Farmville council asks questions about Meriwood property plan

Published 4:09 am Tuesday, July 18, 2023

FARMVILLE – A decision on the Meriwood Farm Road property owned by Harper Associates has been pushed back to August. During the Wednesday, July 12 meeting of the Farmville Town Council, Mayor Brian Vincent said not every neighboring property owner had been notified, so the public hearing and vote had to be rescheduled. The council still heard from local residents and from a Harper Associates official, who answered their questions about his company’s plans. 

The focus here is on two parcels of land in the 300 block of Meriwood Farm Road in Farmville, both owned by Harper Associates. The company wants the 31 acres rezoned from R1 to R2, so they can have a roughly 50/50 split of townhomes and single family houses. The current R1 zoning only allows for single family homes to be built on the property. 

The issue, especially for nearby residents, is what they see as the lack of guaranteed facts about the site. They see promises, but no guarantees. 

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“It appears to me that a lot of the key factors here are not well quantified,” said Robert Dillman. He’s one of the residents that live in nearby Jessie’s Way. A longtime systems engineer and program manager, Dillman told the council July 12 that he and other residents want specific quantified information about the development plans. 

“The actual housing density has been a statement of intent, seemingly not binding,” Dillman said. “The actual traffic density that will cause, the affordable housing term, what does that mean in terms of house pricing as well as perhaps minimum square footage? Without those specific quantified key factors, it seems like a decision can’t be well made yet.” 

A question of density at Meriwood 

One of the concerns for residents involves how many homes will actually be on the property. In their application to the town, Harper Associates said their plans were for a 140-home project, with about an even split between townhomes and single family houses. However, in his presentation Wednesday, Will Allen from Harper Associates placed the number in the high 90s. 

“The memos reference 140 units, and that’s intentional,” Allen said. “The traffic consultant and utility engineer, they typically will go with a higher number out of the gate. They want to be very conservative. They don’t want us to spend a big number, a big investment to do all the engineering work and find that utilities aren’t available on site.” 

Allen told the council his group didn’t see a market for a project with a number of homes much larger than that in Farmville. Instead, his group is proposing a 50-50 split between smaller lots, single family detached homes and townhomes that would be roughly between 1400 to 2000 square feet. 

“The reason in this particular location that we selected to go with a rezoning is because the lot configurations are larger than what we’re seeing as being desirable in the marketplace,” Allen said. “We thought it might be an opportunity to customize it and make the lots crafted more for the evolving preferences of buyers. Smaller lots and smaller footprints.” 

He also pointed out that due to the shape of the land, the company would be limited in how many homes could fit. 

But as council member John Hardy pointed out, the concern isn’t the immediate plans. It’s about what might happen down the road.  

“If by some chance you guys sold it to some other developer, as opposed to the end user being people buying homes, and they decided to come in and put a bunch of townhomes there, they could get a fair chunk more than 140,” Hardy pointed out.  

Placing limits 

The town isn’t legally allowed to require limits on the number of homes, beyond what is allowed in a specific zoning area. Council members asked the same question as some planning commission members did previously, if Harper Associates would self-impose a limit and commit to only building X number of homes on the Meriwood site, regardless of the market. Known as a proffer in real estate, that limit would become a legally binding part of the development agreement. Even if Harper Associates sold the property, any proffer previously agreed to would still stand. Allen declined, saying the company wasn’t prepared to do that.  

“We think what we’ve presented here is what the market will want to absorb in the 5 to 10 year horizon,” Allen said. “I don’t see a plan where it would be all townhomes. I don’t think the market would want that. I don’t see how the overall density, how we could go above 140 to 160. I don’t see how it’s mathematically possible to do that. We can’t do a denser product than what we’ve shown.” 

Hardy also asked why the market would support these homes being sold, when so many others are sitting vacant, with no construction starting. 

“I know we need more housing, but there is a lot of stuff that’s been approved and nobody’s building anything,” Hardy said. He pointed to a proposed 140 townhome project between Williams Street and Hwy. 460 as an example. “There are (also) a bunch of units over here off of Vincent Street that are approved. There are others. We have a lot that are approved and if the market is not allowing for some, why would the market allow for these?” 

Town Manager Scott Davis pointed out that some of these other projects are for rental units and that market has shifted a bit. 

“A lot of that drive slowed down (first) because of COVID and two, a change at the university,” Davis said. 

He was referring to Longwood University’s change to require underclassmen to live on campus, rather than allowing them to rent nearby. Aside from rental properties, Davis said he didn’t know of any projects sitting idle. 

When would Meriwood property be ready?

Allen told the council it would take between 12 to 18 months to get the Meriwood property ready for individual lots. 

“I think that’s the minimum to get started,” Allen said, adding that a five to 10 year trajectory to complete the project was probably realistic. “You cannot market a project like this to a builder until it’s rezoned, ‘cause you’re talking about such a long duration before those lots would be available to sell to a customer.” 

These homes would be priced somewhere between $200,000 to $300,000, he estimated. 

What happens next? 

A public hearing and potential vote on the rezoning request will be held at the town council’s next full meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, August 9.