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Zoning Request Trucks On

PRINCE EDWARD – A planning commission/board of supervisors joint public hearing over a rezoning request to permit a truck yard and construction sales and services at a site in the Rice area pulled in a lengthy list of speakers and concerns Tuesday night.

In the end, supervisors-following the recommendation of the commission-agreed to rezone the 15.05 acres off of U. S. Route 460's west-bound lane from A-1 Agricultural Conservation to C-1 General Commercial for Tim R. Tharpe, LLC. The change permits the location of the truck yard by special use permit. (A separate joint hearing on the special use request has been set for July 28.)

J. R. Tharpe Trucking, of Burkeville, plans to expand its operation to the Rice area.

“You don't go to Rice going down 460. You get off to go into Rice. To me, that's where the community is and I wouldn't dare go along with anything to disrupt their rural community, but we're talking about a U.S. highway,” assessed planning commission member Jack Leatherwood. “Any time you've got a piece of property on a U.S. highway, you can anticipate anything coming.”

Chris Mason, who noted that he lives close to the site and would be going by at least once a day with his whole family, expressed hope that VDOT would want to put in a deceleration lane “but that's not up to us, it's up to VDOT.”

He offered, “I am in favor of it and, if I thought for one second that it was going to endanger my family, I would not be,” he said.

Commission member Sam Coleman also cited, “…We've had trucks going up and down the road all day long (and) all night as has been stated and I don't see where his trucks are gonna add or deter from…travel on 460…”

He also noted the $2.5 million investment for the county. “We certainly need the taxes. We've had very few industries come…the last several years.”

Planning Commission Chairman W. W. Porterfield would offer that the extent of people's concerns was “greater than I realized because this has not come to the planning commission before.” He assessed that it is a very economically constructive activity that is probably going to be carried out very responsibly, but he wondered in view of the opinion that it might be wise to limit it to 15 trucks on the site plan and require authorization for expansion.

The planning commission would eventually recommend approval, allowing for future expansion up to 50 trucks. There had been some discussion to possibly limit the number to 15, which is what was initially sought, but Tim Tharpe, vice president and manager of the family business indicated that with the investment that they're looking to make and the shop they're going to build that it wouldn't be acceptable.

“I've been looking at sites for the last three to five years…and this is the best location…,” Tharpe said.

Asked if he had a plan “B” site in mind, Tharpe responded “You know, I really don't…I've studied this site and this is really where we'd like to be.”

Tharpe had noted that it is a good central location, that they have been in business for 40 years, have 58 employees, own and operate 49 trucks, and are looking at a $2.5 million investment and up to 25 new jobs in the next two to three years.

In addition to hauling for Luck Stone, Tharpe detailed, they have a landscaping yard, a sand operation in Charlotte County on the Stanton River, excavating equipment for site work, and several snow removal contracts with VDOT and private contractors.

He noted that they have full-time safety coordinator and received a good rating with no violations on a recent DOT audit.

Tharpe offered that it is not a trucking terminal with trucks going and coming all day. Their trucks leave in the morning, he explained, and come back in the evening and they only come back during the day if there is a maintenance issue. Tharpe also detailed they would contain dust by using a water truck with water for the truck obtained off-site. Trucks are washed on a concrete pad and water is recycled.

“…We run a good, clean business-we have done so for 40 years,” Tharpe said. “We provide good jobs for good people in a safe environment,” he said.

Rt. 460, he cited, is a trucking corridor and he noted that they would have very little to no impact on this traffic. Normal hours are 7-5, some mornings 6-6, he said, adding that some mornings they leave early and sometimes they work late. Trucks are parked facing the highway-they can crank up and move towards the highway.

Earlier in the evening, County Planner Alecia Daves-Johnson offered that she was impressed with two letters of support-one from the Lighthouse Church of God of Prophecy, a neighbor to the current operation in Burkeville, and from Eric Hougland Manager of High Bridge Trail State Park.

Ms. Daves-Johnson also cited, in terms of the Comprehensive Plan, that the Prince Edward Highway is designated as a commercial growth corridor. She also suggested that it will help develop a diversified base in the county-noting that the business will support the Luck Stone quarry coming near the Dowdy's Corner and that he intends to hire 25 employees in the next three years, and is well under the threshold that VDOT sets for the traffic impact analysis.

“…I think that this particular business owner has a really proven track record for being a good member in the community and feel like it…is worth your consideration for approval,” Ms. Daves-Johnson said.

Supervisors, following the recommendation of the Planning Commission, approved the rezoning request with Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck opposed.

Wilck had asked about other possible sites. Tharpe responded that he had looked and there's really no other areas. He also noted that the site has been a commercial site in the past.

