A PUD question: Farmville council asks law firm what’s allowed

Published 2:18 am Tuesday, August 15, 2023

FARMVILLE – Back in June, Farmville resident Robert R. Gordon wrote a column in The Farmville Herald. In it, Gordon argued that he didn’t believe the Farmville council had the legal authority to create a Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance. 

A real estate attorney, Gordon argued this was “because it is not planned for, envisioned in, and exceeds all allowable land use density set forth in Farmville’s existing Comprehensive Plan.” Basically, since it seemingly goes against the Comprehensive Plan, Gordon argued the council shouldn’t do it. Responding to that column, the town council reached out to a Richmond law firm.  

“I felt like it was needed for us to have some sort of response to that opinion,” Farmville Mayor Brian Vincent said. 

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Farmville town attorney Gary Elder requested and received a memo from Hefty, Wiley and Gore, a firm that’s worked on planning, zoning and development cases for more than 25 years. The group is well known in Richmond, as they’ve represented multiple cities and counties in cases involving the General Assembly. 

The question from the Farmville administration was pretty clear. Does a town need to have a Planned Unit Development mentioned or included in the comprehensive plan before they can create an ordinance. And the answer from Hefty, Wiley and Gore was equally clear. 

“No, a Planned Unit Development does not have to be included in a locality’s comprehensive plan prior to adopting a Planned Unit Development ordinance or approving a Planned Unit Development,” the law firm’s Aug. 2 memo said. 

The memo also argued that while the words “planned unit development” aren’t in the comprehensive plan, the concept is.

“Mention of increased residential density and mixed-use development seems to anticipate future zoning, which could include planned unit developments in both the mixed-use and commercial districts,” the memo states. 

Things need to match 

The firm did caution, however, that if Farmville does adopt a PUD ordinance, the comprehensive plan needs to match up. 

“Though not legally required, because the comprehensive plan is one of the most important, and most relied upon factors used in providing guidance for zoning decisions, it is advisable to have consistency between the two documents,” the firm’s memo said. 

Basically, as Elder explained to the council at its Wednesday, Aug. 9 meeting, a final decision is up to them. 

“Council is at liberty, should it wish to do so, to adopt that ordinance,” Elder said. “The memorandum that we received suggested that council could adopt the ordinance without addressing the comp plan or council could address the comp plan and then pass the ordinance. 

But legally, there is no right or wrong (here). Council is at liberty to do whatever council wishes to do on this issue.” 

Farmville council looks toward future

This comes as Farmville continues discussions this fall both on a proposed PUD ordinance and on an update of the comprehensive plan. Both of those issues are in the hands of the planning commission and still in early form, with public hearings to be scheduled. 

But what is a PUD? Basically, if a PUD is allowed, a developer could come in and propose something outside of the regular town rules that the planning commission and then the town council could look at. The town, meanwhile, can put in requirements, making developers set aside a certain amount of green space, or build a park. The developers would have to present a plan, hold public hearings and get approval from the planning commission and council before anything could move forward.

In a traditional application, unless the developer volunteers, a town or county can’t make them put in a park or add walking trails to a proposal. With a PUD, the argument for it is that the town could require these types of things. 

Farmville council asked why now?

But residents have raised two questions repeatedly, both in government meetings and public hearings. Why this and why now? Basically, what triggered this push to add a PUD ordinance. The answer, Town Manager Scott Davis said in a May 3 Farmville council meeting, has to do at least partially with the future of Longwood Village.

In July 2022, the Richmond-based Better Housing Coalition started discussions about buying and reimaging the existing eight buildings and ninety-six housing units on the property in a first phase. Then they would develop an estimated 10 acres in a second phase. All of this is located behind Sheetz, just off of Clark Street in Farmville.
For what the Better Housing Coalition is proposing, they could build the first phase without any help. But Davis and Vincent said the second proposed phase might need more flexible zoning.

“Part of my job and staff’s job, when someone wants to develop in the town of Farmville, is for us to work with them and see how and if we can make that a realization,” Davis said. “So the elephant in the room is correct. Better Housing Coalition (BHC) needs something for the second phase. There’s no doubt about that.”

At the May 3 meeting, Davis said BHC asked him and the former director of community development if there was a way to reduce parking requirements, to reduce lot size requirements.

“And the discussion did start by saying, yeah those are questions and topics of a planned unit development type ordinance,” Davis said. “So did the idea originate from conversations with a developer on how do we help you develop in the town of Farmville? The answer’s yes. The answer’s also yes that I will do that for any developer that wants to do a business or that wants to do a housing project in Farmville. Did it make us think of other properties who could benefit? The answer to that is also yes.”