POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Planning Commission again deferred action on a mixed use development that proposes to build up to 249 homes in the eastern portion of Powhatan County.
During the planning commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, the four commissioners present voted to defer the rezoning case of East West Communities, which proposes to build some commercial development and up to 249 homes on a 120-acre site on the north side of Page Road at its intersection with U.S. Route 60 (Anderson Highway) adjacent to the Chesterfield County line. This project, called the Ellis Farm Development, would include single-family detached, duplex, and townhouse dwellings.
The planning commission had already deferred the case previously on Aug. 6, citing the need for more information. But the members were unwilling to make a decision on the project last week based on a change made recently by the developer. They ultimately voted unanimously to defer the case until their October meeting.
Previously, the developer proposed a four-way signalized intersection at a proposed re-alignment of Page Road near the county line. This would have seen Page Road’s intersection with Anderson Highway move to the opposite side of an existing Shell Station.
The developer had offered all along to pay for this road improvement, but initial word was that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was opposed to a signalized intersection that might slow down traffic on Route 60.
At the time of the August meeting, the applicant had already proceeded with a signal justification report. Green Light Solutions Inc., which completed the report, concluded that a restricted crossing u-turn (RCUT) intersection would be the best solution, saying it accounted not only for increased traffic because of the proposed subdivision but also accommodated the future plan of access for Classic Granite on the opposite side of the highway.
During the Sept. 3 meeting, VDOT representatives showed support for the RCUT option. During a public meeting on July 24 on a new multi-county study of Route 60 being conducted by VDOT, representatives had said that “innovative intersections and access management” were likely going to be the best solutions to managing increasing traffic flow on Route 60.
According to VDOT, there are three main descriptions of an RCUT. It has an intersection design where all side street movements begin with a right turn. Side street left-turn and through vehicles turn right and make a U-turn at a dedicated downstream median opening to complete the desired movement. Main intersection and median U-turns can be designed as signalized, stop controlled or yield controlled.
Kyle Bates, head VDOT engineer, said the RCUTs in this design would be signalized.
During the meeting, the planning commissioners seemed to struggle somewhat with how this option would work. In some cases, they had only had a few hours – and at the most a few days – to review the information on RCUTs.
Also at issue, part of the RCUT would be on a portion of Route 60 located in Chesterfield County. Despite assurances that Chesterfield has raised no objections and what happens in a VDOT right of way is ultimately a VDOT decision, commissioners wanted more certainty that Chesterfield leaders have no issue with this.
Bill Cox, who represents District 4, said he was not comfortable with Chesterfield County landowners having no say in something that would change their access management. He didn’t want to take a “Cumberland County approach to this” to “do whatever the hell we want, don’t involve your neighbors.” He said Chesterfield County is a stakeholder in this issue and needs to be included.
Regarding concerns about cars getting stuck in U-turns, Erich Strohhacker, president of Green Light Solutions Inc., first pointed out that under current conditions, there is “an existing failure” on Page Road where cars are turning left onto Anderson Highway to go toward Chesterfield County.
“It is already failing under existing conditions. Under background conditions where you project growth, approve growth, things of that nature, obviously it is even worse condition for the left turns,” he said, adding this is the case with all unsignaized intersections on Route 60.
“The peak hour on U.S. 60 does not provide for side street gaps under and unsignalized operation, whether it be the inbound in the p.m. condition or the outbound in the a.m. condition. Those predominant moves rule this corridor and every other road is subject to that. Under unsignalized conditions, you cannot get out at an acceptable level of service during the peak hours,” Strohhacker said.
If the Ellis Farm project were approved, a full-signalized intersection would be justified at about 40 to 50 percent of the residential build out, Strohhacker said. That would give those minor side roads priority over Route 60. The problem is, to keep traffic flowing, VDOT wants the priority to remain on keeping the highway flowing, which is why they are promoting alternative designs like an RCUT.
After the RCUT discussion, Cox spoke about issues he saw with this case and the direction he hoped the planning commission would take. He said the developer has brought “piecemeal development,” “refuses to talk about phasing of commercial and residential,” and “won’t tell us whether they are going to build townhomes or not.”
He said the application was “flawed” and “incomplete” and wanted the applicant to withdraw it, which they had declined to do. So instead of deferring or denying it, Cox wanted the application to be returned to the developer to fix several “deficiencies.”
Kelly Kemp, assistant county attorney, said the planning commission is only allowed to recommend approval or denial or defer the application according to the Code of Virginia. Cox argued that he reads the state code differently.
The planning commission only has 100 days to review the application, at which point it has to move it on to the board of supervisors, Chair Karin Carmack, District 1, said. She and the other commissioners agreed to hold another public hearing and re-advertise it.
Chris Shust with Balzer and Associates spoke for the developers, saying that they have “worked in earnest to provide a solution to the transportation improvement that is in line with what VDOT is going to be asking for.”
Based on the merits of the rest of the project, they are asking why is the county not endorsing this and “saying yes to the potential for an additional 3 cents in tax revenue, an additional … $3 million in revenue from new house connections, the environmental sensitivity that this case is bringing forward, and the fact that we are proposing to do road improvements on the developer’s dime,” he asked.
The merits of the project speak for themselves, Shust said. He added that if the planning commission wasn’t comfortable, they could make a final decision and the developer would “let the chips fall where they may.”
Carmack said it is the commissioners’ jobs to give a completed project with good information to the board of supervisors, “whether we like it or not.”
They decided to defer it until October so they could have time to defer it again until November if they had more questions before the 100 days is up.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.