HANOVER -- Following a four-hour meeting that included more than 20 speakers who voiced opposition to the project’s location and scope, the Hanover Planning Commission voted unanimously to accept staff’s position and recommended approval of proffer amendments submitted by Wegmans regarding a warehouse distribution center located just east of the Hanover Airport off Sliding Hill Road.
Commission chair and Ashland commissioner Alan Abbott made the motion that included other proffer recommendations that included operational standards that ensure Wegmans’ trucks will use the Sliding Hill entrance when approaching from Interstate 95, no tandem trailers, a requirement that fencing be opaque and contain sound abatements, employee parking lot lighting be limited to 30 feet, a 150-foot buffer along the western edge of the Wegmans’ property and installation of a bike/pedestrian walkway along Sliding Hill and Ashcake Roads.
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“My goal is to get this into the decision-makers hands,” Abbott said, making his motion to recommend approval. “They will have more time to deal with it. If we defer it, it cuts their time.”
The recommendation followed a public hearing that featured a long list of speakers, almost all of them objecting to the project and citing a myriad of concerns regarding the project.
Prior to the public hearing, Andy Condlin, an attorney representing Wegmans, provided a brief overview of Wegmans’ plans and noted distinctions of the new proffers versus the 1995 version.
Subject to the original proffers, a 2.2 million-square-foot facility is allowed while Wegmans is proposing a 1.6 million-square-foot facility at build-out.
He also addressed a major sticking point for area residents, namely the increase in traffic, and said, while the 1995 zoning would allow up to 19,000 vehicles a day, initial traffic studies indicated Wegmans will only generator an increase of about 3,100, or 275 trips at peak hours, including 20 to 40 additional trucks.
“This site was chosen because of its proximity to existing and planned new stores; and because of its proximity to I-95, its size and the availability of workforce in Hanover County,” Condlin said. “I think it’s important to point out that we are not asking for a rezoning — the property is already zoned M-2. This exact facility could go on this property today without a single change in any of the proffers. However, it is appropriate to consider an adjustment of the proffers if we can make the site function better and more efficiently . . . if, at the same time, we have additional protections to make it better for the county, and better for the surrounding residents,” Condlin said.
Most speakers during the public hearing did not see it that way.
“We moved to Hanover County several years ago for the rural character of the area, the peace and quiet, and dark night skies and views across our farm,” said Kathy Woodcock who lives on Ashcake Road across from the proposed project.
“We have many concerns about the Wegmans’ project, which threatens to destroy the reason we came here and so many others have chosen to live here,” she continued.
Woodcock said the proposed 50-foot buffer on Ashcake Road would not adequately shield her neighborhood from noise. “We propose a 150-foot buffer, a concrete wall or a berm,” Woodcock said.
Weedon Cloe also described the buffers as “insufficient.”
Chris French addressed archaeological concerns, including the possibility of unmarked graves on the property, as well as other historic resources. While three surveys have been completed, French said those queries were not designed to detect human remains and more extensive examination is required.
Fox Head resident Anita Philp expressed concerns regarding well water in the area and the possibility of pollution from the developed site among other concerns.
She encouraged officials to maintain the 1995 proffers. “The 1995 proffers were put in place to keep this property from becoming what Wegmans would like to do: turning it to a crazy trucks in/trucks out 365 day . . . .operation,” Philp said.
Deacon Kenneth Spurlock of the Brown Grove Baptist Church asked the concerns of his community be heard. Noting the numerous accidents that ended near or in his church lot, he cautioned the hazards of Ashcake Road and its rural nature.
“It’s a road that is very dangerous,” Spurlock said. “We ask that Wegmans seriously consider the concerns that we have and this community behind me this evening.”
Other speakers voiced concerns about the large number of children in the affected areas, the effects of passing trucks in front of Pearson’s Corner Elementary School, and how increased traffic could affect the community interconnectivity of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Wegmans has maintained trucks will only be able to enter the facility via the Sliding Hill Road entrance.
Chickahominy commissioner Steven Hadra addressed that issue and others as he voiced a list of questions regarding the project.
“Is it reasonable to ask the applicant to require drivers to use the I-95 Sliding Hill exit and Sliding Hill Entrance every single time?” Hadra asked. “Do those drivers know they must go up Sliding Hill?”
Chairman Abbott voiced questions regarding increased buffers, the possibility of prohibiting through truck traffic on some of the roads that could be used by drivers headed to the facility, the adequacy of the right and turn lanes to accommodate possible backups, and if Wegmans could provide a community hotline that community members could access.
“I know people don’t believe this, but they really are looking to be a good neighbor,” Condlin said. “They want to accommodate where they can. Forget the proffers, forget everything else, what can we do to make this a better situation for everybody. They really believe that they can be a good neighbor. People won’t even know that they are there.”
Wegmans has proffered a $500,000 payment for road improvements that could include a signal light or road improvements on Sliding Hill Road.
Although the request involved changes to specific proffers, the height of the light poles in the parking lot and fencing, Condlin told commission members he was aware of other concerns expressed at the meeting.
“We have 30 days before the [Hanover County] Board of Supervisors,” Condlin said. “We are willing to work with you. These are things we can work on for the 30 days.”
Mechanicsville commissioner Randy Whittaker pointed out a possible benefit of the new distribution center and the potential impact on local growers.
He noted that one major producer in the county currently sells to Wegmans, but is limited by the distance to the current warehouse facilities.
He said the new distribution center would open opportunities for local producers to sell their products to Wegmans.
“A lot of farmers are hoping that if Wegmans comes here, they will get do a lot of business with them in this county. I think that’s a little piece of the puzzle we are missing,” Whittaker said.
The application now proceeds to the board of supervisors for its consideration in March.