CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — A developer’s plan to transform forty acres along Route 1 in Chesterfield won preliminary approval Thursday night, but some residents say it falls short of the county’s own ambitious vision for the area.

The development, known as Bellwood Commons, would bring 658 apartments and townhomes to what is now nothing more than a massive parking lot – which hosts the Bellwood Fleas Market on the weekends — and a few wooded acres.

At a planning commission meeting Thursday night, the developer said he — and the county — had high hopes for the area.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions in the community about what this project should be,” he said, adding that they envisioned it as a “catalyst for revitalization” of the Route 1 corridor.

Below, you can scroll the arrows on the photos to see the project site’s renderings compared to the current area.

Comparison of the current development and proposal by the developer. (Left, Google Maps, Right, courtesy of Chesterfield County)

But some local residents aren’t convinced. Renee Eldred, representing the Route 1 Association, said the proposal fell short of the lofty goals of the Bellwood revitalization plan.

“We would love to have the property develop, but we also feel like putting just anything there won’t give the spur that we need to revitalize that,” Eldred said. “It’s just not the vibrant downtown the plan calls for.”

According to the county comprehensive plan published in 2019, the area is currently zoned for commercial use – but is intended to serve as a future town center area. The Bellwood Commons parcel is actually singled out as a piece of land that should be developed as “a high-density, vertically-oriented mixed use center with high-rise multifamily homes supported by restaurants, shopping, and employment uses.”

This image shows an ideal concept for the area as envisioned int he county comprehensive plan. It features much denser commercial and residential uses, including mixed-use on the corner of Willis Road and Route 1. (Courtesy of Chesterfield County)

While the project does include both residential and commercial uses, they are firmly compartmentalized – and the only commercial portions are a gas station and a smaller building in the corner of the apartment complex with no specific use identified.

The plan also leaves open two plots at the south end of the property bordering Route 1, where the developer said “more commercial investment could come in” if the new residents create enough demand.

“It’s a consensus between what the market will bear, it’s a consensus between what the community and the county want to see,” he said. “It’s the housing that’s needed in order to support the commercial.”

But one resident said that deferral wasn’t good enough for him.

“In the presentation I heard ‘if the commercial comes along.’ That should be a source of concern,” said Steve Meadows. “I don’t like ifs.”

He said the county should get a strong commitment from the developer to bring in businesses before giving their blessing to the residential portion of the project.

Commissioner Gib Sloan, who represents the Bermuda District, said while he, too, wanted to see the dense mixed-use development envisioned in the area plan, the county had to be realistic about what they could get in the area.

“The county does not own this piece of property, so at the end of the day, this is a negotiation,” he said.

He highlighted some of the positive features of the project, including the fact that some of the units would be for sale, not solely for rent, as many such projects are in Chesterfield.

“This is one of the few projects we’ve seen in the Bermuda district that offers an owner-occupied component,” Sloan said.

According to planning documents, 360 townhomes and “one-over-one” units would be offered as “owner-occupied” — that is, they would be for sale — while the 298 apartments would be for rent.

Sloan also made a last minute amendment to the resolution endorsing the developer’s proposal, asking county staff to assist the developer in connecting with businesses and community services that could occupy the two plots set aside for future development.

Potential uses he listed included office space, first-floor retail, social services, mental health support services, a library annex, community meeting space or community college expansion.

Four commissioners voted in favor of moving the proposal forward to the Board of Supervisors, with one commissioner absent.