Board of Supervisors votes to delay decision on Oakland Pointe application

Staff writer

The Board of Supervisors decided not to pass judgement on the Oakland Pointe rezoning application on Tuesday until the applicant has a chance to consider trimming the number of units in the proposed complex.

Connelly Development LLC, the rezoning applicant, requested a rezoning of about 14.5 acres of agricultural land to multi-family residential in Norge to build Oakland Pointe and increase the county’s affordable housing stock.

“The county has a well-documented need for affordable housing, and rental housing in particular,” said Tim Trant, an attorney who filed the application on behalf of Connelly Development.

A 2016 county study found there isn’t enough housing for low- and moderate-income residents in the county.

In the hours before the vote, about 40 speakers took to the lectern to weigh in on the project, and the county government board room was a full house for the meeting.

Supporters saw the complex as a way to provide quality housing to low-income people who struggle to find something in their price range in James City County.

“I know that progress is never easy,” said Reginald Davis, pastor at First Baptist Church, during Tuesday’s meeting. “The American dream is for people to have decent and affordable housing for themselves and their families.”

The proposal’s critics argued the location was wrong, it would bring more traffic and it would take away from the county’s rural character.

“My sincere belief is this project is ill-suited for this location,” Jack Lubore said.

The land in question is 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. The development as it is currently proposed would have up to 126 units in a complex of five buildings, each up to 40 feet tall.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to delay a decision on the project’s application until Feb. 26 after hours of public comment and debate among themselves on Tuesday. Supervisor Michael Hipple voted against the motion to delay.

“Ever since I’ve been on this board, we’ve talked about affordable housing,” Hipple said. “There’s a tremendous need in our community for this.”

Hipple voiced frustration when several board members expressed interest in delaying a final decision, allowing the applicant time to tweak the proposal into something more desirable.

Supervisor Ruth Larson felt a delay would give supervisors time to digest the hours of public comment they sat through prior to the vote.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing,” Larson said of a delay.

Kevin Connelly, the project’s developer, said fewer units could jeopardize the competitiveness of his application to secure the tax credits needed to make the program a reality, but he was willing to return with a slightly smaller project.

“We’re willing to look into that,” Connelly said. “It decreases our chances of getting funding.”

The almost 40 people who spoke during the public hearing touched on familiar themes that have framed the conversation about the complex for more than a year. After several delays throughout 2018, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the application in December.

Speakers were roughly split between supporters and opponents of the proposal.

Opponents criticized the project on a number of points — saying the project was too dangerous and too urban, among other concerns.

The complex would bring more traffic to an already difficult intersection of Richmond Road and Oakland Pointe, a stone’s throw from the property the complex would be built on, critics said.

“It’s just inconceivable to me that you could allow this to be built at this time at this place,” resident Jack Fowler said, adding Oakland Pointe would worsen traffic conditions 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.

If built, the apartments are expected to generate 912 daily car trips, according to the staff report.

“It’s ill-suited for intense development of any type,” resident Lee Alexander said, referring to the property. “The added traffic congestion alone should give us pause.”

Annette Turner, a Williamsburg-James City County teacher, worried about providing an adequate education to the school-aged children expected to live in the complex.

“I’m nervous we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Turner said. “I don’t know where we’re going to fit them.”

The county anticipates 39 new students would be added to the district due to the apartments.

County staff also estimates the complex would create a negative fiscal impact of $463,425 annually. A study done 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 annually.

The initial application located the apartments’ access road at Richmond Road. The current application moved that to Oakland Drive in a bid to make the traffic situation less daunting. The application also suggests safety improvements to the Richmond Road and Oakland Drive intersection.

"This project has evolved to mitigate the impacts,” Trant said, noting the project had incorporated the input of county staff and residents.

Other opponents said the project represented unwanted development, and would chip away at the county’s rural character.

Supporters rallied around a primary argument in favor of the apartments — the complex represented a way for the county to address its affordable housing needs and provide a place to live for lower income people.

“The vast majority of families I know who struggle with housing needs have at least one wage earner,” said resident Kim Orthner, a member of the county’s affordable housing task force, noting the apartments aren’t a handout. “This development appears to be a big step forward.”

There are more than 8,000 households, or about a third of total households, in James City that can’t afford their housing costs without sacrificing other expenses, such as medical care and food, according to data collected by the county’s affordable housing task force.

The applicant proposes rental rates ranging from $495 for a two-bedroom unit with one-and-a-half baths, to $940 for a three-bedroom unit with two baths.

James City’s median gross rent (rent plus utilities) was estimated to be $1,148 per month, according to the 2016 housing study.

“There’s a lot of poverty in this town. This project is going to help a lot of people,” resident Thumper Newman said.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_


UPDATES:

4:20 p.m. Feb. 15: This story was updated with additional comment and details from the meeting’s public hearing.

This story was originally published at 10:25 p.m. Feb. 12.

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