By Alex Bridges
MOUNT JACKSON - The Mount Jackson Planning Commission endorsed a request to bring 62 acres of Shenandoah County land into town.
The commission voted 7-0 after a public hearing Monday to recommend that Town Council approve the request to extend the corporate limits to add parcels referred to as the Southard/Sundance and Ambrose properties. Council can take action on the annexation request at its Nov. 12 meeting.
The properties lie adjacent to the southeast end of town and east of U.S. 11.
Annexation of the land would allow a future developer to connect to Mount Jackson's water and sewer system. The town supplies the utilities only to properties within the corporate limits.
Joseph Beckenstrater, owner of agricultural property adjacent to the land eyed for annexation, spoke during the public hearing and voiced opposition to the request.
"We're dairy farmers and we don't really like houses next to the farm and that's why we're out in the country," Beckenstrater said.
But Beckenstrater changed his stance on the annexation when commission Chairwoman Bonnie Good explained that the property, currently zoned for high-density, residential development, would come into the town zoned for agricultural use. A developer would need to go through the town's process to rezone the properties before building residential or commercial structures on the land.
Good told the audience that the commission has no knowledge of any plans to develop the property.
Assistant Town Manager Charles "Charlie" Moore explained that Mount Jackson and the county entered into an agreement in 2001 that laid out areas for annexation. The Ambrose and Southard/Sundance properties were included in the area the town could annex should an applicant make such request.
Moore pointed out that the town has not been in the business of extending water and sewer service based on speculative development.
The agreement also called for the annexation of several properties in the Mount Jackson Industrial Park. The town didn't annex the entire park, Moore said.
The property has been zoned for more than 20 years under the county ordinance to allow for high-density residential development. Plans had been drafted to develop housing on the property, said attorney Clinton Miller, a representative of the landowners. But without town utilities the property remained undeveloped, Miller said. A developer could have built a system that would serve the center but at an environmental cost.
"We thought this would give you a chance to control exactly what happens [on the property]," Miller said.
Town resident Gerald Forsburg asked the commission if the original plan to build an age-restricted community on the property. Forsburg commented that a developer would seek a rezoning to build on the property.
Good said the proposal was dropped several years.
"We were, may I say, very careful in discussions about that anyhow," Good said. "I think the commission and the town manager and our staff have been very good in looking toward the future of the town in such a way that whatever we do is the right thing to do for the town."
Forsburg said he was neither for nor against the annexation proposal.
"I am a little concerned about the ongoing sprawl of Mount Jackson," Forsburg said. "We seem to be ever-growing toward opposite ends but not really doing anything in the middle.
"At the same time, I do think it's a wonderful piece of property and obviously if any type of high-density development is going to be addressed, there's a host of, I mean it's a Pandora's Box in terms of the entrance and how it's going to relate to Triplett Tech and the school buses and all the rest of it," Forsburg said.
"Should anything happen that will be addressed," Good said. "But that's not anything that we're dealing with at this point in time."
The larger parcel eyed for the annexation does not lie adjacent to the town limits. As such a smaller, adjacent parcel connects the larger piece to Mount Jackson. Forsburg said it would only be a matter of time before the town would annex remaining, adjacent parcels to make the area more contiguous. But Good and Moore voiced doubt and the chairwoman noted that only property owners can come to the town and request the annexation.
"We're allowing it to be open to people that own the property to be annexed," Good said. "But we don't go out and solicit that."
Good said this marked the first time her 12 years with the town that a property owner requested annexation.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org