HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — Residents of Varina and a prominent Chesterfield-base developer are in conflict over a proposed 1,000-home suburban development on a pocket of farmland in the rapidly developing eastern corner of Henrico.
The rezoning proposal, which will go before the county board of supervisors later this month, would see 262 acres of farmland transformed into a 1,000-home neighborhood called “Arcadia,” with a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums.
But the plan has drawn opposition from local residents and members of the Route 5 Coalition, who worry that the sprawling project will bring the bustling traffic and heavy development of Short Pump to this rural corner of Varina.
“Nobody is going to Short Pump and saying we want to replace this with farmland. That might be some people’s fantasy, but it’s not about that,” Nicole Anderson Ellis, a founding member of the Route 5 Coalition and Varina resident, said. “But people are coming out to Varina and saying, ‘We want to replace this with high-density development.'”
Ellis said that during the drawing of the last comprehensive plan, the Route 5 Coalition negotiated with the county and agreed to set an expectation that new developments in the area would have a maximum density of 2.5 units per acre.
Arcadia would come in at just under 4 per acre.
“The compromise is 2.5 per acre,” Ellis said. “So to go 60% over that is a significant alteration from what the community negotiated.”
Daniel Jones, a developer with East West Communities, the company behind the project, told 8News that they’ve done their best to meet the needs of the Route 5 Coalition and other residents.
“We’ve been meeting with Route 5 for close to 18 months in small working groups,” he said.
As a result of those conversations, he said the open space set aside for the project had been increased to 85 acres, more than double that in the original plan.
But though Ellis and the Route 5 Coalition are still opposed to the rezoning, she said they’re not saying ‘no’ to development altogether.
“There is a label that is being put on our community, the residents and citizens of Varina, over and over again, that we just say ‘no,'” she said. But the Route 5 Coalition has advanced their own model for development of former agricultural parcels, which more closely resembles a rural village than a suburban subdivision.
“3 North, the architecture firm, drew it up for us pro bono,” she said. “It’s another example of the proactive nature of what we’ve sought to do.”
Their study was drawn up for another parcel near Varina High School, but is based on a model — densely clustered housing and commercial surrounded by community-owned farmland — that they say could be applied to other areas in the county.
“One of the things we’re asking for is a little bit of commercial,” Ellis said. “Like a coffee shop or a convenience store, so that every time someone in that subdivision wants a cup of coffee, they don’t have to hop in the car and go on Route 5.”
But Jones said parts of the vision were not economically viable. He pointed to proposals like having space for a community coffee shop as unsustainable in this kind of development.
“That’s very difficult to pull off within a neighborhood,” he said, but added that alternatives might include arrangements to regularly bring in food trucks or other mobile food services.
One of Ellis’ key concerns was for preserving the agricultural uses for the land alongside residential development.
“The idea that part of our planning process should be to preserve places where future generations who live in Henrico might need to grow food is not an outlandish proposal,” she said.
Jones said there was the potential to include a 5-acre community farm as part of the project, but that the company couldn’t guarantee that would be included in the final plans.
The fate of the project is still up in the air. Although the county Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the rezoning, Varina Supervisor Tyrone Nelson is still weighing the benefits.
“I don’t have my mind made up yet,” he told 8News. “I am doing my research and am in conversation with the community and the developer.”