WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.
A proposal to remove the industrial designation of about 678 acres of land in Grove to open the door to a potential resort development ran into opposition from the James City County Planning Commission on Wednesday.
The commission voted 4-3 to recommend the board of supervisors not OK the designation change, which would update the county’s comprehensive plan to say the land is best suited for mixed use rather than industrial development.
German chemical company BASF Corporation owns the land, located at 8961 Pocahontas Trail near the Newport News line. It shuttered its chemical factory there in 1994 and has since been trying to sell the land but has not been able to secure a deal with a buyer.
The county is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, which spells out how all of the land in the county should be used. Land use applications are considered against what the comprehensive plan suggests for a particular parcel, meaning BASF Corporation will have a tougher time getting a non-industrial use permitted unless the language of the plan is changed.
As part of its application to change the industrial designation, it submitted a conceptual plan for a resort that would be built along the land. The site has almost 2 miles of waterfront along the James River, which would be converted into a development featuring timeshares, a hotel and a waterfront path similar to Riverwalk Landing.
Commissioners Heath Richardson (Stonehouse), Tim O’Connor (At-Large), Rich Krapf (Powhatan) and Christopher Basic (Berkeley) came down against the proposal.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Krapf said he was opposed to the designation change for several reasons, including a lack of industrial land — its 678 acres represent a large chunk of the 2,467 acres of developable industrial land left in the county — and the tendency for neighbors of military bases to come to regret where they live after they move in.
“We’ve seen that in other jurisdictions that projects get built fully aware of an installation and at some point down the road the citizens are up in arms about noise pollution or other issues,” he said. “This is a well-documented fact.”
The land is located adjacent to Fort Eustis. Col. William Galbraith attended Wednesday’s meeting on behalf of the fort to express the installation’s concerns about the project. He said the fort is a “power projection platform” with more than 100,000 flights each year from the airfield on base as well as night training operations and activities involving ships.
“It needs to be known in the planning that Fort Eustis is there and that could have a significant impact in regard to [BASF’s use of the land],” he said.
Krapf also cited a need in the county to promote jobs outside of the tourism industry. Basic and O’Connor echoed his concerns, with the latter noting that if Fort Eustis doesn’t want to see the land developed, it should buy it. Richardson also cited concerns about the fort before voting no.
Commissioner George Drummond (Roberts) represents the district where the land is built. He said the property has sat unused for more than 20 years, meaning it generates only about $68,000 per year in tax revenue for the county.
“We have an opportunity not only for the improvement of the Grove area but to generate more revenue for the county,” he said.
Drummond, who lives in Grove, said he does not want to see more industrial traffic generated in the area. He said the area needs more jobs, too.
“Our area needs a boost,” he said. “Poor people need jobs, too. We have plenty of industrial space left in the county.”
Commissioners John Wright (At-Large) and Robin Bledsoe (Jamestown) agreed with Drummond’s remarks.
Attorney Vernon Geddy spoke on behalf of BASF. He said the company filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the fort for any documents that formed the basis for their concerns about the resort project and all that was received was a copy of an email from James City County Planning Division staffers asking for the fort’s thoughts on the proposal.
“As near as we can tell, there is nothing there that can substantiate these concerns,” he said.
Geddy noted the vacancy of the property for more than 20 years. He called it a “spectacular piece of property” that represents an opportunity to create up to $5 million more per year in tax revenue for the county.
“As we know the board is about to be grappling with a fairly significant tax increase, and this would be a tremendous opportunity for the county to generate tax revenue,” he said.
The proposal will next be considered by the county’s board of supervisors as part of the board’s broader review of the comprehensive plan.
The board discussed the proposal during a January meeting, with Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) coming out in support of the resort proposal while other board members expressed concerns related to how much traffic it would produce and about the potential loss of so many acres marked as industrial.