Isle of Wight supervisors postpone vote on Windsor warehouses

Published 9:00 am Friday, May 24, 2024

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Isle of Wight County supervisors last week postponed voting on a proposed multi-warehouse complex on the outskirts of Windsor.

The five-member body voted unanimously on May 16 to table until June the application of Tidewater Logistics Center developer Meridian Property Purchaser LLC for industrial zoning to permit up to five warehouses totaling 1.2 million square feet.

Supervisors William McCarty and Rudolph Jefferson each cited Meridian’s promise of more than 1,000 new, permanent jobs among their reasons for supporting the project, though McCarty raised concerns over a proposed 542,000-square-foot warehouse building’s encroachment into a wetlands resource protection area, or RPA, which the supervisors would need to approve separately from the rezoning application.

“I’m not going to personally vote for an RPA exception,” McCarty said.

Board Chairman Joel Acree, whose district includes the 154 acres of farmland and forestry off the four-lane Route 460 highway where the warehouses would be built, called the proposal “not good enough” for the dozen speakers who’d opposed the development during the board’s same-day public hearing.

“My job is to be the voice of the citizens,” Acree said.

Acree also praised George Rawls, one of his two appointees to the county’s Planning Commission, which had voted 6-1 in March to recommend denial of Meridian’s application.

Proponents of the project, in addition to the promised jobs, cite Meridian’s promise of millions of tax dollars through 2033 while opponents say its less-than-200-foot proximity from homes on Keaton Avenue and Lovers Lane would bring constant noise and diesel exhaust from tractor trailers to the currently quiet, rural neighborhoods.

More than 20 speakers turned out for the nearly two-hour hearing, just over half of whom spoke in opposition. Supporters included Chris Gullickson, director of development and transportation policy at the Port of Virginia, who said “record growth” at the port was “generating interest in industrial development” along corridors that lead to it, like Route 460. Also supporting the project is Doug Smith, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Alliance, which projects an $8 million inflation-adjusted real estate, personal property and machinery and tools tax revenue coming to the county over the next 11 years if the project is approved.

The project also drew support from former Isle of Wight County Supervisor Dick Grice of Smithfield and Carrollton resident Mike Abbott.

Opponents include Marlin Sharp, a member of Windsor’s Town Council, who voted with four fellow council members on May 14 to pass a motion formally opposing the project.

“Those who are in favor of this project, none of them live here,” Sharp said.

“It’s too close to my home,” said Walter Freeman, also of Windsor.

“Don’t make it ‘warehouseville;’ it’s Windsor,” said area resident Aleksandra Kostakis.

Meridian’s parent company, The Meridian Group, is under contract with Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority to purchase the 154 acres, which the EDA has owned since 2008.

At an April 22 meeting with Windsor residents, Meridian proposed a 115-foot setback from a tractor-trailer parking lot to the nearest house on Keaton Avenue, up from the less-than-100-foot distance originally proposed, and reducing from 30 to 14 the number of tractor-trailer parking spaces. An updated site plan further calls for a 500-foot-long sound wall in addition to the 42-foot-wide, 6-foot-tall landscape berm proposed in February to reduce daytime noise levels to a proffered 50-decibel limit at the property line.

According to a July 2023 traffic impact analysis submitted with Meridian’s rezoning application, the stretch of Route 460 from the six-way intersection to the town’s eastern corporate limits by the project site sees roughly 18,000 vehicles per day. The analysis projects an additional 2,349 vehicles per day, or a 13% increase, tied to the warehouses, 514 of which would be trucks. Jefferson, making his argument in support of the project, contends Meridian may choose to build elsewhere on Route 460 if the county votes no, bringing the same pass-through traffic to Isle of Wight without the tax revenue or jobs.

An economic impact analysis Meridian submitted estimates a higher tax impact than the Hampton Roads Alliance, coming in at roughly $9.5 million in property tax revenue to Isle of Wight through 2033.

A May 1 memorandum by Commissioner of the Revenue Gerald Gwaltney notes “several weaknesses” in the Alliance estimate, including what he said was an inflated machinery and tools tax revenue estimate based on the $2.55 per square foot rate Keurig Dr. Pepper manufacturing center in the adjacent Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, rather than Gwaltney’s more conservative $1.60 per square foot estimate.

“Keurig is a Fortune 500 company,” Gwaltney said. “They are a major manufacturer whose plant is highly automated. Because they are a Fortune 500 company, they have large capital to invest in their machinery and tools.  The Tidewater Logistic Center was only allocating about 15% of the square footage to M&T and that was listed as ‘light manufacturing.’  I felt that ‘light manufacturing’ did not compare to the level of investment made by Keurig.”

Despite the lower machinery and tools tax estimate, Gwaltney’s memorandum estimates a $13.8 million total economic impact over the same 11 years, which is higher than the Alliance or Meridian had estimated.

“I have been provided additional information about the project such as the total acreage in my final analysis,” Gwaltney said, explaining his higher estimate despite the Alliance’s alleged overestimation. “I recalculated the estimated revenue using the more recent information given me and which resulted in a higher estimated revenue.”

According to Kristi Sutphin, director of Isle of Wight County’s economic development department, Meridian’s estimate and the Hampton Roads Alliance’s each don’t factor in local and state tax rebates for building in an enterprise zone.

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.

Sutphin said Meridian would qualify for the state rebates but the local ones would only pertain to the tenants who ultimately occupy the warehouses.