Meeting on Crisis Stabilization Home Proposed for 4405 Forest Hill Ave

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What’s not clear at first glance is that the location would have to be re-zoned. Below is one neighbor that is gathering support to oppose those re-zoning efforts.

Today I received a call from the Richmond Zoning Administrator, William Davidson as well as the Secretary for the Board of Zoning Appeals, Roy Benbow. They had some disturbing news.

It appears that the Richmond City of Behavioral Health has purchased the property at 4405 Forest Hill Ave (formerly Dr. Zambrana’s Family Medical Practice). They intend to use it as a transitory residential crisis facility – meaning that the average stay would be somewhere around 3-5 days.

The Zoning Administrator is contesting this use as it violates the underlying zoning for the property – R4 single family. Richmond Behavioral Health is of course appealing that decision.

I too believe that such a facility would be in violation of the zoning ordinance. I believe that the transitory nature of the facility will only serve to erode the character and stability of our neighborhood. So, I am reaching out to you, my neighbors, to join the city and me in opposing this facility.

There will be a meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals on May 1, 2013 at 1pm at 900 East Broad St, 5th floor conference room to decide on the matter.

Neighbors within 150 feet of 4405 Forest Hill Ave. will be receiving by mail a notification from the city outlining the situation. For those that live outside that ½ block +/- zone, I encourage you to also make your voices heard.

In the meanwhile, I will be contacting our Councilwoman, Kathy Graziano, as well as the heads of the Forest Hill, Westover Hills and Woodland Heights Neighborhood Associations to be sure that they are also aware of these plans and my opposition to it. I encourage you to do the same.

Thank You,
Sue McGarvey


  1. #1 • Lisa •

    In other words, if you aren’t healthy, wealthy, and white – stay out of the neighborhood?

  2. #2 • Greg •

    People in crisis, there for 3-5 days with zero ties to the neighborhood. Sounds like a recipe for stability in a neighborhood.

  3. #3 • Lisa •

    Can’t stability include compassion?

  4. #4 • Scott •


    Sicnce you’re so compassionate, why don’t you live next door? Bet it would do your property values a world of good.

  5. #5 • Ann •

    There are a number of “transitional” rehab homes peppered throughout the area already, two right on Semmes Ave close to the Forest Hill/Semmes split. In addition, there are a number of resident halfway homes on Boulevard and on Main Street. I’m not certain that the surrounding property values have suffered all that much because of their proximity to these alternative housing situations. With treatment facilities closing and/or losing funding, these folks need to go somewhere.

  6. #6 • RPS Teach •

    Doesn’t diversity in a neighborhood mean all sorts of diversity? You chose to live next door to a doctors office and didn’t know the stability of the patients but yet this is upsetting you? Living in an urban area means dealing with all sorts of buildings, people and programs. Can’t deal? Buy enough acreage far enough out that you can choose not to live next door to anyone.
    What legacy do you want to leave? That you fought for higher property values and by doing so fought to keep people who don’t meet your standards out or that you were an active community member involved in an active, diverse all accepting neighborhood? I know which one I am choosing.
    I just don’t get people who buy in the city and yet get upset when they deal with normal everyday city issues!

  7. #7 • Jennifer K. •

    Sorry @ RPS Teach. This was already zoned as single family, so don’t blame the residents for being upset that the city is now trying to change the rules. And what on earth does a family medical practice have in common with mentally challenged short-term residents? Are you actually trying to equate those? And what does city dwelling have to do with mental health? Are you saying there are no mentally unstable people in the counties or suburbia? Diversity does not mean that we are required to accept anything and everything someone else feels fits that description. Would we even be having this discussion if the city were trying to change the zoning to accommodate a strip club or liquor store or a halfway house? And YES, I am equating these, as I feel that it there are lifestyles and types of people we have chosen NOT to live around for whatever reason, and we were here first. If I wanted to live in a fringe neighborhood chock full of unsavory individuals, I would have bought a house somewhere else. I rented an apartment near a similar facility downtown and was routinely harassed by its tenants asking for money, cigarettes, and just generally pestering passersby. Have you even looked at the list of problems these individuals bring with them? This has nothing to do with compassion; these people are potential time bombs and it is very understandable that we would be concerned, with no idea about what type of security the facility would have or who would be responsible for problems that arose. I can guarantee it will be much harder to have this facility removed than to ever have it instituted.

