Rezoning at busy intersection receives unfavorable recommendation from New Kent’s Planning Commission
As New Kent continues to be one of the fastest growing counties over the past five years in the state of Virginia, it’s only natural for businesses to inquire about prospective locations to serve citizens and customers. But a proposal to rezone 1.6 acres of land from agriculture to business at a busy intersection sparked red flags at the Apr. 17 regular meeting of the county’s planning commission.
Citing safety concerns and a lack of information from Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT), commissioners voted 7-1 to send a non-favorable recommendation to county supervisors for rezoning the land located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Route 155 (Courthouse Road) and Route 249 (New Kent Highway).
Bryant Gammon of Highmark Engineering presented the request on behalf of landowner Linda Harlow to county commissioners. According to the representative, the rezoning application was submitted in an attempt to construct a 9,100-square foot Dollar General store at that intersection.
But as Gammon made the pitch for rezoning, it became obvious that commissioners felt something was odd with the request. The first concern came when Gammon spoke about an access management waiver request that was denied by VDOT due to the distance of a proposed turning lane for an entrance.
“When we submitted our plans to VDOT for the waiver it was approved by the first two reviewers,” commented Gammon. “When it got to upper management, it was denied.”
The full entrance proposal was denied in part due to a request to reduce the entrance turning lane to 295 feet. By VDOT standards, the access way is required to be 555 feet.
“The policy of how they review waivers changed over the last 30 days,” the representative continued. “This is not a safety issue, it’s a policy issue.”
Another concern that troubled county commissioners was a request to reduce a 50-foot buffer to 10 feet. That request was not only met with groans, but also backlash during a public hearing from county residents who live around the proposed area.
“My parents’ house is just east of that property and I am concerned about the buffer,” said Margaret Pomfrey. “Two rows of trees doesn’t cut down on the noise.”
Don Bradley, a 50-year resident who owns property on the southside of the location, said rezoning will adversely influence property value.
“Rezoning this property of business will ensure that we won’t be able to sell our home when that time comes,” Bradley said. “No one wants to purchase a home with a 10-foot buffer and a few feet away from a business.”
Citizens also disagreed with Gammon’s comment about safety as they spoke about dangers at that intersection.
“I beg to differ that the entrance is not a safety hazard,” said Cliff DeHart who lives south of the intersection. “There is a sightline problem and putting an entrance that close to 155 is a safety hazard.”
“Traffic will have to slow down if you even think about putting the entrance there [on Route 249],” chimed in Charles Smith, pointing to the 55 miles per hour speed limit on that road.
As the public hearing ended, county commissioners raised concerns not only about the location, but the submitted application.
“If you are working with VDOT to rectify the problem, why bring this to us tonight?” questioned commissioner Patricia Townsend.
Gammon responded, saying that while VDOT shot down their proposal for a full entrance, other alternatives are available.
“By right we can have a right-in and right-out entrance only,” the representative responded. “We also want to be able to have a left-in entrance as well.”
District 2 commissioner John Moyer’s monologue suggested that the proposed location would be more dangerous with a store at that location without meeting VDOT requirements.
“If I’m turning off North Courthouse Road and making a right turn onto New Kent Highway, I have to make sure that I’m ahead of a car that may be coming over that hill at 55 miles per hour,” Moyer said. “If I make that turn and see traffic backed up at the entrance to your proposed turning lane, then we are in a whole world of hurt.
“Another problem I see is that if there is only a right-out only and I live in Quinton [to the west of the proposed location], that means I have to make a U-turn somewhere and more than likely that is in someone’s yard,” Moyer continued. “And what if someone is going to make a left turn onto Courthouse Road but can’t use the turning lane because there is a car waiting to turn left into the store?”
District 2 supervisor Tommy Tiller, the board’s representative on the commission, also posed a question to the applicant.
“If it’s not a safety issue, why did VDOT set these standards?” he asked.
Planning commission chairman Jack Chalmers commented on the estimated number of cars that would be at the store.
“You say that there would be 30 trips an hour and that sounds nice, but that add up and that means 583 trips a day,” Chalmers said.
County Director of Community Development Matthew Smolnik was also caught off guard about the recommendation for the modified entrance.
“This is the first time I heard about the right/left-in and right out was 30 minutes before this meeting,” he said. “I have concerns with it and even if this was proposed to VDOT, I think they wouldn’t allow this here.”
Gammon reemphasized that issues with VDOT were ongoing, but after Smolnik spoke about a 10-month timeline involving the applicant, Townsend made a motion to deny the rezoning. The motion passed 7-1, with Edward Pollard casting the lone dissenting vote on the belief that VDOT had not made a ruling on the updated plans for the entrance.
While the planning commissioners did not favor the plan, a final pitch for the project is expected to be made to county supervisors, who ultimately have the final say, during the board’s monthly meeting in May.