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Mecklenburg supes back apartments over protests of residents

South Boston News
Softball star Odicci Alexander was honored at Monday’s meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors for her grace, service to the community and her outstanding performance with the James Madison University Dukes in the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series in Oklahoma in June. She is presented a resolution in her honor from former softball coach and Supervisor David Brankley.
SoVaNow.com / August 11, 2021
Over the objections of Brodnax residents and property owners, the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors agreed Monday to rezone just over seven acres of land on Oak Road near the intersection with Highway 1 to pave the way for construction of multi-family apartment units in the area.

Supervisors approved the zoning request by Joseph Whitby and his Lawrenceville-based real estate company, Blackacre Hypothetical, LLC, following a public hearing in Boydton, part of the board’s regular August meeting.

Attorney John Janson, speaking for Whitby and Blackacre, said his clients want to construct three 4-unit apartment buildings on the site to meet the current need for market-rate housing in the South Hill area. Each building would have two 2-bedroom units and two 1-bedroom units. The buildings would be single story and provide off-street parking which would not interfere with traffic flow on Oak Road.

In response to a question from ED-8 Supervisor David Brankley, Janson said each apartment building would draw water from an on-site well, and wastewater would drain into a septic system with conventional drain fields located on the property.

Maintenance of the property would be the responsibility of the owner, as the 12 apartments would be rental units, Janson said.

Corrine Walker, who lives at 809 Oak Road, told supervisors she and most of the nearby residents “oppose zoning change.” She submitted a petition signed by what she said were 95 percent of the nearby neighbors.

Walker estimated that the three units would potentially increase the population in the area by 50 persons and change their “quiet country community from low density to high density.”

She also said she had concerns about the safety of the existing and new potential residents, telling board members that Oak Road is a rural, dead-end street which is difficult for emergency vehicles and fire trucks to navigate should there be a need.

Irene Parrish, who owns land adjoining the proposed apartment complex site, described the water shortage issues that existing residents currently face. She said her son recently built a home on her Oak Road property. He had to drill two very deep wells and interconnect them before he could draw enough water with sufficient pressure to serve the home. Parrish shared her concern that the apartments would further negatively impact an already precarious water situation.

Parrish’s husband, Glenn Reyes, explained that the wells needed for the apartments complex would create a “cone of depression” in the area, causing shallow bored wells to dry up. “Already one of the renters on [his wife’s property] has no water and this is a problem,” said Reyes.

He wondered if Janson’s clients had performed a geological study to ensure there would be no decline in well water production or contamination of existing wells.

Janson confirmed that there are no existing plans to run municipal water lines to the area. Every building would need to drill an on-site well to have water. His client has retained a soil scientist, but no testing has taken place so far.

Five other area residents shared their concerns related to traffic safety, reduced property values, impacts on water flow, and the change of character to the neighborhood by introducing apartment dwellers.

Nearby resident Larry Cook asked supervisors to “please consider the interest of the community and the property owners instead of allowing a landlord to bring people together who just pay the rent.”

Another nearby homeowner, Herb Burgart called it “unscrupulous” for someone to buy property knowing that they would seek a change to the existing zoning “to fit the building.”

He suggested that the proposed apartments would be better suited closer to the town limits, not in a rural country neighborhood. “It [the apartment complex] will bring about the destruction of a way of life the residents have worked to protect,” Burgart said.

After hearing from residents and viewing the petition they submitted, ED-4 Supervisor Claudia Lundy asked for the project to be referred back to the Planning Commission for further study, “because there are whole lot of unknowns.”

Her motion failed on a 5-4 vote. Joining Lundy in support of the motion were Andy Hargrove, Glanzy Spain, and Tom Tanner. Opposing the motion were Brankley, Charles Jones, Sterling Wilkinson, Jim Jennings and Board Chair Glenn Barbour.

Brankley, who also serves on the Planning Commission, said it was unlikely that board would be in a position to provide any of the answers residents are seeking. Janson added his assurances that the apartment complex will comply with health and fire standards and would not, according to VDOT, significantly increase the amount of traffic to the area which would require upgrades to the intersection with Highway 1 or Oak Road.

After Barbour was told that the same plat could be subdivided and have up to five multi-bedroom homes built, each with their own well and septic system, he supported Brankley’s motion to approve the zoning request. He also received assurances from Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick that the developer would need to submit both an erosion and sediment control plan and a storm water management plan before construction could begin.

The motion passed by an opposite margin from Lundy’s earlier motion, with Brankley, Jones, Wilkinson, Jennings and Barbour voting in favor of the zoning request, and Lundy, Tanner, Spain and Hargrove in opposition.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Lundy told fellow board members they had “done a disservice” to those residents who deserved answers to their questions before the project was approved.

