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Group seeks to halt requests

Editor’s Note: On Sept. 22, The Herald sat down for an interview with members and supporters of Farmville: This Place Matters — a newly founded group formed in response to two controversial rezoning requests in Farmville. This is the first of a two-part series from that interview.

Prompted by the controversial Martin and Walk2Campus Holdings LLC rezoning requests, a new group has formed to advocate for smart planning and land use in Farmville.

Farmville: This Place Matters — the name of the group — has almost 400 followers on social media, according to Dan Mossler, one of the leaders of the new group.

Also involved are Kerry Mossler, Julie Ross, Harlan and Reed Horton and Faye and Chuck Green.

“I think the idea is to really shed some light on (these proposals),” Dan Mossler said of the purpose of the new group. “I think all of us were really surprised; I thought this came up very suddenly. And I could say surprised and I could say stunned. Talking to people, just hearing from really dozens of people just were going, ‘Oh my God, this can’t happen,’ that moved us to sort of form this (and) the Facebook page and then alert people when the meetings were, things like that.”

The organization of the group comes amid action taken by planners in Farmville on Sept. 27 where they unanimously voted to table the two rezoning requests from Robert and Sherry Martin and Walk2Campus while asking the town council to authorize the town manager to prepare a request for proposals for outside consultants to assist the town in updating its comprehensive plan and reviewing and proposing amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance.

The action followed 27 people who spoke against the projects — citing quality-of-life issues, noise, the historic nature of the area, parking, trash, traffic, the precedent the rezoning could set and density levels.

The recommendation to table the requests — which have drawn feverish opposition — came from Town Manager Gerald Spates following the public comment portion of the meeting, where planners were poised to vote to hold public hearings on the requests.

The Martins are requesting to rezone their just more than an acre of property they own at the intersection of High, Oak and Appomattox streets for a proposed five-story, 95,000-square-foot student apartment complex from R-3 Residential to R-3A Residential, while Walk2Campus Holdings LLC President and CEO Matthew King is seeking to rezone 37 of his firm’s student housing properties to R-3A Residential.

The Martins’ request includes repealing the density level maximum of 10 units per acre for the R-3A Zone to allow for the proposed 195-bed apartment complex. The R-3A Zone is the same that Longwood University’s main campus is classified as.

Warren Reid, a supporter of Farmville: This Place Matters who works at his family business, Bland Reid Funeral Home, on Griffin Boulevard, said the whole town mattered to the group. “If we’re going to say, ‘This place matters,’ it has to be the (whole town).”

“The Martins’ really don’t have a project yet and they have not proposed a project,” said Horton. “They have a thought and they have a concept. What they’re after is the change to the zoning ordinance. And we see, I think, that massive departure from what we have done in the past is what has caught us all by surprise. And what I think needs time and study and to make sure that our planning for the future, when we make those changes or when we create new ordinances, that those things are designed to help do all those things that the zoning ordinance is supposed to do. …”

Regarding the purpose of the group, Horton said, “It’s not just ‘Let’s stop the Martin project,’ it’s to say we need to be careful and thoughtful about how we plan this town for the future.”

“Farmville really is a unique place,” said Mossler, who lives on Appomattox Street in view of one of the Martin homes that could be razed should the project gain approval. “I think there’s this kind of relationship between the colleges and the university and the neighborhoods … I think that’s a precarious balance right now. I think adding, doubling, the number of students in this area, which is essentially what the Martin project would do, and then if Walk2Campus does what they have said they’re going to do and they do the same thing … triple, quadruple the number of students, it would change the character of not just this neighborhood, but really the town.”

Horton said the history of the town was part of its identity.

“It’s sort of the face, to some extent, of the town,” Mossler said of the intersection where the Martins’ project is proposed. “I think that the artist’s rendering, the drawing of that building is visually deceptive. I don’t think you realize how big that thing is. I mean, it is going to be huge. It’s going to occupy the whole end of that block.”

Regarding the Martins’ reference to the two-story admissions building Longwood University is planning to build, Mossler said the Martin project would be “five times (the) size” of the that.