  8. #8 • JMN •

    Jennifer K., you should just move… We want people who are accepting, understanding and caring in our neighborhood. Your likening the mentally disabled to alcoholics or strip club patrons, or employees is offensive.

  9. #9 • Garth •

    I think the zoning argument is thin considering the medical practice already had a special use permit, the nursing home next door is grandfathered in as special use and the apartments just up the street have a special use permit. The city routinely hands them out and our neighborhood is full of them. The NiMBY attitude does feel a little elitist and more in line with the HOA crowd I thought I was avoiding by living in the city. It is probably more productive to establish a relationship with the new owners and be active participants in a workable partnership with the neighborhood than to start off as combatants. The bottom line is there isn’t an island where we can send all the people who make us uncomfortable and if it doesn’t happen in our neighborhood it will in someone’s so why not be proactive and a positive influence instead of reactionary?

  10. #10 • RPS Teach •

    @Jennifer K when you sayt “types of people we have chosen NOT to live around for whatever reason, and we were here first” this comment says everything anyone would ever need to know about you to know why on earth you would say such a thing. I too really thought I was avoiding this narrow minded attitude by choosing to live in a diverse community. I truly hope you have never needed a helping hand and never will. I can’t believe you feel entitled to jump to such conclusions about people based on a few bullet points.
    Aren’t these types of facilities exactly what we need post the Newtown shooting? More mental health care? To help ALL members of our community?

  11. #11 • Em •

    Remember Timothy Spencer? We were quite generous to let him live on southside.

  12. #12 • Norm •

    The problem here is not a lack of compassion but a feeling that this area is already saturated with this type of housing. As mentioned earlier, the Forest Hill/Semmes Ave. corridor is already sprinkled with these types of homes. I know of three homes in Woodland Heights that are drug rehab homes and one business that is being used for twice daily rehab meetings. I live next door to one of them. Enough is enough.
    From experience, what you can expect from those places are loud, obnoxious phone conversations on the grounds at all hours, police activity as residents are taken out of the facility, and occasional residents knocking on your back door at 2 am mistaking your house for theirs because they are in an altered state of mind. These are things I have seen at the rehab house. For the Woodland Heights Manor that closed last year that housed people that also had a “history of complex behavior issues”, add panhandling, vandalism, drinking, littering, and public defecating to the list. None of this was here when I moved in and it has been a challenge to raise a family under such conditions. If this is your idea of diversity, I suggest you and your family move next door to one of the existing homes and soak it all in.

  13. #13 • JB •

    I think the point here is that RBHA moved forward without obtaining building permits, or did I not read this correctly (A stop work order was issued). Moving forward without building permits bypasses the city zoning code from the jump( as many who have gone down to city hall for permits have learned that permits aren’t issued/considered until it goes through zoning compliance).
    This doesn’t pass the smell test and seems unprofessional from the start. If the powers that be of this group can’t administer a new facility creation without making these kinds of waves, what does it say about the administration of the services they provide to the destitute.

  14. #14 • Sundagger •

    This is a little more complicated that posters might think. First, I agree that this facility is needed, and would probably be a good neighbor. I agree that planning small group home treatment facilities will fit comfortably within all neighborhoods of the city. And yes, I live a block from a facility constructed as a hospice for AIDS patients. But the applicant is not seeking a special use permit, which would give the city and the community more opportunity to participate in the conditions of the permit. A rezoning, rarely done in the city of Richmond, forever (more or less) changes the use of a property and is contrary to the long term plan for a neighborhood. On balance, I would ask my elected officials to mediate the issue, and see if the use sought could be permitted within the confines of an SUP, not a rezoing.

  15. #15 • Sundagger •

    And less name-calling directed to our neighbors.

  16. #16 • JB •

    Sundagger makes a great point if indeed this is a rezoning. A rezoning attempted by a city run agency for such a small property ( six beds)instead of a special use permit will change this area for the worse. Count on a lot more of these types of facilities coming on.

