Mount Jackson panel backs annexation

MOUNT JACKSON – The Planning Commission unanimously backed a request Monday to add 576 acres being considered for an industrial “mega site” to the town

The advisory panel’s recommendation goes to Town Council for final action likely later this month. Mayor J.G. “Bucky” Miller and Councilman Rod Shepherd also attended the meeting.

However, the panel indicated in its recommendation that the town would not move to rezone the 576 acres from agriculture to industrial use until the commission and council updated Mount Jackson’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect the additional property. Whether council would include that caveat if it approves the annexation request remains uncertain.

Robert Whitehurst Jr. and his sister Eleanor Whitehurst requested earlier this year that the town annex 576 acres they own along Turkey Knob Road in Shenandoah County. The Whitehursts sought to add the land to 136 acres already in town that they recently had rezoned from agricultural to industrial use. The Whitehursts touted the total acreage as a potential “mega site” for industrial development – a rarity for the region. The owners have said that no user of such a site has been identified. The recommendation by the commission also includes the annexation of a small lot owned by Jason Payne, whose property lies surrounded on three sides by the Whitehurst’s land.

The commission voted 7-0 to adopt an ordinance to annex the Whitehurst and Payne properties. The motion read for the vote states that “Based on the original growth plan and the study area, and knowing that we have every intention to update the land-use portion of the Comprehensive Plan with that particular land specifically in mind, and knowing full well that rezoning and special-use permits must be approved before any action can take place.”

The commission allowed members of the audience to speak at the beginning of the meeting. Tom Harris, who lives on Wissler Road near the Whitehurst property, provided the panel with photographs he took of mega sites along Interstate 81 in the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, area to give members an idea of what such development might look like on Turkey Knob Road. Harris said many of the buildings in the mega site are vacant.

Commission Chairwoman Bonnie Good tried to explain to the audience that the annexation request is a separate matter from any rezoning or development of the property. But discussions about the annexation request always lead to talk about development.

Good called the annexation request a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town to add this amount of undeveloped land. Good also explained that were the town to not annex the property, the Whitehursts could still pursue development.

“Having a large piece of property to deal with is really significant,” Good said. “If Mr. Whitehurst were to leave that land in the county and subdivide it out into a 150 pieces, that property would be almost impossible to rejoin for the purpose of having something of a significant size come into town, whether it be for a business, an industry.”

Good admitted that the future use of the property remains uncertain to the commission and the town. Good’s comments prompted at least one audience member to question why the commission and the town would annex the property without knowing what they wanted to do with the land.

The commission decided at its meeting last month to table action on the annexation request after holding a public hearing that drew dozens of people and speakers, most of whom voiced opposition to the proposal. Panel members said they needed more information, including data that might help them make a decision.

Commissioner Larry Hand on Monday said he found a study online that was conducted by the University of North Carolina that dealt with small-town growth. Hand then spoke at length about the need for the town to grow and attract people, especially from Bryce. Hand did not say how the annexed property, if developed, would attract people into town. He also said more traffic along U.S. 11 through town, enough to prompt the need for another stoplight, would benefit Mount Jackson.

After the meeting, several audience members voiced disappointment at the commission’s action. Some of the residents who appeared at the meeting have joined forces and hired an attorney to represent their interests, primarily the opposition to the annexation. One person said after the meeting that an elected official told him the commission would take no action Monday. As such, residents told the attorney that he probably wouldn’t need to attend the meeting. One opponent of the annexation said he and the group were “blindsided” by the commission’s action.

After the meeting, several people also criticized the commission for not going to visit other mega sites.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or