Commission allows rezoning for retirement home

MOUNT JACKSON — The Planning Commission granted a rezoning request from a potential retirement home developer Wednesday, although members tabled the same developer’s request for a special-use permit, citing drainage issues.

At a public hearing prior to the vote, the commission heard from Bryan Phipps, chief development officer for People Incorporated, who said his company is looking to build a retirement home to house 11 one-bedroom units across the street from the Dollar General for low-income residents.

“We’ve looked throughout the communities in Shenandoah County and neighboring counties and this is by far the best and most opportune site that we’ve been able to find,” he said. “For us to be able to move forward with that, we respectfully request consideration of our rezoning request.”

While commission members agreed they like the idea of quality, affordable housing and new residences for seniors, one citizen, Dennis Minnick, raised qualms regarding a preexisting drainage problem on the lot that would be exacerbated by development.

“I don’t know how you can rezone and issue a special-use permit on a lot with the drainage in the shape it’s in,” he said.

In response, Phipps said he and his company are aware of the drainage issue on the lot, but are hesitant to invest money in hiring an engineer to assess the land and its drainage issues without promise on the land from the town.

At one point in the meeting, Commissioner Robert Whitehurst Jr. suggested adding contingencies to the permit requiring People Incorporated to cover liabilities to neighbors caused by flooding or to fund a new drainage system.

In the end, the commission voted 3-2 to allow for the rezoning. Commissioners Heather Diehl and Robert Whitehurst voted against the rezoning, while commissioners Ken Hackenbracht, Larry Ambrose and Anita Miller voted in favor.

Although Hackenbracht supported the rezoning, he also said to Phipps that the lot of land could be more trouble than it’s worth.

“If I were you, I’d look for a different property,” he said.

Should the developers end up building the retirement home, each of the 11 units will house up to three people in a one-bedroom single story frame. At least one resident in the unit must be 55 or older. Rent will be set at 30 percent of tenants’ gross monthly income, so long as their income is no higher than 50 percent of the median income for the county ($30,000 for a family of two).

Citizens and commissioners also raised questions about whether or not staff will be present on site, whether the establishment will be available exclusively to Mount Jackson citizens, and whether or not the landlord will conduct background checks on applicants.

Responding to each concern, Phipps said the landlord would work out of the company’s Woodstock office, that the units would be available to everyone (not just Mount Jackson citizens), and that he or she will not conduct background checks on potential tenants.

As of now, the fate of the development is up in the air as People Incorporated staff looks into the drainage issues on site. The land is owned by Blessed Morning LLC, out of Toms Brook.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com