Historic African American community says “no” to a Wegmans distribution center in Hanover

Hanover County

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC-TV) — While our nation remembers the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior today, a historic African American Community in Hanover is asking leaders to put people over profit and say no to a Wegmans warehouse project.

Wegmans plans to build a distribution center on 220-acre site along Ashcake and Sliding Hill Roads. The 1.7 million square foot center would sit in the Brown Grove community and across the street from the Brown Grove Baptist Church. 

Citizens say the warehouse would destroy their historically Black community. Bonnica Cotman, a local resident, vows to fight it.

“Brown Grove has been here from 150 years and we plan on being here for another 150 years,” she said.

The historic African American community settled in Hanover in 1870. Cotman says many members of the church can trace their lineage to Brown Grove.

“Brown Grove is history, Brown Grove is family, Brown Grove means something to us who live here, who worship here, who were raised here,” Cotman said.

Patricia Hunter-Jordan, President of the Hanover County NAACP, said many believe their ancestors are buried in wooded area where the Wegmans distribution center would sit.

“This is reminiscent of the paved over graves of our ancestors near the old Lumpkin’s Jail site in Richmond, Virginia,” she said.

Wegmans said there were no graves identified during an archaeological study and there are no historical records indicating graves on the site. The grocery chain did say the archeological report identified a building remains that is possibly the old remnants of the one room schoolhouse that was part of the Brown Grove community.  While they say that hasn’t been confirmed, Wegmans plans to preserve the remains and provide a public pull-off area with signage.

Wegmans as well as Governor Ralph Northam have said the distribution center would bring 700 jobs and increased revenue to the area. However, Brown Grove community member Kenny Spurlock sees it as just another industrial intrusion on the Black community. 

“The businesses come in and Brown Grove is being pushed out,” Spurlock said.

Others are skeptical of the archaeological study, the permit process and the environmental impact on the wetlands in the area. 

After the initial proposal, it was discovered the construction would impact more wetlands than first thought. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must still approve wetland impact permits for the project. 

In the meantime, the concerns of those in Brown Grove are gaining support from some state lawmakers.

“We must prioritize their input when considering developments like this one,” said Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan believes there can be a holistic approach to development. 

“The time has some that we listen to these communities and preserve their history,” she said.

Wegmans told 8News they plans to leave as many trees on the property as possible and provide a buffer to the community with hundreds of feet of green space.  They also said out of an abundance of caution, the grocer has agreed to provide noise mitigation in the form of fencing to further reduce the potential for noise leaving the site.

The Brown Grove community members says they are not opposed to Wegmans, but they believe there are other viable sites in Hanover. The community has invited the Governor to come see Brown Grove for himself, but he has yet to take them up on that offer.

A petition opposing the project now has more than 5,ooo signatures. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is expected to hold a hearing on the proposal next month.

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