A Chesterfield County Planning Commission meeting that ended around 11 p.m. July 16 resulted in three 2-2 votes on the proposed Carvana auto inspection site that would be located on Woods Edge Road east of Interstate 95.
The Planning Commission – which was missing Midlothian commissioner Peppy Jones – deadlocked on three votes to approve, deny and defer the vote to the commission’s Aug. 20 meeting. Deputy county attorney Rob Robinson said that, due to the indecision, the matter automatically goes to the commission’s next meeting. If the board fails to issue a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors within 100 days, the matter would be sent with a “deemed approved” recommendation, he said.
After 28 people spoke during public comment, Bermuda District Commissioner Gib Sloan said, “Well, this just stinks. I wish that piece of land was zoned agricultural.”
At least some of the 184 acres had been previously zoned agricultural, but is now industrial.
“I wish we had the authority to force a downzoning of the property,” Sloan said. “We don’t.”
He noted that the current industrial zoning allows for up to 10,000 vehicle trips a day, and that Carvana is projecting that it would have only 2,500. In addition, the current zoning includes a 55-foot buffer from the center of Woods Edge Road, which Carvana has agreed to lengthen to 100 feet and also add a non-disturbance zone that Sloan said would result in an effective buffer of 200 to 300 feet.
He proposed a condition that would require Carvana to add earthen berms parallel to Interstate 95 that would be planted with pine and cedar seedlings to provide for noise abatement. Carvana representative Andrew Condlin agreed to the stipulation.
Sloan made a motion to forward an approval recommendation to the supervisors, which Clover Hill Commissioner Gloria Freye joined him in supporting. Dale District Commissioner Michael Jackson and Matoaca District Commissioner Craig Stariha voted against it.
Freye then made a motion to deny the project, which died for lack of a second until Sloan later seconded it. The two voted contrary to their original votes in an apparent effort to forward the project to the supervisors, but were stopped by Jackson and Stariha.
Jackson then made a motion to defer the project for a month. That also resulted in a tie vote.
Traffic and noise seemed to be the main issues that residents have with the project, although night-time lighting and safety were also mentioned.
“I cannot support it at this time,” Stariha said, noting that he wanted a firm recommendation from county transportation director Jesse Smith to support or deny. Smith had noted that the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote July 24 on a truck restriction for Woods Edge Road. He noted that the Board had previously approved such a restriction in 2014, but that the Virginia Department of Transportation had denied it.
Smith said that his staff was recommending approval, subject to the truck restriction being approved. VDOT would likely reach a decision within 90 days of approval from the Board of Supervisors, he said.
Local attorney Andrew Condlin said the rezoning application was a downzoning from I-1 (light industrial) and I-2 (general industrial) to only I-1 and provides more protections than currently exist. Carvana representative Todd Ward said there would be no significant expansion of the facility over time, noting that the company would employ 400 to 500 people — mostly mechanics — and said the facility would be built over 12 months.
Ward said 45 to 50 tractor-trailers would be coming and going each day, along with 50 to 80 vehicle test drives on Interstate 95. Counting employee trips, the total number of vehicle trips would be between 2,000 and 2,500 a day, he said.
Sloan asked Smith how a “big hump in the road” between the facility’s truck entrance and Marguerite Christian Elementary School would be mitigated. Smith said it would happen during the site plan review process, and that the applicant would be responsible to ensure that stopping and site distances were appropriate. Smith said the road could be raised or lowered, if necessary.
During public comment, Phil Lohr of Chesterfield Citizens United and Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development said the rezoning application lists an automobile storage lot as the primary use. He said this was done because an auto repair facility can’t be used under the zoning.
“To permit an auto storage lot with accessory vehicle maintenance goes against common sense,” Ginny Schwank said.
“The traffic congestion is horrible now with everyone cutting through on Woods Edge Road to get to the Amazon complex,” Nancy Alexander said, noting she’s lived in the area 23 years.
Bob Foreman said that one of Carvana’s proffers is not compliant with the county’s Comprehensive Plan in regard to a planned north/south thoroughfare in the area. “Proffer 3 dictates that as long as auto storage is in use, nothing can be done on the property (about the thoroughfare),” he said.
Noting that the county Planning Department initially called the proposal “Project Utopia,” CCU and BARD president Mike Uzel said a better name would be “Project Dystopia,” a place of great suffering and injustice.
Matt Nevins said the value of many of some 100 area homes have not rebounded to 100 percent of what they were before the Great Recession, and wondered how the facility would affect property values.
Referring to Civil War-era battles that took place in the area, Steve Belcher said Carvana could potentially be developing over unmarked graves.
Referring to the auto storage lot that could contain up to 9,000 cars, Lisa Mason said, “The Bermuda District is already a big parking lot. Many of us had hoped for a drug store or grocery store.”
“I think they have the right thing in mind, it’s just not the right location,” Jason Moon said.
As the clock crept closer to 11 p.m., Mark Pilo noted that he built his house behind a local cemetery. The area is “very dark and quiet,” he said. “You guys want business? Great, go somewhere else, not in my backyard, literally.”
Jackson noted that, due to planned major maintenance of the county’s Public Meeting Room, the Planning Commission’s Aug. 20 meeting will be held at the Eanes-Pittman Public Safety Training Center, 6610 Public Safety Way, near the county government complex.