Zoning issues dominate supervisors’ meeting

By Heather Michon

Zoning issues were front and center at the meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night (Aug. 17), including a public hearing on a new commercial development proposed for Lake  Monticello Road (Rt. 618) and a previously deferred vote on zoning for a new self-storage on Rt. 53 near Food Lion.   

Public comments throughout the meeting showed the deep tension between residents in the Lake Monticello area who want to keep it fundamentally rural and those who would like to see more business growth and development.

Commercial development

Joseph Jones of Wolfpack Properties LLC took a different approach to development by reaching out to the community around the Lake Monticello Road property to see what they wanted to see in a commercial center before he began planning what should be included on the site. 

Most people said they would like to see an urgent care center. Currently, the closest urgent care option to Lake Monticello is nearly 30 minutes away on Pantops in Charlottesville, even longer for those farther out in the county. There was also a strong desire for a new grocery store option or a new restaurant.

Working off those community suggestions, Shimp Engineering drew up a concept map of a small commercial center anchored by freestanding buildings suitable for an urgent care center and a small grocery store, with additional buildings for eateries, offices, and retail space. 

Jones has been open that he does not yet have any potential tenants lined up for the site, and in fact, hasn’t even reached out to businesses who might be interested in expanding to Lake Monticello. He argues that only after the property is rezoned from agricultural to business can he begin marketing it to interested parties. 

Several residents displayed deep skepticism during public comments that an urgent care center or grocery store would ever materialize. 

“When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true,” said Valerie Palamountain. “An urgent care facility sounds great, but our county never could support one.”

Donna Daguanno asked supervisors to think about the fact that the University of Virginia built offices at Zion Crossroads, but didn’t feel it was necessary to add an urgent care center. “I think this developer was very savvy. He tapped into the two things that people want the most,” as a way to get his property rezoned to his needs. “Now it’s your job to do a better job and be good stewards and make sure that everything is there.” 

But even if the developer failed to deliver on those wish-list times, a few people said it would still bring much-needed office and retail space to the county.

Jan Tantangelo, head of the Fluvanna Women In Business group, welcomed the development. With more than 85 members, she finds “we have a very, very big need for storefront. We have people who want to have a good quality business here in our community.”  

Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) said he had commended the developer and the way he had sought community input during the process and was not opposed to the project, “but the community didn’t come out tonight because they believe that’s what’s coming, and I feel we have some responsibility to protect those interests.” He said he would prefer to defer the matter until the developer could get some firm commitments for the space.

“In my nine years of serving on the board, this is the first time a developer has come in and said ‘I want to put in a commercial space’ without any residential space being attached to it,” said Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna), a move that would help bring some balance and increase the county’s business tax revenues.

“I’m an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur,” O’Brien said to Fairchild. “We take risks. We build our dreams. When we build our dreams, we do it with a lot of thought and care, and we do it with a lot of hope that what we think is going to happen is going to happen.” He felt the project was worthwhile even if it didn’t result in exactly what was envisioned. 

 The motion to approve the rezoning passed on a narrow vote of 3-2, with Supervisor Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and Fairchild both voting ‘no’.

Self storage

Later in the meeting, supervisors returned to a special use permit requested by local electrical contractor Cory Johnston. 

Johnston purchased a narrow 6.4-acre parcel of land next to the UVA Community Credit Union branch on Rt. 53 and won approval from the Planning Commission to rezone the property from agricultural to business use back in May.  Johnston, in partnership with Shimp Engineering, proposes to build an office and storage space for his electrical business, and also offer self-storage space to the public.

The project has faced criticism from residents from surrounding properties in Lake Monticello and Villages at Nahor, but especially from Corven Flynn and Cyndra Kerley, owners of Gate Plaza on Turkeysag Trail. 

Based on the site plans submitted by Shimp Engineering, some of the storage buildings would be visible from Gate Plaza businesses like Sal’s Italian Restaurant. Flynn and Kerley have argued that this would drive down their property values. They have also strongly criticized both the county administration and the Board of Supervisors for their handling of the case.

Supervisors deferred any decision on the issue at their June 15 meeting to give Johnston and Shimp Engineering an opportunity to see if they could address some of the concerns. The parties then requested a second deferral during the July 6 meeting.      

Community Development Director Douglas Miles gave an overview of the project and the conditions attached to it by the county, including compliance with noise ordinances, lighting, site maintenance, and a provision against storing heavy equipment on site. 

Johnston also proposed installing a total of six six-by-eight-foot panels and evergreen plantings as additional shielding  along a 48-foot stretch of the property line closest to Gate Plaza.

Fairchild said a lot of the concerns he was hearing from the public were focused on the special use permit, which defined the project as a contractor’s storage yard. Residents are worried that it would mean trucks and heavy equipment might be going in and out of the facility at all hours of the night. Miles said his understanding was that Johnston’s workers took their vehicles home with them and would only be coming by the new facility to resupply during daytime hours.  

Supervisors spent nearly an hour discussing the permitting process and looking for ways to better shield the self-storage site from Turkeysag Trail businesses. They ended up rewriting one of the provisions to extend the paneling to 64 feet, better shielding Sal’s and other Gate Plaza businesses from the storage yard.

Once the new provision was finalized, the motion passed 5-0.

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