POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors recently approved a rezoning case that will allow a mixed-use development with retail and multi-unit residential buildings to be constructed in the Village area.
During their meeting on Monday, March 22, the supervisors voted 3-1 in favor of approving a rezoning request for a mixed use development in the 4000 block of Old Buckingham Road. The request was to rezone 9.757 acres from Agricultural-10 (A-10) to Village Center Planned Development (VC-PD).
Chairwoman Karin Carmack, who represents District 5, David Williams, District 1, and Mike Byerly, District 3, voted in favor of the rezoning with a few proffered conditions. Bill Cox, District 4, voted against it.
However, when the board subsequently took a vote to approve an access management waiver for internal entrances on the project, the board was unanimous in its approval.
The project, called the Depot at Fighting Creek, will include 30 attached residential rental units and approximately 26,000 square feet of commercial/retail space in the Courthouse Village area. The property is in an uninhabited tract of wooded land roughly halfway between Powhatan Elementary School and the joint transportation facility.
Developers Michael Potter and Rick Smith gave a presentation outlining the parameters of the project and why they feel it is needed in the county.
The presentation was followed by a public hearing that included six speakers. Despite the pushback some recent projects with higher density of housing have received, only two of the people who spoke during the public hearing were actively against the rezoning. Two people were actively for it, one person was upset more Village residents were not sent notification about the neighborhood meeting, and one person was looking for possibilities of connecting the sidewalk that will surround the project to the sidewalks that end at Mann Road.
Sidewalks became one of the key issues in the passing of the rezoning. During the discussion, the board asked questions about the project’s two entrances; buffers provided both inside and along the exterior of the project; the management of the property and its potential employment opportunities; the property’s designation in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Map, and extending the sidewalk system.
The latter issue saw Byerly negotiating with the developers to get them to agree to either pay $4,000 per unit in proffers ($120,000 total) toward building a sidewalk connecting the project to Mann Road or building it themselves. This is in addition to the developers’ earlier offer to extend its sidewalks via a nature trail that they would construct on county land, connecting the development to Fighting Creek Park. The project also features a walking trail around its entire perimeter.
Other than added proffers regarding the sidewalks and buffers on the project, not much changed about the Depot at Fighting Creek from when the planning commission unanimously recommended approving it on March 2.
The development will consist of three one-story retail buildings near the frontage road along Old Buckingham Road and 10 triplexes with each two-story unit having its own entrance.
The project is split into two parking lots divided by an internal road. In one parking lot will be a hardware store, outdoor space for seasonal displays, and a retention pond. The other will have two retail spaces along the frontage road and the residential units behind that. Potter mentioned one commercial space has potential as a boutique market and the other, while it doesn’t have a concrete use yet, is being designed with drive-thru capability.
Smith showed floor plans of the triplexes, which have two bedrooms with an option for a third on one unit only per building. They would average about 1,200 square feet per two-bedroom unit.
The housing is intended as rental property and will meet a need of more residential rental space in the county, Potter said. Although obviously reluctant to share a rental rate at this early point, when pressed, he said it might be around $1,500 a month, but that could change.
Potter stressed the project’s adherence to the guidance of the comprehensive plan, both in the way the land is designated on the Future Land Use Map and the descriptions of allowed uses.
Although located on Old Buckingham Road, the Depot will be visible from Anderson Highway. But Potter called this a positive, saying the project could act as a “billboard” to help market the Village area.
The project has one central road with sidewalks on either side and a separate right-in only entrance specifically designed for large delivery trucks to have an easier and safer access point. The distance between the main entrance and the second entrance is 235 feet, which is significantly less than the minimum access management spacing requirements of 440 feet. The developers sought and received a waiver for the second entrance in a unanimous vote.
Potter pointed out the entrances will share a turn lane and the road at that point has a 35 mph speed limit, which combines to lessen the risk for drivers.
Smith addressed major concerns the developers have heard, such as too much available retail space in Powhatan, which he argued against.
He also addressed people not wanting apartments in Powhatan. Many people think of apartments as large complexes instead of the small three-unit buildings the Depot will offer, he said. The developers said the walking trails around the property and social areas within the residential area will give it a small community feel.
The board had numerous questions for the developers – some that just gathered information and some that resulted in changes.
Carmack expressed concerns about screening that would make the view from the residential units nicer, while Williams was especially concerned about hiding the drive-thru on one of the buildings.
After resident Carl Schwendeman asked the board to consider extending the sidewalks during the public hearing, Byerly brought up the issue during the discussion and asked if the developers were willing to play a role in making that happen.
The board took a break from the case to give the developers and staff members time to talk about these issues and see if they could come up with agreeable language. Potter and Smith agreed to screening and buffer options to address the areas where Carmack and Williams expressed concern.
They also agreed to proffer either giving $3,000 per residential unit to be used toward building a sidewalk from their project to Mann Road or to build it themselves. According to the proffer, the cash proffer will be offered prior to certificates of occupancy for the residential units. In lieu of offering a cash payment, the developers may choose to construct a 5-foot-wide sidewalk within 12 months of issue of the final certificate of occupancy within the project or two years of site plan approval, whichever comes first.
During discussion, Byerly asked for another $1,000 per unit toward the sidewalk, bringing the total to $4,000 for each units, which the developers agreed to proffer. They also agreed to denser vegetation for buffers.
Before voting against the project, Cox explained that he and Potter disagree in their visions for what Powhatan needs and what local residents want.
Cox said he didn’t see the project as a Village Center, as described by the comprehensive plan, calling it an “apartment complex with three out parcels.” While a small complex, it is not the size and scale of project he said he or the residents who elected him want to see in District 4.
“It is precisely the kind of thing that has raised a lot of questions in this community and has a lot of people interested and agitated and some who like it,” Cox said.
To the point Cox made about the project not being his idea of a Village Center, Carmack said that the board has unanimously approved five rezoning cases to Village Center or Village Center Planned Development, including the joint transportation facility and the Erin Hill project, and none of which fully met the exact parameters of the land designations.
“Personally speaking, when I campaigned, I told people that I think there is an appropriate scale and location for higher density housing. One is the Village and the other is down at 288 and 711,” she said. “Personally I think this is a great project. It is the exact scale I personally am looking for, it has a commercial component to it, and the reality is Mr. Potter does good work. He has historically done good work. I have liked all of the projects he has put forth, and he has, I think, personally changed the face of the Village with his projects.”
Residents Stuart and Anita Townes were the only speakers opposed to the project. They brought up the issues of the project being close to the schools, bringing extra traffic, and too big in scale for the location.
Elwood Yates, a lifelong resident, offered his support of the project. Yates said he has needed to find rental housing at three points in his life for different reasons, and every time it was difficult to find. Younger professionals in the county such as teachers and deputies may need rental properties, he said and reemphasized his support.
Brian Weitz also offered his support of the project, saying he is familiar with previous work by Potter and Smith and trusts they will do the same caliber of work on this project.
Fran Carleton didn’t speak for or against the project particularly. Her main concern was with the county only notifying 10 property owners around the project of a neighborhood meeting. She asked the board to defer the vote to give more people the opportunity to voice their concerns and expressed her desire to have the notifications go to more of the Village residents.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.