Downtown studio apartments proposed

Published 11:02 pm Friday, August 16, 2019

More than 200 apartments designed for working professionals are proposed on the 10-acre site of the former Suffolk Peanut Company property in downtown.

The Planning Commission will hold a pair of public hearings Tuesday on requests by Edwin Gaskin of Golden Dreams LLC to rezone property at 273 S. Saratoga St. and for a conditional use permit.

The property has warehouses and processing buildings that were part of the historic use of the site as a peanut processing facility.

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Gaskin is proposing 225 apartments for the site, to be known as Peanut Crossing, with at least 80 percent of them being studio or one-bedroom units, according to the rezoning application. City staff, with those conditions — and because it fits in with the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance — has recommended approval of the rezoning request.

“The proposed development conforms to the objectives of the district, as it will adaptively re-use a historic property in the city’s downtown core to create an urban residential development that is compatible with other downtown uses,” the staff report for the rezoning request states.

Staff has also recommended approval of the conditional use permit on condition that only existing buildings on the property be used, along with the project meeting the same conditions that apply for the rezoning request. Any new construction for residential use would require another conditional use permit.

The property borders Wellons and South Saratoga streets, as well as the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline on the north end of the property and an industrial use to the south.

The change in rezoning would be from its current heavy industrial zoning district label to a central business district designation.

“The design focuses on the working professional, which reduces the net burden on the school system that may otherwise exist with an apartment project — particularly one concentrated with two (to) three bedroom units,” according to the description of the application to the city. “As this early stage, project unit counts are still preliminary, but they will be naturally constrained by the limits of the historic buildings themselves.”

The proposal, which would be developed in four or five phases, also calls for possible, unspecified commercial uses, the application states. The proposal would eventually include indoor parking for residents, indoor storage for rent and mini-storage units for rent.

However, in the staff report for the proposed project, a mini-storage unit would not be allowed with the proposed zoning change.

The staff report notes that the property has been historically a peanut processing facility and was first established as the Suffolk Peanut Company around 1903, and is “perhaps the most complete example remaining of a peanut processing facility in Virginia.”

The property was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. At that time, the site was proposed to be rezoned from its current designation to be a mixed-use Core-40 zoning district, and the commission recommended approval of it. However, the applicant, The Monument Companies, later withdrew the rezoning request for its $30 million project due to anticipated changes to the state Historic Tax Credit Program.

The new plan calls for using federal and state historic tax credits to renovate existing structures that qualify under the program and turn those into apartment buildings and other uses that would provide amenities for residents. It does not currently call for adding additional structures.

As part of the request for a conditional use permit, Gaskin is asking to be allowed to build first-floor apartments and multi-family units as allowed in the proposed rezoning. He said that is because the tax credit program does not offer much flexibility in what can be altered, taken out or built new on the site, and due to the lack of demand for first-floor commercial in the area of the property.

The first phase of the development shows two buildings on the property being renovated for 54 apartments and resident amenities.

The developer states that by using a phased approach to developing the property, it “will allow the project to adjust with regards to the product being delivered, further increasing the odds of long-term viability.”

“Being located only a few blocks from … downtown Suffolk, Peanut Crossing might become its own ‘town center’ for the South Suffolk area,” according to the developer’s description of the proposal. “We envision a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use community. The residents at Peanut Crossing will be active, they will be walking their dogs, frequenting Peanut Park across the street, walking downtown to restaurants, bars and even to work.

“Peanut Crossing will furnish a much-needed mix of quality residential and commercial/retail product to South Suffolk.”