Does Buckingham need duplexes? Commission weighs request

The request caught some of the Buckingham County Planning Commission off guard when they heard it on Tuesday, May 28. It’s typical for someone to request a special use permit, if they want to do something that’s not automatically granted based on the rules of the area they’re in. It’s not typical, however, for that request to come with a second question, one that would change the entire county’s zoning plan. 

The issue involves Ivan Petersheim and what he wants to do with his property at 5516 Ridge Road. He wanted to take the building on the property, the old Whitworth Country Store, and turn it into a duplex. In his application paperwork and then again Tuesday night, Petersheim said he was doing this to help provide affordable housing. 

“As a small business owner and contractor, I’m trying to help address our housing crisis and affordability,” Petersheim wrote in his application. He was requesting to turn the structure, which comes to 1352 square feet, into a 500-ft apartment and a roughly 1,000 square foot apartment after some work. 

All of that is a fairly normal request for the commission. It’s the second part that was unusual. Petersheim’s property and the area around it for several miles, is zoned Agricultural A1. Currently, duplexes aren’t allowed in the A1 district, hence the request for a special use permit. But Petersheim also put in a request to change Buckingham County zoning, so that a multi-family housing duplex would be allowed as a special use in any Agricultural A1 Zoning District throughout the county. 

No specifics in Buckingham request

What concerned some of the commission members is the fact this text change request didn’t come with any specifics. There were no qualifiers in place. It just simply asked for any and all duplexes to be allowed as a special use in Agricultural A1 areas. 

“What concerns me is that we’re gonna do a text change here, which means we’re gonna put throughout the county in A1 the ability to process a SUP for duplexes,” said planning commission member Pete Kapuscinski. “It doesn’t even say the number of duplexes (allowed), it doesn’t say the number of duplexes per acre. It just says we’re gonna allow duplexes on A1 property. I have issues with that.” 

Neighbors also had concerns about turning that one building, which sits on 0.95 of an acre, into a multi-family home. As they pointed out, there’s nothing specifically in the request about limiting the number of families allowed. Several of them spoke to the Buckingham commission Tuesday night, raising concerns about traffic and how a zoning amendment like that would work, with no limits established. 

“In my opinion, multi-family housing is something that should be found in a village, not scattered haphazard around the county,” said James Michael McCaig. He owns a house adjacent to the property in question, so any expansion, especially on such a small lot, would affect him as well. And while McCaig acknowledged the need for reasonably priced affordable housing, he also questioned if this was the right space for it. Others echoed his concerns, asking if additional residents would lead to a need for local roads to be widened. And if that’s the case, they pointed out, how long would residents have to deal with the problem and wait, since such a widening request wouldn’t be in the current Virginia Department of Transportation funding plans. 

Other community members simply felt adding duplexes, especially through an amendment that didn’t give a limit, would dramatically change the rural feel of the area. 

“In a rural area, the last thing we need is a multi-family unit,” said neighbor John Wright. “In our little small area, it is mainly agricultural. Multi-family use, that’s for a village, we’re not in a village. We need to keep our community the way it is and keep that rural way of life.” 

Commission makes a decision 

Petersheim said he was surprised at the opposition to his request, acknowledging however that he hadn’t discussed it with the surrounding neighborhood. 

“We, I had no idea there’d be so many people opposed to it,” he told the commission before they took a vote. “I don’t have much of an argument (for it) other than affordable housing.” 

Another thing the planning commission members raised questions about involved paperwork. Petersheim said he had a perc test completed, that the property would perc for up to a four-bedroom unit, larger than the two-bedroom he was currently proposing. However, he didn’t have any paperwork on hand supporting that. 

Also, commission members circled back to the request to change the zoning for all agricultural districts in the county, as there were no details included. 

Commission members voted 6-2 to reject both requests and not send them forward to county supervisors. 

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