Supervisors wrestle with zoning/special use permit request

Electrical contracting business wants to expand

By Heather Michon

A zoning request and special use permit for a new storage facility on Rt. 53 at Turkeysag Trail ran into difficulties at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night (June 15), as complaints that arose during the public hearing convinced the supervisors to put a pause on the project.

Cory Johnston, who has owned an electrical contracting business in Fluvanna for the past several years, has been based out of a self-storage space near Lake Monticello. The desire for a more permanent home led him to purchase 6.4 acres of land next to the University of Virginia Community Credit Union on Rt. 53 and with the help of Shimp Engineering, develop a plan for his own self-storage facility and office space. 

The Planning Commission approved his applications in May and passed it onto the Board of Supervisors for final approvals.

To move forward on the project, he needed supervisors to vote to rezone the property from A-1 (Agricultural) to B-1 (Business, General) and to approve a special use permit to allow him to construct the self-storage.

Only one of those items passed during the meeting.

During the public hearing, two partners in Gate Plaza LLC, which owns the properties on the far end of the Food Lion shopping area, both criticized the way in which the county had handled Johnston’s application.

Cyndra Kerley said the county had failed to follow their own rules and regulations during the application process, hadn’t notified her and her partners as required by law, and had also failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request within the required five business days. 

Based on what she felt were these multiple improprieties, she urged the supervisors to deny or defer approval.

Corven Flynn of Gate Plaza LLC amplified many of these points, saying the Planning Commission had rubber-stamped the project without considering the impact on the adjacent business owners. He was concerned the metal self-storage buildings would be visible from the Gate Plaza parking lot, which might drive down property values.

Flynn also maintained that Johnston wasn’t being held to “Jeffersonian architectural design” like other businesses near Turkeysag.

County Attorney Fred Payne said the failure to meet the FOIA deadline was “quite simply an oversight.” 

He also pushed back on the issue of notification of the potential, saying that information on the project had been sent to the address of Gate Plaza LLC rather than Flynn and Kerley personally, which met the county’s legal requirements.

County Administrator Eric Dahl and Director of Community Development Douglas Miles said they had examined records going back to 1980 and had found no requirements for “Jeffersonian” architectural designs in the development of the Turkeysag area. Payne added the county has never had an architectural review board and could only require certain designs within special use permits.

Johnston had stipulated in his design plan that the part of the business visible from Rt. 53 would be brick or stone-clad like several other businesses in the area.

Supervisors wrestled with how to proceed. 

They first seemed poised to defer both the zoning and the permit, but then considered passing the zoning request and holding on the permit.

Before the vote on the zoning matter, Supervisor Tony O’Brien, who was participating in the meeting by speakerphone due to a family emergency, asked if zoning the property would require Johnston to be taxed as a business, even if he was later denied the right to go forward with the project. 

Rezoning the parcel as a business could increase the tax value for the approximately $200,000 purchase price to around $1.2 million.

Johnston was asked if he was comfortable with going forward with the zoning request under the circumstances, and he agreed.

The motion for zoning passed by a vote of 4-0, with Supervisor Mike Sheridan (Columbia) absent for the evening.

“I want to be able to approve this, while I [also] want to seize the opportunity for two business owners to feel that they came out more whole in this process,” said Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham). “I feel that stepping back for a few quick seconds gives some opportunity for a little negotiation.”

Supervisors then voted 4-0 to defer the matter until the July 6 meeting. This gives Johnston three weeks to see if he can address his potential neighbors’ concerns.

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