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South Hill Council turns down townhouse project / November 10, 2021

A request to rezone 6.3 acres on Raleigh Avenue between West Atlantic Street and Forest Hill Drive was voted down by South Hill Town Council on Monday night after nearly a dozen area residents spoke out against the project.

The vote was 8-0 to deny the request. Council member Delores Luster was absent from the November monthly meeting.

Property owners Roger and Catherine Upton asked the town to rezone the property from its current status of R1-15 single-family residential to Townhouse/condominium district R2-8. This would have allowed them to construct 46 townhouses spread out into nine buildings on the property.

Speaking on behalf of the property owners, real estate agent Jean Clary Bagley said the project would help alleviate a housing shortage that currently exists in the town.

The project’s neighbors, however, objected to the request for several reasons including perceived traffic congestion, lack of parking, and lack of suitable places for children to play.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, Town Council unanimously agreed to repeal Section 46-52 of the South Hill Town Code. It required the chief and assistant chiefs of the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department to reside within the corporate limits of South Hill.

The repeal was recommended by attorneys for both the town and the fire department after it was determined that the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department was not an entity of the town. As such, the Town of South Hill is not in a position to impose rules or laws regarding the department.

Council also approved position descriptions for part-time fire station/grounds technicians. Town employees have been working in this capacity for over a year but were paid as independent contractors.

Town Manager Kim Callis said it was the advice of the town’s legal counsel that these part-time contract workers, previously hired by former fire chief Rosser Wells, be converted to part-time employees, and paid accordingly.

Callis said the town has received word from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) that a preliminary engineering study for Phase 1 of the Highway 58 Bypass alterations would begin in mid-January, but the actual construction would not take place for another two to three years.

VDOT needs to acquire rights of way and federal funding before construction begins.

VDOT asked for and Council approved a resolution to move forward with the construction project at a cost of $575,761 to the town. Callis said no monies were due to VDOT at this time.

Callis said the bypass project is needed “to reduce the opportunity for vehicles in that area” — the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and the U.S. 58 bypass — “to intersect and thus reduce accident points.”

Callis said members of Town Council will be holding a retreat on Jan. 28, at the R.T. Arnold Public Library in South Hill. The public is invited to attend but will not be allowed to give input.

The cost of the retreat is $4,440.

Construction is set to soon begin at the new Microsoft Data Center site at Hillcrest Industrial Park in South Hill.

Council approved a request to pay $171,000 to G & L Tank Sandblasting and Coatings, LLC out of Shelbyville, Tenn., to repaint the interior and exterior of the Plank Road water tank.

Mayor Dean Marion asked Callis to notify nearby residents ahead of the painting.

Spencer Crowder, chair of the South Hill Industrial Development Authority, presented a proclamation to Steve Watkins. In May, Watkins retired from the town IDA after serving on the board for more than 25 years, 16 years as chair.

Crowder credited Watkins with being involved in the formation and development of three major industrial parks for the town — Northend, Interstate and Hillcrest — and the development of the new VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital facility in South Hill. These and other economic development projects “gave critical impetus to the development of South Hill,” said Crowder.

In an item of new business, Council member Gavin Honeycutt asked Callis for an update on the transfer of the Colonial Theater building in South Hill to the non-profit entity being formed to take over operations and ownership of the building. Callis replied that “the paperwork has been submitted and now everything is in the IRS’s [Internal Revenue Service] hands.” The transfer will take place once the IRS issues a letter approving the non-profit application.

Honeycutt then asked the town to repay the South Hill Volunteer Fire Department for the nearly $18,000 spent defending itself against what Honeycutt called “speculations and accusations [about] gross conduct of errors.”

“If I was in their shoes, if someone had accused me of breaking laws, I would hire legal counsel,” Honeycutt said. He added, “They need safety equipment and air tanks. They used money that would have been allocated to equipment to pay legal fees. Through no fault of their own they were put in spotlight.”

After Vice Mayor Mike Moody objected, saying Honeycutt’s request was not in accordance with existing protocols that require the matter to first be brought to the fire committee for discussion and review, Honeycutt amended his motion to ask for the issue to be discussed by the fire committee and then brought to Council for a vote. He asked Council to hold a special called meeting to vote the issue up or down.

The motion passed on a 5-2 vote over the strong objections of Council member Joseph Taylor. Lillie Feggins-Boone also voted against the motion.

Taylor said he opposed the request because “we have no budgetary evidence that the fire department as a separate public agency is being deprived of any equipment in any way.”

“We are free as individuals to hire lawyers to advise us whether in a disagreement or to seek legal guidance. The fire department is a separate public agency. I believe it sets a dangerous precedent for the town to reimburse a separate public agency.”

Taylor, a lawyer, said he felt approval of the payment, absent a court order to pay legal fees and where there was no ongoing litigation, set the town up for “extreme risk.”

When polled by Honeycutt, both Callis and Finance Director Sheila Cuttrell acknowledged that spending the $18,000 would not financially harm the town. It was town attorney Howard Estes who shut down the discussion, telling Council that the idea of paying legal fees created potential culpability for the town and needed to be discussed in closed executive session under an exemption in open government laws that allow private discussions of legal matters.

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Does anyone find the cost of a retreat for the Town Council to go across the street a little high. 9 council members plus mayor for $4400.00. Can't imagine the rental being that high, definitely no travel cost or accommodations. Either an expensive speaker or else they are eating way above the per diem for business meals. Someone needs to look after our tax money.

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