Commission supports rezoning request

MOUNT JACKSON — The Mount Jackson Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Mount Jackson Town Council approve a rezoning request for 135 acres of land on Turkey Knob Road from agricultural to limited industrial Thursday evening.

The approved request, submitted by Robert Whitehurst, is part of a larger project to establish a 712-acre “mega site” for industrial development in the town. Whitehurst ultimately wants to have the town annex 576 acres into the town limits and rezone it to limited industrial.

Before the vote, the commission heard comments from the public. Gary Lantz, a county planning commissioner, said he believed those in favor of the request “were supporting this with their wallet” while “the opposition is coming from the heart.” He recommended the commission consider focusing on trying to bring smaller industries to the town rather than relying on one large industry.

Jordan Rinker, of Mount Jackson, said he had been coming to the meetings since he heard about the request and he asked the commission and the town council to “think long and hard” about the request before committing to anything. He also advocated keeping the area rural and agriculture focused.

Robert Whitehurst gave a short presentation on the request, answering questions from the public. He said his family has been in town for a long time and used to own the orchards that employed many people, but those “orchards are no longer here and aren’t coming back.”

He said the rezoning request for the property would allow the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state agencies to come and assess the impact of the larger project, so as to better inform the commission before making any decisions. He also said he was slowing down on moving forward with the annexation request.

“What we are asking for is the opportunity to see what is possible,” Whitehurst said. “We are asking for support to be able to get that process moving.”

Ray Burkholder, a planner with Balzer and Associates, a Verona-based civil engineering firm, also gave a presentation to the commission. He noted that rezoning the 135 acres will begin discussions about economic development and allow for Whitehurst to get a better idea as to what kind of companies would be interested in the property.

Burkholder said there has been two meetings with VDOT officials about traffic studies and once the land was rezoned, there would be numerous, ongoing studies into environmental, traffic and economic impact on the community for any industrial user.

He also said there would be a delay in annexation and if that were to go forward, there would be other proffers, in addition to the one offered by Whitehurst to cover all costs for traffic studies and repairs, to do with lighting and making sure an industrial user would develop an “aesthetically pleasing” facility. He said before an industrial user is found for the facility, VDOT could run scenarios on the traffic impact a facility would bring.

Following that presentation, Kevin Fauber, town manager, read a letter from VDOT officials that explained any traffic study would have to be larger than a standard study, due to the magnitude of the project.

Bonnie Good, commission chair, said she felt like Whitehurst was proceeding properly with the studies. She said there were many questions about what the larger project would entail and the commission would allow experts in the field to get those answers before making a decision on the larger parcel of land.

Mark Bowyer, a commissioner, asked how analyzing traffic scenarios would help the commission get a better understanding of the larger project. Burkholder said the scenarios would “provide a benchmark” for the commission to decide before granting the annexation and the rezoning of the larger parcel.

Whitehurst noted because the town has no “by right” privileges attached to land development for limited industrial, any industrial user would have to come before the commission and the town council for approval of a facility.

Ken Hackenbracht, a commissioner, said he was a leery of committing to a “chicken in the egg” situation, where in order to get an idea of what industrial users would be interested in the land, the commission would have to approve a partial rezoning.

Whitehurst said he was the only taking the risk, because he’ll have to pay higher taxes on the land and there will be a lot of interested parties who will not buy the land, due to the larger partial not being rezoned.

“But even though a lot of companies will walk away, at least we can have an idea of who is interested, if anybody is interested,” he said. “We can then come back to you with better information.”

Before holding the vote, Good asked Whitehurst if he would be content with the in town property being rezoned, but the property in the county remaining the same. Whitehurst said while that is not his intention, he could live with it. Good noted even if the full 712 acres does not come to fruition, at least 135 acres would added to the industrial park adjacent to the property.

Good abstained from the vote, due to the absence of commissioner Larry Hand from the meeting, in order to prevent a tie. The request will now go before the town council April 14, at 7:30 p.m. at town hall.

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