder.

Homes will range from 2,000 to 2,800 square feet with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

While not age-restricted or targeted specifically to buyers 55 and up, Kennedy said the homes would appeal to so-called “age-in-place” buyers, with a majority of the homes including first-floor master bedrooms. When the project was presented and approved last year, plans referred to price points ranging from the upper $300,000s to low $400,000s.

Kennedy put the overall cost of the project at $35 million, including the land purchase and development and construction. He said the project is undergoing site plan review and, if the process remains on schedule, the first homes could go vertical in 2019, with buildout anticipated over three or four years.

Markel | Eagle principal Ricky Core said the company welcomed the opportunity to enter the Ashland market and see the project through.

“This is a great opportunity that came to us, and we were really excited to acquire it and look forward to executing on the vision that was set out by Keith Whipple,” Core said.

Green Acres Associates LLC retains ownership of two parcels fronting Thompson Street that total just over 13 acres. Those parcels are zoned for residential development.

Lauradell adds to a growing workload for Eagle, which last month secured approval for a 300-home development in eastern Goochland County. Other Eagle projects include the GreenGate mixed-use development near Short Pump and other residential developments in Henrico County.