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The James City County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted last night to adopt a study analyzing options for extending Mooretown Road, but not before removing a recommendation for one of those options from the report.
The board agreed the Mooretown Road Extension Corridor Study completed by consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) should be adopted as a reference document for when approval and funding for an extension is possible, but did not want to retain a recommendation by VHB for Alternative 2 – the option in which the extension would run adjacent to the CSX railroad tracks parallel to Richmond Road.
Vice Chairman Kevin Onizuk (Jamestown) said he did not think the board’s recommendation of an alternative would be significant at a time when no plans or funding exist for an extension. He noted that opposition to the recommended alternative had been clearly expressed during last night’s public hearing on the study.
“If it’s at the detriment of several of our citizens, that’s very concerning,” Onizuk said. “If we move forward, I don’t think we need to put this as a recommendation or a priority.”
Seven residents spoke during the public hearing, the majority speaking out against Alternative 2, which VHB considered the option that provided the most land for development and least affected the environment.
Instead, residents encouraged the board to support Alternative 1, which crosses undeveloped land in Lightfoot and is considered the most direct route between Lightfoot Road and Croaker Road.
Resident Chris Henderson called on the board to preserve the right-of-way for that alternative and protect it from encroachment.
“Alternative 1 is the option that best utilizes the land and the best opportunity for multimodal development,” Henderson said. “No reasonable developer will support any plan other than [Alternative] 1.”
Resident Phil Drinkwater said two years ago he and his wife unknowingly purchased property that had been placed in the county’s economic opportunity zone, making it open to development. In that time the Drinkwaters established a horse boarding and lesson barn on land that would be split in half if Alternative 2 is ever constructed.
“We bought the property because it’s great location in the middle of Norge and we don’t want to do anything else with it,” Drinkwater said.
Some spoke plainly against the need for any extension and questioned its benefit to the county.
Resident Frank Polster said when it comes to significant development projects like a road extension, the county needs to find balance between the need for growth and the determination to preserve the county’s character.
“We have a tendency to look at the specifics of the proposal in isolation of the context of the county as a whole,” Polster said. “I hope that the strategic plan will provide that context.”
Resident Joe Swanenberg said if there is no immediate need for the extension, the county has time to explore other options for managing traffic that results from population growth.
“We’ve lost sight of the purpose of a road. It’s to move people and goods,” Swanenberg said. “To support [the study] simply to get the ball rolling is wrong. It’s bad policy.”
The need for an extended Mooretown Road was first discussed after Hurricane Isabel, a 2003 storm Former County Administrator Sandy Wanner said revealed the challenges of providing emergency services to the Lightfoot area. Additionally, a traffic study completed for the analysis suggests that 19,000 vehicles per day would be using the extended road, if constructed, by 2040.
James City County paid VHB $400,000 to complete the study, which was submitted for review after several public meetings and discussions with affected parties and localities like York County. The funds spent to complete the study qualify for a reimbursement from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
While Supervisor Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse) said an extended Mooretown Road would not come to pass in the lifetimes of the board members, Drinkwater reminded members to think of how his generation could be affected.
“I’m here talking about it and I’m worried about it because I am the younger generation and I might have to worry about it one day,” Drinkwater said.