The Board of Supervisors is expected to render final judgement Tuesday on an application to rezone land near Norge to build an affordable housing apartment complex.
Debated in public forums and delayed in Planning Commission meetings for about a year, the proposal to build up to 126 apartment units aimed at low-income residents comes to its final hurdle Tuesday.
As supervisors weighed public feedback and staff reports ahead of the vote to rezone land to allow the construction of the complex, they were either unsure or tight-lipped about how they will vote — saying both sides of the debate on the proposal have strong arguments.
“This is a controversial case. We do have a need for affordable housing in the county,” Supervisor John McGlennon said. “We also have a lot of opposition in the neighboring community.”
Connelly Development LLC has requested to rezone about 14.5 acres of agricultural land to multi-family residential to build the apartment complex, which would be called Oakland Pointe. The complex would be located near Crosswalk Church and between Oakland Estates and Richmond Road. The land is inside the county’s Primary Service Area, a zone where utilities are available or are expected to be available in the near future and is slated for development.
Oakland Pointe is intended to be affordable housing, with rent in the proposed complex expected to cost between $495 for a two-bedroom unit with one-and-a-half baths, to $940 for a three-bedroom unit with two baths. The complex would consist of five buildings, which would have three stories and stand up to 40 feet tall.
“Rents provided include trash pickup, but there will be additional amounts for electric, water and sewer,” said Lisa Marston, the owner of the land that would be rezoned, in an email.
The county’s median gross rent (rent plus utilities) was estimated to be $1,148 per month, according to a 2016 housing study. That study found there are too few housing options for low- and middle-income residents inside James City. The study found 29 percent of county workers earn $7.81 per hour, which is $1,354 per month or $16,248 annually if they work full time.
Plenty of county residents have taken an interest in the proposal. Opponents have voiced concerns about how the apartments would affect traffic safety and the county’s budget and rural character. Supporters have called the project a solution to the county’s affordable housing problem.
More than 30 people spoke during the public hearing that preceded the Planning Commission’s vote on the application in December. The commission voted 5-2 to recommend supervisors approve the rezoning.
McGlennon is eager to hear how Connelly Development intends to address traffic safety, and also wants to know more about what would happen if Connelly Development didn’t complete the project or sold the complex after it was built.
Kevin Connelly, the project’s builder, not only builds affordable housing complexes but manages them as well. During an April public forum in Toano, he noted he owns 70 percent of the properties he has built and would own Oakland Pointe as well.
“I’m going to be listening very carefully,” said McGlennon, who declined to say whether he was leaning toward a yes vote or no vote.
“I’m still in the studying process,” Supervisor Sue Sadler said. “I haven’t made up my mind.”
Sadler, who represents the district where the apartments would be built, said she has heard plenty of opinions on the project, both positive and negative. She said it was difficult to nail down exactly what was most important to her constituents due to the range of comments.
She declined to comment on what she personally saw as the most salient pros and cons, preferring to hear out the speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing, staff and the applicant before deciding how she felt about the project.
“Things can change on a dime,” Sadler said.
Supervisor Ruth Larson said she too was “looking over the materials” and expected to continue to study the proposal during the weekend.
“I am well aware of the needs of affordable workforce housing in our county and am well aware of the concerns of some about moving ahead with this project,” Larson said in an email.
Supervisor Jim Icenhour felt there are strong cases for and against the proposal, and said he was still studying it. He said he didn’t know how he was going to vote.
Based on public feedback, Icenhour said traffic safety appeared to be the most common concern.
Speakers at public meetings have voiced concerns about how the increased traffic generated by the apartments would affect safety in the area.
There have been nine car crashes in the 7600 block of Richmond Road, which includes the Oakland Drive intersection, from 2013 to 2018, according to James City Police Department data.
The apartments are expected to generate 912 daily car trips, according to the staff report.
Though the initial version of the application had the apartments’ access road connect directly onto Richmond Road, the current application has moved its access road to Oakland Drive. The application also suggests safety improvements to the Richmond Road and Oakland Drive intersection.
What Icenhour sees as the most significant drawback is the projected impact to the school district: a staff study estimates the complex would generate 39 students. According to that report, the apartments wouldn’t cause Toano Middle School or Warhill High School to exceed their effective capacities, but would cause Norge Elementary School to exceed its effective capacity.
County staff estimates the apartment complex would have a negative fiscal impact of $463,425.
Another study conducted by Ted Figura Consulting on behalf of the applicant determined the annual fiscal impact would be negative too — but much lower at about $124,300.
Ted Figura Consulting’s study included economic data points not part of the county’s report, such as sales tax revenue generated by residents.
“It’s probably one of the most contentious things I’ve seen come before the board,” Icenhour said, predicting the meeting will go long into the night. “It’s going to be a very interesting board meeting.”
Supervisor Michael Hipple declined to comment.
Want to go?
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: 101 Mounts Bay Road, county government center board room.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, email@example.com, @jajacobs_