Planning OKs amendments to allow development near schools

Published 10:16 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

COURTLAND-Two hurdles have been cleared so far to allow a convenience store, fast food restaurant and service station to be built near Southampton Middle and High schools. On Thursday, the majority of the Southampton Planning Commission voted for amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map. Should the third obstacle be overcome — the Board of Supervisors — this could allow JDW Land Development LLC to establish the aforementioned businesses, which would also include retail space all on 3.2 acres of land.

This diagram shows the proposed zoning for development of a planned convenience store and future retail use at Meherrin and Ridley Roads in Southampton County. -- COURTESY | PARRISH LAYNE DEsign group

This diagram shows the proposed zoning for development of a planned convenience store and future retail use at Meherrin and Ridley Roads in Southampton County. — COURTESY | PARRISH LAYNE DEsign group

The property in question is at the intersection of Meherrin Road (Route 35) and Ridley Road, which is in alignment with the path to the schools. That location concerns several people who spoke during the public hearings on the proposed amendments.

Though she favors economic development, Anne Pittman said she’s opposed to the project noting that many buses already enter and exit the school property on Route 35 twice a day. Calling that site “a tricky intersection” and “a pickle in the morning…it’s very scary to think of students crossing the street for nabs or a soda.”

Earlier though, Sarah Dawson of Ridley Road and Randolph Cook of Newsoms each spoke in favor of the proposal.

“I support the business,” said Cook. “It’s a great location. In a year when the bridge [in Courtland] is built without restrictions on vehicles, it could capture some of that money. I don’t see why this couldn’t be an asset to the community.”

John Burchett of Sebrell agreed with Cooke that the site is “going to be a magnet,” and added that he would be in favor of the project if it weren’t in proximity to the schools.

Burchett also said that although he opposes government dictating what a person can and cannot do with their property, he also acknowledged, “but in some cases it has to be done.

“I hope you [the Planning Commission] will give a lot of consideration to the fact that there’s schools nearby, and you won’t say later ‘We shouldn’t have done that,’ but by then it’s too late. Do we really need it? And is it compatible? I hope we think hard about this.”

Beth Lewis, deputy director of community development and secretary to the commission, interjected that the service center would not be a truck stop.

“This is not planned to be like Love’s Travel Center,” Lewis said.

Sarah Nixon also spoke against the project, stating that no one would go to the retail spaces.

“I assure you it’s not going to be used. No one will use that strip mall,” Sarah Nixon said.

Tim Nixon said the plans “are not going to work in the real world. Don’t go by these pictures [referring to diagrams presented to the commissioners] or what the engineers say.”

Vee Pittman said, “I oppose this solely for safety reasons. Keep that in mind.”

But adding another voice of support was Jim Strozier.

“I support the development. It meets the requirements and he [developer James David Williams] should be allowed to develop under the guidelines.”

From the Planning board, Keith Tennessee said that the only thing that concerned him was that a convenience store is a target for robberies.

“I’d feel a lot better if it weren’t near the school,” he said. “My concern is the proximity to the school and what trouble the store can attract.”

Jack Randall, vice chairman, asked Cook what was the intent of the other three quadrants at the interchange. Cook, who used to work for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said there were conversations in the past about development, “but they never went anywhere.”

The board’s agenda packet on the matter notes that Planning had made an initial recommendation for a commercial designation for those three areas:

“While the draft [Comprehensive] Plan is still in review stages, this request is in line with the direction the Planning Commission was going in the revised Plan.”

Commissioner Dr. Alan Edwards noted several members were already discussing the zoning amendment before the first item was resolved.

“If you look, yes it is in compliance,” he said and made a motion to vote on the Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

Commissioner J. Michael Mann asked to table that vote until after discussion on the zoning matter, but even after some discussion there was no support. Ultimately, Planning voted 6-2 in favor of amending the Comprehensive Plan, with Tennessee and Mann opposed.

For the public hearing on the zoning amendment, Burchett reiterated his previous concerns.

“You have to think about our children,” he said.

Edwards again proposed voting on the zoning amendment , which passed 5-3 in favor, with, Tennessee, Mann and Bill Day opposed.