PE Overlay District Proposal Is On Hold

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – County planning commission members held a public hearing on a Corridor Overlay District Tuesday night and, following some discussion, opted without dissent to wait until next month to discuss possible changes rather than forward the proposal to the County's board of supervisors.

The proposed Overlay District would, specifically, impact design standards, addressing such areas as access and circulation, parking lots, pedestrian circulation (sidewalks and crosswalks), new or redeveloped building design, landscaping, utilities, signs and lighting.

The proposed district was proposed to apply width-wise along the county's major corridors 1,000 feet from the public right-of-way on both sides of the highway.

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That highway list includes Route 15 from Farmville Town limits north to the Appomattox River and from Town limits south to State Route 665 at Worsham.

But it would also apply along parts of Route 460, 360 and the new Route 786.

Portions of the Route 460 corridor that would apply include one mile in each direction from the centers of Pamplin, Prospect, Tuggle and Rice. The Route 360 corridor would track from a distance of one mile in each direction from Green Bay, Meherrin and Virso. And, while Route 786, or Granite Falls Boulevard has yet to open, the Overlay District would extend from its intersection with U.S. Route 15 to the intersection of State Route 628, or Zion Hill Road.

Some Background

The commission, Chairman Dr. W.W. Porterfield detailed, “has been picking at this off and on-more off than on-for about two years.” When it looked as if the Virginia Department of Transportation was going to four-lane Route 15 South to Keysville, he added, “We began to think that that would encourage commercial development and that we probably should try to produce a not very intrusive set of standards that would get attractive development done and we worked on it a bit. And VDOT took the money to Lynchburg and, so the urgency of this seemed to die down and we let it go for awhile.”

Last summer, Dr. Porterfield added, either the county administrator or board of supervisors suggested that they should pick up on it again.

Tuesday's hearing afforded speakers an opportunity to comment on the proposal. County supervisors would still have to hold their own public hearing and approve it before it takes effect.

The commission, Dr. Porterfield assessed, would still have to have a public hearing on the final language of any zoning ordinance amendment that they were going to send to supervisors.


“We've tried to set this up so that it's relatively low-cost,” Dr. Porterfield offered early in the meeting. “Admittedly underground electric service is not low-cost, but it's a lot cheaper when you're building than it is later on. And, in the same sense, any of the requirements about storm water runoff or the lack of runoff from a parking lot are much easier to meet when you're doing new construction than they are if you have to remodel your parking lot later on. So (we) have tried to put in place things that will not be catastrophically expensive for new construction.”

He added that it seemed like, particularly in view of the comprehensive plan's identification of primary highway corridors in the county, that they should, perhaps, apply it to all of the corridors.

Dr. Porterfield noted that many of the areas identified are “probably not looking at immediate commercial development. So…that's the kind of thing that is certainly negotiable.”

Realtor Sherry Honeycutt noted that when they “…try to get commercial entities to come to Farmville, it's hard enough to get them here. When they do come, they downsize as it is. They have certain plans that they like to follow when they come and they have to fit it into a certain plan. They have to have it fit their model.”

She would also note, “And the more restrictions that you place on it, the more difficult it is to just to convince them to come.”

“I'm all for doing things that enhance beauty and make things into nice looking developments-we're all in favor of that,” said President of the South Central Realtors Dempsey Jones. “And I can understand, probably on this list, the highway 15 corridor, maybe out to Hampden-Sydney to the…Kingsville stoplight. I can understand maybe having some restrictions along there. I cannot quite see the same restrictions in Pamplin, Prospect, Rice, Tuggle, Green Bay, Meherrin and Virso,” Jones said.

“One thing, you're on a four-lane divided highway in all those instances and if someone develops a business there and the only sign they're allowed to put on it is on a brick foundation sitting on the ground, everybody's gonna zoom right by it and nothing's gonna happen. And I just don't see that being necessary.”

Jones also expressed concern about the impact on smaller parcels, noting as an example, a five-acre parcel someone planned to use as a dentist's office or whatever is allowed, that they had things related to interconnecting roads and limiting access to the highway.

“Well, if you develop one parcel and then it might be two other parcels between that and the next one that gets developed,” Jones highlighted. “They're not all being developed at the same time.”

Porterfield would comment that the zoning ordinance, even in its previous form, has minimum parking requirements for different kinds of commercial uses. They are not changing that.

