CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — In a narrow vote Tuesday night, the Chesterfield Planning Commission voted to approve a plan to transform the 2,400-acres known as Upper Magnolia Green into a high-tech industrial center and new residential community.
The plan is split between Upper Magnolia Green West and East, with the western portion containing the proposed industrial park, while the eastern portion is a mix of 500 acres of single-family homes and a 150-acre public use area, set to contain new elementary and middle school as well as a public library.
In response to community feedback, the commission also agreed to set aside 80 acres in the industrial western portion for a new high school, which was previously planned for the public-use area in the eastern portion.
A Close Vote
The commission held two separate hearings and votes for Upper Magnolia Green East and West, considering the western industrial proposal first and then moving on to the eastern residential portion.
Upper Magnolia Green West passed on a narrow 3-2 vote, with commissioners Tommy Owens and Gib Sloane voting against the proposal, while commissioners Frank Petroski, Gloria Freye and LeQuan Hylton voted to give the project a stamp of approval.
Upper Magnolia Green East passed a less-contentious vote, winning unanimous support from the commission.
What Changed, What Stayed the Same
As the Upper Magnolia Green Project has gone through a series of community meetings, county staff and the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority (EDA) adjusted the plan to address some community concerns.
A road improvement plan, outlining new roads and road improvements to be made as part of the project, was changed to move a proposed connection between Moseley Road and a new parkway away from an existing property.
But during the public hearing, some citizens raised concerns over traffic impacts on nearby roads, including Otterdale Road, which was not marked for any improvement in the county’s plan.
“I’ve not seen any major plans to re-do Otterdale,” said Christopher Williams “I’ve heard that we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that – but with the past experience with Chesterfield County it becomes hard to believe.”
Many residents also brought up serious environmental concerns over the western portion of the project, much of which consists of wetlands that eventually feed the Swift Creek Reservoir.
Bob Olson, president of Hands Across the Lake, a local environmental group, said that 20% of Chesterfield residents get their water from the Swift Creek Reservoir, and warned that even one industrial accident could devastate the county’s water supply.
“Are you willing to jeopardize that 20 percent?,” he asked.
Several other residents pointed out that state and federal regulations on wetlands would make developing much of the western portion very difficult, with the remaining unaffected areas broken up into smaller lots by the local streams.
“From what I’ve seen, the feasibility of establishing the type of shovel-ready mega-site that will attract new companies to this area is extremely low,” said Dan Wolf, representing the Westerly Homeowners Association.
Commissioners Gib Sloan and Tommy Owens called for the case to be deferred another thirty days to better address concerns over the project.
“We are in a position to impose ourselves a minimum threshold of disturbance to the wetlands that – regardless of what permission anyone gives us – we will not cross,” said Commissioner Sloan. “I’m uncomfortable that we’re delegating that to a higher authority.”
The other three commissioners voted that suggestion down, moving forward with a vote for approval.
Commissioner Frank Petroski said those concerns were beyond the normal scope of a rezoning case, but could be included in more detailed future plans for the site.
“This was not taken lightly, this was not rushed – we’ve been working on this for quite awhile,” said Commissioner Petroski, adding that they already incorporated many suggestions from community meetings.
The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors will have the final say over the project.