Council sets vote on apartments

Published 3:03 pm Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Farmville Town Council is set to vote Wednesday on a proposed apartment complex — one that’s been reduced to 100 units — following a recommendation from a traffic engineer to move the entrance on South Main Street further from the Milnwood Road intersection.

The entrance recommended by the engineer would cross property that the town purchased recently from Willa B. Wood and that Town Manager Gerald Spates promised Wood would not be used for accessing the apartments.

Revised conceptual plans for the hotly-contested project, which developer Russell Harper’s Farmville Associates LLC is seeking a conditional use permit from the council to construct, include additional entrances using the Walmart Shopping Center and the Tractor Supply Co. parking lot. Plans also include donating 10 acres of property behind the complex to the town for community use.

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Discussion of the permit came during the council’s Wednesday work session.

The latest conceptual plans still show the South Main Street entrance crossing land owned by Farmville Associates closer to Milnwood Road — though the town council could require putting the entrance on the former Wood property that fronts South Main Street. If council members make that change, it would break a promise that Spates made to Wood in a letter dated May 12.

The letter to Wood, written on town letterhead that includes each council member’s name, stated: “ … I can assure you that no road or entrance will cross the property. It will be strictly used for a holding pond.”

If approved, the apartments would be built between Walmart and the Greens South subdivision. The property, owned by Farmville Associates, is zoned B4, allowing apartments.

Don Deberry, a senior traffic engineer with McCormick Taylor — the firm that conducted a “mini-traffic study” on the proposed project at the request of the town’s planning commission — recommended the entrance be located on the town property, which is about 300 feet south of the Milnwood Road intersection and 50-75 feet south of the entrance Harper is proposing.

Deberry, who explained the traffic study, patterns and accident history in the area of the entrance, also recommended both left- and right-hand turns be permitted onto South Main Street from the apartments.

“I do not see an inherent safety problem with this location …,” Deberry said of the entrance across town property. Responding to a question from Mayor David Whitus, Deberry said that the entrance crossing town property “gives you more room to work with.”

Ward A Councilman Greg Cole suggested that the developer use the town’s property as the South Main Street entrance.

“How can we go about getting Mrs. (Willa) Wood’s blessing on this?” At-large Councilman Dan Dwyer said following Cole’s comment. Dwyer referred to Spates’ letter to Wood, who sold one acre to the town for $125,000 after being told it would be used for a retention pond unrelated to the apartment project.

Responding to Dwyer, Spates said the town doesn’t need Wood’s blessing as it owns the property.

“This body hasn’t made a commitment to anybody,” Cole said.

“The letter that you sent was on town letterhead and my name was on it …,” Dwyer responded.

Spates said that Farmville Associates could purchase a portion of the town property to locate the road, should the town approve its location.

“We paid $125,000” for the Wood property, Spates said after the meeting. “I would assume we’d probably get $50,000 from (Farmville Associates). But we’ll still get the area that we need for the holding pond.”

“Does council think that they will be in a position to make a decision on this project next Wednesday?” Whitus asked his colleagues after the discussion.

“I think I’m satisfied as far as what the engineer said,” Cole said. “Given the proximity from the red light and the data that we have to backup the traffic and the accidents on South Main Street, I’m satisfied with that entrance as long as it’s up on town property. I think that’s got to be a caveat.”

“To me, it seems like a no-brainer,” said Ward D Councilman Donald Hunter. “You don’t want to go across six lanes of traffic (when turning left). You really don’t. If everyone’s concerned about safety, it needs to be moved up. …”

“I would like for us to get all the discussion out while we’re here so, if there’s any way possible, we can make the decision next Wednesday,” Whitus said.

Ward E Councilman J.J. “Jamie” Davis said he was “very satisfied” with the information presented.

Will Allen, a Farmville Associates representative who spoke during the work session, said that the proposed supplemental entrance using the Tractor Supply parking lot was still being worked out.

“They’ve since had some concerns brought forth by their tenant as to the location that we proposed here,” he said. “They haven’t abandoned it, but they basically said that whatever their tenant would like them to do that they’re going to fall in line with them. She said they’d be open to looking at potentially another location. … We haven’t looked at that any further. …”

Allen said he’d pursue other options at the location and present them Wednesday during the town council meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. He said a new site plan would be presented then, reflecting the changes.

“It will not be confirmed, but, what we’ll plan to do is look at alternative locations and go back to the Rosemyr folks (who own the Tractor Supply property) and see if that’s something they could get comfortable with,” Allen said, responding to Dwyer, who said he wanted more information on the entrance/exit at Tractor Supply.

Reducing the number of units to 100 from 120 came from concern about the core site being 10 acres and zoning regulations allowing a maximum of 10 units per acre.

“I think the biggest concern that we had with the residents (during the June 24 community meeting) was creating the largest buffer that you can between the property and the residential area,” Cole said.

Allen responded, noting that additional vegetation could be added.

According to a map distributed by the town, the distance from the apartment complex to the nearest house in Cabell’s Court subdivision is 245 feet. The distance from property line to the closest apartment is 188 feet.

Cole said one concern was the entrance from South Main coming close to one of the homes.

“We took a look at the existing traffic,” Deberry said. “We had counted the traffic in 2013 at the intersection. We looked at the Virginia (Department of Transportation) traffic numbers that updated the through traffic on the road.”

Deberry said his firm performed an analysis of traffic on the road and expected traffic using the apartment complex at an “acceptable level of service.”

His analysis assumed that every parking spot in the development would leave the development at the same hour in the morning. “And that still produced an acceptable level of service at the driveway connection.”

“The further away the better,” Deberry said. “But, I will tell you that neither of those two locations is going to be a significant safety issue for the town … Either one would work efficiently in the same area … I would always prefer to move farther away from the intersection. I wouldn’t say one’s safer than the other.”