MECHANICSVILLE Few issues have received more public scrutiny than the Hanover County Board of Supervisors’ recent decision to allow construction of a Wegman’s Distribution Center near the intersection of Sliding Hill and Ashcake Roads.
Since Wegmans announced its decision late last year to locate a 1.7 million-square-foot distribution center near the Hanover Airport, some local residents have assumed an active role in opposing the 24-hour operation.
The proposed site is located adjacent to several established Hanover neighborhoods, including Fox Head and Somerset, and many of those residents have mounted an organized effort to force the project to another location.
Many said they didn’t object to its location in Hanover County, but objected to the increased truck traffic, noise concerns and other issues associated with the project at that site. Citizens are waging a two-pronged attack in their opposition to the project.
Five citizens have filed a lawsuit that questions the legitimacy of the board’s decision to grant proffer adjustments for the project, and lists a number of issues associated with the recent decision.
The plaintiffs who reside in communities near the proposed project allege numerous violations and specifically identify eight counts to support those allegations.
The suit filed against the county, Wegmans and Airpark Associates contends that supervisors ignored county land use regulations “to the detriment of the community.” The suit also lists violations of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and violates the county’s current noise ordinances.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, supervisors held public hearings and meetings pertaining to the issue in limited settings that allowed only 10 people to attend the hearing at one time.
“The county, in its zeal to pave wetlands for Wegmans, committed numerous procedural errors, including depriving citizens of a meaningful opportunity to provide input by holding a closed-door “public hearing” attended by over 30 Wegmans and county personnel despite the Governor Northam’s emergency COVID-19 order limiting public gatherings to no more than 10 people,” a press release stated. “The lawsuit asks the Court to condemn the Board’s action as unlawful and void.”
Rod Morgan, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, said via press release: “Hanover citizens are concerned a facility of this magnitude is not appropriate for this site at the corner of Sliding Hill and Ashcake Roads, which is surrounded on all sides by residential neighborhoods, agricultural land and the historic African-American Brown Grove Baptist Church and community.”
Concerned citizens also have filed an appeal with the Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Quality regarding the delineation of wetlands associated with the project.
Opponents to the project claim that surveys conducted during the approval process do not accurately identify affected wetlands, and are asking that further surveys be performed.
“The permit as currently written should be denied because it undercounts the destruction of on-site wetlands and allows uncounted adverse impacts to off-site wetlands and streams in a manner that violates both the federal Clean Water Act and state law,” said Chris French, a concerned resident and member of Protect Hanover, a group that has been active in the opposition efforts.
French said initial inspections performed by Wegmans-approved contractors failed to gauge the entirety of the problem.
“For example, the wetlands delineation, a tool used to determine the location and extent of wetlands on the property, was conducted during a severe drought, and the final delineation map omits data that would show there are more wetlands on-site than is claimed,” French said last week.
DEQ officials were overwhelmed with written requests for an appeal of the county’s action regarding wetlands. Opponents requested permission to enter the site and conduct their own surveys but that request was denied.
Late last month, DEQ officials announced a hearing would be held July 20 to consider those appeals.
“I expect that a large number of citizens will participate in the hearing, as well as an increasing number of organizations who have been made aware of the serious permit flaws and the potential impact it will have on future wetlands permits throughout Virginia and the Chesapeake region if this permit is issued,” French said.
“We hope that a new independent delineation and Chesapeake Bay Act designation will be made prior to DEQ’s decision,” he added.
A final decision on the appeal rests with the State’s Water Control Board, and a timeline for that ruling has not been announced.
French also voiced concerns regarding the Brown Grove Community, an historical community founded by free slaves and an area that will be impacted by the development, according to opponents. “We should be particularly sensitive to the systematic failure of government agencies in this case to adequately address the long documented environmental justice issues related to the Brown Grove community,” French said. “They will suffer again should this project proceed. Brown Grove is a historical African American community directly descended from freed men just after the Civil War.”
Wegmans contends there is no evidence that the Brown Grove school existed on the site, and has conducted surveys to determine the location of unmarked graves. None were discovered.
French said Wegmans‘ surveys were incorrect in stating the former school was not located on the site, and archaeological surveys will support that assertion. “Unless Brown Grove is given a meaningful opportunity for engagement in this process, this historically marginalized community will be further harmed,” French said.
The suit and DEQ appeal are supported by a number of residents in the area, a grassroots effort that, according to French, continues to gain support.
“While there is no way to accurately quantify the percentage who continue to support the effort to move the Wegmans’ project to a more appropriate location, we can say with confidence that community interest remains strong and is continuing to grow,” French said.
“As this matter continues to gain statewide and regional attention, community awareness and support also rises.”
Defendants in the case have until June 29 to file a response to the suit.