Planning commission shelves Norge apartments application

jojacobs@vagazette.com

The county planning commission delayed a decision Wednesday on a developer's application to rezone agricultural land which would have allowed the company to build an apartment complex near Norge.

Connelly Development LLC, the applicant, requested the commission delay its vote on the application because of a last-minute VDOT recommendation to tweak the crossover at Route 60 and Oakland Drive received Tuesday. The commission makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, which has a final say on most projects.

Connelly Development wants to study VDOT’s recommendation — which suggests revamping the roadway that would make left turns out of Oakland Drive onto Route 60 illegal — and offer an alternative to the commission at a March 7 commission meeting.

“We have what we think are more workable solutions to that intersection," said Tim Trant, an attorney representing the applicant.

If built, the apartment complex would create up to 126 units and could increase affordable housing options in the county. However, traffic issues may arise due to the new construction, senior planner Jose Ribeiro said.

Staff did not recommend the planning commission the application on Wednesday in part because was unclear whether supervisors would enter into an easement with the developer, Ribeiro said.

The 14.5 acres is zoned general agricultural and would be changed to multi-family residential to accommodate the proposed apartments. The project includes five buildings — each of which would be 40 feet tall — and a clubhouse, Ribeiro said.

The apartment complex is proposed for an area between Oakland Estates and Route 60 near Crosswalk Church at 7581 Richmond Road.

Builder and developer Kevin Connelly said affordable housing is needed in James City. He said he has 20 years of experience building affordable housing that looks more upscale.

“There’s certainly a lack of affordable housing,” Connelly said. “It’s very hard to tell the difference between a conventional product from our affordable communities.”

The proposed apartment complex would achieve its level of quality through a tax credit program, which would make it possible to build at a higher quality that’s still affordable for low-income populations, said Tim Trant, an attorney representing Connelly.

“It provides additional cash to subsidize that quality,” Trant said of the tax credit program.

In 2016, a county study found too few housing options exist for low- to moderate-income residents. The study found 29 percent of county workers earn $7.81 per hour, which is $1,354 per month or $16,248 per year if they work full time. The median gross rent, which is rent plus utilities, was estimated to be $1,148 per month in James City that year.

Nine people spoke during the public hearing on the application. Speakers split on the proposal, with opponents expressing concern chiefly about traffic safety while supporters felt the apartments would fill a critical need for affordable housing in the county.

“This is definitely a safety issue,” resident Tom Hitchens said. “The traffic pattern is just completely unacceptable.”

A traffic study recommended improvements to the turn lane and adjustments to traffic signal timing to alleviate any visibility problems for motorists and increased traffic at Route 60’s intersection with Croaker Road. Alterations to the area where Oakland Drive meets Route 60 would also be recommended, Ribeiro said.

The project’s fiscal impact would also be a burden on county taxpayers and the school-age children predicted by the county’s model would further crowd the school system, Hitchens said.

Traffic issues already exist in the area and while the county should address them it should also provide a place to live for low-income community members, resident Lynn Walker said.

“Give affordable housing to the people who really need it around here,” said Walker.

The commission voted unanimously to defer action on the application until its next meeting. Commission member Frank Polster was absent from the meeting.

“In between the two desires, we have a lot of details that aren’t really formed,” planning commission member Heath Richardson said.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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