  17. #17 • J •

    First things first, Richard, thank you for providing community information like this and a forum to discuss it.

    My question is how does this contribute, positively, to the neighborhood compared to a single family dwelling or family medical practice?

  18. #18 • Greg •

    Does anyone think having approximately 200 folks in and out of our neighborhood a year 3-5 days at a time transitioning from a crisis will make us safer as a neighborhood. Of course not. As a father, this is something I cannot support in my neighborhood. I work with these folks for a living and a fair amount if them are constantly in and out of jail due to being on and off their meds over and over. It’s really unfortunate for them and they certainly need better services and treatment but understand this. No amount if owner dialog will result in getting all of their temporary residents to behave. The offenders will be gone somewhere else before it could even be addressed. I often represent indigent defendants with mental challenges who live in group homes. It’s a never ending issue for their neighbors. There is a reason these facilities need some sort of a waiver or rezoning. It’s out of the normal character of normal residential neighborhoods.

  19. #19 • Robin •

    These people are appealing the decision of City zoning staff on their interpretation of the zoning ordinance. So concentrate on the issue at hand, which is: Did the city zoning administrator err in denying this permit based on what the city zoning ordinance says? Someone needs to post the application here so we can see what the legal issue at hand is. 100 percent of the facts have not been posted to the blogosphere, so no one should be coming to these quick divisive conclusions.

    Bigger picture: Does anyone have a suggestion where this use SHOULD locate? The whole reason this place is needed is because we have de-institutionalized our mental health system, and the goal is to integrate the system into the community. Marginalizing these facilities into commercial strips, or bad neighborhoods is only a perpetuation of the draconian system of mental institutions. The transient nature of this facility makes this a little different and I certainly hope that the neighborhood would have a different reaction toward a long-term residential facility.

  20. #20 • Greg •

    I’m sure the reaction would and should be the same. Did you read who it says will be housed there? It specifically states 3 times that it’s for residents with behavioral issues and the last line says it includes people with recent criminal issues. Yes please, these sound like wonderful neighbors and there is no chance for any problems. Fyi-these are people who would previously have been housed at central state before the court decision. Intergrating these into residential neighborhoods us a terrible idea. They should be on medical campuses.

  21. #21 • Martha Cooper •

    I live behind the Parkside Apartments on 47th St. It was a transitional home, and while their was supervision, there were no problems. Later it became a home for people with no money and very little supervision for those with problems. We would have police sirens at all hours, my grandsons saw a man try to throw another man off a balcony, and there was blaring music alot. This place might work if some responsible person is on duty all the time–just not someone checking in from social services now and then.

  22. #22 • Greg •

    This will not be like those apartments. Read the notice. People with recent criminal and behavioral problems in crisis. Expect a lot of blue lights.

  23. #23 • J •

    Greg, I totally agree. I live near those apartments as well, and let us not forget they started almost exactly as the proposed Crisis Stabilization home. Supervised and relatively calm (aside from the occasional scream or cop call). Then they turned in to a drain on the city services, a security issue for the neighborhood, and center of criminal activity. It took years of coordinated effort to get to the potential of contributing to the neighborhood (potential because it was in such bad shape it’s still being renovated).

    Where does a home like this belong – I think the majority of the comments thus far agree – not in a neighborhood with single-family homes, residents that stay years and years, and far away from the services that will serve it. Where does it belong? In my opinion, closer to the services it will utilize – police, medical, therapeutic, etc. Those facilities are not close to the proposed location, which means response times will be longer and the inherent danger to the community and residents of the home is higher.

  24. #24 • Sundagger •

    J, without expressing an opinion on this proposal, police, fire, medical are all within five minutes of the facility, and social services is within 7-9 minutes.

  25. #25 • pablo •

    i agree with Greg, look at the factors all listed above which adds up to increased chance of crime. 3-5 days is plenty of time to check out the area, familiarize with bus routes, etc. Our area was zoned as single family and this violates the zoning, plain and simple. As a father in the forest hill neighborhood, i will surely not support this either. Happy to attend the meeting and voice concerns.

