Correct the Zoning of the Westwood Tract

The Petition below asks the Board of Trustees of Union Presbyterian Seminary to consider the new evidence regarding the zoning errors associated with the Westwood Tract. We assume the Trustees were not aware of these facts when they authorized their joint venture to build the apartment complex on the Westwood Tract.

Please also consider signing the Statement of Support: A Limited Rezoning of a Portion of the Westwood Tract


Our Petition to the Board of Trustees of Union Presbyterian Seminary

To Correct the Zoning of the Westwood Tract

       WHEREAS, in the early 1900s Union Presbyterian Seminary (“UPS”) acquired the City of Richmond (“City”) block known as the Westwood Tract.  The initial zoning was B-3 allowing only single family homes.

       WHEREAS, in 1953 UPS asked the City for a change of the zoning of the Westwood Tract to a zoning that would allow their institutional uses, including the building of what is now the Rice dormitory.  Their request asked that a buffer along Loxley and Rennie Avenues remain single family zoning.  The City’s file on this request reveals clearly that UPS assured the City and the neighbors its request was only for educational uses of the property.  A copy of this file is attached as EXHIBIT A.  A copy of the City Planning Commission minutes considering the request is attached as EXHIBIT B.  The City Council granted this re-zoning request.  A copy of the ordinance is attached as EXHIBIT C; a copy of the applicable section of the 1953 zoning code is attached as EXHIBIT D [Note: while the designation “E” given to the Westwood Tract in 1953 is titled “Multiple-Family Dwelling District,” it is simply a title, the designation includes over ten separate uses including, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, hospitals (it was the designation given for Richmond Memorial Hospital as well), boarding and lodging houses, fraternities, and institutional uses] and a copy of the zoning map immediately after the ordinance is attached as EXHIBIT E.

       WHEREAS, in the years since 1953, through no action of UPS, but through simply the errors of the City related to rewriting of its zoning code twice and reissuing of its zoning maps several times, the Westwood Tract was re-designated as R-53, which permits high density, multi-family development.   In addition to this change, the single-family buffers along Loxley and Rennie Avenues were deleted.  Similarly, during this period the UPS Quad City block and the Veritas Campus City block were re-designated R-53. The current zoning map of the three blocks is attached as EXHIBIT F. Given this zoning designation, the three blocks combined have a right to build over 1,850 apartment units by right.

       WHEREAS, at all times over the past 100 years UPS has used the property only for educational, institutional uses and at all times the zoning Comprehensive Plan Map has designated all three blocks as Institutional.  The city’s current Comprehensive Plan Map of the three blocks is attached as EXHIBIT G.

       WHEREAS, in 2012 UPS asked the City to explain what the zoning rights are for the Westwood Tract.  The Zoning Administrator issued an opinion dated May 16, 2012 (copied as EXHIBIT H), stating the entire block was zoned R-53.  This designation permits one living unit per 1,250 square feet of land and therefore more than 1,150 apartment units are permitted by right on the block. The Zoning Administrator erroneously states that the file history at the City regarding the 1953 re-zoning is not available and, therefore, he states he does not know of any restrictions or even which party asked for the 1953 change.  Finally, he stated that “as the Property is currently an institutional use” every structure on the Westwood Tract is non-conforming to the zoning code.  Thus, even though UPS asked for the 1953 zoning change to permit their planned educational uses of the property and even though the City granted what UPS requested, due to the multiple re-designations since 1953 by the City, the City now says nothing on the block conforms to the zoning code.  The zoning administrator then erroneously assumes all the structures on the block were built before the zoning designation was changed.