Ross said the admissions building would have no students in it at night and no students on the weekends. “All it is is a building. They are comparing this to the admissions building? That’s apples and oranges.”

Ross said the homes in the area of the proposed project were “part of Longwood history.”

“Can you imagine what’s going on for the six months it’s going to take to construct that? That intersection will be a joke,” Mossler said, who later noted, “I can’t imagine it to be honest.”

Reid said it struck him as odd “the disagreement that this was still a historical area. I understand that Bobby Martin had petitioned the council and to do a historic preservation of the area, and it was not approved … However, the area is no less historic. The houses all still have character.”

“And it has the historic designation,” Mossler said.

“I can come down these streets and, without the Walk2Campus logo on the house, it’s just another single-family home,” Reid said.

“If the rezoning is approved for Walk2Campus, for the Martins,” Reid said, “I think that it will open a door (showing) that’s allowed … I honestly think that (King) filing his paperwork was almost like a retaliation, well like, ‘OK, I want a piece of the pie.’”

“He doesn’t want to be left out,” Horton said.

“If you’re talking about Mr. King razing all of his houses and putting apartment complexes in, it goes back to what Mr. Mossler said, where are they going to park?” Reid said.

Reid said there were “many areas (in Farmville) that could see a five-story building. There are vacant lots in Farmville. There are a lot of lots that could use that type of traffic that would bring traffic toward Sunchase, the commerce areas. But you’re talking about taking four houses, tearing them down with total disregard to the historic value of the house because the owners don’t see the historic value in the house anymore, and putting up a modernized building that’s going to completely change the face of this neighborhood,” Reid said.

“Matt King and Walk2Campus in particular (have) treated this neighborhood with a great deal of sensitivity when it came to maintaining that sense of neighborhood and actually creating historic value by preserving the houses,” Horton said, “but then converting them to a new use. Just because these houses are a commercial venture, just because a single-family residence is now a commercial venture doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater and say, ‘It’s no longer historic.’”

“What the Martins’ are saying is not correct,” Horton said, referring to a comment in an earlier interview by Sherry Martin when she contended the area was no longer historic. “These have been adapted for a new use but maintained in their structural and historic integrity.”

Mossler said it was cynical, self-serving, wrong and offensive to say the area was no longer historic.

“Essentially what (the Martins) were saying is, ‘We’re going to capitalize on our little teeny piece of property to the detriment of everybody else around here who finds value in our historic neighborhoods and out tree-lined streets — all of the things that most people find value in,’” Horton said.

Shannon Altland, a Longwood University sophomore, from Ashburn, who sat with the group during the first portion of the interview, said she’d been keeping up with the rezoning projects.

“I believe it’s going to have a big impact on the residents of Farmville and the students of Longwood University,” she said.

Altland said to tear down the Walk2Campus houses and to replace them with apartments would “completely reverse (students’) thinking and just push them elsewhere.”

“I don’t want to look out of Chichester and see this huge apartment (building). I like looking out and seeing the houses. I like seeing all the people talking to one another. I like seeing all the social aspects that the houses bring. Apartments are big apartments and that’s what they are.”

“There already are excess spaces to live,” Altland said, calling the project “unnecessary.”

During the Sept. 27 planning commission meeting, Spates said not only did the comprehensive plan need  to be revamped, but also taking “a look at improvements to our zoning ordinance to bring them up to date with current standards.”

Spates noted that outside consultants would help with the process of amending the documents. “I think by going through this process and the public hearings, it would give the citizens an opportunity to weigh in on any of these changes that would be made.”

“I think we need to get the public involved in the comprehensive plan and in the zoning (ordinance),” Commission Chairman Sherry Honeycutt said during the meeting.

“We’re at a point where the town really needs to think about where we’re headed. …,” Ward E Commissioner Jerry Davenport said. “It’s a serious breaking point where we’re coming to.”

The meeting — which served as the introduction of the rezoning requests to the commission — saw standing room only as speakers lambasted the proposals.