Supervisors approve Camp Parkway rezoning amid controversy

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Audience opinions about the proposal were mixed. -- Walter Francis | Tidewater News

Audience opinions about the proposal were mixed. — Walter Francis | Tidewater News

Article updated 7/7/16 at 3:45pm

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 to approve the request from Hampton Roads Development LLC to rezone a 438.71-acre parcel of land on Camp Parkway from A-2 (agriculture) and R-1 (residential) to CM-1 (conditional limited industrial) with proffers after a public hearing on Tuesday.

Dr. Alan Edwards, representing the Jerusalem district, gave the only “no” vote.

Twenty-three community members spoke in favor of the project, including Jimmy Strozier, president of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce; Amanda Jarratt, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc.; and Deborah Goodwyn, chairman of the Southampton County Public School Board.

Will Holt, the attorney representing the developer, noted during his presentation that, “this is an important step in making sure that Southampton County is open for business. Businesses typically expect to be able to move into a locality six months after the local government approves their proposal. This rezoning will give business’ interested in Southampton County the chance to do that.”

“The future of our county depends on our ability to bring in jobs and industry,” said William Brown, a resident of Branchville added.

Twenty people including Linwood Johnson III, a sitting member of the Franklin City Council, spoke against the proposal, citing the damage it could do to the surrounding community.

“This would destroy the most visually attractive entryway to the city of Franklin that there is,” said Franklin resident Ash Cutchin. “We should strive to maintain that.”

Some residents were worried about the noise the project might incur.

“I am not hearing a lot of people talk about the noise level or … what it will do to people’s lives or what it will bring,” said D.J. Fowler Jr., “I like to sit in my backyard and relax. I don’t want to hear all this noise and people banging. No one has said anything about noise.”

Others expressed apprehension about what could happen to their property values if the industrial zone were to be approved.
John Bryant, a resident of Franklin, said, “Should this project go forward my property will be worth no more than the farm land that it is now and it will be in a no man’s land. The property of all the other people that invested in homes and businesses in this corridor will also have property that will decrease in value.”

Former supervisor Glenn Updike, voiced concern that the board may have held an illegal vote regarding the project in closed session, which Richard E. Railey and Supervisor Barry Porter denied.

“I believe it’s improper in closed session, for [FSEDI] to present in closed session and asked for their support of the project, before going to the planning commission or even a public hearing or anything else,” Updike said. “That’s got the cart before the horse.”

“There was a quasi-vote in this meeting. There was a consensus in the meeting and I was there,” said Edwards on Tuesday night.

In a follow-up conversation, Edwards added, “The improper activity I was referring to was asking the Board of Supervisors to support the project in closed session when we didn’t really know anything about it.”

Proper protocol for a rezoning request stipulates that people interested in rezoning their land apply to the Department of Community Development, which forwards their request to the Southampton Planning Commission. The commission reviews the application and makes a recommendation to the board of supervisors, which then hears the applicants’ arguments, holds public hearings and votes on whether or not to allow rezoning.

The role of FSEDI in this process is to provide the board of supervisors with a monthly report that keeps them abreast of possible opportunities for community development.

“We do meet with the board of supervisors monthly in closed session to discuss updates to projects, always in compliance with the Code of Virginia,” Jarratt said. “Mike Johnson and [county attorney] Richard Railey are seasoned professionals that always make sure we are in compliance with the law.”

Johnson added, “Everything was done exactly by protocol in this instance.”

Supervisor Carl Faison, representing Boykins and Branchville said, “We handled this correctly and I don’t know of anything we’ve done that could have lead to [the comments made by Updike and Edwards].”

“My recollection is that Amanda Jarratt approached the board to see if we would consider a change of zoning — just a discussion, no vote,” said Bruce Phillips, supervisor for the Capron district. “The discussion said it had to go to the planning commission, and that’s there we left it.”

“There was no vote,” Porter said. “We have never voted in closed session.”

According to Virginia law, at the end of each closed session, the board must pass a motion called a certification resolution that states all activity taking place within the closed session occurred in conformity to Virginia law. A review of the minutes taken during Board of Supervisors meetings for the past year reveals that no supervisor has objected to the passing of the certification resolution.

“In my 21 years as a county administrator I’ve never seen a board member raise any issues regarding closed session. Every month, the motion passed unanimously,” Johnson said.

“You have to ask, if either Mr. Updike or Dr. Edwards believed something improper had happened in the closed session, why didn’t they voice their concerns at the time it happened?” said West.

Updike did not provide a date or an estimation for when the improper activity took place in his comments on Tuesday, but Edwards figured that it was approximately a year and a half ago.

“I don’t know why [Edwards and Updike] would resort to such a tactic besides for the board to vote in a certain way,” Porter said.

“Both Edwards and Updike have questioned the integrity of the board, and of everybody on the board,” Phillips said.

Edwards was vocally against the Camp Parkway project, evidenced by his comments made in the Planning Commission’s recommendation, in which he said, “I feel that [the project] would destroy the community. These people came here and built with the knowledge that this was residential.”

There is no estimated ground-breaking date for the industrial zone, but

according to the future land use map included in the comprehensive plan, the zone will be a “business park-type development with light industrial, research and development warehousing, and office uses in a campus-like setting; as well as commercial enterprises that support the industrial and office development and the surrounding area.”

In the proffers — additional requirements added to the zoning ordinance as stipulated by Ed Fiscella, the developer himself — he has agreed to fund the traffic impact study and the subsequent road improvements on Camp Parkway and Delaware Road as suggested by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and will provide an impact study on Riverdale Elementary School. Of his own volition, Fiscella has also volunteered to fund the construction of berms, artificial ridges and embankments studded with trees to help obstruct the new industrial zone from view.

Board of Supervisor chairman Dallas Jones could not be reached for comment.