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Comprehensive Plan Update

The Comprehensive Plan is updated every five years, and the current update to the plan is underway. This update entails public hearings held by the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee in order to receive input and understand our desires for what we want in our communities. The Steering Committee has agreed to hold a public listening session in the Bruton District to listen to citizen desires for how the Upper parts of York County should be developed. Stay tuned for updates on the date, place and time of this public hearing.

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‘No Rezoning’ | Group pushing back against proposed residential development in York County

The Planning Commission will review the application on November 18 and make a recommendation that will then go to the Board of Supervisor, at earliest in December.

YORK COUNTY, Va. — It’s a proposal in York County drawing lots of pushback.

A group of residents is saying no to a planned development near their homes. The project calls for about 600 homes and would sit between Fenton Mill and Barlow roads. However, this is a reduction to what was originally proposed.

Driving up and down Fenton Mill Road and surrounding roads in Williamsburg, it’s hard to miss the bright, orange signs that say “No Rezoning.” They were put up by members of Preserve Fenton Mill.

Right now, it’s nothing but trees, grass, and wetlands, but a developer, Fenton Mill Associates, wants to build 495 single-family, detached homes and 104 townhouses.

Michael Johnson is one of the many members of Preserve Fenton Mill. He said the group has expressed their concerns to the developer and county leaders about traffic and changing the rural area.

“I’m not going to be happy if that happens, it’s going to put a lot of housing in the area really fast,” Johnson said. “We’re already at capacity when it comes to traffic, that’s my own observation.”

The planning commission and developer have heard the concerns from people in this community and made major changes to the proposed plan.

Lamont Myers is one of the managers of Fenton Mill Associates, LLC. He said after two public listening sessions, they decided to scale back the project from 836 homes to just the 599 homes and no commercial component.

“We think this is so much better for everyone,” Myers said. “ The plan we have now is a result of that neighborhood interaction.”

The developer needs the county to approve a rezoning request first. The planning commission meets on November 18 and can only make a recommendation. The Board of Supervisors has the final say.

However, if the application is denied, the developer could, by rule, file the same site plan and subdivision plans and still build about 282 single-family homes and bring that shopping component back.

You can view the application here.

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With more than 100 residents in attendance, York Planning Commission denies approval of rezoning for Fenton Mill project

More than 20 years ago, Laura Lawrence saw a brochure encouraging visitors to a rural area of Virginia, where one could live among the eagles, bluebirds, farms and winding roads.

That brochure for Skimino Landing Estates helped Lawrence and her husband decide to move to the upper part of York County, where they still live today.

“They described the area as special because of its natural views, undisturbed nature and secluded privacy,” Lawrence said. “That’s the way we’d like to keep it. The advertisement was accurate. The Fenton Mill area is special.”

For now, it looks like it may stay that way.

A grassroots group that has been working to keep the area from a massive development project won a victory this week when the York County Planning Commission declined to approve a rezoning proposal that would allow the building of 599 houses in the upper part of the county.

After a three-hour public hearing Wednesday, the commission voted 6-0 against a petition to rezone about 376 acres of undeveloped land south of Newman Road in upper York County, between Fenton Mill and Barlow roads near Interstate 64. The vote came after months of back-and-forth between the developer and residents, who launched a campaign against the project in the spring.

The application will still go before the York County Board of Supervisors, but now with the Planning Commission’s recommendation against the rezoning. Commissioners, also following the recommendation of the county planning staff, unanimously said the proposed development would not have followed the county’s comprehensive plan.

Commissioner Mary Leedom said the developer seemed to disregard the comprehensive plan, which provides a foundation for the future of the county in terms of goals and land use.

“We have controlled growth, long-range plans and we need to take that into consideration,” Leedom said.

The application to rezone the land from rural residential and limited business to planned development residential, or PDR, was submitted in the spring by Fenton Mill Associates LLC. The proposal called for a mixed-use development with 506 single-family homes, 230 townhouses and 100 age-restricted “active adult” units. The plan included 40,000 square feet of commercial space as well as community clubhouses, a swimming pool, playgrounds and community gardens.

After meetings with residents, the developers altered their proposal, dropping the planned number of homes by more than 200, taking out the commercial component and dedicating 68 acres to York County for future use, including 16 acres that could accommodate a future school site.

But residents said 599 homes were still too many. By right, as the land is currently zoned, a developer can put up 288 homes and 50,000 square feet of commercial space.

“I’m a little puzzled because this is one of the least intensive rezoning applications in York County history,” developer Lamont Myers, one of the owners of Fenton Mill Associates, said Wednesday. “We want to do this right. We think this property deserves it.”

