Villa Maria

The Villa Maria, photographed on Wednesday Sept. 21, was built on the site of a former Confederate fort that had been constructed in 1863. The home was originally named Kriselea for its owner, Phillip A. Krise, a banker and businessman who also was responsible for the construction of the Krise building downtown (now home to Bowen’s jewelry and other businesses).

More than 20 years ago, word spread through Lynchburg that the then-owner of Villa Maria, one of the grandest homes of Rivermont Avenue, was close to finalizing the sale of the home, which would result in a nursing home and senior living center being constructed in front of the mansion.

Historical preservationists and average citizens sprang into action to block the sale, preserving the Lynchburg landmark for future generations.

It was that scare and the very real possibility the home would be lost forever that spurred talk of creating a historic district for the entire stretch of Rivermont Avenue. One of the first planned community developments in America in the 1890s, Rivermont Avenue was also the first expansion of Lynchburg proper out from the original seven hills of downtown. Phillip A. Krise, a banker and businessman who also built the Krise Building downtown at Ninth and Main streets, oversaw the construction of Villa Maria, originally known as Kriselea, in 1911.

City Council created the Rivermont Avenue Historic District in 2003, and the result has been a boom of rebirth and revonations from downtown to V.E.S. Road. But for many years, Villa Maria, the original impetus for the historic district, sat on the sidelines. The 15,000-square-foot house was sold, foreclosed on and sold time after time, never quite able to find the perfect owners with the resources to do it justice.

That is until 2013, when Campbell County native Mark Little and his husband Todd Leap came along, bought the house Little had long dreamed of living in and began a years-long restoration of the house to its former glory.

Today, the home and its surrounding Villa Road and Krise Circle neighborhood are back in the development spotlight.

In one of its previous iterations, Villa Maria had been a Catholic school with a non-descript mid-20th-century school facility built on the property behind the house. Long abandoned and split off legally from the tract that includes Villa Maria, the property was acquired in 2014 by Peak Capital Group, based in California, which sat on the property ever since, spurning numerous purchase offers.

Now, Peak Capital and a Northern Virginia-based development company have announced plans to construct a planned community with 51 townhomes on the 8.7 acre site. Neighbors are worried about traffic on the quiet residential streets of Krise Circle and Villa and Rugby roads. Access to Rivermont Avenue comes only from two points, neither regulated with a traffic light. And Leap and Little are worried about the proximity of that many structures to Villa Maria.

Construction of the project needs the approval of the planning commission and, ultimately, City Council. The planning commission has a public hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 11 in City Hall. At this point, we strongly urge city officials to proceed slowly, cautiously and deliberately on this sensitive project.

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