Planning commission discusses rezoning request

MOUNT JACKSON — The Mount Jackson Planning Commission held a workshop to discuss the rezoning of 135 acres of property along Turkey Knob Road from agricultural to limited industrial Monday evening.

The rezoning request, submitted by Robert Whitehurst at the beginning of March, is part of a larger proposal to annex 577 acres into the town and rezone it to limited industrial. Once rezoned, the property could potentially be a viable “mega site” for a large manufacturing facility.

The commission discussed “challenges and opportunities” the proposal poses, using questions and comments citizens shared at a public hearing last month.

Bonnie Good, commission chair, asked town manager Kevin Fauber if the rezoning request is approved and a company was to buy the property, what costs would the town incur by way of infrastructure expenditures.

Fauber said while the infrastructure would be addressed according to the needs of whatever industry came to town, water and sewer usage would be the main concern for the town, because the Virginia Department of Transportation, along with the company, would incur the costs of road improvement.

Fauber also mentioned a proffer offered by Whitehurst to cover the cost of traffic studies and road improvement. The proffer, which will only go into effect if the proposal is approved, would be extended to any company that would buy the property.

Good said due to strict VDOT regulations, she believes the concerns about the traffic raised by citizens is not a big a problem as they made it out to be. She also said concerns about a nearby school were also exaggerated because the schools are set a “football field” away from the roadways.

Ken Hackenbracht, a commissioner, said he did not agree with Good, citing concerns about the buses when school lets out. Good said the town has worked with companies in the past to time tractor-trailer truck traffic to avoid sharing the roadways with school buses.

When asked by Good about possible road improvements, such as putting in an interchange near Wissler Road or improving exit 269, Whitehurst said he spoke with VDOT officials and there are “10 to 15” ways VDOT would go about road improvements, all of which are contingent on the size and type of industry that would occupy the site.

Whitehurst said exit 269 could become “a top priority” if the site were developed.

Mark Bowyer, a commissioner, said he needed a better idea of what “the finished product would [look] like.” Citing a Proctor and Gamble warehouse that was erected while he lived in Lima, Ohio, Bowyer said he has seen large-scale industrial development done in an environmentally sound manner, with little impact on residents.

Bowyer said he had concerns about what safeguards the town had to prevent “billowing smoke stacks” from appearing on the property. Fauber said because the limited industrial zoning designation is not “by right,” any development on the property would need to come before the planning commission and town council for approval of a special use permit.

Fauber also said the state and county have made strides to reduce pollution and make sure any company coming into area would adhere to Department of Environmental Quality regulations. Whitehurst said to his understanding, large facilities such as the one that could potentially come to Turkey Knob Road have EPA agents on site at all times to make sure the facility is adhering to federal standards.

Hackenbracht asked if the area had an adequate labor pool to support the facility. Whitehurst said that issue is being looked at, but it’s hard to tell at this point because that is contingent on the industry. He said the labor pool area could extend from Harrisonburg to Winchester.

Good said while citizens raised concerns about property value decreasing and property tax increasing for neighbors to a facility, she does not understand what that has to do with the request. She said value is relative to the market value of the properties and the taxes are based on what the county thinks.

Another issued raised by citizens was the impact a facility would have on small businesses in the town. Good said she believed small businesses, even if they would have to compete with higher wages at a facility, could afford to pay more because they would be getting more business due to people coming to town to work.

Bowyer said he felt the issue with small businesses was a “short term, long term” issue, where in the short term, small businesses might get hurt, but in the long term, they will ultimately benefit.

Bowyer said he the commission needs to think up a checklist of what “would be acceptable and unacceptable” for a facility on the property if it were in fact rezoned. Good added that where there are a lot of questions that need answers, every “challenge” the property faces has options to address it.

The Mount Jackson Planning Commission will meet to vote on whether to recommend supporting or opposing the rezoning request to town council Thursday at town hall at 7 p.m.

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