Annexation proposal evokes questions

The controversial annexation facing Mount Jackson raised more questions than answers with Planning Commission members Monday.

The commission’s decision to delay action on the proposal to add 576 acres to the town through a boundary adjustment also means that no such annexation can take effect until Dec. 31 at the earliest. The commission can send a recommendation to Town Council, which then can vote on the annexation at a future meeting.

The Planning Commission held a workshop jointly with Town Council prior to the public hearing on the proposed annexation. Many area residents also showed up for the workshop, which was led by Milt Herd, of Herd Planning and Design Ltd.

Commission Chairwoman Bonnie Good cited responses from a survey conducted of area residents 10 years ago who said Mount Jackson should retain its small-town character but also strive to attract businesses. Herd then asked if that vision is still valid. If so, could a mega site for industrial development fit in with the vision, Herd asked.

Herd posed several questions about the annexation, including does the proposal conform to the town’s Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2006, the Caverns Road Plan of 2004 and the annexation agreement of 2001.

“Is it something you want?” Herd asked. “Does this fit the town’s vision for the future?”

The benefits and impacts of the annexation and development for an industrial user remain uncertain without knowing what could go into the site, Herd said.

“You may have to make a decision about it before you know … as much as you want to know about the impacts and benefits,” Herd said.

The town is due to update its Comprehensive Plan in 2016. Some commissioners suggested the town wait until then to revisit the annexation request.

Does the town’s light industrial zoning district include the uses that Mount Jackson would want on the site, Herd posed.

Herd also advised officials that the town should consider the possibility that they don’t end up recruiting an end user for the site.

Responses to the survey question asking what aspects of Mount Jackson did they want to retain included “quiet, small-town character,” “friendliness of a small town” and “historical aspects,” Good said.

“But we’re getting a lot of confidence that the people of Mount Jackson want it to remain a small town,” Good said. “They want to be able to go through town easily and conveniently without a lot of traffic.”

Good pointed out that any development of the site would likely lead to more traffic in the area of the Interstate 81 interchange. The town would need assistance from the Virginia Department of Transportation to address any traffic issues related to the development of the annexation property, Good said.

“So we do know that we want to be a small town in character,” Good said. “But we do want business. We do want development.”

As Herd explained, an industrial user likely would expect the town and/or the state to make a site ready to develop, including any transportation improvements to the area. Good pointed out that mega sites, by the state’s definition, usually require roads and railroad spurs.

The issue of what the town considers light industrial — the likely zoning for the 576 acres if annexed – also came up at the workshop. Town Manager Kevin Fauber cited the ordinance, noting that light industrial can include warehouses and manufacturing that produces some noise or traffic congestion but are of such limited scale or character that they present no serious hazard to neighboring properties.

The ordinance is not specific, Good said. The Caverns Road Plan, part of the Comprehensive Plan, provides more specific terms that limits industrial uses to light manufacturing and assembly, storage, office and research facilities.

“So many of these are open questions,” Good said. “We just don’t know every aspect that we’re possibly going to be dealing with, but it makes it very hard.”

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