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2017-10-04 / Featured / Front Page

County residents turn out to oppose megasite

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Chesterfield residents have spoken overwhelmingly this week against the Economic Development Authority’s plan to purchase nearly 1,700 wooded acres south of State Route 10 and develop it as an industrial megasite.

Now they’re left to wait and wonder if their opposition will make any difference.

At one point during a community meeting on the megasite project Tuesday night at Thomas Dale High School, a female speaker told Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle that citizens want to know “how we can stop it.”

“Do you represent us?” she asked Jaeckle, who is in her third term as supervisor of the Bermuda District, where the megasite would be located. “How many signatures do you need to vote against this?”

From her seat in the front row of the school’s auditorium, Jaeckle responded that she represents the entire community.

“There are some people who don’t want this and some who do,” she added.

That remark drew a swift rebuke from the audience. A male voice asked, “Does anybody want this?” The answer was a loud “No!”

A subsequent speaker asked, “Where are the people who support this?”

Another suggested, “The people have spoken on this issue.”

He continued, “I’m against this, Dorothy, and I think a lot of your constituents are, too.”

County and state leaders see the 1,675-acre south Chester property as an ideal location to attract a large-scale industrial manufacturer, such as an aerospace or automotive company, and create thousands of new jobs while bolstering Chesterfield’s commercial tax base.

The Economic Development Authority has an option to purchase the land for $15.5 million.

Because the site is currently designated for residential use, however, the EDA needs the Board of Supervisors to approve its rezoning application before it can move forward with an industrial project.

Local attorney John Cogbill, a member of the EDA’s board of directors, refuted media reports that the megasite zoning case has been scheduled for consideration by the county’s Planning Commission at its Oct. 17 meeting.

“We will not ask the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors to hear this case until we have worked with you to resolve all of the issues you’ve raised,” Cogbill told citizens during the Tuesday meeting at Thomas Dale.

Cogbill, Jaeckle and County Administrator Joe Casey each apologized profusely for their handling of the first community meeting on the proposed megasite, held Sept. 20 at Carver Middle.

More than 300 people attended that meeting. Tempers flared when citizens realized the EDA had structured it in an “open house” format, with county staff deployed at multiple information stations in the school’s cafeteria, rather than allowing citizens to comment publicly on the project in a town hall-style meeting.

“Our intent was to provide more input and information and we did neither,” Jaeckle acknowledged.

Recognizing that interest in the project is high and another open house would not be effective with large crowds, the EDA decided to hold its three community meetings this week in a town hall format.

Several hundred people attended and about 100 people spoke at the meetings Monday and Tuesday.

“We still need answers to a number of questions before we go forward,” said Mike Uzel, a leader of the Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development, a citizen group that re-emerged last month to galvanize opposition to the megasite.

BARD initially was founded in 2007 during the controversial Branner Station zoning case. Despite significant citizen opposition, the Board of Supervisors approved HHHunt’s plan for 2,449 single-family homes, 1,331 condos and townhouses, 908 apartments and 300 assisted-living units, as well as 470,000 square feet of commercial space.

Branner Station would have been the largest master-planned community in the Richmond region. Instead, the economy collapsed and the developer abandoned the project before breaking ground.

Now the EDA is trying to convert the wooded property into an industrial megasite, which county officials insist would have far less impact than a sprawling residential community on local schools, roads and other public services. 

The most frequently expressed concerns about the project have come from homeowners who could be adversely affected by construction of a new road that is needed to connect the megasite to Interstate 95.

Based on their preferred alignment of the road, which will be the initial stretch of the long-planned East-West Freeway, county transportation officials estimate that it will have some impact on about 50 properties.

Others who live in subdivisions adjacent to the proposed megasite also have questioned the wisdom of locating heavy industrial development in the middle of a residential area.

“We don’t want it here. If it’s so important, find somewhere else to put it,” said longtime county resident Freddy Boisseau on Tuesday, noting that the Chester area already has a disproportionate share of Chesterfield’s industrial base.

“Other parts of the county get all the good stuff. We get the junk,” he added. “We get dumped on and we’re tired of it.”

Midlothian resident Bob Olsen suggested that citizens should remember the megasite when they go to the polls for the 2019 Board of Supervisors election.

“Anyone who votes for this should have a political target on their backs,” he said.

Despite the tenor of the community meetings, Jaeckle said she will do what is in the best interest of her district and the county, not only the people who came out to speak against the project.

“We have to look at all aspects of every issue, consider citizen input on both sides and try to make a decision based on all the facts,” she added. “We hope at the end of the day our decisions are right.” ¦

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