Windsor logistics center draws opposition, but no vote, at IW Planning Commission

Published 12:00 pm Monday, March 18, 2024

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Proponents of the Tidewater Logistics Center say the multi-warehouse complex proposed for the north side of Route 460 will bring millions in tax dollars and over 1,000 new permanent jobs to Isle of Wight County.

Opponents say it will also bring constant noise and traffic to the Lovers Lane and Keaton Avenue neighborhoods located less than 200 feet from the project site.

The latter vastly outnumbered the former at the Isle of Wight Planning Commission’s Feb. 27 public hearing on developer Meridian Property Purchaser LLC’s application to rezone 154 acres of farmland and forestry on the outskirts of Windsor as planned industrial. The site is located on the opposite side of Route 460, also known as Windsor Boulevard, from the existing Cost Plus World Market distribution center in Phase 1 of the county’s Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park.

The commissioners postponed taking action until they meet again on March 26. Once they issue a favorable or unfavorable recommendation, the matter will go to Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Meridian’s plans call for five warehouses totaling 1.2 million square feet, the tenants of which have not been named. An economic impact analysis submitted with Meridian’s rezoning application estimates over 5,100 jobs, 1,200 of which would be permanent, and over $141 million in sales and property tax revenue over the next nine years.

The hourlong public hearing drew 18 speakers, all but two in opposition. Opponents included Tony Ambrose, a resident of Keaton Avenue, who questioned where the thousand-plus employees would be housed.

“Where do they live? We don’t have any place in Windsor,” Ambrose said. “I guess you all could put some more in Smithfield and Carrollton because you all grow, but I don’t think anybody wants that.”

Isle of Wight, now the sixth fastest-growing county in the state, according to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, saw seven rezoning applications for new and expanded housing developments in 2023 that would add over 1,900 houses between Smithfield and Carrollton in the county’s northern end. Data Isle of Wight County Schools presented to its School Board in December projects the influx of new students could put four of its nine schools at or above capacity once everything’s fully built out.

Marlin Sharp, a sitting member of Windsor’s Town Council, described the town-level body as having been “shut out” of early discussions concerning the project. 

“I have been told that it was communicated to you that Windsor Town Council was on board with this project; that could not be further from the truth,” Sharp said. He then read aloud letters in opposition by fellow Councilman David Adams and Mayor George Stubbs.

“When we bought our home here in Windsor, we came because it was a quaint small town,” said Loren Pantschyschak, a resident of Keaton Avenue. “Go build a warehouse somewhere else.”

Glyn Willis, a resident of Lovers Lane and the town’s immediate past mayor, took issue with the potential health impacts of prolonged exposure to diesel fumes from arriving and departing tractor-trailers and the logistics center’s estimated 80-decibel daytime noise level, which is just below the threshold where prolonged exposure can result in hearing loss. Meridian has proffered to conduct a noise study to determine a more exact impact on residents, which would only be completed as a condition of rezoning if and when the change in zoning is approved.

Chris Gullickson, director of development and transportation policy at the Port of Virginia, and John Hollowell, who owns one of the two parcels on which the logistics center would be built, were the only speakers who said they supported the project. The other parcel has been owned since 2008 by Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority.

Gullickson called Meridian’s project “a result of how the Port of Virginia’s success is driving new growth and opportunities for Isle of Wight County.”

The Port of Virginia, located in Norfolk roughly 34 miles northeast of Windsor, “has experienced record container volume growth in recent years,” Gullickson said, and is undergoing a $1.4 billion capital improvement plan that includes widening and deepening its shipping channels to accommodate larger cargo vessels. This, coupled with shifts in the global supply chain from West Coast ports to ones on the East Coast and continued e-commerce growth, is “generating significant interest” in nearby distribution centers, Gullickson said.

The commissioners, several of whom were skeptical of the project, voted 7-1 to table the rezoning application and a related request to amend the county’s comprehensive plan to specify planned industrial rather than mixed-use zoning for the site. Commissioners Jennifer Boykin and Raynard Gibbs each asked to see a noise study ahead of the rezoning decision rather than as a condition of approval.

“How many commissioners would really approve this project tonight if they lived in front of it?” Boykin asked.

Commissioner Cynthia Taylor questioned whether enterprise zone incentives would affect the projected tax revenue the county would receive.

Tom Boylan, senior vice president of development for Meridian’s parent company, The Meridian Group, told the commissioners enterprise zone incentives would apply to tenants of the proposed warehouses, and not Meridian as the project’s developer.

In 2022, Isle of Wight supervisors approved expanding the enterprise zone it shares with Southampton County and the city of Franklin to include the 154-acre site. Businesses that invest at least $500,000 to build in an enterprise zone can qualify for a $100,000 state grant that increases to $200,000 if the company invests at least $5 million.

Enterprise zone businesses can also qualify for another state grant that provides up to $500 per year per net new permanent, full-time jobs paying at least 175% of the federal minimum wage with health benefits. Isle of Wight offers its own local version of the job grant, which pays an additional $500 per job per year for up to 20 new full-time positions provided the jobs pay at least 150% of the federal minimum wage. Isle of Wight further offers a 25% rebate on machinery and tools taxes if companies looking to site in an enterprise zone invest at least $1 million in new machinery and tools.