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2018-01-31 / Featured / Front Page

‘HUD’ sign stirs angst in Salisbury community

Some residents upset about new apartments
BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Except for the darkness, it looked more like Sunday morning than Tuesday night as people descended on Salisbury Presbyterian Church, entered its cavernous sanctuary and began filling the pews.Midlothian Supervisor Leslie Haley and developer Guy Blundon discuss plans for the 238-unit Midlothian Town Center apartments during a community meeting last week at Salisbury Presbyterian Church. Photo by James Haskins

Midlothian Supervisor Leslie Haley and developer Guy Blundon discuss plans for the 238-unit Midlothian Town Center apartments during a community meeting last week at Salisbury Presbyterian Church. Photo by James Haskins

The crowd of about 300 came not for a sermon, but information about a new multifamily residential development under construction near the intersection of Winterfield Road and Midlothian Turnpike.

A sign placed on the construction site by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is financing the project, created a stir recently among Salisbury residents concerned that there would be government-subsidized apartments built on the outskirts of their neighborhood.

“The fact that Salisbury puts this many people in a room over a HUD sign … it’s obvious all of you care very deeply about your community,” said Amy Satterfield, president of the Village of Midlothian Volunteer Coalition, a citizen group that has worked to shape the character of development in the village over the past 30 years.

On the western edge of the village, Salisbury is one of the county’s wealthiest residential communities, with the highest owner-occupancy rate in Chesterfield (93 percent, according to a county Community Indicators Report). Many people contacted Midlothian District Supervisor Leslie Haley and inquired about the project. Others expressed their concerns to Donna Cole, president of the Salisbury Homeowners Association.

Cole organized last week’s meeting to give Haley, Planning Commissioner Peppy Jones and developer Guy Blundon an opportunity to set the record straight.

Blundon spoke first, assuring citizens that the 238-unit Midlothian Town Center apartments will not be “low-income housing.”

“We’re going to bring forth a class-A product,” he said. “There will no income limits or subsidies. HUD is our banker. Nothing more.”

Blundon also claimed his project will complement the adjacent Winterfield Crossing mixed-use development, which will include retail and office space along with 250 age-restricted apartments.

“It will be a real asset to the community,” he added.

Not everybody agreed with that assessment. One woman suggested that administrators and teachers at Midlothian High School have been “run ragged” dealing with behavior problems that have arisen since new apartments were built near the school.

Another noted that she and her husband moved to Midlothian from Houston, where she said a dramatic increase in apartment construction had negatively affected their neighborhood in Texas.

“I don’t want that to happen here,” she said.

Despite concerns from owners of nearby single-family homes about protecting their property values, Haley admitted county leaders want more – not fewer – new multifamily units within the village’s boundaries. It’s part of an effort to increase population density in the village and transform it into a pedestrian-friendly “destination” area, where people don’t have to use cars to get to grocery stores, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues.

More than a half-dozen apartment and townhouse projects are in various stages of development in Midlothian village, Haley noted, and developers are “knocking on the door” with additional residential and commercial proposals. “There are some very exciting conversations happening now,” she said. “We’re thinking outside the box, but we want to make sure they are the right projects for Midlothian and we have the ability to do that.” County officials are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Virginia Department of Transportation about reducing the speed limit to 35 mph in the village and altering traffic patterns to encourage motorists to use North Woolridge Road as a bypass to state Route 288.

Such changes are necessary, they say, to decrease traffic volume on Midlothian Turnpike and make it possible for people to walk and bike safely within the village.

VDOT staff historically have been reluctant to reduce the speed limit because they didn’t want to exacerbate traffic problems in the village. According to Haley, VDOT now is on board with lower speeds if the county follows through on its commitment to increase population density.

“One of the things VDOT has said is, you have to bring people into the village and this can work,” Haley said.

Satterfield told people at last week’s Salisbury meeting that growth is inevitable as the county works to be more attractive to young professionals.

“It’s about the next generation coming through,” she said. “What millennials think is desirable is different than what we might prefer. We have to be pragmatic about it.” ¦

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