Planners back rezoning farmland for industry

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — A large piece of land outside Strasburg may soon give Shenandoah County a shot at attracting new business.

But not all neighbors support the idea of opening up the property to more industrial uses in an area that deals with dust, noise and traffic from a quarry operation.

The Planning Commission endorsed a county-initiated request on Thursday to rezone approximately 92 acres of property at 1095 Oranda Road, Strasburg, and owned by Glendale Properties from agricultural to industrial use. The property lies west of a quarry operated by Carmuese Lime & Stone and north of Interstate 81. A CSX railroad track runs through the property.

The agricultural zoning for the remaining 113 acres of the 206-acre Glendale Properties would not change. A small section of property that contains an old house would not be rezoned or developed.

The commission held a public hearing, jointly with the Board of Supervisors, on the request. The commission voted to recommend that the board approve the rezoning request. Supervisors will take action on the request at their next meeting.

Interstate 81 lies to the south of the property while Carmeuse Lime and Stone operates a quarry to the east. Land to the west of the property will remain zoned for agricultural use.

Brandon Davis, director of community development for the county, told the commission the property that caught his eye several years ago contains all the “perfect attributes” of a site for future industrial use. The property’s relatively flat topography makes it almost ready for a building pad, a trait that makes the site marketable. At the same time, Davis noted, the property contains natural buffers he said would lessen the impact of development on neighboring landowners.

The county received input from a Virginia Department of Transportation official who claims the rezoning poses a negative impact on the road system near the property. Timothy Rhodes, land development engineer at the VDOT Edinburg Residency, stated in an Aug. 28 email that the rezoning request for a site of this size requires a traffic impact analysis.

“This Department would like to stress that a rezoning of this magnitude will result in substantial new traffic over time,” Rhodes states. “The Department has great concerns with this rezoning and its potential negative impacts on the local roadways including [Va.] Routes 629, 660, 850, [U.S.] 11 & Interstate 81 ramps.”

Davis refuted Rhodes’ other claim that a county-initiated rezoning reduces the possibility of the county receiving monetary contributions from any future development of the site. Davis said industrial development doesn’t usually involve such contributions.

Davis also warned that should the county not rezone the property for industrial use, the landowners can, by right, set up their land for residential development. The owners can build up to 20 houses on their property.

In response to questions raised by some speakers, Davis explained that the county contacted adjacent property owners of the rezoning request by mail. The county also advertised the public hearing in local newspapers and posted information on the matter on the government website.

Strasburg resident Van Holmes commended Davis for his efforts but said the county’s obligation to develop the property for industrial use ends at that point. Holmes said he’s concerned that potential developers could seek county money to improve the site. Ken Cruise, of Toms Brook, shared the same concerns about spending local tax dollars to develop the property.

But Scott Stickley, a resident who lives near but not adjacent to the property, said he learned of the rezoning and the public hearing by accident. Stickley told the commission and supervisors he felt the other residents in the area of Oranda Road and the property “have the right to know” about the rezoning effort.

“We’ve put up with Chemstone [now Carmeuse], the dust, the blasting,” Stickley said. “I’ve had to worry about my well. I’ve had to worry about the traffic on the road.”

Ray Belford owns property to the northwest of the site and said he received notification from the county. Belford echoed Stickley’s concerns about traffic.

“I look at it like it’s going to be more traffic, more noise and more dirt,” Belford said. “I’m not against progress but I hate to see any more of our land going out of agriculture because we need that in this county.”

Davis acknowledged that the roads used to access the site would likely need significant improvements to accommodate whatever entity develops the property.

“It would be my hope that those improvements would actually alleviate some of the transportation concerns that we have with the existing road and the existing use there with Carmeuse,” Davis said.

The commission and Davis also raised concerns with a letter from Strasburg officials about whether or not the town would agree to provide water and sewer service to the 92-acre property. The town could decide not to provide the utilities to a future user of the site, Davis advised. However, the director broached the idea of creating an annexation agreement between the town and the county that would cover the 92 acres and, in exchange for adding the property, Strasburg would agree to provide utilities to the site. The county and town would have to nullify the existing agreement that covers a smaller area.

Davis touted the property’s close proximity to Interstate 81 and interchanges with U.S. 11 and Interstate 66. An active CSX Railroad line also runs through the property. A natural gas line also runs by the site.

“Rail is certainly valuable to a marquee business, the type that we would like to find to locate on the property,” Davis said.

Earlier this year, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership and state economic development officials addressed numerous proposed projects. In most cases available properties in the county did not meet the needs of the projects, Davis said.

“So we were eliminated before we even had the opportunity to be considered for a site,” Davis said. “Having a site such as this, with the qualities and size and scale of one, contiguous property I think would allow us to compete in a different market than what we compete in now.”

Information from the partnership indicated that the nearest site with similar attributes in the valley lies in the Waynesboro area, Davis said.

The staff-initiated rezoning effort came about around the same time as the property changed hands and the new owners considered marketing the land for development, Davis explained.

By the county initiating the rezoning, the commissioner of the revenue can continue to tax the property at the lower agricultural assessment rather than industrial, until development occurs and use changes, Davis said. Under the typical rezoning request, the commissioner would have to begin taxing the property as industrial use even if the land continued to be farmed.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com