  26. #26 • pablo •

    “START program (crisis center) for last year (on their website). It said that 52% of the people referred to the program in 2012 were being referred due to aggression.” These certainly aren’t pacifist monks coming into brew belgian ales on the southside…

  27. #27 • J •

    Sundagger – Fire, yes, very close. Police is Sector 312, based on Meadow. I’d say it’s more than 5 minutes, but maybe not with lights and sirens. Medical, there’s an EMT/ambulance station close, but no hospital (again maybe 5 minutes with lights and sirens after the initial response).

    My point was to agree with Greg that this type of facility belongs on a campus with dedicated medical and security on site and not relying on emergency services and the hope of someone calling 911 (which is how it used to be). 5 minutes is a long time to keep an aggressive person from injuring someone or themselves.

    Again, I don’t think it’s our job to decide where it goes, but we can voice our opinion at the meeting that it doesn’t comply with the existing zoning and a change in the zoning is not the right thing for the community (if that’s your opinion, or certainly the opposite if it is not).

  28. #28 • Stuffa •

    A few musings:

    In principle I support the notion that large concentrations of, say, low income housing are detrimental over time: the same can be said of high income housing as well. One of the reasons we chose to live in the area over 20 years ago was that it was diverse. So, I am not entirely opposed to having one or two transitional type housing establishments in the neighborhood.

    This situation becomes problematic, however, when too many transitional residences (for lack of a better word) are located within the same general area.

    There is a tipping point for saturation which occurs and these facilities end up serving no one.

    So I think that it behooves everyone to do a little research and find out just what the current concentration of such housing is in the neighborhood.

    Which prompts me to ask: does there exist anywhere a map which shows the locations of various transitional housing facilities around the city? I am curious because, it seems to me that there are plenty dotted around the Hills and Heights area already. There are quite a few transitional re-hab residences in Woodland Heights, many of which are owned by Bulifant Properties. Maybe Sundagger can point us in the right direction for that information.

    Secondly, I wonder what the point is of housing individuals with such problems in a heavily residential area *for such a very brief period of time*. How are the individuals served by doing that? How is the neighborhood served?

    I could very well be wrong but it seems to me that, as Greg and J have pointed out already, housing folks in such fragile states of mind in a campus setting with the appropriate services available on site makes more sense under the circumstances.

  29. #29 • Sundagger •

    To my knowledge, there is no single list of “transitional” housing. I’m not even sure there is a single definition. There are juvenile and adult group homes, adult homes (think Jones Adult Home on FH Avenue), there are supportive housing facilities for people with mental or physical disabilities…They are not licensed by the same agencies, and frequently, if the zoning is proper, city offices may not even know about them.

  30. #30 • Sundagger •

    I encourage you to use your political options, not to oppose the facilities, but to get more information.

  31. #31 • R B Moffett •

    The immediate issue is one of zoning with a hearing on an appeal by the RBHA from the Zoning Administrator’s denial decision being scheduled for May. I’m reliably informed by attorneys that this will be a proceeding at which the only relevant issue is whether the zoning administrator properly applied zoning ordinances.

    As I understand it, should the Zoning Administrator’s denial be sustained by the BZA, then the applicant might have the optiond of appealing the BZA decision to Circuit Court, or applying for a special use permit after which other opinions, pro and con, from property owners directly affected and other neighbors could appropriate be voiced and considered. The May BZA appeal hearing, and I assume any appeal of a BZA decision to Circuit Court, I’d assume would be limited to the question of whether the Zoning Administrator and or BZA properly applied zoning ordinances when the RBHA application was denied. .

    In answer to the question “If not 4405 Forest Hill, where?” there is commercial property on Hi Oaks Road adjacent or across from Chippenham Medical Center and the Tucker Pavilion that, assuming zoning compliance, certainly appears to be a more suitable location – and it is at least as well served by public transportation as 4405 Forest Hill, often by the same buses, and much closer to emergency medical and psychiatric help. not to mention in the same area as an existing psychiatric facility – Tucker Pavilion

  32. #32 • R B Moffett •

    I was advised by email this morning that the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority has substituted an application for a special use permit for 4405 Forest Hill Avenue and withdrawn their zoning appeal. The significance is that this moves the issue from venues (BZA and potentially Circuit Court) in which the only relevant issue is whether the zoning administrator properly applied the zoning laws when he denied the building permit to a much more political arena where politicians will be making decisions that affect the property rights of nearby residents and values of their properties, as well as their rights to quiet and peaceable enjoyment of their own residences.

