Having fallen into disrepair, the five-story 1919 former Barker-Jennings building on Campbell Avenue has a long history in Lynchburg, having begun its life as the “Martha Washington Dormitory” for the employees of the Jobbers Overall Company, which had a suspender factory nearby.
Now, a century later, the building could see a return to residential use after the Lynchburg Planning Commission recommended approval for a rezoning that would allow the property to be developed into 105 apartments.
Currently zoned General Business District (B-5), the petitioner, Richmond-based company Rebkee, is requesting to rezone the 2.25 acres to Urban Commercial District (B-4) to allow the reuse of the existing building as apartments with associated parking.
The property, located at 1300 Campbell Ave., currently is owned by Virginia University of Lynchburg, but City Planner Tom Martin said Rebkee would purchase the property before they began the proposed development. The apartments would not be associated with the school.
This isn’t the first time the building has been approved for apartments; Lynchburg City Council approved a conditional use permit for 107 apartments in January 2010. The petition came from Jennings Dorm LLC, formed by a team of Richmond developers, but the project eventually stalled and the CUP was allowed to expire.
After its use by the Jobbers Overall Company, the property was used by Barker-Jennings Corporation for their wholesale operation. The company was a small distributor of automotive, industrial and hardware items.
The building was purchased by VUL in 2010, but the building remained vacant after the closure of Barker-Jennings and was condemned in 2014 because of building code violations.
At its Wednesday meeting, members of the planning commission heard a presentation from Amy Seipp, principal engineer with Accupoint Surveying & Design.
Since the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located within the Kemper Street Industrial Historic District, Seipp said they will use historic tax credits to aid in the redevelopment. With “incredible” floors, sliding barn doors and other striking historical features original to the building, she said it’s an exciting project, and a building she looks forward to seeing preserved.
“If you have lived in Lynchburg for as long as most of us have, this is a pretty iconic building,” she said.
According to its national register documentation, the building is a Georgian Revival structure consisting of a concrete foundation, a full basement and pine and maple flooring over steel beams. In 1970, 1975 and 1981 the Barker-Jennings Corporation made several metal-clad additions to the rear of the building.
The narrative provided by Accupoint said a view from the northern windows would reveal the train line and ravine that borders the north edge of the property, and the other iconic warehouses that make up the historic district. It said many of the non-historic metal additions would be removed.
No changes are proposed to the existing exterior stairs or building entries on the historic Campbell Avenue front.
Seipp said the firm proposed including other amenities in the building, such as a fitness center, a pool and green space. The goal of the project is to keep people on the property and in the area, with Miller Park nearby for other recreation uses.
Rebkee, the developer, is leading other similar projects in the area, such as the 50-unit apartment complex proposed for the former Grace Lodge that was approved by council in 2019.
Commissioner Cham Light said he was ecstatic when he heard about the project. With such a big building sitting vacant for so long, he said he has been waiting to see it rejuvenated.
Parking was the main commissioner concern. There are 108 vehicle spaces planned for the property, and 20 bicycle spaces. Commissioners worried the increase in traffic would be an issue.
Martin said it would not be a major strain on area traffic, and commissioners must ask if the increased vehicle traffic is worth the benefit of seeing the building renovated and put to use. A traffic study was not required for the project.
Planning Commission Chair Tom Rogers said he was excited by the bike racks included in the proposed design, as well as the nearby GLTC bus stops and the abandoned right-of-way adjacent to the building that could be transformed into a connector to the Lynchburg trail systems.
“These are opportunities that will change whole neighborhoods,” he said.
The planning commission unanimously recommended approval for the rezoning request, and the final decision will rest with Lynchburg City Council on July 13.
“If you have lived in Lynchburg for as long as most of us have, this is a pretty iconic building.”
— Amy Seipp, principal engineer with Accupoint Surveying & Design