Panel tables annexation bid

Attorney Jay Neal, who represents a group of neighbors who live near the Robert Whitehurst property, speaks in opposition of the zoning request to rezone 576 acres into the town of Mount Jackson during the Planning Commission's Public Hearing Monday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON – The town Planning Commission decided Monday to delay action on a request to annex land eyed for industrial development.

The commission voted to table a proposed ordinance that would add 576 acres of agricultural land along Turkey Knob Road in Shenandoah County through a boundary adjustment. Panel member Mark Bowyer did not attend the meeting. The commission made the decision after holding a public hearing on the request, jointly with the Town Council, during which more than a dozen people spoke about the matter, mostly against the annexation at least without knowing more information.

The commission plans to take up the ordinance at its meeting in July. Commissioners asked Town Manager Kevin Fauber to provide to them more data on similar developments that might have happened to towns elsewhere.

Robert and Eleanor Whitehurst sought to have their property and land owned by Frederickson Properties annexed into the town with the possibility of it being rezoned for industrial use. Added to their 156 acres already in town and recently rezoned from agriculture to light industrial, the Whitehursts see the opportunity to create a potential “mega site” for a large-scale user. The ordinance as proposed also sought to add Jason Payne’s residential property, surrounded on three sides by the Whitehurst’s land.

Several dozen people sat in the audience that spilled out of the council chambers. Most of the speakers presented more questions than statements. Rather than let all speakers take their turns and then close the hearing to have the commission discuss the matter, Chairwoman Bonnie Good often responded to the speakers’ questions or comments or asked for information from Town Manager Kevin Fauber.

Mount Jackson mayor Bucky Miller listens to comments Monday night during the proposed annexation public hearing. Rich Cooley/Daily

Wendell Cochran asked if an industrial user would want to develop on the two tracts of land split by Turkey Knob Road and, if not, would they seek to close the route. Cochran asked how the proposal conforms to the annexation agreement between the town and the county if the document states Mount Jackson would not seek to annex agricultural land. Corn continues to grow on the property, he said.

Cochran, like many others asked “why the hurry?”

“It’s clear [the Virginia Department of Transportation] and others is not prepared to sign off on this without more in-depth study,” Cochran said. “It seems to me like there are a lot of carts in front of this horse.”

Dexter Mumaw lives in the Mount Jackson area and voiced support for the annexation as well as for carefully controlled growth.

“I think where I differ with some of the opinions is, if we do nothing, I don’t think our town will survive,” Mumaw said.

Bonnie Good, chairman of the Mount Jackson Planning Commission, asks for a show of hands of planning members that have toured the Whitehurst property that is the subject of a rezoning request after a speaker asked the question during a public hearing Monday night in Mount Jackson. The public hearing was held concerning proposed annexation of 576 acres which could be a potential "mega site" for industrial development. Rich Cooley/Daily

Susie Armentrout lives on Wissler Road near the Whitehurst’s property. Armentrout asked how many commission and council members visited the site and surrounding area or had researched the matter. Later, all commission and council members raised their hands when Good asked the questions.

“We’ve been trying to do our best to find out what the significance would be for this town, that we’re still discussing this,” Good said. “I think that folks have had a misunderstanding for a long time about this whole process … We have an obligation to give it due process …”

Good noted that county residents, many of whom spoke, are the town’s neighbors.

“Just give us a chance to evaluate things and see what we can figure out,” Good said. “This is a huge opportunity. It can also be a huge mess.”

Woodstock attorney Jay Neal spoke on behalf of several landowners who have raised concerns about the proposal. Neal pointed out that problems already have arisen during the process.

Jack Frady speaks in opposition during the Mount Jackson Planning Commission's public hearing on the proposed annexation of 576 acres of the Robert Whitehurst property into the town limits Monday night. Frady, who lives off Wissler Road near the proposed property rezoning, spoke against the request as well as several other residents. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It needs to be slowed down drastically,” Neal said. “Whatever you’re gonna do, you’ve gotta take your time and you’ve gotta do it right.

“To take such a huge parcel into the town without tremendous study and evaluation and, I can say this publicly, prayer, would be a huge mistake,” Neal added.

Jack Frady pointed out that the town did not follow state code when it approved the Whitehurst’s previous rezoning request without first requiring a traffic impact analysis. The Whitehursts have signed a proffer agreed upon by town officials and VDOT that the owners would not submit a site plan for the development of the 156 acres or a rezoning application for the property in the annexation request, if added, before conducting the study.

Bill Holtzman, president of Holtzman Oil Corp., spoke in favor of the request.

“I think it offers some great opportunities for the town, the county, the whole area,” Holtzman said. “I think the farmers who are opposed to it are probably not looking at it the way I look at it because I think if the county doesn’t have some tax base other than farmland, eventually we’re gonna pay a lot more land tax than we’re paying now and some of the land subsidies, the tax subsidies that go to farmers, might go away.”

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Steve M. Semones, vice president of Balzer and Associates, Inc., speaks during the Mount Jackson public hearing Monday night. Semones, an engineer, is part of the firm representing Robert Whitehurst. Rich Cooley/Daily