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Transmission line, apartments pass muster with county planners

SoVaNow.com / August 04, 2021
The Mecklenburg County Planning Commission plowed through a heavy agenda Thursday that included three rezoning requests, two applications for special exception permits, and one electrical transmission line review.

Dominion Energy of Virginia’s plan to extend a 115 kV single-circuit overhead transmission line to Microsoft’s soon-to-be built data facility at Lakeside Commerce Park on U.S. 58 near Clarksville was deemed in compliance with the Mecklenburg County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The finding, known as a 2232 review, was made Thursday night by the Planning Commission during their monthly meeting in Boydton. They voted 6-0 to recommend that the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors approve the request. Three members were absent from the meeting: Donna Dennis, Jarrious Lassiter and Jerome Lassiter.

Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick said Thursday’s vote was procedural only and did not authorize Dominion Energy to go ahead with construction of the line. Before that can take place, Hendrick said Dominion must negotiate easement rights with any impacted landowner and receive a special exception permit from the county.

Construction would begin, if approved, during the summer of 2022 and be completed by the spring 2023.

Hendrick said the construction of the power line would enhance the needed electrical power to the new Microsoft facility near Clarksville, but he made no further recommendation to commission members, leaving it to them to either defer a decision, deny the application, or recommend approval.

Two of the landowners who would be affected by the project said they were opposed to the request.

The line would run from the east side of Commerce Drive, south of U.S. 58 to the east side of Wilbourne Road, south of Patten Road and cross 24 parcels of land — spanning 1,034.73 acres — owned by 15 individuals. The proposed right of way would be 160 feet wide and extend over 55.92 acres.

The properties crossed by the transmission line are mostly agricultural with standing timber and single-family homes and some industrial M-1.

Willard “Cliff” Morgan said he opposed the request since it would run through a fox pen that he operates on his property, as well as an area that he has planted with timber. He told commission members, “Every time I’ve dealt with Dominion Power, they’ve not kept their word. They want, want, want.”

Steve Poole said he, too, runs a fox pen on land that would be taken for the easement. He wondered how much compensation he would receive from Dominion while the company extends the transmission line.

Chuck Weil, speaking for Dominion Energy, acknowledged that his company has not begun negotiating with any of the affected landowners. He said those talks would not begin until after the project receives approval from the county.

When asked by planning board member Landon Hayes if it was possible to reroute the proposed transmission line, Weil replied, “Not efficiently.” He acknowledged, however, that Dominion Energy would have to consider alternate routes for the transmission line should any of the landowners refuse to grant the company easement rights.

“We will work with the property owners as much as we can,” Weil said.

The route, which runs east from the Chase City-Clarksville Transmission line #36 for just over a mile before heading south for another nearly two miles, was chosen because it was the shortest route and had the least impact on commercial land, according to Weil.

Making the motion to approve Dominion’s application for a 2232 review, Charles Reamy said, “The applicant is in compliance with the Mecklenburg County Comprehensive Plan. It [the proposed transmission line] will not be detrimental to the public welfare. It will not adversely affect the health or safety of persons or businesses in the neighborhood of the proposed used and it will enhance the development and provide the needed service to the [Microsoft] data center.”

In other business, planners approved a request from Microsoft to rezone 178.69 acres of land on the north side of U.S. 58, west of Hayes Mill Road.

The site, which is currently zoned for agriculture and planted with a mix of pine and hardwood trees, will be used for future expansion of Microsoft’s data center near Boydton.

Microsoft Project Manager Anselmo Cruz said construction would not begin until the company received all necessary approvals and permits.

The recommendation will now go to the Board of Supervisors for approval and could be considered as early as the Aug. 9 meeting of the board.

Over the objections of several nearby property owners, planners approved a request by attorney John Janson, on behalf of his clients Joseph Whitby and Blackacre Hypothetical, LLC, to rezone 7.09 acres of land on the eastside of Highway 761 (Oak Road) near Surface Road.

The vote was 5-1 with three members absent. Charles Reamy cast the only “no” vote. Commission Chair Kyle Crump, and members David Brankley, James Puryear, Landon Hayes, and Mark Warren voted to approve the request. Members Donna Dennis, Jarrious Lassiter and Jerome Watson were absent.

Janson said his clients want to construct three, four-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 two-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units.

James Smith, who lives within .3 miles of the proposed apartments, said the quiet neighborhood of single-family homes would, in his view, bring more traffic to the area, posing a hazard to children playing.

Another neighbor, Corinne Walker worried that the apartment complex would negatively change the “character” of the neighborhood and “open a floodgate for more apartments that would destroy the quiet country atmosphere.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Irene Parrish whose land adjoins the proposed apartments. Parrish also sought assurances from Janson that the buildings would be set back from her land. Janson said the county requires a 10-foot setback from all abutting property, but the buildings will be at least 50 to 70 feet off all existing property lines.

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 was approved without objection. The property is currently zoned business B-1. The landowners are asking to convert it to agriculture so they can remove an existing structure and construct a new home on the property.

Joseph “Jody” Williams has plans to turn five acres of his 82-acre property on Rocky Branch Drive near Brankley Road into a special event venue, to be used for weddings, birthdays, anniversary celebrations, company events and other activities.

According to his application, Williams has no plan to construct any buildings on the property, which is currently zoned agricultural, and has a mix of open land, planted timber and an existing home.

Hendrick said the county has approved special exception permits in the past that allowed these types of events. He added that the proposed use “will be an asset for tourism within the county.”

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the special exception permit, sending the matter to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

A request from Zachary Miller and Zachary Owen to run a canine training facility on the property at 6672 Highway 92 near Chase City was approved without objections, though Charles Reamy expressed concern for nearby property owners, saying, “he would not want someone shooting near his home.”

The comment was made in response to Hendrick’s explanation that the “applicant proposes to use the property for formal training of duck dogs and competition dogs for hunt testing (off-site) and the use of training equipment. Proper training includes exposure to blank gunfire and duck calls.”

The recommendations of the Planning Commission will now go to supervisors for approval.

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