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Planners consider changes to previously approved rezoning applications

Planners consider changes to previously approved rezoning applications

When the Orange County Planning Commission meets again Thursday, Oct. 15, it will consider two rezoning applications that already have been rezoned. 

In a virtual meeting last Thursday, the commission opened two public hearings on rezoning applications in eastern Orange County to consider changes to projects that were rezoned in 2013 and 2014.

First, the commission discussed an application by Signature Series Development to rezone nearly 76 acres in the Germanna Wilderness Area Plan near the Somerset Farms subdivision and Germanna Community College.

In 2013, the project was rezoned to general commercial and multi-family residential, with the stipulation that the no residential plats could be recorded, nor any residential construction commence until at least 25% of the commercial component had attained occupancy permitting.

Citing a shift in the commercial economic climate, developer John Marcantoni said the applicants approached the county in 2018 about amending the project’s conditions to eliminate commercial development stipulation before any of the 230 residential units could be constructed.

The second application discussed last Thursday involved a proposed self-storage facility on Route 20 that would abut Lake of the Woods.

In 2014, the applicant, Steve McLean, applied to rezone three parcels of nearly 11 acres near Flat Run Road to limited commercial. That rezoning was granted. At the time of that rezoning, self-storage facilities were permitted in limited commercial (C-1) with a special use permit, which also was approved, but since the applicant did not commence with development, the permit expired.

Since then, the county ordinances changed to allow self-storage units with a special use permit in the general commercial (C-2) district.

That’s the application before the commission now. The subject property also is within the Germanna Wilderness Area Plan (GWAP).

The commission opened public hearings on both projects and will solicit written comments through Friday, Oct. 9, at 5 p.m., limited to one page per person, no more than 500 words. Both items are on the commission’s Oct. 15 agenda.

A holdover proffer from the Signature Station proposal calls for a $300,000 cash proffer that the county can use for either increased public safety costs or increased education costs associated with the development.

The request is to rezone the parcel, wedged between Route 3 and Route 708 (Somerset Ridge Road), from general commercial (C-2) conditional and multi-family residential (R-4) conditional to planned development—mixed use (PDM).

Commissioners expressed concerns that this application was the first considered under the new GWAP standards and likely would set a precedent for future developments in eastern Orange County.

“This is new to us and I’m not sure we know what we’re to be looking at,” District 1 commissioner Jason Capelle said. “We all need to review GWAP guidance and standards perhaps before the next meeting.”

District 2 commissioner George Yancey noted that both he and District 5 commissioner Jim Hutchison were part of the GWAP study committed.

“The whole concept was to live, work, play and shop all in one with certain amenities required, bike lanes, paths, sidewalks with certain types of landscape and design involved so there was a uniform look and appearance throughout the GWAP area,” he said.

It also included signage requirements to suit the geography and landscape, Hutchison added, noting the details were included as an addendum to the county comprehensive plan.

In its 2013 presentation, which was part of the developers’ current application, they note that there should be a net benefit of more than $1 million annually in new tax revenues to the county while creating hundreds of new jobs.

In presenting the current project last week, Marcantoni said the developers were unable to move forward with their previous application as the commercial real estate market shifted away from traditional brick and mortar, big-box footprints to more flexible online marketplaces.

“We diligently marketed this property for commercial development for seven years without success,” he said. “Two years ago, we began discussions with the county about how to remove these phasing requirements and adjust to new market conditions.”

He said the proposal before the commission would abide by GWAP standards, which were designed to enhance the architectural, residential, environmental and traffic features of the project.

“We’ve greatly reduced the previous large scale commercial down to uses that we anticipate would consist of a number of pad sites that may include restaurants banks, apartments, small hotel as the market demands. This will also enable us to work around the small area of wetlands we now plan on protecting,” Marcantoni explained.

Traffic circles would be used in all areas of the property and the residential portion of the property would include VDOT-approved roadways.

“We have expanded roadways and alleys and added offstreet parking to accommodate VDOT’s requirements for public roadways,” he said. “This would result in wide unobstructed throughways for daily traffic and safety vehicles.”

However, the proposed density of the residential component remained at 230 units as well as possibly adding 100 more apartment units in the commercial area, he said.

“The revised plan is a more current plan allowing for easy access for pedestrian and vehicles, protection of environmentally sensitive areas, attractive housing types and commercial entities that will fit and thrive in our county,” Marcantoni added.

Commission member questions centered on potential commercial tenants, water and sewer capacity and the dated impact data submitted with the application.

Chair Donald Brooks encouraged the applicants to return before the commission with updated financial impact information.

Marcantoni said he’d received interest from smaller commercial entities regarding locating on the property—mostly along the lines of convenience stores and gas stations.

“Most commercial entities we talked to didn’t see houses going up, and without houses, they didn’t want to come,” Marcantoni said. “We’ve had smaller commercial entities that wanted to come to the property, but because we had such a large percentage of commercial square footage that we had to build to start anything in the residential it couldn’t be done for us financially.”

“It’s great that you have the financial thing in here, but the numbers are way off,” Capelle said. “The commercial is by far the largest revenue for the county. I might quibble over your assertion that 330 residential units would result in a net gain to the county, but that’s a different subject. The financial calculus changes a lot without the commercial development.”

As part of the second hearing—on the self-storage project—commission members expressed concerns about proposed operating hours (5 a.m. to 9 p.m.), site security and access, lighting, environmental impacts and buffering and, largely, the potential impact on residential properties at Lake of the Woods.

“Self-storage is a quiet neighbor,” McLean contended. “It’s a lot less noise than a subdivision.”

He said storage at the proposed site would largely be residential storage with some small commercial inventory or record storage and some outdoor boat and RV storage. He said everything would be in a controlled environment with cameras and access limited only to tenants and those with approved access codes. He encouraged the commission to review an existing self-storage facility he operates in Culpeper as a comparison.

Citing dated data from the mid-2010s included in the application, commission members requested McLean, who hopes to develop the property with local entrepreneur Kenny Dotson, to return to the Oct. 15 meeting with updated and more specific (current) plans.

“I’d like to see you update this plan because it doesn’t really reflect what’s going to happen,” Capelle said. “I want to see what you’re going to do.”

For more informationon the applications, visit

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