The Louisa County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday night to buy about 700 acres for a business park near the Shannon Hill exit on Interstate 64, two months after they voted to the contrary.
With the decision made to buy property, the board’s focus now shifts to how to protect adjoining areas from residential growth that could be triggered as the park is developed.
The impetus for that growth is the extension of water and sewer service to the business park. The park is located across Shannon Hill Road from Clark Country, a large property already zoned for new homes. The county has not determined if any other areas around the business park should have access to water and sewer in the future.
Tuesday’s 4-3 vote by the supervisors to buy land represented a stark turnaround from their Nov. 19 meeting, when the board voted 6-0 not to buy the property.
Supervisors Bob Babyok (Green Springs district), Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road), Willie Gentry (Cuckoo) and Toni Williams (Jackson) cast votes for the park.
Some individual supervisors’ votes were a surprise, given their past comments on the issue.
Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry district) voted against the park. Earlier in the meeting, he said he voted no in November so that he would be on the winning side, enabling him to put the matter back on the agenda this month. He cited Robert’s Rules of Order, the procedure the supervisors use as a guide for their meetings, to support his position.
Barnes said last fall that he opposed developing the western half of the park. In comments at the September board meeting, he said the Shannon Hill exit was the wrong place for a large business development. But he pressed his colleagues this month to take another vote on the eastern portion.
Another surprising change of position was made by Supervisor Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road district), who had said in September that he opposed buying the property. On Tuesday, he said he had changed his mind since the size of the business park had dropped from 1,600 to 700 acres.
“This vote is simply to exercise the options [to buy the property], not to develop the park,” he said. “I see it as a good business decision.”
Supervisor Troy Wade (Louisa district) missed the November vote because he was in New York on a family vacation. He appeared at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting to be leaning toward support for the park.
But this week he said he is not convinced the rest of the board is committed to protecting the area around the park from future residential development, which would create a net financial loss for the county.
Supervisor Willie Gentry (Cuckoo district), did not speak in November against the business park itself, but objected to developing land in the area designated by the county’s comprehensive plan to remain rural.
The property the county is buying does include about 130 acres of rural land. Babyok’s motion at Tuesday’s meeting to buy the park included a provision that the county offset the 130 acres by taking a property of similar size out of the growth area.
Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral district) decided in November that he would vote against the business park, citing community opposition, including from some in his conservative base who prefer to leave land purchases to the private sector. He initially was a strong supporter of the park, calling it a “generational opportunity.”
Supervisor Toni Williams (Jackson District), who was elected board chairman on Jan. 7, cast his vote with the majority. During meetings with the public this past fall, Williams said he was open to developing the business park if the county did not have to borrow money to do so.
The $2.6 million needed to buy the 700 acres may come from reserved capital and economic development funds the supervisors assigned for those purposes at their Jan. 7 meeting. Alternatively, the board could borrow money, which would cost more over time, or take it from the $13 million general fund balance.
Still to be determined are the sources of the estimated $37 million to develop the property, including $18.5 million to extend water and sewer infrastructure; $5.5 million for roads; $6 million for utilities; $4.8 million for site readiness and $2.6 million for professional services.
If the county decides not to develop the business park after extending water and sewer and other utilities to the property, it could recoup its investment with a sale price of $45,000 per acre, according to Andy Wade, Louisa County economic development director. He noted that a property in the Ferncliff Business Park, which has utilities, sold recently for $82,000 per acre.
Most of the land the county is buying is owned by the Hopkins family, who are descendants of the founders of the Green Top sporting goods store in Hanover County. The other landowner is Howard Nuckols.
The business park was originally conceived as a “megasite,” a term the state uses for properties of 1,000 acres or more, and stretched west from Shannon Hill Road to Roundabout Road. Andy Wade initially said the county needed more than 1,000 acres to help the state compete with other parts of the country to attract industry.
But more recently, officials said the minimum acreage necessary to receive state financial assistance is 600 acres. In particular, Wade has touted large grants available from Go Virginia, an entity created by the state in 2016 to help Virginia improve its economic competitiveness. He and Barnes are members of Go Virginia’s regional council.
The board voted against developing land west of Parrish Road, which runs north-south through what would have been the middle of the site, after outraged residents and farmers decried the project at multiple public meetings.
Among the fiercest opponents were the Louisa County Farm Bureau and Charles Purcell, a land developer who lives just northwest of the original project boundaries. Purcell’s brother, Harold, owns most of the property west of Parrish Road.
Fewer residents whose properties are adjacent to the east side of the megasite spoke against it at public meetings, compared to the number of opponents on Roundabout, Parrish and West Old Mountain roads. However, some residents said they are against the park no matter where it is located, arguing it will be a financial boondoggle and will destroy the area’s rural character.
A few residents said the board was wrong to make keeping taxes low its priority when deciding whether to develop the business park.
“I’m willing to pay more taxes to keep our rural character,” Jade Lourenco, who lives near the park site, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Last summer, Charles Purcell proposed that the megasite be located at Clark Country, land his family owns east of Shannon Hill Road. But he asked the supervisors during a closed-session discussion to pay $33 million. When the board announced that the business park would be across the road, Purcell became a vocal opponent. Later, when the county suggested at a public meeting that it might limit its development to the area closer to Shannon Hill, he said that option might be acceptable.
But on Tuesday he urged the board to vote against the park, to honor the decision it had made in November.
Though the county no longer wants to develop land west of Parrish Road, the 700 acres adjoin it on the east. In addition, officials intend to access a gas line located near the corner of Parrish and West Old Mountain roads to serve the business park and other potential users in the Zion Crossroads and Ferncliff growth areas.
The farm bureau did not register opposition to the reduced-size business park at Tuesday’s meeting, although Jim Riddell, bureau president, warned the county needs to be vigilant in guarding against residential growth around the park.
This is a partial article. Read the full story in The Central Virginian’s Jan. 24, 2019 issue.