The proposal, however, pushed the community into action, leading to the formation of a grassroots group, Preserve Fenton Mill, as well as a nonprofit, the Conserve York County Foundation, to help influence future development in the area. More than 500 residents in the area signed a petition opposing the project, and bright orange “No rezoning” signs and bumper stickers showed up on hundreds of lawns and cars.

“This proposal awakened a giant,” said Darci Tucker, one of the leaders of Preserve Fenton Mill, which to date has about 1,500 followers to its Facebook page.

Wednesday, about 100 residents gathered outside York Hall, bringing folding chairs and blankets to wait out the hearing, which only allowed so many people in at a time because of COVID-19 safety protocols. About 30 people spoke, with only three in favor of the plan — local builders who said they hoped to benefit from the project.

Speaker after speaker talked of concerns such as increased traffic on narrow roads, stress to emergency services, increased burden on the schools and negative effects on environmental habitats. Portions of upper York County still farm, including the 80-acre farm that’s been in Andrea Wilson’s family since 1939.

Five generations of Wilson’s family have farmed, she said, raising cows, pigs, ducks, chickens and bees — they’ve been “stewards of the land” and hope to pass their knowledge to the next generation.

“We in upper York enjoy a quiet, simple peaceful rural way of life,” Wilson said. “This proposed development, homes placed on tiny lots, nearly 600 homes, goes against the very appearance and rural lifestyle that those of us in York County proudly call home.”

The Preserve Fenton Mill group has stressed that it doesn’t oppose all development, but supports growth that is guided by the comprehensive plan, taking into account environmental, traffic, financial and citizen concerns, according to Tucker.

“This proposal does not meet that criteria,” she said.

As the hearing wound down Wednesday, board chairman Michael King noted that turning down the proposal wouldn’t mean that the area would remain fields forever. But he said he didn’t see enough to convince him that the plan was “the prime development that the county deserves” and hoped more work would go into it.

“This could be a quality development at the end of the day,” King said. “I would like to see that as opposed to a by-right where the citizens get zero out of this.”

The day after the hearing, Myers said the development team was disappointed but planned to regroup and decide how it would move forward before the proposal goes to the Board of Supervisors in January.

The Preserve Fenton Mill group is still willing to meet with the developer, said Tom Chamberlain, another of the group’s leaders. They’re willing, he said, to continue to make sure the citizens’ voices are heard.

“We’ve learned a grassroots group can do anything,” Chamberlain said. “We can fight for what we believe in and take on the Goliaths out there who have gotten their way.”

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Number of homes reduced, commercial component eliminated on proposed York County development Fenton Mill

The developer who wants to build on a large swath of upper York County has altered the initial plan, dropping the number of proposed homes by more than 200 and taking out the commercial component.

Developer Lamont Myers, one of the owners of Fenton Mills Associates LLC, submitted a new summary of his plans to the county on Sept. 25. He said the new plan is intended to maximize open space and generate less daily traffic than the previous plan.

“We’re very excited where we’ve ended up,” said Myers, of Mid-Atlantic Communities. “We tried to listen to everything our neighbors told us, and try to accommodate that and still do a nice project.”

As revised, the development would be worth more than $250 million, generating more than $1.2 million in taxes annually for York County. New home prices would range from $250,000 to $600,000.

The planned development would affect about 400 acres of undeveloped land south of Newman Road in upper York County, between Fenton Mill and Barlow roads near Interstate 64. The initial application to rezone the land — submitted to the county planning commission in the spring — called for a mixed-use development with 506 single-family houses, 230 townhouses and 100 age-restricted “active adult” units. The plan included 40,000 square feet of commercial space as well as community clubhouses, a swimming pool, playgrounds and community gardens. It also set aside 16 acres for a new school site.

The potential rezoning immediately upset many longtime residents, who are worried that large-scale development will affect the remoteness and natural beauty of what they see as one of few remaining rural corners of the Peninsula. Residents have since formed a grassroots group called Preserve Fenton Mill, which to date has more than 1,400 followers on its Facebook page.

Residents have also formed another new group, the Conserve York County Foundation, to be the parent organization of Preserve Fenton Mill and to help influence how future development in the area is approached. The foundation has applied for nonprofit status. There’s also a GoFundMe set up to raise funds for yard signs and banners, car magnets and other advertising.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to all rezoning,” said Darci Tucker, one of the grassroots group’s leaders. “We want to slow down the dramatic development to protect the area. We are in favor of development if it is done properly. We’re not just a ‘no-no-no’ group. We’re a ‘let’s do this responsibly’ group.”

Following the submission of the rezoning application, the developers met with residents numerous times. Tom Chamberlain, another of Preserve Fenton Mill’s leaders, said the meetings have been cordial and reflected a willingness by the developer to listen.

