CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — An unsightly, mostly-empty shopping center on Midlothian Turnpike is set to be transformed under a redevelopment plan that won approval from the Chesterfield Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

The aging Beaufort Mall has had persistent vacancies for years, with an expansive but often empty parking lot serving just a handful of stores. Now, the county is hoping to change that, with a proposal for over 1,200 units of housing and 125,000 square feet of retail space.

The proposal won unanimous support from the planning commission on March 15 and is likely to win final approval from the Board of Supervisors when they take it up.

What Makes a City Center?

“The applicant intends to demolish the existing shopping centers,” said Marianne Pitts, a County Planning Official.

Her analysis, given at the beginning of the project presentation, set the tone for the proposal, which will see the suburban shopping center transformed into an “urban village” – a departure from much of the development that currently lines Midlothian Turnpike.

At the center of the project is an area dubbed “Celebration Street” by the developers, around which the first of Spring Rock Green’s mixed-use buildings will be raised.

Proposed design for “Celebration Street,” which will be required to be built alongside the first set of high-density housing. (Graphic courtesy of Chesterfield County)

The area is intended to serve as a “focal point for activity” with multifamily housing over retail spaces on either side of the street.

“The idea is that we’ll be able to block it off so that it can have events and festivals,” said Andrew Condlin, a lawyer representing the developers.

The first phase of construction, which includes Celebration Street and the first 300 units of housing, will have to be completed in tandem, followed by the remaining development.

“Our expectation is the 1st phase will be completed by 2024, and it’ll be a 5 to 8-year time-frame to complete this,” Condlin said.

Dollars and Cents

As part of the conditions of approval, the developer offered to pay “$5,640 for each multifamily dwelling unit and $5,922 for each townhome unit” in road cash proffers – money paid to the county specifically for the maintenance and improvement of local roads.

That could total up to $6.9 million under the current plan, which would include 1,100 apartments and 125 townhomes in the completed project.

But the project isn’t exactly an upfront windfall for the county, as they already paid $16 million to fund the EDA’s purchase of the property last year.

However, the property may not actually be worth that much. When it was assessed at the beginning of this year, the county found that it was worth just $9.5 million.

County real estate data shows the property was sold for the full $16 million – but the lot was assessed at under $10 million a few months later. (Data sourced from the Chesterfield County Real Estate Assessment Dataset)

A Walkable City?

One of the biggest selling points emphasized by Condlin was the inclusion of extensive pedestrian walkways throughout Spring Rock Green.

The plan includes a condition requiring “pedestrian areas such as sidewalks, trails, paths and crosswalks along and between roads and drives.”

That’s in addition to “Celebration Street,” which will accommodate cars but periodically be closed to traffic.

A development plan shows the proposed uses for Spring Rock Green, including a “Green Trail” and pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods. (Graphic courtesy of Chesterfield County)

Renee Eldred, a Chesterfield County resident, pointed out one major flaw in comments she made to the board: the pedestrian access ends at the edge of the property.

“You need some kind of signal,” she said “I was through there today and watched this guy try to run across all these lanes.”

The development presentation touted the location’s proximity to a grocery store and another mixed-use project just across Midlothian Turnpike, but Eldred pointed out that pedestrians and bicyclists would have to cross a six-lane thoroughfare with no crosswalk, no signal and no bike lane.

Currently, there are virtually no sidewalks or bike lanes on the Chesterfield portion of Midlothian Turnpike – a stark contrast to the Richmond portion, just a few hundred feet away from Spring Rock Green, which has extensive sidewalks between Manchester and the border with Chesterfield.

A Chesterfield Department of Transportation Official responded that those improvements might be on the way.

“As part of one of the projects we’re working on there’s funding that’ll become available in July 2024,” he said. “We will start preliminary engineering on a sidewalk and shared-use path project.”