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Developers add spice to long overlooked Sugar Bottom, near Libby Hill

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The first of several new homes planned for the Sugar Bottom area are going vertical at the end of East Franklin Street, downhill from Libby Hill Park. (Jonathan Spiers)

RICHMOND, Va. — An area just downhill from “The View That Named Richmond” but overlooked for years in terms of new construction is squarely in the sights of a group of local developers.

Tucked in a valley between Libby Hill Park and Chimborazo Park, near the eastern end of the sealed Church Hill Tunnel, the area known as Sugar Bottom is seeing the first new construction in decades: three modern-style row houses near the end of East Franklin Street.

The homes, developed by Zach Kennedy of Upward Builders, mark the start of a development push in Sugar Bottom, an area known historically as one of Richmond’s red light districts during the Civil War era. The first of the homes hit the market in late September: a 2,400-square-foot unit listed just below $400,000.

Three more properties from Kennedy are planned to follow: a detached unit downhill at the end of Franklin Street, and two attached homes around the corner on North 31st Street, on the other end of a row of older attached homes.

 rendering of the planned Sugar Bottom rowhouses. (Courtesy Patrick Sullivan)

rendering of the planned Sugar Bottom rowhouses. (Courtesy Patrick Sullivan)

And on the other side of Franklin, another development group is planning an upgrade of an existing apartment building and construction of two duplexes, as well as four more homes uphill from Kennedy’s, on both sides of an existing, century-old row house.

That developer, RVA Sugar LLC, is a partnership between local builders John Humphries and Casey White and real estate agent Matt Jarreau. Doing business as Kiwi Development, Humphries is the owner of Greenleaf Builders and White is a field manager with Centex Homes.

Jarreau, an agent with Hometown Realty who has been active with several developments in the area, said the projects are the first signs of activity in Sugar Bottom in years, driven by increased demand for housing in the area and its proximity to amenities in and around Church Hill.

“This is the first iota of interest in this area since probably the 1950s,” Jarreau said of Sugar Bottom. “Whenever they built those ugly block buildings is the last time anybody went down there and did anything.

“There is no other land south of Broad Street in Church Hill that you can develop, and this is a large swath of land that was available,” he said. “And being that the market forces are driving these prices up, it made this particular location much more attractive.”

Kennedy, who is marketing his homes with Patrick Sullivan of One South Realty Group, said the recent additions of Stone Brewing and the Virginia Capital Trail in nearby Fulton has added to the interest in the area. He also noted the recent purchase of the nearby Armitage Building, which new owner The Wilton Companies has said is “ripe for renovation.”

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