The revisions in the summary submitted to the county list several changes including:

Total residences reduced from 836 to 599, with the number of town homes reduced by more than half and relocated.
Forty-thousand square feet of commercial space was eliminated.
The dedication of 68 acres to York County for its future use, including 16 acres that could accommodate a future school site.
Preservation of park and open space along Newman Road.
No traffic added to Barlow Road between Newman and Fenton Mill roads.
Larger lots and enhanced buffers adjacent to Skimino Hills.

Myers said the entire Newman Road frontage will be preserved and maintained as a landscaped, 4.5-acre park with a pond. All in all, 60% of the entire site will be green space, he said. The project creates no more traffic than if developers were to put up 288 homes and 50,000 square feet of commercial space, which is allowed by right as the property is currently zoned, Myers said.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that we’re at the front door to York County now,” he said. “From a visual standpoint, people won’t even know it’s there. They’ll just see a beautiful park.”

Preserve Fenton Mill leaders were cautiously optimistic about the changes, which Chamberlain called “an improvement.” On the group’s Facebook page, though, the new concept of 599 homes is called “simply too many.”

Chamberlain said the group will wait to release an official position until submission of a revised proffer, which spells out the conditions the developer will follow to mitigate or avoid anticipated negative impacts that could be enabled by the rezoning.

Myers said Monday that the revised proffer is still being worked on but should be submitted soon. As of Friday, it had not been posted on the York County website.

There are a few issues Chamberlain said he’d like to still address, such as the offer of donated land to York County. Instead of giving land to the county, which could potentially develop it, he said, the group would like to instead see at least 50 acres donated to the Historic Virginia Land Conservancy to ensure protections.

The group is also still concerned about how new development might affect the need for new schools and fire stations. Though the revision removes a school site from the plan, it does give land to the county for a potential new school, if needed later. Other worries include increased taxes, environmental damage and altering the character of upper York County.

“This is bigger than one development,” Chamberlain said. “There’s a bigger picture that we need to be looking at.”

The Fenton Mill project is anticipated to be heard by the York County Planning Commission at a public hearing Nov. 18. It could potentially go before the county Board of Supervisors by the end of the year.

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In upper York County, a rural area is turning into a development hot spot

As the crews on Interstate 64 work on widening an 8 mile, upper York County stretch of Hampton Roads’ main highway connection west, one of the Peninsula’s few rural corners is becoming a development hot spot.

Crews are clearing ground off Waller Mill road, on the Carr’s Hill Tract that Colonial Williamsburg sold earlier this year, reviving the notion, first approved 13 years ago, that site of the 18th century Benjamin Powell Plantation would be a good place for 300-plus single family homes.

Three miles to the north, different developers led by Lamont Myers last year bought more than 370 acres from Williamsburg Pottery and some of its neighbors off Barlow Road, and are seeking permission for a development with 506 single-family houses, 230 townhouses and 100 age-restricted “active adult” units, along with 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

Two miles east of where Myers and his group want to build their Fenton Mill development, near the western end of Lightfoot Road, Stanley Martin Homes plans 32 townhomes, along with 204 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

It’s adding up to big changes — and that’s upsetting many longtime residents.

“We’re part of the Historic Triangle, part of a region that depends on tourism, and part of the reason people come here is our natural beauty,” said Darci Tucker, one of the leaders of the informal, several-hundred-strong group opposing the Fenton Mill project.

“We’d really like to see this whole region slow down,” she said.

Myers believes his project is a thoughtful way to meet strong demand for housing in York County while protecting the upper county’s quality of life.

“I think they’re reacting to all the development that’s gone before,” he said. “There’s no way by anyone’s standard that this is a high density development.”

From Myers’ point of view, the timing is good — the widening of I-64 mean the upper county’s connections to the rest of Hampton Roads will be a lot easier. He doesn’t seem to be alone.

“There’s a lot of interest in the north county, probably more than we’ve seen in at least a decade,” said County Administrator Neil Morgan.

Besides I-64, Morgan said low interest rates make financing the multimillion-dollar investments much more affordable. He also thinks what has been a fairly strong Historic Triangle economy — battered though it has been in the past few months by a coronavirus-sparked slump in tourism — means a county that’s long been a bedroom community for Newport News and Hampton is about to play that same role in greater Williamsburg.

But the big reason, he said, is more simple:

“There happens to be land, when there’s not a lot of developable open land left in Hampton Roads,” he said.

That’s also what bothers critics who already live in the upper county. Residents who’ve long dealt with long drives on barely-two-lane country roads to get to work, shops and school because they like the quiet and the thick green woodlands of the upper county aren’t happy. For county officials, the rising interest in large residential projects is challenging a lot of conventional thinking about economic development generally.

