Supervisors deny Village Gardens rezoning

By Heather Michon

The Board of Supervisors denied rezoning permits for Southern Development’s proposed Village Gardens housing project during its meeting on Wednesday night (Jan. 19). The 5-0 vote came at the end of a three-hour public hearing at the top of the meeting.

Southern Development introduced its plan for a 300 plus unit housing development on three parcels of land along Rt. 53, situated roughly between the Villages at Nahor and Garden Lane, back in early 2021. The land is currently zoned for agricultural use and would need to be rezoned for residential use for the plan to move forward. 

From the beginning, the project faced strong opposition from residents of the Villages and Lake Monticello, both of which would border the development. Major concerns included water and sewer availability from Aqua Virginia, increased traffic on Rt. 53, and the impact of encroaching development on the county’s quality of life.

Charlie Armstrong of Southern Development told the supervisors that his firm had held more than 50 meetings, both town halls, and one-on-one exchanges, with residents throughout 2021. “Any time there has been feedback we can incorporate to improve things, we have,” he said in his presentation. 

Among the many changes to the project, they redesigned the entrance to assure traffic from Village Gardens couldn’t enter the Villages at Nahor and offered to construct a new left-turn lane into Lake Monticello’s Monish Gate to relieve peak-hour traffic congestion on Rt. 53.

Southern Development, later joined by Stanley Martin Homes, repeatedly came before the Planning Commission with new proffers in the last quarter of 2021, with the commissioners finally voting to reject their rezoning request in mid-December.

At the hearing on Wednesday, at least 18 residents spoke out against the project, with only one in favor of it going forward. 

In response to a question by Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) about how much weight they could give to the number of people opposing the project, County Attorney Fred Payne said it could certainly be considered, but should not be seen as a referendum. 

“Your duty is to evaluate the facts and the law and determine whether, in your judgment, approval or denial of this is in the interest of the county as a whole,” he said. “Not merely nearby people or people who think they have an interest in it.”

Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) said it was less about the number of people who spoke than “putting value on what they say.”  She voiced concerns about the availability of water and sewer, traffic, and questioned if the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, now under revision, gave them the guidance they needed to make these types of decisions.

“I think we’ve overdeveloped this area because it’s the only place in Fluvanna where we have water and sewer,” said Supervisor Patricia Eager, who serves as the board’s liaison to the Planning Commission. The amount of development in that corner of the county was, in her view, increasing the stress on infrastructure, public safety, and schools.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) said one issue with the current system is that the county could lose some leverage in controlling the development of new housing by denying projects like Village Gardens. 

Under existing by-right zoning ordinances, “right now, there is absolutely nothing stopping, if we say no to this, for developers to buy land from a person and build 70 homes there. They still have to go through the same process, but what will not happen is there would be no proffers,” he said, meaning there was no incentive for developers to make concessions or improve the surrounding area. 

“If we decide we are not going to vote for something because people don’t like it but it fits in our Comprehensive Plan, we really do send a chilling effect to the people that own property that might want to develop it and to the people that might want to invest in Fluvanna,” he added. 

While O’Brien said he respected everyone who had come out in opposition, “smart, planned growth is of a benefit to the entire community. Sprawled growth is not a benefit.”  

However, O’Brien ended up voting with the majority, with the motion to deny rezoning passing on a 5-0 vote.

Following the vote, Booker said she hoped that the board had “learned something from this discussion and that we’re going to make some improvements and look at different things because a lot of good things were said here.”

In other matters, supervisors voted 5-0 to approve motions to transfer and approve a total of $23,359 for a detailed historic structure survey of the county courthouse in the Village of Palmyra.

They also approved $2.8 million in agreements for three new pieces of fire apparatus, including a pump truck for Fork Union, a tanker for Palmyra, and a tower truck for Lake Monticello.      

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