2018-03-14 / Front Page

EDA submits megasite rezoning application

By Jim McConnell

After months in limbo, the county finally is moving toward a resolution on the controversial south Chester megasite proposal.

Gib Sloan, chairman of the Planning Commission, informed the Observer last Friday that the Economic Development Authority of Chesterfield County has electronically downloaded all documents supporting its megasite zoning application to the county’s Planning Department.Chesterfield Economic Development Director Garrett Hart with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe during the megasite announcement at the county government complex last August. Photo by Ash DanielChesterfield Economic Development Director Garrett Hart with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe during the megasite announcement at the county government complex last August. Photo by Ash Daniel

“The case is no longer on ‘hold’ status,” Sloan wrote in a text message, noting it has been scheduled for a public hearing at the Planning Commission’s May 15 meeting. 

Sloan said he is scheduling a series of community meetings on the megasite for the week of April 9, with the possibility that additional meetings could be held the following week.

Dates, locations and times for those meetings will be announced in the coming days.

In advance of the community meetings, the EDA is expected to make paper copies of its supporting documents available for citizens who want to review them.

Sloan also has requested that an EDA representative make a presentation on the case to the Planning Commission at its April 17 work session.

As a representative of the Bermuda District, in which the proposed megasite would be located, Sloan insists he will vet the EDA’s zoning application as thoroughly as any other case that comes before the commission.

EDA officials “told citizens they would get back to them with answers,” he said in an interview last month. “They should be able to answer questions with a lot more specificity than they could before.”

Many Chester residents have criticized the county for a lack of transparency since then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced last August the EDA’s intention to acquire 1,675 acres of property south of state Route 10 and develop it as an industrial megasite. The August announcement included participation from the Board of Supervisors, giving many the impression that the county’s elected leaders had endorsed the project prior to gathering community input.

The EDA holds purchase options on two parcels totaling $15.5 million, but before it can consummate the acquisitions, the Board of Supervisors must approve its application to rezone the property from residential to heavy industrial.

Nearly 1,000 Chesterfield residents attended community meetings on the megasite last fall. Citizens who spoke at the meetings were opposed to the project, expressing concern about the impact of an industrial facility on nearby homeowners. They also were frustrated by the EDA’s inability to provide answers to dozens of questions about the megasite.

Spokesman Rob Shinn said the EDA could have waited until it had completed all required studies to go public with its megasite proposal. Instead, county and EDA officials decided to give citizens a chance to weigh in on the megasite as a “concept” before gathering data to address their concerns.

“We thought that was a more thoughtful approach,” Shinn added. “We’re trying to be deliberate and make sure we have all the information people have requested.”

Leaders of the citizen group Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development, which has coordinated opposition to the megasite, note the county’s comprehensive plan does not recommend locating heavy industrial uses next to residential areas.

According to a study by the Greater Richmond Partnership, nearly 41,000 people live within five miles of the proposed megasite.

But Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director, claimed 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 wrote in a December email.

Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, thinks that using the property to create manufacturing jobs will have a much more positive impact on the county’s tax base than if it was developed under its current zoning, which calls for nearly 5,000 homes.

BARD has a petition with more than 1,300 signatures opposing the megasite. It also has printed and distributed “No Megasite” yard signs throughout the Chester community and launched an email campaign to convince county supervisors to deny the EDA’s rezoning application.

If the Planning Commission votes on the megasite zoning case in May, it likely would be heard by the Board of Supervisors in June.

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