RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A proposal for a four-story building with up to 21 apartment units and two commercial spaces near Virginia Commonwealth University cleared a hurdle Monday after the Richmond Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the developers’ permit application.

The plan is to take down the existing, single-story building at 931 and 933 West Grace Street, which housed restaurants and a hookah bar in the past but is now vacant, and develop the new mixed-use building.

The developers, Nael and Antar Abouzaki, bought the land after previously owning a restaurant on the property.

“We always eyed the land because we are investors and the proximity to VCU,” Nael Abouzaki, a Henrico County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, told 8News on Tuesday. “The plan was to develop it into apartments because of the need for housing in the area.”

The W. Grace Street property is located near VCU’s Monroe Park campus, between N. Harrison and Shafer Streets. According to property records, the land was bought in 2020 for $875,000.

The city’s planning commission voted unanimously Monday to endorse a request for a special-use permit application, which was needed to move the development plan forward because it didn’t meet “requirements within the B-4 District, including rear yard depth requirements” in the city code, according to a city report.

Map of the property on 931-933 West Grace Street (courtesy of the Richmond Planning Commission)

Neighborhood associations, including the Fan District Association and Historic West Grace Street Association, sent a letter to the city’s planning commission in January calling on the panel to reject the application.

“The applicant is obligated, pursuant to the City Code with respect to special use permits, to seek the input of the relevant neighborhood associations. Not only did the applicant not seek community input, they expressly avowed their intention not to do so,” the letter read.

But the Fan District Association sent an email on April 2 indicating that they agreed not to oppose the project after meeting with the applicant’s representative at the property.

Ed McLaughlin, VCU’s vice president and director of athletics, also wrote a letter in support of the special-use permit (SUP).

“Granting the SUP will allow for a greater, more efficient use of the parcel at 931-933 West Grace Street,” McLaughlin wrote in an April 1 letter.

There weren’t any public comments on the project during Monday’s meeting, but the planning commission’s staff said the project would not place “an undue burden on the availability of on-street parking” as the property is close to several VCU parking decks, bicycle parking and of public transit.

Despite the Richmond Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the special-use permit, the City Council will have the final say on the plan. If the council signs off, Nael Abouzaki says they hope to begin work this summer and complete the development in 16 months for the beginning of VCU’s 2024 spring semester.

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