Why this and why now? Farmville questions PUD plan

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, April 26, 2023

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FARMVILLE – Why this and why now? The Farmville Planning Commission had questions about the planned unit development ordinance (PUD) being considered and outlined their issues during their Thursday, April 20 meeting. 

As it stands now, there’s not much flexibility with Farmville’s zoning ordinances. It allows developers to either build single family homes or apartments in specific places. Basically, if a PUD is allowed, a developer could come in and propose something outside of those rules that the planning commission and then the town council could look at.

But planning commission members, Farmville residents and others still had questions. Some asked why this couldn’t wait until the next revision of the town’s comprehensive plan. 

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I’m still not clear what problems we’re trying to solve,” commission member Rhett Weiss said. “Why now? It seems out of time and out of place. We should do it as part of our comprehensive planning process.”

Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis argued that Farmville didn’t need to wait for an overall review of its ordinances and policies to get this done. 

 “The comprehensive plan is intended to be a dynamic document, evolving and changing to reflect the needs of the community,” Davis said. “It’s not stagnant. It can change. It doesn’t have to wait for a five year review. It can change yearly, monthly, as needed.”

He also said the goal here is to create spaces that have multiple types of uses. The current planning districts don’t allow that, unless you do each project by themselves, one at a time. Instead, he argued a PUD would allow developers to put up mixed use projects, with some apartments or condos mixing with businesses or green space. 

Where would the focus be? 

When this was first brought up in the Jan. 11 town council meeting, then-Farmville Director of Community Development Lee Pambid outlined four areas where a PUD model could make sense. One is the area of South Main Street and Clark Street, down by the Sheetz gas station. Another is the Sunchase area, with a possible front on East Third Street but behind the hotels. A third involves Merriwood Farms Road, in the area around and behind Walmart.  

But some of the development groups involved with those areas say they don’t need nor asked for a PUD ordinance. 

The Farmville Affordable Housing Alliance (FAHA) has made an offer to buy the Longwood Village property. This is the portion located behind Sheetz, just off of Clark Street. Speaking to the planning commission during their April 20 meeting, FAHA managing member Jake Romaine wanted to make it clear they didn’t request the PUD.
“We do not need this type of ordinance in order for us to proceed with our project,” Romaine told the commission. “That’s the main thing we would like to put out. (We’re) very motivated already to do the right thing for the town.” 

That just raised more questions for multiple commission members, who kept asking why this was being brought now? What’s the rush? 

Others said they saw this as a tool that would benefit Farmville for decades to come. 

“I don’t want to solve a problem today,” commission member Patrick Crute said. “I want to set up a mechanism so that the town can solve a problem in 20 years and develop in 30 years. I think we need to look at this aside from any particular parcel or proposal. Is this a tool we as a community can use at some point in the future?” 

In the past, Crute said, things like this have always been tied to a specific project, which gets people speculating. After Pambid identified four areas where he believed the concept could work, some people started wondering about developments in those areas. But instead, Crute said, the commission and the overall town needs to consider the concept.

This is about a process and a plan and having the mechanism there,” Crute said. 

More about the current Farmville draft 

The draft model being used currently came from the City of Lexington’s version. Partly, that was done because Lexington has two colleges and staff said they believe the two areas are very comparable. 

Some other parts of the draft concerned commission members. Abigail O’Connor pointed out that the minimum area for a PUD in the draft was three acres. 

“That just seems incredibly small to me, for something that’s supposed to be a mixed use type of development,” O’Connor said. “My neighbor’s yard across the street is three acres. I can’t imagine a mixed use development there.” 

She also pointed out that the draft said “not less than 30 percent of the total acreage shall be open space.” For a three-acre lot, that means 0.9 acres have to be open space. How would any business and apartment complex fit in there, she asked.  

Weiss also asked why there wasn’t an economic impact study attached to any new approvals. 

“I believe that to do PUD right, we need to include economic impact analysis,” Weiss said. What will this PUD do to the town? (How can we) make sure we’re looking out for all the citizens and not just accommodating a developer?” 

That includes both a detailed report about how many jobs the project would provide, how it would improve the tax base, what kind of jobs will be available there and what the salary range would be. Beyond that, Weiss also wants to see a physical impact study. 

“Until taxes start to roll in, there could be a lot of expense to the town to improve roads, improve sewer, water service,” Weiss added. “It’s a fair trade. If a developer wants to do something that basically needs special permission, then let’s make sure we know what the town’s getting into.” 

What’s next for Farmville? 

Now the discussion will continue, but not for a while. Next month, the commission already has two conditional use permit hearings and one rezoning request on its agenda, so it might be June before the group takes this up again.