There is a long history on a piece of land known to some as the Continental Can property. The land has sat quietly since Continental Can Co. sold the property in the early 1990s. Now the acreage being called the Matoaca Mega Site may be rezoned to industrial tentatively at the March 20 Planning Commission meeting.
A massive residential development was proposed on about 1,650 acres along Branders Bridge in 2006, and the rezoning was approved in 2008. The development, to be called Branner Station, was a heady design with a projected 5,000 homes, town center and two school sites plus a boulevard entrance to the community from West Hundred Road and the same going north along the old rail-to-trail Linear Park to Centralia.
On the southern end of the project, a highway would follow an east-west direction from the development to Interstate 95 following a county long-term plan that dates as far back as 1980.
Developer HH Hunt had pulled out of the project because of what happened to the economy, but 10 years later déjà vu may be in play.
A new industrial development is proposed for the same 1,650 acres. The development was announced dignitaries at the old courthouse at the Chesterfield County complex.
That’s about the time the shouting began. During the first few days after the announcement, those who lived in the vicinity of the proposed industrial site began protesting and a group that was formed to protest the rezoning of the Branner Station development began gearing up to oppose the new proposal for the site. Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development has been a thorn in the side of the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority (EDA), which is charged with finding large spaces or acreage for businesses considering a location or headquarters in Chesterfield.
As many as a half dozen houses and Harrowgate Elementary School, which was slated for a massive renovation, will have to be torn down to make way for the east-west freeway.
The transportation department has said they would pay a fair price for homes and properties that they will need.
“It’s progress. You have to grow, keep moving or you’re going to die, just like a shark that quits swimming,” said Nicole Jordan, who lives in the proposed freeway’s path and said she will probably move north.
The reason the EDA is aggressive in bringing new business to Chesterfield is jobs, which is the purpose readying the Mega Site for a potential industrial business.
According to EDA Secretary Terri Cofer Beirne, the authority has yet to find a business to use the site and one likely won’t be found until the entire infrastructure is completed. “However, I can tell you that Stephen Moret, director of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, told me directly that he is highly confident we will have a number of active prospects interested in the site after the rezoning,” she said.
National statistics say that lower-skill jobs are quickly going away as automation and technology replace them. Good-paying advanced manufacturing jobs will be in higher demand across the country to support middle-class incomes. Project proponents believe Chesterfield needs to get ahead of this curve by seeking the high quality jobs of the future – which this rezoning is all about.
“Any large zoning application will be controversial. People, including myself, are very resistant to change,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, chair of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors. “The truth is: areas that do not change and grow become economically stagnant. The possibility of the Mega Site is not for what happens today in Chesterfield; it is for the future of Chesterfield. As good stewards of Chesterfield, it is important that we as a community provide input to properly mitigate any negative impacts that a possible mega site or any zoning case will have.”
A number of business groups have written letters expressing approval of the Mega Site by their boards of directors and membership.
Chester Business Association:
“Growth. It can be a polarizing process and is rarely perfect. However, our group believes it is a necessary component to keeping our area economically relevant.”
Chesterfield County Chamber:
“The Chesterfield County Chamber has continually supported targeted recruitment efforts to attract new economic development acuities while continued to allocate recourses to assist and support existing businesses. We appreciate your [Board of Supervisors] consideration of our support of the EDA’s request.”
ChamberRVA Chesterfield Cabinet:
“The Board of Directors of the ChamberRVA votes to support Chesterfield County’s efforts to develop the Matoaca Mega Site at its January 24, 2018 Board Meeting. The decision came on the recommendation of the ChamberRVA Chesterfield Cabinet.”
Virginia Chamber of Commerce:
“…revenue could amount to $200 million over 20 years and generate between 2,500 and 5,000 jobs.”