More homes or more space? Farmville rezoning considered

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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Where you fall on the Farmville rezoning all comes down to what kind of homes you want built. Harper Associates owns two parcels of land in the 300 block of Meriwood Farm Road in Farmville. The company’s goal is to build a 140 unit residential community in the area, located just northwest of the Walmart shopping center.

Now as it stands, the property is zoned R1, meaning only single family houses would be allowed. The company, however, wants the zoning changed, so they can have a rough 50/50 split of townhomes and single family houses. But there’s another issue. If the zoning changes, that also means the company could, in theory based on what’s allowed, increase the number of homes in the community, up to a potential of 310. And while officials from Harper say that’s not in their plans, nearby residents are concerned about what could be.

That’s where the Farmville town council will step in on Wednesday. That’s when council members will hold a public hearing, asking questions of the company before deciding if it makes sense to change the zoning. The council discussed the issues and their questions about the project during a Wednesday, July 6 work session.

Why consider Farmville rezoning?

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“I don’t think their intention is to get to the highest density they can,” Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis told the council in the July 6 meeting. “Their main goal to go to R2 is for the sole fact of smaller lot sizes for single family homes and also to have diverse housing. Townhomes mixed with single family homes, which you cannot have in R1.”

That echoed what Harper Associates representative Will Allen told the planning commission back in June. Allen said the way the land is shaped will limit the number of homes they can build. However, when asked in the June hearing by planning commission member Rhett Weiss if the company would consider putting a cap on the number of homes they would build, Allen declined.

And that lack of certainty, one way or another, is where the council comes in. Council member Adam Yoelin pointed out there’s still plenty of information missing. If the council approved the request by Harper Associates to rezone, then that allows up to 10 units per acre. Yoelin pointed out all of the current studies done by the group about traffic, water and sewer give no information about what impact a bigger community would have.

“If they want to do 140-150 units, they’re legally allowed to do that at this point,” Yoelin said. “And the water main and the studies they’ve done apply to that 140-150 units. So they’re asking specifically to get to an R2 status and have the ability to do more than 140-150. When do we get the information to determine if that’s even feasible?”

Yoelin’s fellow council member John Hardy echoed those concerns about the proposed Farmville rezoning. Hardy pointed out this property is connected to another piece, also owned by Harper Associates, which has already been approved for development. If construction moves forward on all of these, that will dramatically change traffic in the area. The council needs to know what that will look like before making a decision, he said.

Ask on Wednesday

Davis said it’s pretty normal for a developer not to have those questions answered at this point. Companies prefer to do that work after the first approval, he said.

“You don’t find many developers putting that much money into a project at the preliminary stage unless they know they can do the project,” Davis said. “A full water and sewer study and a traffic impact study is a little more costly.”

Instead, Davis suggested for the council to ask these and any other questions about the proposed Farmville rezoning to the developer on Wednesday.

“I would say it probably would be better to ask the applicant that during the public hearing,” Davis said. “The applicant gets the chance to propose their product to you and for them to answer any questions you have for them at that time.”

A question of housing

The argument presented in favor of the rezoning at the planning commission is that it would help with affordable housing. Some of the younger residents Farmville is trying to attract can’t afford or don’t want to buy single family homes, the supporters argue. The (medium density) zoning would allow for construction of a variety of home types and smaller lot sizes, which would provide a diversity of housing options. It would also add what supporters see as much needed housing inventory to the area and will help employers attract employees.

Affordable housing has been part of the discussion throughout the year in Farmville. People are less likely to move into an area or stay if they’ll be cost burdened to live there. That’s according to a Dec. 2022 study from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census staff defines cost burdened as someone who has to pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

The problem for Farmville is that 22% of its current homeowners are cost burdened, according to that same Census study. The percentage jumps even higher when you start talking about renters. An estimated 44.8% of renters in the area fall under that label. Neither of those labels are beneficial when trying to attract new residents.

A project like the one on Merlwood Farm Road could help ease the burden, supporters argue. On the other hand, existing residents are concerned that their neighborhood could change into something they don’t want.

What’s next for Farmville rezoning?

The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12, during the town council’s 7 p.m. meeting. This will be held at the town hall, 116 North Main Street. Even if the rezoning is approved, the developer would have to come back to the town council for subdivision approval before construction actually begins.