VDOT: Town left state out of loop

Mount Jackson and state transportation officials are trying to stay on the same page as the town pushes through a major rezoning and annexation effort.

Town Council in mid April approved a request by Robert Whitehurst to rezone 146 acres in Mount Jackson from agriculture to limited industrial use. Whitehurst also has asked that the town annex his remaining 576 acres in the county. Town Council has scheduled the public hearing for the annexation Monday.

The rezoning happened without the Virginia Department of Transportation’s knowledge, Terry Short, district planning manager, said recently.

“We weren’t aware of the rezoning application,” Short recalled, noting that VDOT officials learned about the matter through local media.

Town Manager Kevin Fauber said Friday that VDOT and local officials are now working on the same page after having several meetings about the rezoning and annexation proposals. They’ve also scheduled a workshop with a land-development planner prior to the public hearing.

Mount Jackson and VDOT officials met earlier last week to address communication between the town and the agency, Fauber said.

“Moving forward, we just need to ensure that there hasn’t been anything that’s been approved without VDOT being part of the discussion,” Fauber said.

VDOT officials contacted Fauber in March and advised him that a provision in the state code that requires a traffic impact analysis for any sites that would generate more than 5,000 vehicle trips per day, which given what the site could yield would trigger that requirement, Short said. VDOT officials learned that Fauber and the applicant were looking for a way to “move forward with the rezoning with the absence of a formal traffic study to support it,” Short added.

The applicant has since developed and agreed to a proffer included with the rezoning of the 146 acres. Prior to the approval of a site plan on the parcel in Mount Jackson and/or the annexation of any property owned by the applicant or successor, a traffic impact analysis will be submitted to VDOT, the proffer notes.

“All transportation improvements identified during the review and VDOT approval process of the [analysis] will be the responsibility of the applicant or successor and shall be implemented prior to the issuance of an occupancy permit,” Short read from the proffer.

Such improvements could cost millions of dollars – a risk the applicant assumes with the agreement, Short noted.

But no traffic study is underway at this time, Fauber said. Rather than conduct a study for the rezoned land in town, the applicant will do so on the larger set of parcels if and when Mount Jackson annexes the rest of the property.

“I think the applicant was thinking that … the traffic impact analysis would need to be done prior to the rezoning of the annexed property,” Fauber said Friday. “We’re trying to work through that interpretation.”

The first part of the proffer indicates that the town would not approve a site plan on the property in town until the owner or a developer conducted a traffic impact study, Fauber said. No site plan for the property has been submitted, Fauber noted.

Short said he read about Town Council’s scheduling of the public hearing on the annexation request. This was the first time he and officials heard about the town moving forward with the hearing, Short said.

“So we’re kinda taken back a little to be perfectly honest … about a month and a half ago we’d kind of agreed to the terms of which, prior to the annexation of any property owned by the applicant, that a [traffic impact analysis] would be conducted and mitigation measures identified,” Short said.

Comments were made at the joint public hearing held early last month on the rezoning concerning potential transportation improvements. VDOT officials read the comments as reported and were surprised by the notions made that the department could make multi-million dollar improvements, Short said. VDOT then scheduled a meeting for April 8 with the town manager and Short then sent a letter to Fauber.

“We emphasized [in the letter] the limitations of the department and, with our limited transportation funding and the future development, this is not something that the department could even remotely participate in without some infusion coming from some place,” Short said.

In the letter, Short states that “all parties agreed that at this time there are too many project unknowns to define a conventional scope of study for a traffic impact analysis that would identify specific transportation network deficiencies and potential mitigation.”

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