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Planning help will be sought

Members of the Farmville Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday to issue a request a request for proposals (RFP) for an outside consultant to assist the town in updating its comprehensive plan and reviewing and proposing amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance — a process officials say could take up to one year.

The action followed a contentious Sept. 29 planning commission meeting where members unanimously voted to table two controversial rezoning requests from Robert and Sherry Martin and Walk2Campus Holdings LLC while asking the town council to authorize the town manager to prepare the RFP.

Last week’s 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 Sept. 27 meeting, where planners were poised to vote to hold public hearings on the requests.

According to Spates, the process could take 6-12 months in updating the documents.

David Whitus

“I’ve (heard) a lot of conversation about that,” Mayor David Whitus said Wednesday during the town council’s work session regarding the recommendation from Spates to update the ordinance and comprehensive plan. “There’s a lot of questions. There’s a lot of people who don’t understand,” Whitus said.

“I think where we’re going with it is our (comprehensive) plan is out of date. It hasn’t been revised and (the) zoning ordinance, I think we just need to take a look at both of them and they both go hand in hand. And I think now is the time to do it,” Spates said, “before we take on a big project like this and go in and change our zoning ordinance. I think we really need to look at it, to get the public input, get council’s input on where they’d like to see these areas in the future.”

Spates noted that 2010 saw the last update to the comprehensive plan.

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.

“The conversations I’m hearing is people are really interested in planned growth, where growth is going to go, where student housing growth can go in town, what areas need to be protected and there’s a lot of discussion about that,” Whitus said. “Tell me how bringing in a consultant … tell us how that’s going to work.”

C. Scott Davis

Spates pointed to the expertise “from someone that does this all the time. Scott’s worked with some of them in the past,” Spates said, referring to newly-appointed Assistant Town Manager C. Scott Davis.

“I would say that putting out the RFP, it will take us a little bit of time to write that. If we’re going to write it, I think we should write it to try to have one consultant (who) can do both,” Davis said of the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.

Davis said he’s seen a comprehensive plan process that includes “some type of community involvement. There’s traditionally outside of the public hearing where … the consultant can have focus groups or they will do phases of the (comprehensive) plan and present different phases of the comp plan and have community input outside of the public hearing of when it’s actually adopted or up for discussion.”

Regarding the zoning ordinance, in a previous locality he worked, Davis said officials were able to simplify the zoning districts, making them more compact. “I think you can make some of those changes if that’s what we determine from looking at it in more detail. It’s time consuming — the reason for a consultant is as Mr. Spates says, they do that every day and it doesn’t obviously take up other time that I’m assuming the council and Mr. Spates wants me spending other time on than just that for 6-12 months at a time,” Davis said.

“Even if we did the (comprehensive) plan, I think you’re looking at 4-5 months just to do that,” Spates said.

He noted the possibility of making the zoning ordinance’s zones simpler.

“The public input, I think, is really critical that we get as much public input in this process as we can,” Spates noted.

He noted it could take up to 90 days to issue the RFP and start the process.

“I don’t think we need to rush it,” Spates said of the process.

“It’s just a matter of seeing what we’re able to attract,” Davis said regarding issuance of the RFP.

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

“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.”

“You’ve got time to act on (the requests) … I don’t think this group or any group is ready to act right now,” Spates said last week.

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

Charles Green, who lives on First Avenue, said if the requests were approved, historic Farmville and other areas could be “profoundly affected.”

“The feel of the old neighborhoods could be destroyed,” he said last Wednesday, later noting such development could “obliterate” neighborhoods.

Harlan Horton said that Sherry Martin’s assertion that the area was no longer historic “could not be further from the truth.”

After citing that Longwood University had nothing to do with the Martins’ proposal and noting the areas Longwood concentrated students off campus in neighborhoods away from historic neighborhoods, “it certainly seems the developer would like us to think that it does. Mr. (Mike) Kelley (the developer who’s working with the Martins) loves to talk about ‘Taylor,’” Bob Webber said, referring to W. Taylor Reveley IV, Longwood’s president, which drew a loud applause from the audience.

“Well, Mr. Kelley, being on a first-name basis with somebody doesn’t mean that person necessarily approves or supports of what you want to do.”

The properties Walk2Campus is seeking to have rezoned are on Grove, High, Appomattox, Garden, St. George, High, Beech, Buffalo and Randolph streets in town. Most are in proximity to Longwood University. In its rezoning application, Walk2Campus noted its “intent is to seek future projects on the same scale (60 units per acre), which would include the demolition of current buildings with the intent of building higher-density, multi-story apartment buildings with accompanying parking facilities.”

Uses in the R-3A Zone include rooming and boarding houses, single-family dwellings and university-related facilities with a conditional use permit.