CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield Planning Commission has rejected a plan to turn 230 acres of untouched rural land into a sprawling suburb, citing a staff report that found pervasive issues with the proposal.
Reading from a staff report prepared before the commission’s Tuesday meeting, planning official Ryan Ramsey said, “The proposal’s requested exceptions are not in character with the agricultural and rural-residential development pattern envisioned in this area.”
Making an Exception?
Under county code, homes built in agricultural districts must be built on lots of at least five acres and those lots must front existing roadways. But the applicant, known as Rose Ridge, had other plans.
They requested a rezoning to R-40 — in an area intended to be kept agricultural under the county’s comprehensive plan — and exceptions to requirements that they connect the homes to county sewer lines.
In fact, to provide sewage service to the area, Ramsey predicted that “because of the projected distance, the projected cost for this improvement would be several million dollars.”
Instead, Rose Ridge proposed an exception to the requirement — meaning that all of the 100 homes would have individual septic tanks.
But although the plan would have permitted a maximum of 100 homes, a representative of the developer said he had no idea how many could actually be built.
“We have done no engineering, most importantly we have done no soil-testing,” he said. “Depending on what soils perc that will obviously impact the number of homes that will ultimately be available.”
“You made the rules, and we followed them.”
Several residents who lived near the proposed development turned out to the meeting Tuesday night, and all spoke against it.
Several pointed to the county’s comprehensive plan, saying it was a promise made by the administration not to do something like this.
“When I was a little girl, my grandfather — we called him papa — he told us people need to be people of integrity. Well, I’m appealing to your integrity,” said Bonny Egar.
She said that when her family moved to the area, they bought 8 acres of land to comply with the county’s requirements for the agricultural district.
“Now you wanna change the rules because a developer wants to put 100 houses across the street. Are you not men and women of integrity?” she asked. “You made the rules, and we followed them.”
Others pointed to the traffic that would be generated by the development, which would have funneled all of its residents onto one intersection on Riverway Road, potentially doubling the number of daily trips on the narrow rural route.
“If we’re gonna put 100 houses there and we don’t address the actual road, and we wait until people die because we built 100 homes before the road was actually fixed properly, then we’ve done a disservice to the people of our county,” said Todd Mercer.
The developer responded that they had offered to make improvements to Riverway Road, including updating its intersection with Beach Road as well as widening and adding a shoulder to improve safety. But the widening project would only have taken place on the 1,400-foot stretch of Riverway that bordered the property itself, leaving the remainder untouched.
The developer also said the project would meet a growing need in the county for massive, expensive and isolated homes on large lots.
“We believe that there is a market available that is being underserved,” he said. “And that market are homebuyers who are looking for large homes on large lots.”
According to Redfin, the average selling price for a home in Chesterfield last year was about $375,000. Based on current Zillow listings, the homes proposed for the project — over 2 acres of land, a minimum of 2,500 square feet — would go for anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million.
Come Back Later
Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to recommend rejection of the application, though it will still go to the board of supervisors for a final decision. While the board has reversed recommendations of the planning commission in the past, it usually only does so when the applicant amends their proposal significantly to address issues raised by the commission.
“There are some options maybe in the future that I think would be fitting for this, but at the current time I’m actually inclined to agree with staff on this,” said Commissioner Tommy Owens.
John Backus, a resident who spoke against the project, also praised the staff for their report.
“It was gratifying to see the current comprehensive plan was taken seriously in the review that the staff did, because if it’s taken casually, it becomes a sham,” he said. “All of us, including the developer, knew or hopefully knew what we were buying — the only difference is that we residents are content with what we bought, and apparently the developer wants something different from what he bought.”