CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield County is moving forward with a massive ‘industrial mega-site’ West of the Swift Creek Reservoir, approving the ambitious plans over the objections of area residents.

County Officials touted the project as an alternative to further residential development.

“The project stems the tide of residential development in the area,” said Assistant Planning Director Stephen Donahoe, who also emphasized the economic benefit of the mega-site.

Residents lined up in the board room to speak ahead of the vote. The public hearing stretched on for over an hour as dozens of residents spoke in opposition to the project. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/WRIC)

But residents also turned out in droves at the board meeting, most speaking in opposition to the plan, which they said could overburden county roads, poison the local aquifer and leave the county on the hook for hundreds of millions in road construction.

East and west

The Magnolia Green proposal is split into two portions, which had to be approved separately by the Board of Supervisors. The first, Upper Magnolia Green East, is a 650-acre residential and public use site, which will have 500 acres of single-family housing in addition to 150 acres set aside for public uses, including a new elementary and middle school, as well as public parks and a library.

One last minute change to the proposal, approved by the planning commission in April, saw a proposed new high school moved to the proposal’s sister site in the West, where it will occupy an 80-acre plot.

This map shows the areas commonly known as Upper Magnolia Green East and West. (Map courtesy of Chesterfield County)

The 1,700-acre western portion – minus the 80-acre school site – is set aside for light industrial uses, with county leaders targeting high-tech manufacturing of computer chips and other advanced industry.

What Makes a Mega-Site

What sets the proposal apart, in the county’s view, is its sheer scale – a feature they hope will appeal to advanced manufacturers looking to establish sprawling fabrication facilities.

But Chesterfield residents have spoken out with concerns over the site’s viability, saying the 1,700 acres are in fact divided by large, protected wetlands that would be a bar to development. In reality, they claimed, there were only about 650 usable acres in the site.

“That’s approximately one-third of the acreage – is that practical?” asked Mike Uzel, a Chesterfield resident. “I don’t know, we haven’t gotten any numbers.”

Concerns over the wetlands – and the impact construction could have on the Swift Creek Reservoir, from which 20% of Chesterfield gets its water – led two planning commissioners to request a delay on the project, and ultimately led them to vote against the proposal in April.

Nevertheless, the commission recommended the project go ahead, by a narrow 3-2 vote.

But at the May 26 meeting, county officials said that was a misrepresentation. “What’s happening here is 450 of these acres are dedicated to these buffers,” one planning official said.

He claimed that a reverse-engineered estimate actually suggested that about 1,000 of the 1,700 acres would be “potentially developable” – but admitted there was no way to be sure until a complete survey was done.

Speakers against the project ranged in age from 18-year-old recent high school grad Robert Palmer to Brenda Stewart, a lifelong resident of several decades.

Palmer said he was concerned over impacts to Swift Creek Reservoir, and called on the Board to delay their vote or push the project back to the Planning Commission for further evaluation.

“What would be even better,” he said. “Is allowing this to be a local ballot measure in November.”

Stewart echoed that sentiment, saying, “This project needs more evaluation.”

Getting There

Other residents expressed concern during the commission hearing over the traffic impacts the project would have, saying the improvements planned by the county wouldn’t be enough to offset the additional traffic.

This map shows improvements proposed as part of the rezoning – which do not include improvements to Otterdale Road, a point of contention for local residents. (Map courtesy of Chesterfield County)

Earlier this year, the county predicted that the Powhite Parkway extension alone would cost around $700 million – and combined with the other proffered improvements, the bill would come to just over a billion dollars.

That’s not a theoretical cost either. The county has repeatedly said no work could begin on developing the parcels until the Powhite extension is complete – a project for which funding has not yet been secured.

Instead, one county official said, “Once the zoning is approved, the funding will become available.”