Some Speakers

Speakers-both for and against the proposal-chimed in during the hearing.

“I heard something about dust control, we're right beside Tharpe Trucking and there's no problem,” commented pastor Whitfield Mayton of Lighthouse Chruch of God of Prophecy in Burkeville. “And they have a gravel parking lot there so he does an awesome job of taking care of that.”

He added that they have a good relationship and that the trucks cause no problems-they leave early in the morning and get back in the early afternoon.

Charles Goodman, president of Goodman Truck and Tractor, provided emission standards information, noting that trucks are getting cleaner and that Tharpe has upgraded his fleet.

“We have invested in this area, building our home and taking pride in the safe, clean community we live in,” commented Bonnie Fitzpatrick. “If we wanted to live in a commercial area…that had traffic and environmental risks along with excessive truck traffic and the noise and air polution that comes along with trucks as they decelerate and accelerate, we would have bought our homes and made our investments in a commercial area.”

She noted there are areas set up by the board and citizens for commercial development and asked why not make the areas already designated commercial a success by allowing subsidies and encouraging businesses to utilize those areas.

“Changing the zoning in this area from an A-1 to a C-1 would create traffic hazards and change the quality of life for a community that has put a considerable investment into their homes and neighborhoods,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

*One speaker highlighted that residents living on the west side of Rice's depot already have issues entering Rt. 460 because of the increased traffic from Jenkins store, an auto repair shop and Liv's Place.

“To get to 460, I go to Pisgah Road because of the congestion that I experience daily at Rice's Depot Road,” Shelly Farley stated. “If you allow Tharpe to decide on the proposed site, then my chances of entering 460 west will become more hazardous due to the traffic going east and west with the combination of vehicles merging from 307-and I use the word merging because no one hardly ever stops there-vehicles entering from Rice's Depot Road, Gulley Tavern Road and the Lockett Road.”

She asked that the citizens of Lockett be allowed to view the entrance and exit plans for Tharpe Trucking before a decision is made and suggested that the study be conducted when the schools are in full session along with Longwood.

She also questioned how the development would affect property values.

Doug Farley offered that he is very much pro business and cannot think of a better man that Mr. Tharpe. However, he expressed that his concern is primarily location.

“…If this was going in your backyard…going adjacent to your property, could you support it for your family, yourself?” Farley asked.

Brad Watson, noting he has known Tharpe a long time, said he has found him to be a man of integrity, a man who does what he says he's going to do.

“I can think of few people that I'd rather have opening a business in my community than Tim Tharpe,” Watson said. “In this day of economic strife, I'd hate to see Prince Edward County say no to something that could bring in much needed tax revenue and very much needed jobs in this area.”

Another speaker reflected on opposition to the enterprise zone last year (that would have included Rice).

“Maybe you thought that by changing the wordage we would accept this,” she said. “And maybe you don't care about the fact that this terminal will be located near one of the worst intersections in our county, as far as accidents are concerned, and if you look it up, you will find that.”

She also offered that maybe they don't care about the pollution and the noise. She added that maybe they don't care about the people who live in their small community who moved there because they wanted a small rural communities for their families to live in, or those who have lived there most of their lives that want to live there in peace and quiet.

“Maybe you don't care that you're essentially killing this community by putting this terminal/truck/yard across from it because it's-let's face it, who else would voluntarily move into the area once it's there?” she asked.

Brian Lokker cited the County's comprehensive plan is to be developed after five years and that, from his research, the comprehensive plan is dated 2005. If the Rice community had an opportunity to comment on a new comprehensive plan that was supposed to come out in 2010 there is a very good potential that there would be a lot of opposition to having future development within the Rt. 460 corridor in the Rice area.

Porterfield said they are about a year behind schedule and are about to undertake revisions to the comprehensive plan.

However, he noted, every comprehensive plan in the last 20 years has envisioned commercial enterprises along Rt. 15 south and 460 east and west.

When the new plan comes out for public comment, Lokker offered that he could “almost guarantee you we'll all be here asking…what kind of development's planned for that area.”

The Code of Virginia, County Attorney James R. Ennis highlighted, does not require that the comprehensive plan be readopted every five years. It only requires that it be reviewed every five years.

Lokker asked, should the rezoning be approved, was it against the law or a violation of Virginia law.

Porterfield offered that the state is “fairly liberal about a grace period” through the review going on.

“You can't ignore it entirely, but they will cut you some slack. That said, I don't know what the…legal status of it is,” he said.

Next Hearing

While the rezoning request was approved, supervisors have scheduled another joint public hearing with the planning commission for July 28 to consider the special use permit application related to the truck yard use.