POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Planning Commission and a good number of residents made it clear last week that they don’t support a proposed mixed use development that could see up to 249 “dwelling units” built near the Chesterfield County line.
During the commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the four members present voted unanimously to recommend denial of a rezoning application for 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.
It would also come with a major traffic pattern shift with the VDOT-approved addition of a restricted crossing u-turn (RCUT) intersection on Anderson Highway across from Page Road to handle the increase of traffic that would be expected to come with the project. The RCUT, which the developer has offered to fund, would also accommodate the future plan of access for Classic Granite across the highway.
The planning commissioners had deferred the rezoning case from their Sept. 3 meeting after new information about the RCUT was presented. They said they wanted more time to review the new information.
They also decided to hold another public hearing when the case came back on Oct. 1, which saw 12 residents offering their opinions on the case. They ranged from being adamantly opposed to the new project to having concerns about the new traffic pattern to worrying about the county’s water resources.
In a presentation he gave before the public hearing, Chris Shust with Balzer and Associates once again spoke for the developers and outlined all of the positives they feel they are bringing to the county, as well as trying to alleviate concerns that had been raised.
The case will now be heard by the board of supervisors, likely at its meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28 in the Village Building.
Benefits to the county
During his presentation, Shust again outlined the benefits the Ellis Farm Development would bring to the county. When the project is built out, it would realize about $1 million in reeal estate tax revenue, or 3 cents on the real estate tax rate, he said. The owners of the land currently pay $8,000 a year.
In terms of utilities, the project would bring roughly $3.036 million in water and sewer connect fees, he said. The developer is also providing a new $500,000 pump station to serve the development.
The connection fees, the new pump station, and the $1.5 million the developer would spend to add the new RCUT all adds up to about $5.036 million being brought into the county, Shust said. He pointed out that the traffic improvement they would fund means residents don’t have to wait until VDOT agrees to fix the traffic problem that exists on Page Road.
The development would feed into Flat Rock Elementary School (currently at 81 percent capacity), Powhatan Middle School (currently 86 percent capacity), and Powhatan High School (currently 92 percent capacity). The projected increase in student population at Ellis Farm’s full build out are estimated to take the schools up to 87 percent, 89 percent, and 95 percent, respectively. He added that the division has said the high school could repurpose underutilized space to avoid the need to build a new school and that the build out of this project in 2026 or 2027 might coincide with capital improvement expansion plans already discussed regarding the middle and high schools.
Shust said the developer is not trying to overbuild the project, choosing to bring 2.2 units per acre instead of the 4 units per acre allowed by the comprehensive plan. He added that there would be a minimum of 9 acres of open space for active recreation, including a pedestrian trail system, pocket parks, and a central park.
Shust also showed illustrations of the types of architecture that he said would be in keeping with the “community character” of Powhatan County.
Before the planning commission took its vote, some of the planning commissioners gave the reasons they would be denying the request for rezoning.
Bill Cox, who represents District 4, started by talking about how long it took the project’s details to become more evident and his concerns about them now that they have. The transportation component has issues because it does not meet the county’s access management standards, does not conform to Powhatan’s Long Range Comprehensive Plan, and the “public does not like the restricted RCUT approach,” Cox said.
He raised issue with the lack of clarity on the actual make up of numbers and types of housing that the finished project will entail or a development phasing plan. He also said the developer has “offered no cash proffers, preferring that any off-site infrastructure costs created by this project be borne solely by the citizens of Powhatan County.”
Cox also criticized Shust’s showing of the financial benefits to the county without highlighting any of the costs to the county that would be incurred because of the increased population.
Chair Karin Carmack, District 1, said one of her main issues was this is one of the largest rezoning Powhatan has ever had and it is located right on the border with Chesterfield. That means adding a large number of residents whose needs – education, fire and rescue, fixing roads, etc. – the county will be responsible for, but the majority of their spending dollars will likely go elsewhere.
The county currently flushes 165,000 gallons of water per day, and this project will not help with that water and sewer issue, she said. She also cited no commercial phasing with the development as a problem.
“I never questioned the quality of your development. I do believe you would build nice homes with the walking paths and all that – that I never questioned. But overall it is just not the right fit for the county,” she said.
David Van Gelder, District 5, concurred with his fellow commissioners in saying it is “the wrong size, the wrong place.”
A dozen citizens spoke in all on this case, with their comments ranging from asking questions to raising concerns to voicing outright opposition to the project.
* Ed Wickham, who lives very close to the proposed development, said Page Road currently is not wide enough for two trucks to pass each other without one stopping. If nothing is done about the road system, it is an accident waiting to happen, he said. But if the project is built, he asked the county and state to work together to create “an acceptable traffic pattern for both the residents that exist today on Page Road and any future residents that might come in as a result of this property.”
* Mike Hall said the county needs smart growth that is supportable. He said this proposed development’s location does not make it a good location for a Village-Residential project, in particular pointing out it is supposed to be created so people can walk to multiple destinations, which doesn’t exist there. Page Road cannot support the kind of increased activity this development would bring, he added.
* Andy Edwards said he is “ambivalent” about the development and can see its pros and cons. He instead focused on the proposed RCUT, which he has experience of in another state. Once people do it once, it makes sense, he said, and “given the choice between an RCUT and the nightmarish game of Russian roulette that is out there now, I will take the RCUT.” Whatever action is taken on the development, he asked that something be done with the road.
* Rocky Gary said he travels Page Road all the time and the only solution at that intersection if the development moves forward is a four-way signalized intersection. He pointed out the conditions of the road that easily lead to wrecks.
* Elaine Hall said high density housing belongs in the Village area. She criticized the lack of transparency with this development, which she said does not work for the location. The RCUT is a “disaster waiting to happen,” which will be jammed by work trucks in the area,she said.
* Curtis Newton said he opposed the project because of the increase in costs to the county through demands on schools, police, social services, parks and recreation, and more, in addition to the increased traffic. He said the developer hasn’t been clear on what it is going to do in regard to types of housing and added it won’t do anything to bring affordable housing to the county.
* Floyd Greene said when the county built its water and wastewater system, it was done with the promise that the water would be used for county projects like schools and to bring commercial development to the county, not for residential users. The county only has a finite amount of water available to it, and using some of that water for this development will not help that situation and may cost the county at a later date when it is reaching its water limits.
* Other points raised including asking about sidewalks on the development; having to wait for the development to be farther along or finished before a traffic change is implemented; putting hundreds more cars on already full roads; the disconnect between residents saying they want Powhatan to remain rural and the increasing development of the east end of the county; the traffic impact on Route 711 of more cars choosing to use that road; concerns with having a limited sight distance approaching the county line on Route 60, and the already tricky conditions of driving on Page Road.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.