How to proceed with a 1,675-acre property commonly known as the Matoaca Megasite is up in the air following the Chesterfield County Economic Development Authority’s vote last week to withdraw an application to rezone the property from residential to industrial.
The EDA board met in a special session Thursday, May 3, and immediately went into executive session to discuss legal matters. Following the session, which lasted about an hour, the board voted 7-0 to withdraw the application. Longtime board member John Ruckart made the motion.
“It’s clear that this project is alarming to a lot of folks,” board member Terri Cofer Beirne said. “This is a unique property and the development pressure on it is tremendous.”
“There are too many unanswered questions,” she said, adding that the county should consider purchasing the property from the Shoosmith family.
The EDA had planned to buy the property following then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s announcement last August about a plan to develop it for industrial use.
The proposal generated significant opposition from local residents who protested the plan at several community meetings last year and this year.
“It’s unfortunate the way this process rolled out,” EDA board member John Cogbill said. “Everyone’s intentions were good, but we did not have the answers to the questions. By the time we had the answers, they were lost [in the hubbub]. There has to be more dialogue … about what we’re trying to do.”
“As well intended as it is, it has taken on the perception that it is something different,” board chairman Art Heinz said. “We hear your voices, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing today. We think a consensus can be built if we have the right piece of property with the right use.”
Cogbill added that a number of businesses in the county would not be in Chesterfield if not for the EDA.
Ruckart – who has served 23 years on the EDA board and has been a local real estate agent for 50 years – said the EDA was instrumental in getting St. Francis Medical Center, Amazon, a Niagara water bottling plant and a number of other businesses at the Meadowville and Stonebridge developments.
Following the meeting, Mike Uzel, spokesman for Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development, said he appreciated board members’ comments.
“I understand the desire for economic development in Chesterfield. We’ve never been against that. We’ve been against the lack of citizen involvement in the process from the start. That needs to change,” he said.
The board’s action followed state Sen. Amanda Chase and House Speaker Kirk Cox recently calling for the rejection of the megasite proposal. Cox’s opposition was an about-face after he initially supported the plan to attract a manufacturer to the site. “The very name of this project Matoaca Megasite [located in the Matoaca not Bermuda District] created distrust from day one,” Chase said in a Facebook post.
In a press release following the meeting, EDA spokesman Rob Shinn said the past eight months have demonstrated that a number of complicated and challenging issues are confronting the southern part of the county. The area is growing, but infrastructure is not keeping up with the pace of growth, the release states.
He noted that Branner Station, a 5,000-housing unit development approved in 2007 for the site, was vigorously opposed by many area residents. “The issues raised in 2007 are similar in many ways to concerns” about the megasite, he said, citing increased traffic, impact of a new east-west freeway and north-south road, impact on property values and disturbing the quiet nature of the area.
“The opposition to residential development of the site led the Planning Commission to approve changes to the Comprehensive Plan for the site in 2012 from mixed-use residential to an ‘economic development opportunity site.’ The EDA agrees with the Planning Commission changes and is seeking to position the property to compete for needed jobs for county residents,” he said.
He added that the megasite rezoning process was constrained by the current zoning categories, which have not been updated to reflect current advanced manufacturing practices.
Referring to the board’s recommendation that the county purchase the land, Shinn said that gaining control of the site will allow time to engage members of the community to discuss potential uses for the property.
Some $1.25 million has already been committed to the megasite project, consultant Todd Haymore said at the April 11 community meeting.
Jack T. Shoosmith II, a member of the family that owns the land where the megasite would have been located, said last week that it is a shame that personal attacks have been made against his family. Referring to an allegation by local resident Dora Rosapepe at the April 11 meeting that the family was holding the county “by the hair,” Shoosmith called that an ignorant opinion.
“Anyone that actually knows us knows that we are good, hardworking people,” he said in a text message.