RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Earlier this week, Dominion Energy announced plans to convert a vacant lot in downtown Richmond into a ‘clean energy park‘ for charging electric vehicles. Now, a local advocacy group says the city shouldn’t allow a glorified parking lot that goes against its own goals for the area.

An architectural rendering of Dominion Energy’s “clean energy park.” (photo: Dominion Energy)

The lot at 700 East Canal Street was originally home to an office tower, which was imploded in spectacular fashion two years ago. The company initially planned to build another office tower on the site — plans that were stalled by the pandemic.

Now, the company wants to showcase green energy in a solar-powered parking lot designed to charge electric vehicles — but some advocates say that green energy or not, the parking lot would be a misuse of the precious downtown real estate.

“While we support EV’s, this is still a parking lot (albeit with some green space) in a city seeking to become less car dependent,” the Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG) wrote in a press release.

Results of a 2009 study highlighting off-street parking, included garages and lots, in downtown Richmond.

PSG is a Richmond-based non-profit that advocates for public transportation, urban density and zoning reform in the city.

Dominion’s plans may not make it very far with the planning commission to begin with. The property is currently zoned B-4 — a dense commercial classification — which allows structured parking garages, but due to an ordinance amendment in 2019, no longer allows open surface parking even with a conditional use permit.

That means Dominion would likely have to seek a complete rezoning of the parcel, a lengthy process open to public scrutiny. And the intended zoning would be in direct conflict with the Richmond 300 development plan adopted by the city in 2020.

According to that plan, the area should be zoned for “high-density development with office buildings, residential buildings, and a mix of complementary uses, including regional destinations in a highly-walkable urban environment.”

In Richmond’s future land use map, adopted as part of the Richmond 300 program, the parcel would be used for “Downtown Mixed-Use.”

“The proposal by Dominion does nothing to help achieve a more vibrant downtown area, and encourages more cars choking our urban core,” PSG wrote.

In a statement announcing the project, Dominion said the lot would have space for food trucks and other community uses in addition to the solar array intended to charge electric vehicles.

“This project brings together two themes that are key to our vision of building a clean energy future: innovation and sustainability,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email.

The lot is currently assessed by the city at a $10 million, but the building that used to occupy the site was assessed at a cool $45 million. That means that whatever Dominion decides to do with the lot, keeping it empty has saved them about $540,000 a year in property taxes.