An $80 million mixed use development project scheduled for Bray’s Fork is presently in its rezoning request stage and, if approved, will bring various housing and business opportunities here.
Shiree Monterio and her mother, Constance Harris Monterio, unveiled the plan at last week’s Essex County Economic Development Authority meeting. Shiree Monterio is the owner and founder of 7 And M Development, LLC.
“Our family has always had businesses in the Brays Fork area,” said Shiree Monterio who is the granddaughter of the late Thomas Harris, whose property is being utilized for the project that has been dubbed “Bray’s Fork Redevelopment Project.”
The family owns approximately 40 acres in Bray’s Fork with 13 acres — between the LaGrange Industrial Park and the VCU Tappahannock Hospital property — being the initial phase that is being called “Essex Point at Mt. Clement.”
“It is a mixed-used development that is connecting healthcare and housing,” Monterio explained. “We want to do an innovative and sustainable aging in place community. We think there is a need for a place where you can age gracefully.”
Monterio said the initial phase would include a planned community with independent, affordable senior housing, centralized wellness and community services, workforce housing, retail, and a medical/education office.
“We want this to be a synergy that can bring together the town, the county, and the Middle Peninsula region,” she told the EDA.
She noted that a rezoning application has been submitted to Essex County asking that the zone be changed from Business to Planned Unit Development (PUD). She said the PUD designation aligns with the county’s comprehensive plan.
Moreover, Monterio said she has been working with the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA) to “make this an affordable project.”
She said Essex County has been asked to adopt a resolution that designates the 13 acres as a “housing revitalization area” which would assist with securing VHDA funds.
“That’s how the county can support our project,” she remarked.
Concerning the project’s 135-unit housing component, Monterio said the goal is to have rental housing available across all income levels.
Community wellness services would also be available to residents. She also said she has spoken with Bay Transit about making the community one of its stops.
The project would include a medical office and education center.
“By reading through community needs assessments, there seems to be a goal to have more education opportunities to train people for jobs that would potentially keep them in the county,” Monterio said. “We think it would be great if VCU or Rappahannock Community College would like to create a satellite school here that focuses on the healthcare industry.”
A business district and community-related component would also be included in the project.
“We’re not trying to bring in anything large or big-box that doesn’t fit within the community. We want to focus on having our architecture fit within the framework of the county,” Monterio said, “while also focusing on green spaces, walkability and bicycle paths.”
She said the Town of Tappahannock has been contacted about providing water and sewer while Virginia Dominion Energy would supply electricity, with Breezline providing internet services. She said two other companies have also expressed an interest in providing internet.
Monterio said the project’s goal is to bring the following to the county: commerce, culture, community, and affordability.
“We want to have a retirement community that allows you and your family to be comfortable while allowing you to age in the community you are used to being in,” Monterio said.
“This definitely addresses a critical need which is housing,” EDA member Ronnie Sidney II said.
Sidney also asked about the possibility of popular retailers being attracted to the project’s future phases.
Monterio said most bigbox businesses prefer to be located near areas of heavy traffic but also desire to be near housing.
“We would have no problem putting a big box there, but convincing a big-box to be in a place that’s kinda off the beaten path is another (thing),” Monterio said. “I am talking to retailers that are interested in the county, but a little bit of a challenge is we are not on the main strip. But once they see the housing that would be around it, they are getting over not being on the main strip.”
Monterio says she is next scheduled to meet with the county’s planning commission, with site plans to be submitted in December. She said funding applications can be submitted in March with VDHA and the USDA if the project is approved by January.
She said the goal is to have the final site plan and permits approved by September 2023. Groundbreaking will take place in January 2024.
“We want to make sure what we are proposing operates well, is maintained well, and fits within our high standards of how we want to see this done,” said Monterio, whose background is in affordable housing. “We have pretty high standards of what our projects look like, and that would be a focus here.”