Supervisors consider multiple zoning requests

By Heather Michon

The Board of Supervisors tackled a set of zoning requests at its meeting on Wednesday night (Jan 18), ranging from a small farm machinery shop on Rt. 250 to a massive distribution center on Rt. 15.

The Vaughn Property Group of Chantilly hopes to build on two 40-acre parcels straddling Rt. 15 about a mile south of the Zion Crossroads intersection. A concept plan for the completed site envisions six buildings with a total of 870,000 square feet of flexible distribution space – about 70,000 more than the entire Walmart Distribution Center up the road in Louisa.

Each parcel was scheduled for a separate public hearing to shift the zoning from A-1 (Agricultural, General) to I-1 (Industrial, Limited), but the company asked for a 60-day deferral on one parcel to give the company time to analyze some data that had just come regarding a nearby creek and wetlands. 

Through community meetings and discussions with the Planning Commission and county staff, owner John Vaughn said he understands the “importance of maintaining that rural feel, not turning it into Northern Virginia.” To that end, the company has agreed to a vegetative buffer of 60 feet on all sides of the property, more than double the county’s requirement of 25 feet. 

They have committed to working with VDOT to mitigate traffic impacts on Rt. 15. This could include right- and left-turn lanes to smooth the flow of traffic. 

But many residents of the nearby Hunter’s Lake subdivision shared their concerns about the dangers of increased traffic along that already-busy stretch of road and the potential for noise pollution in their quiet, rural neighborhood.

“I know they are planning on doing as much noise mitigation as they can, but you think about semis backing up, those beepers are horrifying and very loud,” said Lake Road resident Sherri Booye.

Elizabeth Vencill, who holds about 12.5 acres in trust along Little Creek Road just above the Vaughn property, called in from Modesto, California to say she was going to use that property for a conservation easement to protect Little Creek, a stream that runs into the James River watershed all the way to the Chesapeake. Water containment ponds at the distribution site could impede the creek’s natural flow. She also raised concerns about the removal of so many native trees to clear the site. 

Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) later raised concerns about the vegetative buffer, arguing that between VDOT regulations and restrictions on trees near overhead power lines, “it looks to me like we’re going to have almost no vegetation protecting the view from the road despite concept plans that show a thick, wooded buffer. “I just don’t get that.”

After a protracted back-and-forth on how the concept maps are created using Google Earth and other programs, he said, “if we’re going to make a presentation to the citizens that we’re here to represent, we should not be making a presentation that shows a roadway setback full of trees, because it’s not going to be there. That’s just my opinion.”

The building area falls within an area of Zion Crossroads that has been envisioned in the county’s Comprehensive Plan as a commercial and industrial growth area since 2009. But there are numerous pre-existing homes. Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) said it was still a hard decision “when you know that you’re impacting property owners and their style of life.”

In the end, the motion to approve the rezoning of one parcel passed by a vote of 4-1, with Mike Sheridan (Columbia) voting no. The second parcel will come back before the board in March.

The two remaining public hearings passed with less debate. A zoning application for a used farm machinery sales shop was approved 5-0, as was an application by The Clean Machine for a smaller flexible warehouse space on Rt. 250 and Memory Lane. 

Ron Moore, who lives across the street from The Clean Machine’s proposed site said they were “pretty much resigned to the inevitability” of the site being developed. He said he only hoped the developer would keep them in mind “and try not to make it any uglier than it has to be, and maybe even make the road frontage on 250 more attractive.

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