By Crawford Humphreys
In a matter of two weeks, Lexington City Council has gone from considering one offer that was denounced by citizens to fielding five new offers for developing property on Spotswood Drive.
In an unsolicited offer to the city on March 4, Richmond-based developer Echelon Resources, Inc., offered to pay $350,000 for the 3.24-acre piece of land and build 150 rental apartments on the site. The number of apartments was later reduced to 90.
Echelon also would demolish the Piovano Building, home for several years to two key local charities, the Rockbridge Area Relief Association and the Community Table.
During a March 4 council meeting, citizens questioned Echelon’s offer. Local real estate broker Leslie Giles said the land has an estimated value of $1.2 million.
Residents also expressed concern about what would happen to RARA, which provides a food pantry and financial assistance to people in need, and the Community Table, which offers free meals to members of the community.
Giles said the Piovano Building is worth almost $800,000. She said it would be “foolish” for the city to ignore the building’s value while negotiating a sales price for the entire piece of property.
Local developer MaxMark Homes, LLC, was Echelon’s first challenger, with a $375,000 offer on March 11. Instead of apartments, the company would build 40 townhouses that would be offered for sale, not for rent. MaxMark would also demolish the Piovano Building.
Ben Grigsby, a former trustee of Washington and Lee University, offered to buy the Piovano Building for $400,000 on March 15. His offer is $50,000 more than Echelon offered for the entire piece of land. His proposal would offer RARA a long-term lease and a no-cost option to purchase the property.
RARA made an offer of its own to buy the Piovano Building on the same day as Grigsby. Valerie Moliterno, president of RARA’s board of directors, said a recent increase in donations would make it possible for the charity to buy the building. The nonprofit group did not say how much it would be willing to pay.
On March 16, Adamson Development Corporation became the fifth group to offer a proposal. The Richmond-based company was the primary contractor for The Georges, a boutique inn in downtown Lexington.
Adamson’s proposal would create a medical office park instead of rentals or homes for sale. Adamson would also purchase the Piovano Building and offer RARA subsidized rent. Adamson has proposed a purchase price of $500,000, the highest of all the proposals.
On March 18, the Spotswood Collaborative proposed building 40 apartments with several garden areas. The collaborative includes local developers Heidi and Bruce Schweizer, architect Lee Merrill and ABL Landscape Architecture. The plan also would allow RARA and the Community Table to remain in the Piovano Building. No price tag was included in the offer.
Local real estate broker Heather Hamilton said MaxMark’s proposal could be better for the city, compared to Echelon’s apartment proposal, because the townhouses, once sold, could generate property tax revenue.
“In my experience, the Echelon rentals would end up having Washington and Lee and VMI parents renting them so they can come and visit on weekends, parents’ weekends, and allow their students to use them,” she said. “They will not be registering their vehicles in the city. They will stay registered in the states in which they live.”
Grigsby said the city could sell the Piovano Building separately and still make the remaining 2.3 acres available for development.
“They each have real value, and in RARA’s case, that value goes far beyond just dollars and cents,” he said during a public hearing on March 18.
City Council has directed the city manager and the city’s finance director to conduct financial evaluations of each proposal and to report back at its next meeting on April 1.