HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — After an hours-long hearing that saw public comment from local residents, county planners and state Senator Joe Morrisey, Henrico County decided to move forward with an ambitious 800-home neighborhood on a parcel of farmland in the county’s eastern end.

The planned development, known as Arcadia, originally called for 1,000 homes, including a mix of single-family lots, townhomes and condominiums — all for sale, with the proposal explicitly ruling out any rental units.

But in several last minute changes announced just before Tuesday’s public hearing, the developer reduced the total number of units to a maximum of 800 and offered a number of other changes to allay the concerns of Varina residents.

Concept plan showing the proposed layout of the development. Under a revised plan, the intersection labelled “entrance #4” will no longer be included. (Courtesy of Henrico County)

“The first change you will notice is in the overall proposed units. Originally up to 1,000 dwellings were proposed,” a county planning official said. “Now… the revised proposal is for no more than 500 units on the Western side of Wilson, and on the eastern side of Wilson, to be phased into the project… is an amount not to exceed 295 units.”

The plan is the first in the county to use the new “SMX-PD” zoning type, a denser form of suburban development that mixes single-family homes, apartments, townhomes and condominiums.

County planners also emphasized that the designs were aimed at reducing traffic impacts on Route 5 — also known as New Market Road — as much as possible.

“The previously proposed connection to Route 5 has been removed by amended proffer number 4,” a county official said.

During public comment, the majority of speakers were opposed to the project, citing a wide range of objections mostly centered around the relatively high density of housing included in the proposal. Others also claimed that they hadn’t had sufficient time to review the changes made to the plan.

“It is patently unfair for this case to come to full consideration of the board this evening when proffers were being brokered until 5 o’clock this evening,” Henrico resident Lynn Wilson said. “We’ve had no opportunity to review those, to consider them among ourselves.”

Varina supervisor Tyrone Nelson was sympathetic to residents’ concerns, but said the county and developers had met repeatedly with them and significantly changed the proposal in an effort to compromise.

He pointed to a requirement that some of the new homes be set aside for affordable housing as a reason the project should move forward that night.

“One of the things I wanted to see happen was affordable housing,” he said. “We’ve never made this as a condition in a case in Henrico County history.”

Erica Sims, CEO of the Maggie Walker Land trust, spoke during public comment in support of the project, saying her organization had reached an agreement with the developer.

“Because of our arrangement with East West Development, we will be able to make 20 units in the first phases affordable to families at a price point of roughly $200,000,” she said. “There are no quality homes in Henrico selling at that price point.”

The plan also faced surprise opposition from Senator Joe Morrissey, whose district includes parts of eastern Henrico. He said he’d received over 90 letters from residents concerned about the project, most of them expressing opposition.

“Bringing in 800 units is a complete change in the nature of what Varinians want,” he said. “They don’t want and they didn’t bargain for a density of over 800 homes.”

The Arcadia development is proposed for an agricultural parcel of 262 acres at the Northeast corner of Pocahontas Parkway and Route 5 (New Market Road).

But Bill Nelson, whose family owns the farmland at issue, told the board that the project was what they wanted.

“My family have been good stewards of the land, and have cared for it ourselves, making improvements along the way,” he said.

But he added that he’s the last member of his family to actually farm in Henrico, pointing to economic pressures that have largely put an end to small family farms in the area.

“I believe Arcadia is a well-planned community and it will be an asset to our county,” he said. “I ask that you approve the development.”

In the end, Nelson said he could see no good reason to delay the project any further, especially given the changes the developer had agreed to.

“So I go back to the question, defer or deny?” he said. “Hold it off for what? A couple more weeks for us to do this all over again? The proffered conditions that came in today, they were for the better.”

Shortly thereafter, the board voted unanimously to approve the project.