    Thus next Wednesday’s meeting at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church is much more crucial because it will be one of only a very public meetings – probably two – in which the opinions of those who live in the neighborhood and will be directly affected can be heard.

    While some believe opposition comes from “NIMBY bigots”, the reality, in my opinion, is that there are enormous differences between a family physicians office that formerly occupied the property and treated patients during week-days 9 to 5, and a 24 hr/ 7 day a week/ 365 day a year facility intended to house constantly changing populations of patients with severe behavioral and substance abuse disorders, often with criminal records, who will be housed there involuntarily.

    4405 Forest HIll, when used as primary care physician’s office, also had one or more residential apartments in which the tenants resided fairly permanently, certainly for for more than four or five days that will be the case if the special use permit is granted. .

    Let there be no doubt that this population needs and deserves the best treatment possible. That is not the question, the question is whether they and neighboring residents are best served by the proposal. In my opinion, 4405 Forest Hill is not a suitable location for such a facility and it should be located on or nearby the campus of a major hospital. Chippenham Medical Center comes to mind because there is non-residential property available for lease or purchase and close to emergency psychiatric and medical care at the hospital. There are no reports the RBHA even considered that, rather, they chose to purchase property without the proper zoning and use permits, perform demolition, begin remodeling, and commence expansion with consulting neighboring property owners and without required building permits

    The manner in which RBHA, a creature of the Commonwealth of Virginia, has handled this from the outset suggests their contempt, not only for laws, but for those of us who live in the neighborhood, our safety, and our property rights. .

  33. #33 • sundagger •

    Procedurally a SUP application must be reviewed by the Planning staff, a recommendation made to the Planning Commission, a public hearing and vote by the PC, then a referral to City Council. There will be another public hearing at that level and a final vote take. The applicant may appeal an adverse ruling to the circuit court.

  34. #34 • L •

    My neighbors and I are folks who live in the city seeking an urban setting and diversity. We did not choose the city(other than the occasional sprinkling of the following that comes with the territory) to live in the shadow of criminal behavior, breaking and entering, verbal assaults and threats, property crimes; extremely loud, frequent, vulgar cursing and yelling; public indecency; blaring music day and night well above community standards including after 11pm; domestic violence, assaults, regular drug traffic, drive-by shootings, trash thrown on our property and in the streets, public intoxication, panhandling, some prostitution…
    All of this was brought to us, relentlessly and without pause, compliments of Parkway Apartments which eroded and came close to destroying the quality of life here- for children, adults, all. In addition to some of the good neighbors inhabiting that building, it drew sociopaths, criminals, untreated addicts and alcoholics, dual diagnosis folks who were un or under-treated, psychotics who were inadequately medicated. I don’t think that the invitation to diversity should include asking families and children to endure a daily assault of crime and abuse which destroys the quality and safety of their lives. We, here, are a cautionary tale.

  35. #35 • Sunny'sdad •

    What happened last night at FHNA?

  36. #36 • HillsHeights •

    RBHA gave a short presentation followed by extensive at times heated questioning by the 200 or so folks present. I left prior to the vote but I can’t image it was even close. I hope to get some more information later today and write a more detailed post.

  37. #37 • R B Moffett •

    The FHNA voted to oppose the special use permit application. The issue is now be before the Planning Commission and, ultimately, City Council.

    In my opinion, if the RBHA (one of whose associates lives in Westover Hills and could easily have engaged in a candid,open dialogue with affected residents in advance), had engaged residents of Forest Hill in an open, forthright discussion before buying the property, performing demolition, and beginning expansion and if they had candidly and fully addressed legitimate questions from affected resident, beforehand, the result may well have been very different.

    As a result of what seems to have been perceived by most as a deliberate actions on the part of RBHA to circumvent zoning and building ordinances, deny or delay citizen input until it was too late for nearby residents to successfully oppose it, the RBHA lost all credibility. In short, many do not trust them.

