2017-12-13 / Real Estate

Official: Comp plan changes won’t impact megasite


As the Planning Commission prepares to consider proposed changes to the comprehensive plan, its chairman rejected any suggestion that the county is using the process to create a zoning loophole for a controversial south Chester megasite.

“In my mind, the two have nothing to do with one another,” said Gib Sloan, who has represented the Bermuda District on the five-member commission since January 2016, in a telephone interview last week.

“The Planning Commission doesn’t just review the land-use chapter [of the comp plan] and then all of a sudden say we’re going to start evaluating cases based on the new language,” he added. “I certainly understand and respect the concerns raised by citizens, but I think what happens sometimes is we jump too far ahead and forget we have a good set of checks and balances in place.”

Commissioners will review amendments to the first four of the comp plan’s 16 chapters at their Dec. 19 meeting. They also are expected to approve dates for additional work sessions to study the remaining chapters in January, February and March 2018.

“My preference would be to have work sessions aside from hearing days so we truly focus on the plan and don’t get sidetracked by zoning cases, last-minute changes and things like that. I think it deserves its own time and place,” said Gloria Freye, planning commissioner for the Clover Hill District.

At some point, the Planning Commission will present the updated comp plan to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval. “We’re going word by word, page by page,” Sloan said. “It will take us as long as it takes us. It could take four months. It could take eight months. Our goal is to get it right.”

The timing of the comp plan update became an issue after some Chesterfield residents learned that one of the proposed changes would permit heavy industrial uses in light industrial (I-2) zoning districts under certain conditions.

They see it as an attempt to create a special exception for the planned Matoaca Megasite, which the Economic Development Authority wants to carve out of 1,675 wooded acres south of state Route 10.

Outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe predicted the county could create 10,000 new jobs by using the property to attract a large-scale industrial manufacturer, such as an automotive or aerospace company.

Chesterfield Economic Development Director Garrett Hart (left), pictured here with outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe following the announcement of plans for the Matoaca Megasite in August, says changes to the comprehensive plan will not apply to the megasite rezoning case. ASH DANIELChesterfield Economic Development Director Garrett Hart (left), pictured here with outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe following the announcement of plans for the Matoaca Megasite in August, says changes to the comprehensive plan will not apply to the megasite rezoning case. ASH DANIELThe EDA holds two purchase options totaling $15.5 million. Before it can consummate the transaction, however, the Board of Supervisors must approve the EDA’s application to rezone the property from residential to heavy industrial. The comprehensive plan, which guides the local government’s decisions on land use and development, doesn’t recommend heavy industrial uses be located adjacent to densely populated residential areas. According to a study by the Greater Richmond Partnership, nearly 41,000 people live within five miles of the proposed megasite. More than 1,000 attended community meetings in October and expressed concern about the impact of an automobile or aerospace plant on their neighborhoods.

Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director, said the megasite will be developed with adequate buffers and other protections to ensure its use is compatible with adjacent residential communities.

“The automotive assembly, aerospace and advanced manufacturing uses we are proposing are clean, quiet, low-emission and odorless. This is much different from the traditional understanding of [heavy industrial] users, many of which would not be compatible on this site,” he noted in an email. The EDA has requested a change to the comp plan’s land-use chapter that says heavy industrial uses are appropriate in light industrial zoning districts “when designed, located and/or oriented to ensure compatibility with nearby less intense uses, on tracts having sufficient size to mitigate potential impacts [such as noise and traffic] on surrounding property, and having adequate access to major arterial and limited access roads.”

But Hart insisted that new language was never meant to be applied to the megasite zoning case.

“To be clear, the Matoaca rezoning case will be heard under the existing comprehensive plan, so issues related to proposed changes in [the land-use chapter] will not have a bearing on the case,” he added.

It remains to be seen when the megasite rezoning will be placed on the Planning Commission’s agenda.

The EDA received a six-month extension on its purchase option in July. It has paid more than $110,000 in option fees so far, and may need to extend the agreement again before it expires Jan. 31, 2018.

Sloan said it’s unlikely the EDA will be ready to have its case heard by the commission in January.

“Given that we are headed toward the middle of December, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “February isn’t looking very realistic, either.

“My preference is before we hear the case, they need to have another round of community meetings.” ¦

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