Southampton County Board of Supervisors reacts to Camp Parkway sale
Published 7:53 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Members of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors expressed concern July 25 about the sale of the Camp Parkway Commerce Center property to a company headquartered in China.
Three parcels totaling 435 acres located along Camp Parkway and on either side of Delaware Road were sold for $11.4 million on June 27 by VOS LLC to Southampton Lance LLC, a Delaware company that was formed June 26.
Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Karl T. Heck previously explained that Southampton Lance is essentially a land company set up by Lecangs, which is a logistics company and also a subsidiary of Loctek Ergonomic Tech, a company that is listed on the Shanghai stock exchange and that is listed online as being headquartered in China.
A CALL FROM THE PENTAGON
Central District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards said he received a call Monday, Aug. 7, from a member of the Pentagon working within the Department of the Air Force. Edwards said a Pentagon representative would attend the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday, Aug. 22, meeting.
“I don’t know if they’re coming in person or virtual; that’s still up in the air,” he said. “But they told me they were very upset about this (land purchase) being close to (Naval Air Station) Oceana, and the Navy was not happy about it being close to the Navy base.”
Edwards said the Department of the Air Force representative at least mentioned the possibility of a moratorium on the land deal.
INPUT FROM SUPERVISORS, COUNTY STAFF
Just prior to supervisor comments on July 25, Southampton County Administrator Brian S. Thrower gave a brief overview of where the county stood in relation to the Camp Parkway sale.
“From what we know, this is a private transaction conducted between two parties, just like every other private transaction that the county has no jurisdiction over,” he said. “The zoning was put in place years ago.”
The Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 on July 5, 2016, to approve a request 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. The decision followed a public hearing in which 23 community members spoke in favor of the rezoning, and 20 spoke against it.
Edwards was the lone member of the Board of Supervisors to vote against the rezoning.
Thrower said, “When the county rezoned that, there were proffers put in place for a transportation study to be done and paid for by the developer, any transportation improvements to be done and paid for by the developer, water and sewer studies done and extensions to be paid for by the developer. So there are a lot of conditions — design guidelines, landscaping requirements. Our community development department, when they get a site plan, they go through all that. They make sure that anything’s included, and the proffers have to be included in the site plan and enforced.
“So there are some protections built in, but with that said, we have not gotten any kind of zoning permits for this new landowner, so we know about as much as y’all know here,” he added.
Edwards, speaking for himself, said he is 100% against a Chinese company.
“If you’re a Chinese company, you’re run by the (Chinese Communist Party), the CCP — no doubt about it,” Edwards said. “That’s the way it is. And I’m against selling land or anything in the state of Virginia or in the USA to them. That’s one thing that bothers me.
“And it is very close to the biggest naval base in the world,” he added. “You think they’re not going to be listening to that?”
He called on Southampton County Community Development Director Beth Lewis to correct him if he was wrong, but he said that in the 34 years he has been on the Southampton County Planning Commission, there have been only two recommendations from the commission that the Board of Supervisors did not go along with.
“This was one of them,” he said, referencing the Camp Parkway Commerce Center rezoning in 2016. “The Planning Commission voted ‘no.’ The board overturned that.”
Edwards was on both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors at the time of the 2016 rezoning.
“I have always felt that this rezoning was done illegally because the Board of Supervisors agreed in this back room 10 feet behind me in closed session, No. 1, to accept this project with only about 20% of the project in front of them; No. 2, to ignore what the Planning Commission said, to overturn it…; and No. 3, to ignore any public comment about this,” he said.
He emphasized that he said “no” to the rezoning back in 2016.
“That board decided this was going through no matter what happened, hell or high water,” he said. “So that’s my comment on this thing. I am not going to support it. If a Chinese company is coming here or whatever, I’m going to do everything I can — public sentiment, whatever — against it. We’ve got to stand up somewhere in this country.
“The Chinese own 400,000 acres of farmland in our country right now — 400,000 acres,” he continued. “They own 16% of the farmland in California, so it’s got to stop somewhere.
“So that’s what happened here with that board, and I’ve lived with that all these years and not gone public with it, but tonight I’m going public with it,” he added. “So that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Southwest District Supervisor Carl J. Faison said that, like Edwards, he was on the board in 2016 at the time of the rezoning vote, and he noted that there were arguments for and against rezoning.
Faison said the majority of the board opted in favor of the rezoning because they thought the land being residential property would be a burden on the taxpayers.
“And at that particular time, I for one — and I can’t speak for anybody else — but I didn’t anticipate the land being sold to someone out of the country,” he said. “That’s a concern of mine, especially with the closeness to the military bases that we’ve spoken of before.
“But at that time, that never entered my mind,” he continued. “Maybe it was narrow sightedness on my part, but that was the case. And so then those were the choices we had, and based on those choices, we felt for the good of the county and the taxpayers in the county it would be better to not have that as a residential area. And so that’s the way we went at that particular time.
“Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?” he said in conclusion.
Edwards said, “The vote was 6-1, and I voted against it in 2016. I’ll vote against it forever.”
Northwest District Supervisor and Board Vice Chair William Hart Gillette was not on the board at the time of the July 5, 2016, meeting, but he noted that he was present for the meeting.
“It was my recollection I didn’t walk out of there till after 1 o’clock,” he said. “So it was obviously a very difficult decision in front of the board.”
“Mr. Faison is exactly right — hindsight’s 20/20,” he said. “But I’m more concerned about the future. I’m very concerned about the future of this country, I’m very concerned about this county, and there’s a lot to be done about this country, and we’ve got an election coming up. I wish the room were packed tonight just to encourage them to think long and hard before you pull that lever in November or before you drop your early vote in that box out there.”
He said everyone is probably going to live to see some days worse than the current ones.
“But again, I don’t know what can be done about hindsight, but I’m more concerned about where we’re headed, not only as a county but a country,” he said. “And if you haven’t seen that movie, the ‘Sound of Freedom,’ go see it. Go see it.”
Edwards asked Lewis what the county’s Comprehensive Plan said about the Camp Parkway Commerce Center land at the time of the rezoning vote.
“By the time this zoning process started, the Comprehensive Plan had been amended to say that that area had an employment center designation,” she said. “So this process at which this zoning map amendment was approved was in line with the adopted Comprehensive Plan at the time. That Comprehensive Plan had been amended the year before, I believe.”
In reference to the Camp Parkway land deal, Southwest District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike said, “I’d just like to know who knew what when.”
“How far back did the knowledge of this thing go?” Edwards added. “That’s a question I have. We didn’t find out about it till recently, but I understand that VDOT had already looked at this in January of this year, my understanding. … So it was kept pretty quiet since January. The whole thing stinks.”
County officials mentioned some details that could explain the Virginia Department of Transportation’s activity as being unrelated to the land deal.
“I think there has been an overpass in the works for a number of years, but that, as far as I know, didn’t have anything to do with who’s buying it now or anything like that,” Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Lynette C. Lowe said.
Thrower added, “What you may be referencing is there’s something in the works for our SMART SCALE project in a few years but not associated with this project that I’m aware of.”
Lewis also mentioned that earlier in 2023, the engineering firm used by George Fiscella, the previous owner of the Camp Parkway Commerce Center land, submitted a site plan to the county planning department for roadway improvements.
“We submitted it to VDOT for review,” she said. “It was just the site plan submittal for roadway improvements that meet the proffers that were adopted in 2016. No indication of any ownership change or any ownership or anything else.”
Edwards said members of the board had reached out to state and federal representatives to see what they have to say about the Camp Parkway purchase.