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The James City County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to deny a request from German chemical company BASF Corporation to change the land-use designation of about 678 acres in Grove from industrial to mixed use.
The change would have allow for a much wider range of uses on the land — located at 8581 Pocahontas Trail — which has sat unused since the company ceased industrial operations there in 1995.
The supervisors cited several reasons for their vote, including how it would affect nearby Fort Eustis and the lack of tangible plans from BASF for what would be developed on the land.
The vote was part of the overall discussion of the county’s comprehensive plan, which the board voted 5-0 to update Tuesday. The plan outlines land use designations for the coming decades. All land in the county has a land-use designation in the plan, and development must follow that designation unless a special exception is made.
A plan for the BASF land shown to the supervisors as part of the application to change the land-use designation called for a hotel, timeshares and a nearly 2-mile riverwalk trail that would be open to the public, however that proposal was conceptual in nature. No developer was ever lined up to build a resort at the site.
Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) said he did not see the harm of leaving the designation as is. He also said tourism-related businesses already struggle to fill jobs, and a resort of the magnitude suggested by the conceptual plan would require “a lot of people.”
Attorney Vernon Geddy spoke on behalf of BASF Corporation. He said that company has tried to sell the industrially designated and zoned land for 20 years. He cited the property’s time on the market as a clear indicator there is not an interest in industrial land in that part of the county and that it would be better suited for other types of development.
Supervisor John McGlennon (Roberts) took issue with several of Geddy’s assertions about the project. He was skeptical of the conceptual plan for the resort that says the riverwalk would be open to the public.
“What developer would want to come in and say I want to create a resort here and make its amenities open to the public?” McGlennon asked.
He was also incredulous about a claim in Geddy’s presentation that the resort could generate up to $5 million per year in tax revenue.
Supervisor Mary Jones (Berkeley) was the lone supervisor to support the designation change request. She said the county has other industrial land and the site represents an amazing opportunity for development due to its 2-mile waterfront on the James River.
Supervisors Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) and Michael Hipple (Powhatan) were both concerned with how mixed use development might affect Fort Eustis. The installation is located across Skiffes Creek from the BASF land, and it opposed the designation change request.
“The risk of having some of our military assets go elsewhere or lose opportunities is a very real economic risk to folks in that community right there,” Onizuk said.
Several citizens used the public hearing on the comprehensive plan update to sound off on the BASF land.
Heather Cordasco, who is running for the seat on the board that represents Grove in November’s election, said she was “speaking as a citizen” and that “if the military wants a larger buffer, they should purchase the land.” She said Grove has been affected by one word, and that is “no.”
“No is a can’t word,” she said. “And we hear that a lot. No says we stay the same.”
Cordasco’s comments concerning Grove expressed concerns shared by several other citizen speakers.
“One consideration stands above all others — keeping things the same is not in the best interest of the people in Grove,” said Petra Nadal, a Grove citizen running for school board in November’s election. “Changing the property to mixed use does not guarantee the proposals will become reality, but failing to make the change means nothing will happen.”
Several citizens said Grove has been denied the type of development and economic opportunities that have come to the rest of the county.
“We want to change that land use so that we can bring in additional revenue — a chance for change,” said Rebecca Smith, a Grove resident. “This is a chance for something, for my kids to have a place to go.”
Other citizens were opposed to the development of timeshares at the site, preferring instead to see development that could lead to higher paying jobs.
In addition to the BASF designation request and the comprehensive plan update, the board voted on several other land-use issues:
- The board voted 4-1 to expand the county’s Primary Service Area to a site adjacent to Colonial Heritage where 50 homes are slated to be built. It also agreed to change the designation from rural lands to low density residential. Inclusion in the PSA allows the houses to apply to receive county water and sewer services instead of relying on wells and septic systems. McGlennon was the lone no vote due to concern that the developer could come back and request more houses in the development because it would then be in the PSA, which the county uses to control which areas are developed.
- The board voted unanimously to nix a request from Xanterra, the owner of Kingsmill Resort, to change the designation of land near 8515 Pocahontas Trail and The Woods golf course to clear the way for the development of 81 homes. The designation change would have altered the land from limited industry and conservation to low density residential. The supervisors wanted to hold off on the change because Xanterra is working to sell the resort.
- The board voted unanimously to change the designation of about 60 acres north of Interstate 64 by the Old Stage Road exit (227) from general business and low density residential to mixed use. It also voted to change about 290 acres on the other side of Interstate 64 from mixed use and rural lands to economic opportunity. Both tracts are owned by the Hazelwood family, which has interest in developing them as corporate offices, manufacturing, light industrial or a similar use. The board voted 4-1 to extend the PSA to the portion of those lands that were outside, with McGlennon representing the no vote.
- A proposal to add about 141 acres of a 218 parcel of undeveloped and farm lands at 8491 Richmond Road near Toano to the PSA was deferred. The supervisors made the decision to defer a decision about extending the PSA to encompass those 141 acres until the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality decides how much water the county’s water utility may draw from underground aquifers.
A full version of the the comprehensive plan is available here.
Correction 6/24: The board voted 4-1 to deny the BASF application. The land-use designation request at 8491 Richmond Road resulted in a decision to defer adding 141 acres to the PSA.