Rezoning request could lead to huge industrial site

MOUNT JACKSON — A 712-acre industrial “mega site” may be coming to Mount Jackson soon.

Robert Whitehurst, of Mount Jackson, introduced a proposal to the Mount Jackson Planning Commission to rezone 136 acres along Turkey Knob Road from agriculture to industrial.

Whitehurst said he and his sister, Betty Lind Barbatsuly, were looking to sell their farmland along Turkey Knob Road. They approached the county government, which told them it wanted to get the state involved to develop a “mega site” to attract a large manufacturing or distribution facility.

“The state will work with us to prepare the site for a large industrial site, like Amazon or Rolls Royce,” Whitehurst said. “It’s something that will bring in jobs, a lot of tax money and will really be a great thing for the entire area.”

Whitehurst said the site is prime real estate for potential industrial developers due to its large area and proximity to Interstate 81.

“There are some mega sites down in the southern part of the state, but the counties trying to sell them off are doing it dirt cheap because those properties are not close to a major highway like this one,” Whitehurst said.

If the property is rezoned, the next step will be to annex the remaining 576 acres from the county to the town limits. Whitehurst said the state would not get involved unless the property has been rezoned.

“They don’t want to overreach into the town’s business,” Whitehurst said. “They won’t start developing the land until the town makes a decision.”

Planning Commission chair Bonnie Good said the area is ripe for rezoning because of its proximity to an existing industrial park.

“We have to think what’s the best use of that property?” Good said. “Do we want to see sprawl and industrial things going up Route 11 or do we want to see it out of the way in a huge area with potential fantastic growth in business and jobs … it’s not going to be just for Mount Jackson, but people will work there from Harrisonburg to Winchester.”

Commissioner Nancy Fadely said while agriculture is important to the county’s comprehensive plan, the site would have the potential to benefit more people.

“The way I look at it, that same amount of land in agriculture would not help nearly as many people as an industrial site there,” Fadely said.

Whitehurst said agriculture has become too automated to employ people on a mass scale.

“I farm it myself right now, that’s it, just me … I hire one guy to help me, that’s it,” Whitehurst said. “I’ll tell you, agriculture is not going to bring jobs. The name of the game now is all technology.”

Good said the adjacent residential properties to Whitehurst’s property could increase in value if the area were to become an industrial area.

“Those folks would have options,” Good said. “The experiences I have traveling the country and seeing plants is they’re decently attractive, with parks surrounding the area and are set back from the property line.”

Good added, “If we had some kind of an organization come in and build up on the site, then those local properties may become more valuable because people who work at the site could live there and walk to work.”

Whitehurst said he would begin doing tests on his property next week. While the Planning Commission, as Good noted, “does not make any final decisions” it did give approval to Whitehurst to proceed with surveying his land.

Pending town council approval, a joint public hearing with the town council and the planning commission will be held on this rezoning request March 25 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

The planning commission also considered:

• Todd Holtzman asked the planning commission to consider rezoning a property he owns at 5727 Main Street from Residential 1 to Residential 2. The rezoning would allow him to turn the property into a duplex. A public hearing on the matter will be held March 25 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com