Peanut Crossing moves forward

Published 9:17 pm Thursday, September 19, 2019

It’ll take more than a few peanuts to build, but the developer for a former downtown peanut processing facility moved another step closer Wednesday to turning the site into apartments following City Council’s unanimous approval to rezone the 10-acre property at 273 S. Saratoga St.

Council also unanimously approved a conditional use permit to build up to 225 apartments on the site of the former Suffolk Peanut Company. The zoning will change the triangular-shaped property, which also borders Wellons Street to the west and the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline to the north, from heavy industrial zoning to central business district.

The project will leverage federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits requiring key historic features to be preserved and highlighted.

Email newsletter signup

“I’m pleased to see this development come downtown,” said Councilman Mike Duman. “Like a lot of other initiatives that we have, I think this will be a catalyst for future development and investment in that area.”

How much investment?

Edwin Gaskin of Golden Dreams LLC said it’s hard to pinpoint a precise amount now, but he estimated that, over multiple project phases, it would be north of $30 million, with the first phase “probably more in the $8 million range.”

“We need to generate some activity on the site and show success, to then improve the capital for future phases,” Gaskin said.

He said it would also depend on what commercial tenants show an interest, whether that be restaurants, light manufacturing or even some offices.

“Certainly, we’ve already had lots of discussions with some prospective tenants/investors there, but everybody likes activity,” Gaskin said. “So, as we get under way, we expect that to tick up, and we hope to have a lot of good folks over there. We hope it to be its own district, if you will, to attract activity, a mix of uses, activity and vitality.”

Gaskin said they want to plan phase one of the site’s redevelopment and then submit it for the proper tax credit approvals later this year or within the first three months of 2020.

At that time, it also will come to the city for a site plan and building permit review, and they hope to start some demolition and limited construction early next year.

“We will start with the phase one design,” Gaskin said. “We already have the wind in our sail, so to speak, regarding the historic tax credits, in the fact that this is already on the National Register of Historic Places, so we essentially, now, have to pick where we’re starting, which is a tough question. A 10-acre with multiple buildings, where do you start to have the impact you want?”

He said they’re eyeing a couple of buildings to start with to have the design team to bring online between 50 and 70 apartments in the first phase “to really create the beginnings of a mixed-use community over there.”

According to rezoning application, the apartments will be designed for working professionals. It proffered that 80 percent of the 225 total apartments will be studio or one-bedroom units, with the others being two bedrooms.

“A better way to think of it would be that 20 percent or less would be two bedrooms, because the mix of those studios and one-bed(rooms) will really vary by the constraints of the historic building.”

Gaskin credited city leaders with the vision for linking the site to downtown, even though it is on the other side of the railroad tracks from the core downtown area.

“I think that kind of visioning sets the framework for the discussions we need — how do we take the success story of downtown and expand the edges a bit to benefit across the tracks,” Gaskin said. “We think we have the beginnings of a great redevelopment there that’s not just going to happen because of private investment, but you have the park there and a wonderful residential neighborhood around it that altogether should move forward.”

The Suffolk Peanut Company was first established around 1903 and, according to the case history of the property, “is perhaps the most complete example of a peanut processing facility in Virginia.” It was later owned by Goldkist Peanuts in 1968 and then the Golden Peanut Company.

The property closed in 2000, and, according to a narrative description of the project “has fallen into a deteriorated state.” In 2016, the site was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Golden Dreams LLC bought the property in 2017 for $225,000, according to city property records, and its total assessed value is $1.1 million. The Gaskin-owned Echelon Resources Inc. filed the rezoning application for the property in June.

At this point, Gaskin said the development team doesn’t yet know what buildings will have the residential units versus the other commercial investments, citing the scope and complexity of the project while noting much will depend on how the market responds to it. He did say that the developers hope to draw people into the site from its primary entrance on Saratoga Street by building the initial apartments deep into the site. He said it would allow for privacy and make it “a neighborhood inside of a neighborhood.”

Gaskin said there are a handful of non-historic buildings on the site that are planned to be demolished, including some “infill modern buildings” that are not visible from the street, but he said buildings along South Saratoga Street would not be among those. According to the National Register of Historic Places form, the property has 13 contributing and six non-contributing buildings, along with a contributing structure and three non-contributing structures.

All of the site’s historic buildings, he said, will stay.

“This is an exciting but complex project,” Gaskin said. “It’ll take time, but we’re good with these incremental successes, and we think Suffolk has a wonderful story, and we hope to be adding to that narrative, simple as that.”

Developer believes apartments will be safe for allergy sufferers

Edwin Gaskin of Golden Dreams LLC, which is redeveloping the former Suffolk Peanut Company site on South Saratoga Street, said that people who have peanut allergies will not have to worry if they want to be future residents of the apartments slated for it, even with peanuts having a storied history there.

“If they aren’t gone already, (we) will remove all vestiges of those prior uses,” Gaskin said. “We don’t think there would be a concern.”

Gaskin said the development’s name of Peanut Crossing is a part of its branding and identity of Suffolk.

“It’s a unique historical site,” he said.