2008-11-12 / Front Page

Branner Station faces uncertain future

By Greg Pearson

Turner Turner The owner of the 1,614-acre Branner Station site is now looking to sell the property. An agent for Thomas Company LLC, which owns the site, met last week with a potential buyer, but the company won't say who is interested or when a decision might be made. Acting on behalf of owner Nina Shoosmith, agent Sonny Currin declined to give details.

Asked if one option is to downzone the property back to agriculture as has been speculated, Currin said, "I don't have any comment on that."

Properties zoned agriculture pay the lowest tax rate. If the property keeps its current residential zoning, real estate taxes will be far higher.

The Chesterfield Planning Department is cool to any revision of the rezoning passed late last year when HHHunt committed to building an offsite road network estimated to be worth $130 million as part of its proposed Branner Station development. The zoning plan included a north-south road connecting to Chestertown Road and then Route 288 and an east-west road to Interstate 95.

"The staff would not support a rezoning back to agriculture because it wouldn't be consistent with the county's comprehensive plan," said Planning Director Kirk Turner.

Turner is also concerned about any plan to break up the parcel and sell it off into smaller developments because the county would likely get the same number of homes without the needed road improvements and land set aside for public facilities. Turner said that was his impression of what happened when the county allowed Greensprings development to split after Investor Management Group went bankrupt.

The 1988 Greensprings rezoning called for 2,300 single-family homes on 1,300 acres north of the Swift Creek Reservoir. In 1995, the late Bernard Savage amended the rezoning for land along Woolridge Road which extends between Genito Road and Old Hundred Road and now includes the Edgewater community. While the amended rezoning did include some road improvements, the county lost right-of-way for the Powhite Parkway if it is ever extended. In 2002, Doug Sowers received approval for similar amendments for the other portion of Greensprings.

Late last month, HHHunt suspended its plans to buy the Thomas Company property and build Branner Station with 2,449 singlefamily homes, 1,331 condos and townhouses, 908 apartments, 300 assisted living units and 470,000 square feet of office and retail development over about 20 years. One of the premier builders in the Richmond metro, HHHunt has built Charter Colony (1,800 homes) in Chesterfield, Wyndham (2,600 homes) and Wellesley (800 homes) in western Henrico County and other planned communities.

But when HHHunt requested an extension of its contract to purchase the land, the Thomas Company declined. With a housing slowdown and tightening credit, HHHunt Vice President/General Manager Dan Schmitt said the company couldn't move ahead at this time, but with a three-year investment so far, he hoped HHHunt could in the future.

Though Branner Station was rezoned on a controversial 2-1 board of supervisors' vote, a group of citizens continues to fight the development. The Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development has focused on the road network outside the community that might displace 100 families where the eastwest road connector is planned to Interstate 95. The county's thoroughfare plan has the road going near Carver Middle School and Harrowgate Elementary School. HHHunt was doing engineering studies when it ceased work on the project.

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