Editorial: A rezoning conundrum: Farmland, industry or more homes?

It appears the Shenandoah County Planning Commission has struck a nerve with some area residents, and elicited concerns from the Virginia Department of Transportation to boot.

The county’s Department of Community Development envisions a future industrial site on 92 acres of farmland on Oranda Road near Strasburg. Easy access to Interstates 81 and 66 and other roads, and an active rail service that cuts through the mostly flat terrain have been listed as attributes that could attract industry to settle there.

The idea of bringing in new jobs to a county where many young people have to either leave the area or commute long distances to find work is an attractive one. The Planning Commission has given its blessing to a county-initiated proposal to rezone the 92 acres from agricultural to industrial, and now it must go before the Board of Supervisors. But the proposal is drawing protests from the site’s neighbors and those who want to preserve the county’s farmland. A Facebook page, KeepOrandaBeautiful, has been set up in protest.

During last week’s public hearing, some very valid concerns and questions were raised that need to be seriously considered before a decision is reached.

One site neighbor noted that industry would bring “more traffic, more noise and more dirt.” A VDOT engineer urged a traffic impact study because increased traffic on Oranda Road would affect other area roads.

Another neighbor is worried about his well, and, according to a state geologist the Daily spoke with this week, there is good cause for alarm. The proposed industrial site is located on land that is susceptible to sinkholes. Disturb the land, and more sinkholes could open. They may not swallow a building, but the geologist said the greater concern is the contamination of groundwater as a result of sinkholes.

So, here we have a request to rezone land to bring in industry that will generate jobs, and we have some valid objections. Then toss this in for consideration: If the county decides not to rezone the land, the land’s new owner could decide to develop it for residential use and put up to 20 homes there.