More offers for Spotswood Drive lead to complications

Shauna Muckle

Lexington City Council is considering five new unsolicited offers to purchase all or portions of a 3.24-acre parcel on Spotswood Drive.

The five new offers were all submitted after council held its first public hearing on March 4 considering an unsolicited offer to purchase the site for $350,000 by Richmond developer Echelon Resources, Inc. 

The offer from Echelon Resources initially proposed building 150 apartments on the site and demolishing the Piovano Building. The building currently houses two local nonprofits, the Community Table and the Rockbridge Area Relief Association, the area’s largest food pantry.

Echelon scaled back its offer to 90 units after multiple community members said that 150 units were excessive.

At the first public hearing, many residents, including RARA president Valerie Moliterno, expressed concern about the prospect of RARA getting displaced. Two of the new unsolicited offers seek to address those concerns by purchasing just a portion of the property.

City Manager Jim Halasz said City Council plans to consider whether or not to sell the Piovano Building and the 0.92-acre parcel it sits on before considering unsolicited offers for the entire property.

“If you’re going to split that building off, then the other four proposals will be impacted, because now they’ll only have to deal with two-thirds of the site,” Halasz said. “Will they want to move forward, do their proposals work with that much less land?”

An offer from Ben Grigsby, a former W&L trustee, proposes purchasing the Piovano building for $400,000 in order to ensure RARA can use the site permanently. 

Moliterno said her organization was grateful for Grigsby’s offer at a second public hearing regarding the Spotswood purchase on March 18.

“Staying in Lexington is key to our success,” Moliterno said at the hearing. “We believe staying housed in the Piovano Building is the best, most efficient option for delivering essential services to the community.”

But Grigsby’s offer presents some problems, Council Member Leslie Straughan said. The $400,000 purchase price is much less than the tax-assessed value of the Piovano Building, which was close to $1 million a decade ago, she said.

The city’s comprehensive plan has promoted selling and developing all 3.24 acres of the Spotswood property for years, Straughan said. Preserving the Piovano Building means less space for residential development and less tax revenue from the site’s development, she said.

“We have limited places in the city that are that large of a parcel and have adequate water and sewer,” Straughan said. “We don’t want to price people out of living in Lexington.”

Halasz also said that selling the Piovano Building separately from the rest of the site could make it less attractive for developers.

“The best site on that property is the RARA site. It’s level,” Halasz said. “There’s different cost factors for the remainder of that site once the Piovano Building is gone.”

RARA itself also submitted an offer to purchase the Piovano Building on March 15. RARA’s offer doesn’t have a price associated with it.

The other three new offers all seek to develop the entire parcel of land. The most detailed offer comes from Lexington-based developer MaxMark Homes, which proposes purchasing the site for $375,000 and constructing 40 townhomes.

Real estate broker Heather Hamilton, who owns H&K properties in Lexington, said the townhomes are “more in line with what the Lexington-area housing market desperately needs.”

“We don’t have the industry or work to support 1-2 bedroom apartments in the $1200-$1800 range,” Hamilton said at the March 18 meeting. “There are not 90-plus new $60,000 jobs coming to the area.”

Another proposal from Adamson Development Corporation would develop medical offices and potentially retirement homes on the parcel. 

The final proposal is from the “Spotswood Collaborative,” which includes real estate developers Heidi and Bruce Schweizer, architect Lee Merrill and ABL Landscape Architecture. That proposal would preserve the Piovano Building for community use and develop 40 rental apartment units on the remainder of the property.

Straughan said that all the new offers were hastily cobbled together and need much more clarity before council can make a final decision on them.

“People were just trying to get their foot in the door,” Straughan said. “It gives us more options, [but] they’re very unclear at this point.”

Straughan’s comments match what Mayor Frank Friedman assured residents at the last public hearing–that council will take its time fleshing out the various proposals and considering what the city needs.

City Council will continue discussing the Spotswood property at their next meeting April 1.