Alex Constantine - February 3, 2008
Re: ONE UP ENTERPRISES INC., a holding company spun off by the Unification Church more than 20 years ago
Echo Harbour lawyer cites autonomy from the Unification Church
Jan 11, 2008
By MICHAEL MARTZ
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
The developer of a proposed $160 million condominium project on Richmond's riverfront is part of the business empire created by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon.
The local lawyer for the proposed Echo Harbour project confirmed yesterday that its owner is part of One Up Enterprises Inc., a holding company spun off by the Unification Church more than 20 years ago.
The subsidiary, USP Rocketts LLC, paid more than $5.2 million in late 2005 for more than 5 acres that it wants the city to rezone for construction of 196 luxury condominiums overlooking the James River on Dock Street.
"I'm not honestly sure how any of that is relevant to the request being considered by the city," James W. Theobald, the project's zoning attorney, said yesterday. "It's absolutely independent of the Unification Church and is a well-capitalized, experienced real estate development entity."
Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has openly opposed the project as unwanted high-rise development on the James River, even though he owns a condo in the new Vistas on the James development that overlooks the river on Virginia Street. The administration has issued a public statement to disassociate USP Rocketts from the similarly named Village of Rocketts Landing, a mixed-use riverfront project that has the mayor's complete support.
The Wilder administration also has leaned on the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to escape a signed agreement to sell the developer two vacant lots on East Main Street that are instrumental to the Echo Harbour project. This week, the authority declared the sales agreement invalid and returned the developer's deposit.
The Echo Harbour project also faces an obstacle in the city's draft Downtown Master Plan, which recommends that the property be turned into public parkland. The project's developers have denounced the recommendation as unfair and unrealistic.
The property is zoned for industry, but USP Rocketts asked the city in late 2006 to rezone it under a riverfront category supported by the city's current downtown master plan. The developer also asked for a special-use permit to allow the condominium towers to be 184 feet tall, which alarms Church Hill residents and preservationists who fear it will block the view down the James from Libby Hill Park.
USP Rocketts is owned by USP Development LLC, which is a holding of One Up Enterprises, based in Falls Church.
One Up's other subsidiaries includes a media company that owns The Washington Times, a daily newspaper in the nation's capital, and United Press International, a news wire service.
City planners oppose the Echo Harbour project for a variety of reasons, but the property's ownership isn't one of them. "You can't discriminate [over] who the owner is," said Rachel Flynn, director of community development.