On the zoning application the applicant wrote “self-storage facility” as the proposed use of the property.  When Supervisor Tony O’Brien asked Senior Planner Steve Tugwell whether there were any guarantees about the use of the property, however, Tugwell confirmed that the applicant has no obligation to develop a self-storage facility if the rezoning is successful, but may rather develop any use that is permitted by-right in B-1 zoning, subject to an approved site plan.

The reason for the application’s controversy stems from the location of the parcel of land, which sits, as citizen Betty McGehee said during the public hearing, “cheek by jowl against our mill and lock site.”  Near to the applicant’s land is the historic location of Palmyra Mills, the canal, lock, and old covered bridge.

In addition, the parcel of land sits prominently above the river directly across from the new Rt. 15 Palmyra bridge, and some citizens argued it would be the first thing a visitor to Palmyra would see.  Palmyra resident Frank Gallo said, “Please don’t tell us that this Board of Supervisors’ vision of the southern gateway of Palmyra is a wall of roll-up garage doors the length of a football field.”

“We designed this bridge to be the gateway into the historic village of Palmyra…one of the most historic county seats in all of Virginia,” said Marvin Moss, president of the historical society.  He presented supervisors with a petition signed by 103 Fluvanna residents, most of who live in or near the village of Palmyra.  “I can guarantee you that 80 to 90 percent of all the people who live in the village of Palmyra or within a half-mile radius of it have signed the petition opposing this B-1 rezoning,” he told the Board.  “The people of your county seat are opposed to this.”

On the application Cowboys, LLC proffered out six uses for the property: car washes, cemeteries, hospitals, hotels, commercial marinas, and large-scale retail stores.  Former supervisor Len Gardner pointed out, however, that these uses “are really activities that two and a half acres couldn’t support anyway.”

Attorney Barbara Goshorn, who represents Cowboys, LLC, answered supervisors’ questions about the application.  The applicant would like to add to Fluvanna’s tax base, she said.  And in response to fears about the business’s appearance, she explained that her client plans on having a nice-looking facility so as to attract customers.  She went on to say that the site development plan, which must be approved by the county, would “address many of the concerns I think that folks have about what the property would look like.”

“If the business owner has specific intentions, why doesn’t he just state those intentions?” asked O’Brien.  “It seems like there is some ambiguity in terms of what he’d like to develop.”  Goshorn responded by noting that business owners like to keep their options open rather than limit themselves to a specific use that may not be appropriate or desired in the future.

When Chairperson Mozell Booker asked whether people on the bridge would be able to see the business as they enter Palmyra, Goshorn said that would depend upon the vegetative buffer.  And to Supervisor Mike Sheridan’s query about the site’s proximity to the historic location, she replied that there is a significant drop-off between the bluff on which the property is located and the historic site.

Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch raised the point that at some point in the future, folks from Zion Crossroads may come to the Board protesting development in their area.  He noted that people want development in general, but not “whenever it’s in your own backyard.”  He also expressed his reluctance to vote against the Planning Commission, which on Dec. 16 unanimously recommended this project for approval.

“I take this seriously because it’s historical in nature, but I take landowner rights very seriously,” he said.  “I take [seriously] a message to other people who want to start businesses here in the county, that are going to hear the same thing – not in my backyard.”

Supervisor Don Weaver agreed with the concept of that land as the gateway to Palmyra.  “You could have a cell tower [there],” he said.  “I will not support it.”

“It’s never an easy choice,” said O’Brien.  “I don’t see where we have any specific understanding of what’s intended to be built there, any specific benefit being defined to the county…and we have 100 odd people that are saying they don’t like this idea.”

After a failed suggestion to defer and ask the applicant for more specifics or proffered-out uses, supervisors voted to deny the rezoning request, which passed 4-1, with Ullenbruch dissenting.

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