No bricks and mortar for Village Green apartments

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The proposed 44-unit apartment complex that would be located in the Chester Village Green development, one of the last vacant properties in the project, was last week denied by the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors.

A four to one vote for denial, with the lone vote for approval posed by the Bermuda District Supervisor, Dorothy Jaeckle, died for the lack of a second to Ms. Jaeckle’s motion for approving the project. Local developer, George P. Emerson Jr., asked the Board for an increase in the number of units allowed for the site to 44 and offered no cash proffers. Proffers are fees developers pay to mitigate the impacts that an increase in population has on schools, roads, libraries, public safety, fire and EMS.

Mr. Emerson, though having only an option of the property, offered upgrades to the apartment building in lieu of paying $18,966 per unit that the county states would defray the cost of the facilities necessitated by any development. The property that Emerson was offering to redevelop was the scene of a catastrophic building collapse in 2008 which took the life of one worker.

“That building collapsed over four years ago. I’ve had calls throughout my tenure on the Board, ‘what is the county going to do about that building, what are you going to do about that eyesore?,’” said Jaeckle. “I tell people that the county is not the owner of the property and we can keep it safe, but there’s not much else we can do. People wanted to ask Mr. Emerson to look at the property to see what he can do.”

Carrie Coyner, attorney presenting the rezoning case for Emerson Companies, said cash proffers did not apply to the project because, the two-bedroom units did not impact schools and the infrastructure was already in place at the site.

The previous developer, McBar Construction, had paid $66,500 toward the proffers, which Coyner said would offset the $834.504 that Emerson would be required to pay after the county’s final inspection. Ms. Coyner said the county should consider the property “infill” because it had had a building on it and it was a lone lot in the development. Infill properties do not require cash proffers.  

Jaeckle agreed that the property is an infill piece; all the infrastructure is in place and the empty space takes away from the integrity that we can build in the Village Green.
Cash proffers have been a matter of contention in Chesterfield and other counties in the Commonwealth. Most recently, Hanover County eliminated cash proffers and instead increased fees on vehicle registration, and Chesapeake reduced its cash proffers.

“It requires you to think that perhaps our cash proffer policy is outdated; it is not meant for a time such as now after the economic recession that we have gone through and have not recovered from,” said Ms. Coyner during her opening statement to the Board. “After everything in the market has shifted except cash proffers and its relation to housing, there are many things to think about tonight as you hear this case, and I ask you to keep an open mind as you think through each of these issues, my presentation and the thoughts from the public.”

Local resident Diana Parker said, “I oppose shifting the developers responsibility of the cash proffers to the citizens of Chesterfield.”

“I’m a member of the LLC that owns the site we’re talking about tonight,” Barney McLaughlin said. “I think it is something you should approve tonight; it is something we have seen for four years and will probably not see [it developed] for four more years; that site is going to sit as it currently sits. I’ll tell you I don’t exactly have people fighting to come over there and develop it. You should be tickled to death that Mr. Emerson is taking a chance to go out there and build on this and spend money on this site in the hopes that somebody will rent quality apartments down there.”

Another speaker, Robert Olsen of the Midlothian District said, “We have proffers for a reason, we don’t have Bermuda proffers, Matoaca proffers, Clover Hill proffers; the proffers all go into one fund for a project that we need for Chesterfield County.”  Olsen went on to say that when a developer promises ceramic tile in a bathroom it has nothing to do with cash proffers because without proffers, schools may not be able to put ceramic tile in their bathrooms.  

Bill Bunting, who owns Centralia Animal Hospital with his wife Shirley Bunting, located in the Village Green development said, “I’m in favor of Mr. Emerson’s [proposal] to go ahead and build his apartments there. It is an eyesore… and I think he’s done a very good job of building high-quality apartments. I think that if the site sits vacant for the next four or five years, we may in fact lose the same amount of tax revenue that you are considering for proffers this evening.”

During a rebuttle after the public spoke, the developer responded, “When you look at these deals, you know they have to stand by themselves,” Emerson said. “You approved a project called Colony Village for us down on Route 1 without any cash proffers, and we’re today, investing over $20 million in that project. This particular building is the finish of the Chester Village Green. If you do not approve this zoning tonight, I’m okay with it. We’re going to build a very nice building there. We’ll put several million dollars in the ground; we can’t build the type of building we want and put the quality we have in it and pay the cash proffers.” Emerson said that he has built a number of projects and paid the cash proffers, but on this project it won’t work.

Jaeckle pointed out all the advantages of allowing the project continue without cash proffers, including a recouping of tax dollars through early development and the fact that there needs to be more residents living in the Village Green neighborhood to support the businesses located there.

Jaeckle motioned to approve the project. There was not  second. Chairman of the Board, Dan Gecker, asked if there was an alternative motion.

“I talked about that, I talked about asking for a deferral, and Mr. Emerson said this is what he could do and it wasn’t a big profit making enterprise and he was really doing it to complete the village,” Jaeckle said. “So I guess it will sit there for four or five years.”

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