Midlothian was a vastly different place in 1989, when the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors approved its current Special Area Plan.
State Route 288 did not exist 27 years ago. But its arrival spurred economic growth along Midlothian Turnpike, and the once-quiet village has seen its population explode 125 percent in the 6-square-mile plan area, from 7,500 people in 2000 to 16,700 in 2014.
For county planners, it is time to overhaul the outdated plan for the unincorporated community and replace it with a modern vision based on the community’s needs. On Monday, they are hosting a public workshop to seek input from residents and businesses in the area.
“It’s time to relook at what is the pattern of development that the people in this area desire, what are some of the things that we can do to better guide development as it continues to occur in this community, what it should look like, where should things go, how should things be connected,” said Steven Haasch, county planning manager.
Midlothian is the fourth of nine special area plans to come out of the countywide Comprehensive Plan that was adopted in 2012. Plans for Bon Air and the Ettrick/Virginia State University area have been finished; the Jefferson Davis Highway plan is nearing completion.
While the Comprehensive Plan provides a framework for land use and development decisions on a countywide basis, special area plans focus on the needs and design of specific communities. They provide a road map for their future, such as guiding growth, development and infrastructure decisions without changing existing zoning or uses on the ground today.
At the beginning of each planning process, county staff members go into the community, listen to residents and take notes.
“We started this process back in February, and we are currently in the initial outreach phase and looking at the existing trends and conditions on the staff side,” said project manager Joanne Simmelink.
“We are really trying to listen to the people in the area, whether they live or work there. We are interested in what they would like to see for the future. Once we collect that, staff will go through all of that and develop recommendations,” Simmelink said.
Midlothian is one of the oldest communities in Chesterfield, founded more than 300 years ago as a coal mining village. It was named for the Mid-Lothian Mining and Manufacturing Co., an early-18th-century coal mining enterprise at the site of the first commercially mined coal in the Virginia Colony.
Today, Midlothian is also one of the fastest-growing communities in central Virginia, known for a high quality of life and its bustling business district along U.S. 60 — the turnpike — and around Chesterfield Towne Center.
“It’s definitely an area in demand — you can tell that by the assessed values in land prices,” said Haasch, the planning manager. “There have been rankings, and Midlothian consistently comes up as one of the greatest places to live in Virginia.”
As the county experiences growth, particularly along the western fringe, much of that pressure is focused at the area between U.S. 60 and U.S. 360 (Hull Street Road).
“Because of its history, there is a lot of age in there, too, a lot of development that occurred in the first round of growth that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s,” Haasch said. “And as that ages, you have to look at renovating and revitalizing.”
The core of the new Special Area Plan is based on the boundary of the 1989 plan, slightly extended westward to Route 288 as a natural boundary.
The plan process generally takes about 18 months, from defining the plan’s geography to community outreach and then developing recommendations.
Staff members then go back out to hear additional feedback from the community, revising the plan based on what they learn. The finished proposal goes before the Planning Commission and before the Board of Supervisors for more public hearings and, eventually, a vote.
While planners cannot foresee all of the community’s wishes for the area, Haasch has an idea of what they will be.
“Design is a big deal in the Midlothian area. People will discuss, what should buildings look like? What kind of material, what kind of style will developers use in the future? You’ve also got a lot of really cool parks and all levels of schools and the library. It’s unique in this county that you have all of that in one spot, so there’s a lot of potential to connect them together,” Haasch said.
Leslie A.T. Haley, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors last year to represent the Midlothian District, said Midlothian is “positioned perfectly on the timeline for review” of the village plan now.
“What we may have wanted or perceived to be a good plan for the area would have looked substantially different 10 or even five years ago. The ability to bring upscale, mixed-use development that includes a village feel with walkability, connectivity and diverse retail alongside higher-density residential is exciting and what our citizens are asking for,” Haley said.
All of that fits well with the concept and feel of the village, and it is what she has been hearing from residents, Haley said.
“Current residents who are aging would like upscale opportunities to age in place in their village with all the appropriate amenities of shopping, dining and recreation. We can combine all of that with our current village offerings and can continue that in our next generation as we continue to offer our residents a feeling of being in a place, in the village of Midlothian,” Haley said.