After listening to more than two hours of presentations and testimonies, the Essex County Planning Commission on September 5 voted 5-2 to recommend denial of a rezoning request that would create a mixed-use development along U.S. Route 360 in Bray’s Fork.
Voting to suggest denial were Commission Chairman David Jones and member B. Scott Mundie, Trent Taliaferro, Stephen Walters, and Wright Andrews. Voting against the denial recommendation were Commission Vice Chairman Angelo Stevens Jr. and member Jean Segar.
An earlier motion to approve the request with certain variances followed the same voting pattern. Stevens and Segar supported that vote, while Jones, Mundie, Taliaferro,
Walters and Andrews cast dissenting votes.
The matter will now go before the county’s Board of Supervisors for a final vote.
The Planning Commission’s purpose is to serve the Board of Supervisors in an advisory capacity on matters of planning and zoning by preparing and recommending plans, ordinances, capital improvement programs and similar documents, and reviewing development proposals.
Shiree and June Monterio submitted the application for the project called Essex Point at Mount Clement.
Shiree Monterio is the president and founder of project developer 7 and M Development, LLC. She is the granddaughter of the late Thomas Harris, a prominent African-American Tappahannock businessman, whose property is being utilized for the project.
They requested that the 13.186-acre site be rezoned from Business to Planned United Development to accommodate the project. The property fronts approximately 554 feet along the westbound lane of Route 360 and is approximately 1,500 feet west of the Bray’s Fork interchange.
If approved, the development will bring a variety of housing and business opportunities, including housing for ages 55-plus and workforce housing for teachers, nurses, law enforcement and local government employees.
During last week’s meeting, Shiree Monterio and 7 and M Development attorney Kendrick N. Whitmore reviewed the project which has been slimmed down from its original state due to concerns raised during a June hearing.
The original proposal included around a dozen variance requests, while the amended version includes only three.
• Less acreage than the 15-acre minimum requirement;
• The desire for private roads to be created within the project. Such roads would have public easements.
• A single entrance/ exit off Route 360 with a secondary emergency only access while providing two future connector roads to adjoin Hospital Road.
The revised proposal also:
• Eliminated residential buildings closest to the neighboring LaGrange Industrial Park;
• Reduced the senior living component from 91 units to 56 units;
• Reduced the workforce housing component from 48 units to 28 units;
• Reduced the commercial footprint by 36 percent to 41,494 gross square footage;
• Reduced the community center space by 18 percent to 11,799 gross square footage;
• Increased the number of parking spaces from 395 to 456; and
• Increased buffering and open space.
Certain proffers were included in the proposal. Some of those were covenants (proximity to industrial, leasing office/ residential services), utility extensions and road improvements, and cash contributions to address utilities and transportation issues.
A total of $403,000 was proposed towards water/ sewer (which would aid the LaGrange Industrial Park clients) and $297,000 for the road system.
Shiree Monterio also noted that real estate taxes for the site would jump from the current $4,000 annually to $500,000 per year once the project is completed.
“The most important impact is this development is being brought to Essex County at no cost to the county,” Shiree Monterio told the commissioners. “Normally in these type of projects the county contributes and we are not asking for that. Rezoning is the start of the process and there will be numer ous interactions with the county throughout the process. We align with the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance, we have no adverse impacts on the county, we make significant social and community investment to the county, and we have substantially revised our development plan since the last meeting.”
Prior to the vote, Jones said that each element included in the project is needed and was confident the Monteiros could supply them.
“But, our duty is not to determine whether this is a good project or not a good project,” he said. “Does the project meet the requirements of the zoning ordinance and the comp plan substantially, and is it the best use of the land where it is?”
Jones said the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan are in place to protect every citizen “against yourself and your neighbor.”
He also remarked about the slimmed down project and the fewer exceptions saying, “Speaking for myself, it’s not like they gave a lot back because they were asking for more than what they were allowed to do on that property to begin with. They made a lot of concessions, but those were concessions that they couldn’t get any way.”
Jones also said the revised proposal is “a much better plan” but described the variance requests as “major” issues.
Walters, meanwhile, voiced concern about potential environmental impacts as a result of land clearing as well as a potential confusing traffic pattern just west of the Bray’s Fork interchange.
Taliaferro expressed concern about the impact the workforce housing segment would have on the school system.
Monterio said a worstcase scenario would be an additional 34 students to the school system with the developers offering to offset that impact by providing the local per pupil spending expense ($7,000 per student).
Taliaferro, meanwhile, cited an earlier matter in which the Commission followed the ordinance regarding special events.
“I will preface my vote for that same reason,” he remarked.
During a public hearing that lasted for just over an hour, the vast majority of speakers supported the project noting the need for the senior and workforce housing.
“We have a lot of senior people in Essex County who have to leave because of not having a place like this,” Dorothy Gresham said.
“They’ve done everything they’ve been asked, over and beyond,” Orlander Washington said. “Please don’t let them go someplace else.”
“There is absolutely nothing negative about this project,” Madeline Lawson said.
“It would add a critical need for affordable housing in Essex County and would be an economic benefit,” Sandra Baytop remarked.
“We are blessed that Miss Monterio has chosen to come back and give back to her community,” Hannah Overton Tiffany stated. “I’m begging you all to not miss your shot.”
Raymond Whitaker recalled when he came here in 1969 to begin his professional career with the school system there was no affordable housing so he rented a room.
“This is an answer to a prayer on housing,” he commented.
Essex Superintendent of Public Schools Dr. Harry Thomas III also backed the request, saying it will address critical housing needs for educators.
“I support the project because I think it’s an opportunity for the county to generate additional revenue and likewise support the schools,” he told the commissioners.
Four of the 20 speakers expressed opposition.
One was Mark Rommer of neighboring James River Equipment.
“We strive to be good neighbors, but in my opinion they have a very difficult proposed location,” he said. “They’ve picked a location that is not suitable.”
Barry Bates noted that a previous zoning document called for a minimum of 50 acres for a PUD project with 15 acres the current figure.
“If this goes through… why are we doing acreage limits?” he inquired. “Zoning is in place to protect things that are already there.”
Nancy Ellen King, an attorney representing Tidewater Lumber Co. and several LaGrange Industrial Park tenants, also expressed opposition citing a number of reasons.
“The only issue before the planning commission tonight is if this should be rezoned to PUD,” she said.