After nearly a year of discussions, supervisors voted last week to deny a rezoning request for the proposed development of the former Criglersville Elementary School.
In June, developer Felix Schapiro submitted a rezoning request for the 5.83 acre parcel to change it from A1, Agriculture, to M1, Industrial Limited, to allow for a mixed use development. Schapiro intended to purchase the property which includes both the two-story school building and the former adjacent voting precinct. He hoped to create an event venue, boutique hotel, restaurant, retail establishment and community asset. According to his plans, the first floor of the former school would be used for a commercial kitchen, restaurant and event venue with possible lodging should a requested flood plain adjustment be approved. Lodging on the first floor of a structure is prohibited in a flood plain. The second floor would be all lodging. The plan for the voting precinct was retail space including a “make your own trail mix” bar. His ultimate vision included separate individual lodges, a fairy tale garden, a heritage apple orchard and chef’s garden, a pool and pool house and a greenhouse inspired bridal suite. One acre of the property also encompasses the Robinson River. He hoped to utilize it to provide pedestrian access to the river.
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Schapiro agreed to numerous conditions on the rezoning, which were developed with consultation from his attorney Ashley Kyle and in collaboration with county planner Ligon Webb. The conditions intended to address concerns raised by both county planning commissioners and supervisors as well as county residents. The conditions limited the use of the property to prohibit all by-right uses allowed in M-1 except for hotel, short-term lodging, indoor event venue, commercial kitchen, restaurant and bar, retail space, office and administrative space and storage space. The cabins were limited to seven one-bedroom 400 sq. ft. units and Schapiro could only construct two accessory structures until a partial certificate of occupancy was obtained for the first floor of the existing school building. His purchase contract gave him four years to obtain that certificate. The pool house was limited to 1,200 sq. ft. and the bridal suite 800 sq. ft. Separate outdoor lighting and landscaping plans were required with the site plan. Eighty parking spaces were required, four of which would be handicap accessible. Sewer and water had to meet Virginia Department of Health standards as required by law. Amplified sound would cease by 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Events would have to adhere to the county’s large-scale outdoor events ordinances. Historic designation could only apply to Schapiro’s property and the conditions stay with the property if he were to sell it. The county also had the first right of refusal to purchase it. Construction hours were set at 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday with no construction on Sunday except in emergencies. Parking of construction vehicles was prohibited in any public right-of-way or on adjacent property.
However, Criglersville residents still said the conditions weren’t good enough. In a multi-hour public hearing last month, they voiced concerns about noise and light pollution, a lack of infrastructure for the influx of people attending events at the development and what they dubbed spot zoning. Those concerns were reiterated again at a subsequent board meeting and via a seven-page document submitted by “The Criglersville Community.” Alternate proposals for the property were also submitted, but supervisors agreed that Schapiro’s should be considered first. A date of Nov. 8 was set for the supervisors to make their decision and that they did.
Last week, supervisors voted to deny Schapiro’s application. Supervisor Jim Jewett said his primary concern was the rezoning to allow an event venue on approximately five acres would set a precedent. Currently, the county’s ordinances required a minimum of 10 acres for an event venue.
“The retort would be ‘you did it for Criglersville, you have to do it for me’,” Jewett said. “I don’t want to put the county in that position.”
Supervisor Carty Yowell said he was concerned the business wouldn’t survive without the support of the community. He said even with the conditions placed on the rezoning, those in Criglersville and the surrounding area still don’t want the project. Yowell said his wife had advised him to let Schapiro out of the project which would ultimately be unsuccessful and a burden.
Supervisor Charlotte Hoffman disagreed. She said the supervisors aren’t tasked with judging the solvency of the business, but are there to make sure the conditions are followed and the project is done correctly. She said Schapiro wants the support of the community, but it isn’t necessary for the success of the business. She said even with Schapiro’s willingness to agree to place conditions, or limits, on the development, folks still aren’t happy. She characterized it as “NIMBY,” or “not in my backyard.”
“I think we need to give him a bite of the apple,” Hoffman said.
Board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson was visibly frustrated.
“I know the way this shakes out,” he said. “We’ve had four to five hearings. We know it floods, there’s asbestos, lead, a failing septic system, massive issues. The for sale sign was up for four years. We’ve been trying to do something productive with the property to bring revenue back to the county. Everyone talks about diversifying the tax base. It’s fine if you want to keep [the county] as is, but the burden goes to the tax base.”
Jackson said different versions of the same project have been introduced and they all fall apart. He said Schapiro has gone through the process and the question of coming to a compromise was raised. Jackson said the answer is that there obviously can’t be a compromise. He also took issue with speakers identifying what year they came to Madison as some way of adding weight to their comments.
“I hate that,” Jackson said. “We’re all part of the community. No opinion is better than the next.”
He said Schapiro has done his due diligence, providing financials and a business plan and yet, “this isn’t going to pass.”
“It’s unfortunate; it’s a bummer,” Jackson said. “I hear the same complaint everywhere, the same arguments. We need to understand in Madison County what we’re going to do. Businesses are not only going to located in town or on 29. We need to figure out how to support business.”
A motion was made to deny the rezoning request. It was approved 4-1 with Hoffman dissenting. The county plans to release a request for proposals for the property in February or March with a 30-day turn around.
“All proposals will be on the table at once,” Jackson said. “I hope [Felix Schapiro] will submit again.”