Supervisors OK service station project

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, October 29, 2014

John David Williams of JDW Development of Virginia LLC is thrilled by the Southampton Board of Supervisors’ unanimous decision to allow him to develop his property on Meherrin and Ridley roads. The votes on Monday followed public hearings that were dominated by opposition because the intended location of his plans is in proximity to Southampton middle and high schools. The Chesapeake resident wants to build a convenience store/service station with a fast food restaurant on 3.2 acres of land at the intersection of the aforementioned paths. Several residents said they fear potential accidents and other harm coming to students and teachers.

“I’m excited. I’m relieved,” Williams said smiling after the supervisors agreed to amend in his favor the Comprehensive Plan and rezoning request, each of which had its own public hearing that night.

‘Relieved’ because he’s felt bothered through the process.

Williams added after hearing, “It’s been really rough the last few weeks. The attacks were almost personal. The verbiage was not as bad tonight.

“I felt we went through more than what we should have. A lot of things were said when people didn’t know the facts.”

He attributed Publisher Tony Clark’s column on Sunday (“A Matter of Safety”) for helping his cause by calling into question the issue of concern for students’ well-being.

Beth Lewis, secretary for the Southampton Planning Commission, first gave the board some background about the project, explaining that the land use would go from agricultural to commercial. She noted that the majority of Planning had approved the project during its September meeting. Further, the Virginia Department of Transportation had also given its OK regarding traffic studies. Lewis noted concerns of safety by residents, but added that enforcing students not to venture off the grounds for a snack at the convenience store falls to the schools.

Speaking of which, present at the meeting were Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, chairwoman of the Southampton County School Board.

“The Board has not discussed it, and there is no official board statement on the matter,” she said on Tuesday. “I do not anticipate it coming up. We’re always concerned about students’ safety and to ensure students’ safety. But now that the Board of Supervisors has already voted on the issue, I’m not sure it will come at our November meeting.”

Goodwyn said she wanted to stress, “We trust the Board to make decisions in the interests of all county residents, including students.”

Also present from the board was William Worsham, a member at-large. He said on Tuesday that safety is one of the board’s two priorities, the other being instruction. But he didn’t feel comfortable speaking on the matter.

“Our board hadn’t taken up this issue, and I don’t think I can speak for the other members,” he said.

Worsham did note that “the rules are pretty self explanatory and strict” about students not leaving the grounds.

Speaking first in favor of the proposals was Mallory Taylor, representing the Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. She said the organization asks the Board of Supervisors to approve the requests.

Vera Dawson said she’s also in support of the project, and added, “I’m in favor of economic development for Southampton County. Perhaps it will help lower tax rates.”

Anne Pittman, who had spoken before at the Planning Commission, called the project and its location, “A recipe for disasters,” such as students dashing over for a snack and getting hurt crossing the road. There were also worries about people with guns in their vehicles coming to the store.

“I understand that Ms. Lewis and Ms. [Amanda] Jarratt need to bring development, but not at all costs,” she said.

Annetta Moore, a teacher at Southampton High School, said she lives off Ridley Road and is worried about funneling all the traffic onto the access roads.

Maj. Gene Drewery of the Southampton Sheriff’s Office read a letter from Sheriff J.B. Stutts. In it, he stated, “The intersection is not a location with a history of traffic accidents and Ridley Road is a lightly traveled secondary road.

However, the addition of a convenience story or any business with significant traffic increase at the proposed location will create a dangerous situation during the periods that students and faculty enter and leave the school grounds…My particular concern is for the vehicles crossing Meherrin Road to access the school from the store and vice-versa, which again would be during the busiest times of 7:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. to 3:25 p.m., approximately.”

John Burchett of Sebrell, who said he’s speaking only for himself, said he’s known Williams for 4 or 5 years.

“He’s a nice guy…we’ve talked hunting…I didn’t have a problem with him until this. The convenience store will be a magnet. Then there’ll be additional requests to expand.

“Certainly probably there could be robberies [at the store].”

Burchett said that Stutt’s letter supports the opposition, but Drewery quickly corrected him saying that Stutts didn’t say he’s opposed to the project, just concerned.

In board discussion, Carl Faison said that while he does have concerns for safety, he has to go in favor of Williams’ request.

“The business will be good for the county, and a benefit to the school,” said Ronnie West, vice chairman. “I favor it. We cannot legislate safety. How can you foresee things [accidents, crime, traffic] like that? It was well thought out and well planned.”

Glenn Updike called his decision one of the hardest he’s made.

“It’s not what I want, but what the citizens want, but I’m against it personally.”

“They’ve done their research. I’m 100 percent for it. It’s a good thing,” said Dr. Alan Edwards. “I don’t see how you can turn these guys down.”

Williams said later that he’s already put a lot of money into the project upfront, such as traffic studies.

“We did everything they wanted…We look forward to working with the county and will appreciate all the staff and public support,” he said.

Ownership of the property came about when Williams got a call several years ago that 240 acres of land was for sale, and he bought it.

“To me, it’s about bringing business to the county and to make some income for my life,” he said.

The project, which could include other retail space, could take a year. Williams anticipates $500,000 to $1 million will be spent on the development.

“This is a substantial investment into the county,” he said.

Nevertheless, Williams said, “I’m elated.”