    Last night’s RBHA presentation should have taken place well-before the property was purchased and the SUP application filed. After the fact, RBHA’s presentation was “too little, too late”, somewhat disingenuous, occasionally condescending, and it lacked credibility with a vast majority of those present.

    Many valid points were expressed on both sides of the issue, and much of the contentious atmosphere, in my opinion, was a direct result of how the RHBA has handled this project from the outset.

    Many apparently voted “no” because of a lack of trust and factual information; not because of NIMBY bigotry directed at those whom the facility is intended to serve.

    Some answers provided by Dr. Lanier and his colleagues also were in contradiction to published guidelines for Virginia Start programs published by Dr. Joan Beasley at the Univ. of New Hampshire as well as the experiences of some residents who are employed professionally in the mental health field.

    In my opinion, The RBHA and their supporters cannot justifiably blame last night’s vote on prejudice or bigotry on the part of the majority of FHNA residents, it is RBHA’s failures to engage in conversations with residents BEFORE purchasing the property, seeking zoning and building permits, and performing construction work that, at least in my opinion, motivated the substantial “no” vote.

  38. #38 • HillsHeights •

    I would agree with that analysis. RB well said.

  39. #39 • J •

    Anything ever come of this? I’m curious if we need to check and make sure nothing skirted through while we weren’t looking…

  40. #40 • Bud •

    Location has been moved to St. JOSEPHS Villa in Henrico County. Not sure if RBHA will hold on to the property.

  41. #41 • marsha •


    Where did you get this information?

  42. #42 • LT •

    Is this information confirmed? Please elaborate.

  43. #43 • Bud •

    A contact within RBHA. Not comfortable mentioning names but confident the info is legit.

  44. #44 • J •

    Awesome, thanks, Bud.

  45. #45 • Sue McGarvey •

    That is great news! When, and if, you know what RBHA’s intention is with regard to selling the property, please update us. Thanks to you and your contact!!!!

  46. #46 • Sue McGarvey •

    It looks like RBHA does not intend on staying at St. Josephs. They HAVE APPLIED for a special use permit for the START Crisis Facility on May 16th. For those interested in following the status of the application, the details are below. I believe the first public hearing on the issue will be in front of the Planning Commission – on which Kathy Graziano sits – after which, it will go before City Council. Although the date for the Planning Commission hearing has not yet been set, they typically meet the first and third Mondays at 1:30pm – City Hall – mark your calendars. More to come as I learn more.

    File #: 6617a
    Date of Application: 5/16/2013
    Description: Authorize a shelter in R-4.
    Address: 4405 Forest Hill Avenue
    Project Name: RBHA Start House
    Applicant: John Lindstrom
    City Planner: Tarisa Moran

  47. #47 • Sue McGarvey •

    On a more positive note, the existing special use permit @ 4405 Forest Hill Ave – the permit that allowed for Dr. Zambrana’s medical office – is no longer in force due to the property being vacant for 24 months. In an email response to my inquiry about the current SUP, Zoning Administrator William Davidson, said that “the previous use vacated and it was abandoned.” Of course, that means that this home, at least for now, has reverted to single family residential use ONLY.

  48. #48 • LT •

    Thanks, Sue, for all your hard work on this issue!

  49. #49 • J •

    Thanks, Sue. Please update as you know more so we can all get in front of the Planning Commission.

  50. #50 • Bud •

    Just learned that RBHA will be putting the property up for sale. The START program looks like it will stay at ST. Josephs Village but Henrico County CSB has not confirmed this. Information was obtained by an RBHA source.

  51. #51 • Sue McGarvey •

    Thanks for the update, Bud. What is the Henrico County “CSB”?

  52. #52 • Bob •

    Thanks Bud and Sue for the good news;

    “CSB” is Community Services Board, various ones of which exist across Virginia to deal with mental health services. As I recall RBHA’s presentation to FHNA, while 4405 is recorded in the name of RBHA, Lanier, I think, said it was purchased with money from a consortium of CSB’s perhaps including the one in Colonial Heights, Henrico, and even Fredericksburg.

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