       WHEREAS, the mistakes in the zoning opinion have now been revealed, and in our opinion the zoning error on the Westwood Tract, and on all three blocks that make up UPS and Veritas, are self-evident.  It is obvious the City never intended, and the neighborhood would never have permitted, a rezoning that permits over 1,850 apartment units in the center of a low density, single family neighborhood.  Clearly the intent was for this to be zoned Institutional, but with the single-family buffers along Loxley and Rennie.  This is clearly reflected in (i) the correspondence in the City 1953 file; (ii) the 1953 minutes of the City Planning Commission; (iii) as to the buffers, the words of the City Council 1953 Ordinance adopted; (iv) the use of all three blocks by UPS over the past 65 years; (v) the fact that every single one of the buildings on all three blocks are non-conforming if the three blocks are R-53.

       WHEREAS, these errors have been brought to the attention of the City Zoning office and their immediate response is that legal technicalities of “vesting” and “reliance” on their errors, and similar technical arguments mean their zoning mistake must stand even if they are in error and it may not be possible to reverse the error without the consent of the land owner.

       WHEREAS, the undersigned neighbors and friends of UPS ask the Board of Trustees to consider these facts carefully. We assume the Trustees were not aware of these facts when they authorized their joint venture to build the apartment complex on the Westwood Tract.  We hope they will disagree with any technical arguments, and any other suggestion that time makes a wrong into a right.  Instead we ask that they correct these zoning errors for the good of the community, a community they have anchored, strengthened and been such a good neighbor to for over a century. Maintaining this strong relationship between UPS and the neighborhood means a great deal to us. Further, this land is steeped in history from the 1700s through the 1900s and its use should honor and preserve that history appropriately.

       THEREFORE, we ask the Board of Trustees to act to correct the zoning of the Westwood Tract and the UPS Quad by changing the zoning to Institutional, and, as to the Westwood Tract, to keep the single-family buffers along Loxley and Rennie Avenues as stated in the 1953 City ordinance granting the original, and only, rezoning request by UPS.


In the "Why is this Important to You" box on the right, please state if you are a neighbor or a friend or both to UPS. If you are a friend and prefer to remain anonymous, please give your connection such as "student in the 70s" or "professor or staff for more than __ years".  If you are a neighbor, please be sure to include your address so we can provide a map to the Board of Trustees to show where the signers of the petition live.

Thank you.

See full Exhibits by clicking here 

EXHIBIT A – City Correspondence File regarding the 1953 rezoning request of UPS

EXHIBIT B – City Planning Commission Minutes regarding the 1953 rezoning request of UPS

EXHIBIT C – 1953 City Ordinance Adopted

EXHIBIT D – 1953 City Zoning Code Explaining the Designation “E”

EXHIBIT E – 1953 Zoning Map

EXHIBIT F – Current Zoning Map

EXHIBIT G – Current Comprehensive Plan Map

EXHIBIT H – 2012 Opinion of the City Zoning Administrator

We also urge you to consider signing the Statement of Support to the Board of Trustees of Union Presbyterian Seminary: 


Update #35 years ago
I just signed the petition: "Mayor Stoney: Withhold Further Permits on the Westwood Tract/Canopy IMMEDIATELY!" Will you join me in supporting this issue?
Update #25 years ago
WED MAY 3 - 7 pm Ginter Park Residents Assoc monthly meeting hosts MAYOR STONEY at GP Presbyterian Church 3601 Seminary Ave. In light of UPS’ determination to build the Canopy at any price to neighbors & the city, we must request the Mayor take a stronger stand, correct previous city administrations' zoning errors, withdraw all permits, and require a re-start for the proper development of Westwood Tract. GPRA members & concerned neighbors are encouraged to attend & show our collective resolve.
Update #15 years ago
The UPS Board has decided to stay w/ the Canopy project, despite nearly 700 signatories to our petition. A lawsuit was filed 4/25 in Richmond City Circuit Court against City & Seminary seeking to halt the project & enjoin permits until zoning is clarified.
We are grateful to all who have donated to the legal defense fund.
UPS is doubling down, despite representations supposedly made to Mayor Stoney that work would halt pending the June 7 BZA zoning appeal.
Further updates in coming days.
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