In addition, he would also note some flexibility in the current proposal that seeks parking to be on the side or rear of businesses. He cited the phrase “to the greatest possible extent,” that is included in the proposal. “What we would say is do what you can,” Dr. Porterfield said. “What fits, what works in terms of the site plan that you want to have.”

Still, there was some concerns raised about the flexibility.

Another concern was that of Overlay District as it relates to the recent expansion of the Enterprise Zone (and there is some overlap). With the new standards with the ordinance and the tax incentives of the zone, would the county be asked to kick in more taxpayer money.

“We certainly did not anticipate that the County or tax funds would be involved in meeting any of these requirements,” Dr. Porterfield said.

“They will be asked as they were previously by a lot of developers and if you increase their building expense, well of course they're gonna come back to us and you're gonna need more to cover it…,” a speaker noted. “Does it sound right? The elasticity of money is gonna move here?”

County Planner Alecia Daves-Johnson clarified that the Overlay District “is trying to provide just some design guidance so that when those commercial development plans start to come in, our decision-making boards have some reference to try to provide for some consistency and some uniformity and some, dare I say attractive approaches to that site development. So this isn't trying to encourage commercial development where I think the enterprise zone might be sort of trying to encourage that development by offering those incentives. This is simply acknowledging that those commercial zones have already been designed in the comprehensive plan, that these are just trying to provide some guidance tools for us when we're making decisions about those commercial development applicants.”

Dr. Porterfield would also add that what they “would hope is that by requiring a somewhat nicer level of finish in the completed project, you raise the value of the property” he assessed seems like a worthwhile call.

Richard Stockton asked about the effect on his tax rate, asking if he would be penalized for living next to one of the zones or if he is incorporated into one of the zones.

“…Why are all these areas zoned?” he asked. “Why not try one and see whether that works and leave the rest of us alone?”

Dr. Porterfield would note that he would hope that having design standards that require attractive development would raise the value of the property, but conceded that this is a situation where he (the speaker) didn't want the value of his property raised.

“How many people would favor limiting it to the Route 15 corridor and striking the other areas, just hold your hand up if you would?” asked Dr.. Porterfield as the commission's hearing wound down.

Many of those braving the frigid air to attend the hearing raised their hands.

“Thank you,” Dr. Porterfield would respond. “That's what I wanted to know about.”

Building Concerns

Other heartburn issues touched on were the cost for underground power lines, and suggested parking areas to the side and rear of businesses.

Asked about restrictions on metal buildings, Dr. Porterfield noted that design and construction for new and redeveloped buildings for commercial use are to be based on and coordinated with the scale, mass, height, materials, color, texture, construction methods and orientation of nearby buildings.

It was also cited that there's no language in the proposal that prohibits it.

More Background

Daves-Johnson cited that the development of the Corridor Overlay District was one of the goals set in our Comprehensive Plan and it addresses one of our policy areas for corridor development which asks that they evaluate and amend the County's zoning and subdivision ordinances to ensure that future land uses allowed along these corridors were consistent with future land use maps.

“And, also that it evaluate and amend the access provisions to ensure that new developments along these corridors were allowed adequate access and that unnecessary or dangerous access points are not permitted and to consider the development of a corridor design policy manual.”

The Overlay District, she also maintained, does not change the underlying zoning map district classification. A property in the A-2 zoning classification, she cited as an example, the adoption of the zoning amendment would not change that classification.

Daves-Johnson further noted that it does not reduce the dwelling unit density permitted for any parcel. It also will not apply to building associated with permitted agricultural use types or permitted residential use types, not affect any existing commercial development, and not affect any existing approved site plans.

“These design standards are intended to increase the value of lots developed for commercial use but will not affect the residential uses,” Daves-Johnson said. “Now the Overlay District will apply design standards to new development proposed within these corridors. So, primarily, these design standards are centered around water quality concepts, which are already part of the Virginia storm water management regulations and access and connectivity principles which are related to the VDOT standards.”

She further explained that the principles of design related to the pedestrian access, sign, lighting and landscaping standards “are an effort to protect the character of our rural communities.” The Comprehensive Plan, Daves-Johnson cited, was their guide document when they selected the corridors for the overlay district, which she explained are identified as entrance corridors or gateways to the County and targeted as commercial growth corridors in the County's Comprehensive Plan.