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HOLMBERG: Redskins park bulldozing: promises broken, special treatment

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – How could there have been a significant change to the Redskins training park plan in October that was never communicated to city council members by the time they voted for the deal – one month later?

“We were not made aware of that this tweak in the plans would happen,” said 3rd District City Councilman Chris Hilbert. “And 100 feet was the difference between these trees coming and these trees going. And that’s extremely an unfortunate decision that was made.”

He and other city officials and many residents are stunned and angered that the mature trees on the western portion of the state-owned property were all bulldozed, instead of at least half of them preserved for a park-like setting, as was the widely understood plan.

On Monday we spoke with Mayor Dwight Jones, who was also upset, and he pledged he’d get to the bottom of the case of the disappearing trees.

On Tuesday, he issued this statement:

“I remain very concerned about the loss of the trees at the development site for the Redskins training camp. We now have a better understanding of how we got to this point and where the communications were not clear about this matter.
In October a shift was made in the plans for the site. That shift, which moved our project roughly 100 feet west on the site, came about to protect the visibility of a future special events center behind the Science Museum. The trees were removed in accordance with those revamped plans. Those plans were submitted to the Urban Design Committee and the Planning Commission.

While our original intent was to preserve as many trees as possible and while it was our belief that plans drawn up supported that intent, the shift of the 100 feet to the west essentially caused the removal of most of the trees we had intended to preserve.

Everyone knows we cannot put the trees back and this is not reversible. What we must work toward now is ensuring that we impact the site in a positive way and that we are keeping our commitment to provide a public park at the west end of the site.”

And yet, it appears city council was never told of the 100-foot shift in the footprint before they voted to approve the project at the last minute, just before Thanksgiving.

Councilman Hilbert is credited with negotiating the details of the deal and getting an accord. But not even he knew about the change in plans.

“It feels terrible,” Hilbert said. “I’ve gotten numerous emails and phone calls from constituents and people around the city who are outraged. They’re really disgusted. Somebody put it well today when they said it looked like the surface of the moon.”

Also in November, officials selling the plan to residents were still telling them many of the trees would remain.

Charlie Diradour, a developer and a defeated city council candidate, was against the stadium plan because of it was a rush job that gave special treatment to the Redskins and their sponsor.

Diadour said this is a case of the city not following its own rules – rules that can add weeks and headaches to any development.

“When I file for a plan of development in the city of Richmond, it takes two months,” he said. “Three months to get it fully reviewed and then we go to work. This reminds me of the (city run) ice skating rink. Remember? They didn’t file a building permit to build the ice skating rink . . .” And when that lapse was pointed out, the city issued themselves a building permit in one day , Diradour said, something that would never happen for a developer or citizen.

There’s no question bulldozing the site clean will make it much easier to finish the project in time for the Skins training camp in July.

But clearly, promises were broken.

Hilbert says there must be at least as many trees planted as were bulldozed, all as a mature as possible.

But he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill.

“We’ve already given at the office,” he said.

Bottom line: City council apparently wasn’t given the full plan before the hurry-up vote. And the city gave itself special treatment. No other developer, no other citizen, could have gotten away with this kind of change in plans, in this big of a hurry.

That’s my take, please leave your’s here on WTVR.com.

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