Hickory Grove rezoning case slated for March 10 hearing: proposed MX/B-2 project still jarring

Hickory Hill, II, LLC’s rezoning application (REZ2019-00019) comes off a 60-day deferral for its March 10 public hearing before the Board of Supervisors. The proposed 51-acre mixed-use/commercial development remains inappropriate for the semi-rural transition at the eastern border of Ashland with Hanover’s Beaverdam District. Applicant has proffered minimally in a process that has extended over a year.

Applicant has removed the 16-pump gas station/convenience store from the 9-acre commercial parcel and inserted 2 fast-casual restaurants with pickup. So now there are five restaurants in the site plan, all of which would pull traffic a mile and a half off Interstate 95, creating more traffic and congestion. And with a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), applicant could return at any time with a request for a convenience store/gas station with fewer than 16 pumps.

Additionally, applicant has agreed to increase the Rte 54 thoroughfare buffer by 25% for trees and 30% for shrubs. What about increased buffer for residential neighbors? Nothing proffered.

See the following list of troubling issues and impacts of the proposed development:

How this MX/B-2 Project Will Impact the Ashland-Hanover Area

The Commercial Plan Includes

  • 2 fast-casual restaurants w/drive-through
  • 1 Fast Food restaurant w/drive-through
  • 2 high turnover sit-down restaurants w/pick-up
  • The plan now includes 5 high volume restaurants, 4 with drive-through, designed to attract interstate commerce
  • Multiple office buildings
  • Commercial Retail facility(ies)
  • The 16-pump gas station/convenience store has been removed at this point, but with Conditional Use Permit (CUP), developer can request gas station/convenience store with fewer than 16 gas pumps at any time.

Traffic Increase

  • This proposal would add approximately 7000 vehicle trips/day to Route 54.
  • Route 54 is overburdened already.
  • The already approved East Ashland project would add 33,000 vehicle trips/day which would be in addition to the 7000 vehicle trips from this project. 
  • We need adequate traffic studies to determine completely the total picture including costs, benefits and impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.

Commercial Inappropriate for Site

  • Encourages sprawl into semi-rural transition area, leapfrogging over undeveloped area.
  • Incompatible with existing residential areas that include the longstanding, semi-rural Jamestown Road, Burleigh Drive and Rte 54 neighborhoods in addition to newer residential neighborhoods.
  • Compromises historic corridor from Ashland to Hanover Courthouse.
  • Lengthy business hours adding noise, traffic, light pollution.
  • Overbuilding in face of declining demand (20+ vacant commercial properties now in Ashland).
  • These businesses are not “village” and “walkable” in scale or aesthetics.
  • It’s plain ugly next to residential neighborhoods and farms adjacent to the property.
  • Residential work would begin first and last up to around 5 years.
  • No guarantee when commercial development would start, but it would be after residential, and could last up to 10 years
  • The developer refuses to provide “phasing” timelines to Board of Supervisors.

MX Zoning Has Poor Record

  • Conceptual plans changed during or shortly after construction.
  • The “village” and “walkable” concepts are often underwhelming or missing with dominant design meant to attract interstate traffic.
  • Some Hanover County Supervisors have expressed dissatisfaction with the Mixed-Use zoning track record.
  • This proposal should not progress until an analysis of the Mixed-Use zoning district guidelines is completed. At minimum, the analysis should include
  • Reviewing the Comprehensive Plan Section 2, Land Use, and limiting the General Land Use map designations where mixed use is considered a “compatible” zoning district. 
  • Creating more types of Mixed-Use zoning districts tailored to the General Land Use map designations. 

Economic and Fiscal Questions

  • Infrastructure costs not adequately determined and compared to revenue that would be realized (e.g., more costs than revenue).
  • Commercial occupancy rate may be underwhelming in view of current economic conditions and underutilization in commercial sites on the other side of I-95.
  • Has cost-benefit analysis from county perspective been completed?
  • Long-term debt for county?

Developer’s proffers re: Buffer, Providence Church Rd

– Developer proffers very little in terms of buffers. No additional enhancements for     Providence, with minimal enhancements for the Rte 54 thoroughfare buffer by 25% for trees and 30% for shrubs, to be a mix of evergreen and deciduous. No other buffer enhancements are proffered.

-Developer may pay for demolition of Providence Church Rd along the HOA side. (This would be required anyway.)