JCC Supervisors to Consider How to Manage County Growth

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This map shows the land where the 50 homes would be built. It is the area in the red and white immediately to the right of the striped black line. (Courtesy James City County)
This map shows the land where the 50 homes would be built. It is the area in the red and white immediately to the right of the striped black line. (Courtesy James City County)

A request by the developers of Colonial Heritage to expand water and sewer services to 50 planned homes adjacent to the neighborhood has challenged the way the James City County Board of Supervisors manages growth.

That request has prompted the supervisors to ask County Administrator Bryan Hill to schedule a work session in the coming months for the board to confront its strategy for controlling development in the county. A precise meeting date has not yet been set.

The current growth management policy is called the Primary Service Area — homes and businesses inside get access to county services like water and sewer, while those outside must rely on wells and septic systems.

All of Colonial Heritage is inside the PSA, however a 220-acre tract abutting the age-restricted neighborhood is outside. The developer building Colonial Heritage is also planning to build 50 homes there, and it wants water and sewer access.

“I’d rather have water and sewer over there [instead of] wells and septic and failures possibly later [polluting nearby waterways like Yarmouth Creek],” said Michael Hipple (Powhatan), the chairman of the board of supervisors. “I think it’s a smart move.”

What makes sense environmentally clashes with the board’s desire to be strategic about county growth. Keeping some land outside of the PSA allows the county to maintain some of its rural character while also curbing large-scale residential neighborhoods, which often use more county resources — like schools — than they contribute in tax revenue.

The clash between the need to protect the environment from costly runoff from failing septic systems and to manage growth prompted several supervisors to renew calls to take a look at the PSA and whether it remains the best way to control growth in the county.

“This an imperfect growth management policy due to environmental impacts,” Supervisor Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) said. “Clearly it makes more sense to pull [the 50 homes] into the PSA, but so it does with other ones down Centerville Road. Why is it better there but not the other developments we told no?”

Onizuk is referring to Liberty Ridge and Westport, two neighborhoods outside of the PSA that are set to use private wells and septic systems. If the supervisors did allow the 50 homes near Colonial Heritage to enter the PSA, the precedent could be set for other neighborhoods that want to get inside.

“The concern I really have here is we are effectively saying we’ll now be making a major exception to our PSA policy and how do you turn down the next person who comes down and makes the same argument?” Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) said.

McGlennon also said expanding the PSA to include the 50 homes would open the door to the developers requesting a rezoning of the land to allow for higher-density construction. For example, if the land were to be rezoned from its current agricultural designation to low-density residential, it could then have up to 880 units instead of the 50.

“This really dramatically changes the potential for that property in terms of its water usage and the impact of policy as a growth control tool,” he said.

Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) said future boards that would consider such a proposal will have the minutes from Tuesday’s deliberations and other past meetings where the issue was discussed to use as a reference point, but McGlennon said history suggests boards do not always adhere to positions staked out in minutes from past meetings.

The call to explore whether the PSA is the best way to manage growth is not new. In September, Onizuk asked for the board to schedule a work session to consider the PSA after a lengthy discussion of a request to extend sewer service to a single house located outside of it. That request was denied.

The request for the PSA expansion was filed as part of the update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. That plan serves as a guiding document for growth, spelling out a vision for all of the land in the county. The county’s planning commission recently completed a lengthy review of the draft update of the plan, and the board is set to formally receive the draft for consideration in June.

After that, the board will begin its own consideration of the draft update before voting whether to approve it. It will separately consider a series of land use changes, including the request to expand the PSA to cover the 50 homes. A date for that consideration has not yet been set.

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