By Shauna Muckle
A developer will seek final city approval this week to build 62 apartment units on Lexington’s Spotswood Drive.
Echelon Resources will go before Lexington’s planning commission on Thursday to request a permit allowing the Richmond–based developer to construct multi–family housing at the Spotswood site. The planning commission will offer a recommendation for approval or denial to the Lexington City Council.
The city council will likely have a final vote on the permit in early January, said Council Member Leslie Straughan, a liaison to the planning commission. The council agreed to sell the property to Echelon Resources last April.
Council members have said repeatedly that they want the Spotswood parcel to become multi–family housing, which the city’s comprehensive plan identifies as a need. Echelon’s proposal is to build one– and two–bedroom apartments at market price rents. The proposal is in line with the comprehensive plan, City Planner Arne Glaeser said.
Currently, market–rate translates to $1,100–$1,300 for a one–bedroom unit and $1,300–$1,500 for a two–bedroom unit, said Randy Cosby, an Echelon partner. But rents could change before the complex is finished.
Echelon’s proposal hasn’t changed since April, Cosby said.
“It’s effectively the same project that we’ve presented time and time again over the last year and a half,” he said. “We hope to have a dialogue with the planning commission. We’re expecting them to ask pointed questions.”
Echelon’s “bread and butter tenant” is a single young professional, Cosby said. He doesn’t anticipate many families will occupy the apartment complex.
The 2.3–acre parcel on Spotswood Drive has long been a source of controversy. Echelon Resources first sought to purchase the property in March 2021, but the city council chose to delay the sale for more than a year after members were besieged with hours of public comment opposing development of the site.
City council also decided in 2021 to sell the Piovano building, which sits next to the current 2.3–acre Spotswood parcel, to the Rockbridge Area Relief Association, rather than letting Echelon acquire and demolish the building.
Residents in 2021 listed insufficient parking, increased traffic and impeded access to the nearby Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital as potential issues with the site.
Those complaints continued into April 2022, when City Council selected Echelon Resources as the developer for the Spotswood parcel after they made adjustments to their plan, including scaling the proposed unit count down to 62 and limiting the complex to three stories.
Straughan said that so far, she hasn’t received much public input ahead of Thursday’s hearing. That stands in contrast to a permit request for a proposed donut shop earlier this year, which faced a flurry of public opposition from nearby residents and was ultimately denied by City Council.
The lack of public outcry surrounding the Spotswood parcel “speaks volumes about the amount of public input we’ve gotten throughout this process,” Straughan said. “It’s a much better way to do it if you can have those conversations early on.”
Glaeser said a flyer began circulating Wednesday urging residents to “stop the conditional use permit.” The flyer claims that Echelon and city officials haven’t proved that the development will not increase traffic significantly, impeding the nearby hospital, or that the project will not strain Lexington’s water and sewer systems.
“This project is NOT about the needs of the community but the desires of the City Council,” the flyer read.
Another resident, Mary Ellen Cook, said at a Dec. 1 council meeting that the city should prioritize affordable, not market–rate housing for the site.
“We need more affordable housing, and we have this precious parcel of land on Spotswood,” she said. “Why we didn’t insist as a city, a very affluent city for many of us, that that particular tract of land be designated for affordable housing is something that I think at least needed to be discussed.”
Straughan said Lexington needs both market–rate and affordable options as it increases its housing stock.
“We just don’t have a whole lot of apartments, period,” Straughan said. “We’re seeing more and more of demand for that transitional housing. We need both.” If the city approves Echelon’s proposal, the apartments won’t be available for rent for a few years. Cosby said he expects his company will close on the property sale in late 2023 or early 2024. Construction will take 12–18 months from there, he said.