By Simona Radeva
After over six months of uncertainty, the Rockbridge Area Relief Association now owns the Piovano Building at 350 Spotswood Drive. And the city of Lexington is reviewing offers for the adjacent piece of undeveloped land.
The remaining property sale is closely watched because it could generate new tax revenue for the city. Only 25 percent of Lexington’s land is currently taxed with the rest owned by non-profits such as Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute.
The Lexington City Council recently approved the preliminary subdivision of the Spotswood property into four parts – the Piovano site, the Oak Grove Cemetery site, and 2.5 acres divided into two parcels.
“We had a piece of property that should have been subdivided in 1986 when the road went through,” said Lexington’s Planning Director Arne Glaeser, “but we could not find record of that.”
Glaeser said subdividing was necessary in order to separate the rest of the property from the Piovano Building so it could be sold.
According to him, Lexington would most benefit from affordable or market-rate housing, since the city lacks in-field parcels that can be developed. But the potential development of the property has faced some backlash from the community.
Not everyone wants housing on the property
Lexington native Vickie Hall, 61, said she doesn’t agree with open spaces being commercialized.
“I do not like it,” she said. “When there are buildings in town that they could use, they could repair, they could restore, and make Lexington a better town. Leave it a historical town.”
Some citizens also believe that the empty piece of property on Spotswood Drive was meant to be used as an extension of the Oak Grove cemetery. But a report by the City Attorney Jared Jenkins shows that there was never an intention to use the parcels for anything other than the city’s continued development.
City Council started receiving offers for the Spotswood property in early March when Richmond-based developer Echelon Resources offered $350,000 for it. Echelon’s plan was to demolish the Piovano Building and build 150 rental apartments.
Other bids came from developers MaxMark Homes LLC, John Adamson, former Washington and Lee trustee Ben Grigsby, and the Spotswood Collaborative.
MaxMark and the Spotswood Collaborative both wanted to develop the property into homes for either rent or sale. Adamson’s proposal was to create a medical office park. Grigsby wanted to specifically secure the Piovano building.
All bidders would preserve the building and rent it out to RARA. But they now have to revise their proposals.
According to Lexington’s Mayor Frank Friedman, none of the offers have been officially withdrawn. City Council will be soliciting new offers for consideration up until Oct. 31 when the final contract with RARA will be signed.
“We’re on track, everything’s moving forward, and we are rock solid in that contract,” Friedman said.
RARA looks to the future
RARA has been located at the Piovano Building for over 10 years now. They purchased the building for $695,000, which is 30% below its appraised value.
“We were put in a position of looking for a place to move,” said RARA’s Executive Director Lindsey Pérez, “but we decided that this was the best place for us and makes sense for our clients, our volunteers, our long-term stability, and we decided to make an offer on it.”
Pérez said RARA has had great support from the community over the last several years and especially during the COVID pandemic, when a lot of people stepped up and donated.
The Piovano Building also hosts another local nonprofit organization – the Community Table, and serves as a voting precinct for the city of Lexington. Now that the building belongs to RARA – everything will remain where it is.
As for the rest of the property, City Council is considering the offers still in place, as well as any new ones coming in. They’re prioritizing the pressing need for housing in the area over any other potential uses of the land.
“We want to see it developed for residential, specifically apartments,” Mayor Friedman said, “to give people entrance into the community.”