Brankley thanked the residents for coming forward: “I think people should come ask questions. We need to make sure everyone is accountable and does exactly what they say they are going to do. All of us don’t like change but we have to accept it and also hold them (the developers) accountable.”

In other business, supervisors established protocols for speakers wishing to address the board at meetings. Citizens will have three minutes to address the board at any public hearing. Only one person may speak at a time and they cannot donate or yield back any unused time or defer it to another speaker.

All comments must be directed to the members of the board, not the audience and there will be no dialogue with board members during the comment period.

Also:

Supervisors green-lighted several other projects Monday, including a request from Microsoft Corporation to rezone 178.69 acres on the north side of U.S. 58, west of Hayes Mill Road, on which will be built an additional data storage facility, and a request from Robert Styner and Joy Vannozzi to rezone 8.18 acres on the west side of Wightman Road near Highway 47, Chase City from B-1 business to agricultural. The couple plans to remove an existing structure and construct a new home on the property.

Also approved were two special exception permit applications. One was from Joseph “Jody” Williams to turn five acres of his 82-acre farm on Rocky Branch Drive near Brankley Road into a special event venue, and one from Zachary Miller and Zachary Owen to operate a K-9 duck hunting training center on the property at 6672 Highway 92 near Chase City.

In the absence of Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols, who was attending a separate meeting, County Administrator Wayne Carter shared an overview of the ongoing construction at Mecklenburg County’s new secondary school campus in Baskerville. He said the project is on track to be completed as scheduled by Aug. 1, 2022.

While several supervisors expressed skepticism that the work would be finished in time to begin moving into the site by June 1, 2022, Carter said company officials with Cleveland Construction, the general contractor, and contract manager Skanska have assured him that work is progressing as expected and the overall project is on time and on budget.

To date, $110,290,272 of the $152,380,000 construction budget has been spent.

Barbour reminded supervisors that the coming school year, being the last for separate high and middle schools, “will be emotional since it will be the final year for Bluestone High School and Park View High School, and we need to do our best to support both schools as they transition into this new world.”

Beth Engelhorn, executive director of Southside Behavioral Heath, reported on the activities of the three-county agency for mental and behavioral health services. Amid the public health emergency brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, her agency faced declining revenues but was able to continue to provide services to the community.

“We had to make decisions on a dime to protect staff and individuals in services, stay in compliance with state, federal and local health authorities, all while continuing to provide essential services to the community,” she said.

Engelhorn said staff involved with the psychosocial rehabilitation programs were repeatedly exposed to risk of contracting the coronavirus, which upped the agency’s expenses due to the need for personal protective equipment for those staff as well as workers at the agency’s residential facilities and in their direct care arena.

“Suffice it to say that we faced challenges that could not have been anticipated. But we had plans in place for disasters and a continuity of care for the services that we provide [and] four months of reserve funds to cover the cost of operations.”

Engelhorn said several difficult decisions were made during the 2021 fiscal year, including furloughs and layoffs of staff, changes in roles and responsibilities for other staff and program closures, including shuttering one group home due to a staffing shortage. As a result, Southside Behavioral Health ended FY2021 in the black with just over $500,000 in cash reserves.

Moving forward, Engelhorn said Southside Behavioral Health is looking to:

» Offer school-based counseling in all school districts within their service area — Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties — at no costs to localities. “All we need is space,” Engelhorn said.

» Set up computers in certain schools in each county to offer telehealth services with Southside Behavioral Health counselors and psychiatry services.

» Develop “peer warm lines” to provide support and information to persons dealing with substance abuse issues and concerns.

» Develop sensitive and trauma-informed practices across the agency.

» Provide LGBTQ+ counseling training

» Remodel an existing facility at 823 North Mecklenburg Avenue in South Hill to bring outpatient services to that area.

Jones asked about substance abuse services at the agency, telling Engelhorn that “it is a huge issue and this community and this county needs to do more to address this situation.”

“I agree,” she said. “We are not a methadone clinic but provide suboxone” for opioid abuse.

Carter asked whether she anticipated receiving additional funding from the Virginia General Assembly this year. Engelhorn said she did not know the answer to how monies will be parsed out, but believes that most of the additional general fund budget will go primarily to hospitals.

Supervisors approved a contract with Richmond-based Waco, Inc. to expand the Big Fork booster station at a cost of $1,634,602. The company is a mechanical and environmental contractor.

A VDOT spokesperson said repairs have been completed to Highway 92 in Boydton and the road is now reopened to traffic and repairs have also been completed to the Hanford Road Bridge.

Repairs to the bridge on Henrico Road will begin on Aug. 23 and run through Sept. 2. The road will be closed Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. but opened to traffic on nights and weekends while the repairs are ongoing.

VDOT is also looking into making additional changes to traffic on Wooden Bridge Road near the county’s new secondary school complex. Improvements will include drainage upgrades and smoothing of the road.



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