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2018-06-13 / Featured / Real Estate

Neighbors cry foul over Woolridge project

BY JIM McCONNELL SENIOR WRITER

Opponents of a planned mixed-use development on the Swift Creek Reservoir have seized upon several issues they say makes the project incompatible with the area’s existing neighborhoods.Foxfire residents Donald Delegge (left) and Gerald Ebert are concerned about the impact of a proposed Woolridge Road development on the Swift Creek Reservoir. JAMES HASKINSFoxfire residents Donald Delegge (left) and Gerald Ebert are concerned about the impact of a proposed Woolridge Road development on the Swift Creek Reservoir. JAMES HASKINS

As the Board of Supervisors prepares to consider the zoning case, perhaps as early as this month, the method by which the county calculates residential density is drawing particular scrutiny.

Two county planners acknowledged during the Planning Commission’s May meeting that Chesterfield uses “gross acreage” to determine the maximum number of housing units permitted on a specific piece of property.

In the case of the Woolridge Road development, a maximum of 215 dwellings – 158 cluster homes and 57 townhomes – are proposed on 107.8 acres.

At first glance, that would appear to satisfy the county’s comprehensive plan, which recommends no more than two housing units per acre for developments located in the Upper Swift Creek watershed.

But critics of the Woolridge Road project, including more than 800 homeowners in nearby subdivisions, claim its actual density exceeds that threshold because the county is allowing the developer to include unusable land in its calculation. “It’s obvious to this layman that’s not right,” said John Skiles, president of the Foxcroft homeowners association. “It erodes confidence in the planning process when the county’s comprehensive plan is so easily twisted with this kind of brazen development overreach.”

County leaders approved density guidelines in the mid-2000s to preserve water quality in the Swift Creek Reservoir as residential construction accelerated along the western U.S. Route 360 corridor.

Bruce Wood, a former planning commissioner for the city of Manassas who moved to Chesterfield with his wife 10 months ago, thinks such efforts are undermined by the consideration of gross acreage in the Woolridge Road zoning case.

Wood acknowledged that residential developers should be credited for land that cannot be built on because it is reserved for stormwater management ponds or protecting environmentally sensitive areas.

Doing otherwise would be punishing them for complying with local, state and federal regulations, he said.

Wood and many others, however, draw a clear distinction between that and allowing the developer of the Woolridge Road project to use 14 acres it owns at the bottom of the reservoir as part of its density calculation. “It’s totally absurd,” said Donald Delegge, whose home in the Foxfire subdivision is located immediately adjacent to the proposed development. “How can you in clear conscience call that ‘usable land’ and ‘open space?’ I don’t know how people will be able to use that land when there is 8 feet of water on top of it.”

According to Wood, using gross acreage allows developers of waterfront property to squeeze in additional housing units, while artificially reducing their density figure.

That’s significant because more houses can lead to more stormwater runoff and an elevated risk of nutrient pollution in a reservoir that supplies about 20 percent of Chesterfield’s drinking water.

Jane Peterson, a county planning manager, found precedent for the county including underwater property in the density calculations of residential developments on the reservoir – specifically, Cambria Cove, RounTrey and Edgewater.

Each of those subdivisions was originally zoned in the late 1980s – prior to adoption of the county’s Upper Swift Creek Plan and related ordinances focused on water quality.

Local landscape architect Andy Scherzer, who represented Woolridge Investment Co. before the Planning Commission, said the developer will be required to “over-treat” its stormwater to meet current county standards.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of its zoning case last month by a 3-2 vote. Afterward, many of the more than 30 citizens in attendance vehemently disagreed with Matoaca District commissioner Craig Stariha’s assessment that it’s a “good project.”

“If it doesn’t meet the comprehensive plan test,” Wood said, “everything else is moot.” ¦

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