Commission OKs apartments

Published 2:02 pm Monday, May 23, 2016

The Farmville Planning Commission has recommended approval of a conditional use permit that would allow construction of a 120-unit apartment complex between Walmart and the Greens South subdivision.

The permit now goes to the town council for final consideration.

As part of the action, approved on a 5-2 vote, the commission recommended that an 8-foot privacy wall be erected and vegetation planted around the proposed apartment complex to provide a buffer from adjacent residential properties and that the council consider moving the project’s entrance back to the former Willa Wood property on South Main Street as stipulated in the original proposal.

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The action came after developers with Farmville Associates LLC said they wanted to use an existing right-of-way for the entrance, which would place it adjacent to Benchmark Community Bank, much closer to the intersection of South Main and Milnwood Road.

Members L.D. Phaup and Dan Dwyer, who also serves on the town council, voted against the motion, offered by Dr. Charles Ross.

Commission members discussed stipulating a “right turn only” sign at the exit and entrance to the project, drawing a response from Russell Harper, manager for Farmville Associates, who stated that he would not move forward with the project if such a sign was present.

The commission’s decision to recommend approval of the project comes after a recent joint public hearing, where the project drew almost united criticism from the public over concerns of traffic on South Main Street, the need for apartments and the devaluation of property.

During the hearing, project leaders proposed to move the entrance an additional 110 feet south of Milnwood Road on top of the already 209 feet the original proposal had it from Milnwood. The proposal now is to use a right-of-way that Farmville Associates owns, one that would connect the property to South Main as an entrance.

Concerns about the flow of traffic in the area were previously raised by members of the planning commission, prompting a traffic study by McCormick Taylor Inc.

“The traffic study came back and said there was no need for traffic signals, that intersection would be able to handle the traffic,” said Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates regarding the firm’s findings.

In a letter to Spates dated May 19, Donald DeBerry, a senior traffic engineer for McCormick Taylor, stated that “…it is my professional opinion that given the urban nature of this location, a modified driveway connection depicted in the general location of the existing driveway shown on the the enclosed drawing will operate efficiently. Given the current development proposal, our analysis shows the proposed access functions at an acceptable level of service.”

The property, owned by Farmville Associates, is zoned for apartments, according to Spates. Harper purchased the property in 1999, he said.

“This is a dedicated right-of-way,” Spates said of the project’s newest entrance and exit. “They have every right to access the property.”

According to Spates, in the last four years, there have been 30 accidents at the intersection of Milnwood and South Main. “That’s 7.5 accidents per year,” he said. “If you take a look at the graph, actually traffic accidents at Milnwood and South Main Street have gone down.”

Spates said the proposal is a “stand-alone project, which means that there’s 13 acres there that’s zoned business. They cannot go any further back … They can’t say take five acres if they purchased it and add it to this project and build more apartments.”

Spates said that the South Main and Milnwood Road Intersection Project would “move traffic in a safer manner rather than have traffic backed up in a lane that goes straight through and turning, which creates problems. …”

Spates said that the Milnwood Road project would see part of South Main be “built up. The property will tie into Benchmark’s property and, I mean, it’s no different than any other intersection.”

“As dean at Longwood for 10 years, hiring a lot of people (who) needed short-term housing, I disagree with those people,” Ross said of those who say more apartments are not needed in town.

Phaup said that the commission has had “poor communications” in considering the project. He said the letter from Taylor McCormick looked like “a letter from his grandmother when I was in summer camp,” citing a lack of details in the document.

Sherry Honeycutt, chairman of the commission and a Realtor, said that Farmville needs apartments, and she doesn’t think properties around the project would be devalued.

Dwyer said the proximity of the apartments’ entrance to Milnwood Road concerns him.

“In some ways, it would be wonderful to see the Milnwood Road project come to completion before we had to even make a decision,” he said.

Harper told the commission that he was not hearing the same negative sentiment about the project being expressed to the commission.

“To disregard the opinions of folks who drive those roads daily and have strong, well thought-out arguments. These are folks who live here,” Dwyer said.