Most of the houses that edge the Fenton Mill site sport orange “No Rezoning” signs — to build the development the way Myers envisages requires a rezoning. Currently, only single family homes on lots of at least one acre are allowed. His consultants estimate that would allow construction of 290 homes.

But rezoning opens up a much more elaborate review process, including public hearings and formal votes by both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, than would a project like the Powell Plantation plan on Waller Mill Road, Morgan said.

There, zoning already allows the number of homes — 326 — that Harrison and Lear said it plans to build. The main issues will be street layout, adequacy of water and sewer facilities and issuing permits and inspecting the houses as they are built, Morgan said.

Because rezoning opens a formal door for neighbors to speak up, neighbors of the Fenton Mill site have organized themselves to speak in opposition. Earlier this month, more than 30 linked up with a county Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee online meeting to voice their concerns. They’ve met with the developer last week, and held six “listening sessions” in area parks, typically with about 50 people showing up and managing to maintain social distancing.

The opponents think a quiet, fairly rural part of the Peninsula is on the verge of becoming suburban sprawl.

“I have a horse farm on four acres, my neighbors have 4- to 7-acre lots, we moved here to live in the country,” said Tom Chamberlain, who has lived for two decades across Barlow Road from the woods where Fenton Mill is proposed.

“Look across Newman Road where there are people who moved there in the ′60s and ′70s wanting the rural life, and see all the development there now,” he said. One road into Fenton Mill would intersect with Newman and add to traffic on what’s already a busy road that connects with the I-64 exit for Humelsine Parkway.

Two other proposed roads would tie into Barlow, where Tucker fears the additional traffic would be a challenge for the neighborhoods off nearby Skimino and Carters’ Neck roads. Fenton Mill Road, running along the southern edge of the tract and part of Barlow are often jammed with weekend beach traffic when drivers try to dodge accidents and backups on I-64.

“You’ve got the apartments on Lightfoot, retail nearby; they do traffic studies that say this will add X to the traffic, this other will add X, but nobody’s looking at what X plus X plus X is going to mean,” Chamberlain said.

The developers say their homes, priced at $250,000 to $600,000 and averaging $370,000, along with the commercial space, represent a more than $300 million investment in York County. That would generate some $1.3 million in taxes, the developers’ zoning application says — that’s equivalent to a 2% increase in the county’s real estate tax collections and is nearly as much as it collects from hotel taxes, a vital source for a tourism-dependent locality.

Opponents think that will be irresistible for county officials, whom they believe have already worked too closely with the developers and are too reliant on data the developer presented.

“I’m really concerned we’re not hearing back from elected officials when we call,” Tucker said. “The developer seems to have a lot of access.”

But there’s no decision one way or the other, Morgan said. It’s still early in the process, and this one is coming at a time when the coronavirus makes it much harder to set up some of the usual community meetings at which developers and neighbors sometimes hammer out their differences.

It’s usual in the early stages of the process for the developer and county staff to talk about an idea, to see what kinds of challenges it might present, he added.

And while no county official can afford to ignore revenue questions — or, for that matter, the costs that come when populations increase — tax collections aren’t really an issue, Morgan said.

“We’re the lowest-tax full service local government in Hampton Roads,” he said. “We don’t need to chase development to make payroll …

“Economic development used to be jobs and taxes, jobs and taxes. But I think now it’s really about place-making,” he added.

Yorktown’s waterfront is an example. The county spent more than $23 million replenishing beach, building a pier, making the walkway and erecting retail space. It signed a $200,000 10-year year lease for the restaurant space in 2013 and collects about $50,000 a year in boat fees — and spends more than that paying off the money it borrowed for the project and maintaining the spot.

“You can make an argument about the impact on property values, on businesses,” Morgan said, but the point is that riverfront “now is the community’s living living room” — an investment in the county’s quality of life, and quality of life is the real point of economic development, in his view.

Place-making is one big change in thinking about economic development. Another is the old saw that local governments need to balance residential development — which comes with big expenses for schools, police, fire and other public services — with commercial projects, which bring tax revenue and smaller costs.

“Where would the balancing come? Not really from retail, by and large. Not really office space, by and large, Not really industrial — do you want industry in the middle of a residential community?” Morgan said.

The county’s two best sites for industry are already a financial headache. Tax revenue from the old Yorktown refinery is way down since it shut down operations and basically turned into a fuel farm. Dominion Energy is dismantling two of the three power generators at its Yorktown station, and the third is set for the chopping block shortly.

“There’s already a lot of vacant retail and vacant office space in Hampton Roads,” while a shift, possibly permanent, to more remote working sparked by the coronavirus and the continuing growth of Internet commerce hang over those sectors, he said.

But interest in residential development is strong.

“The Upper York/Williamsburg area is one of the most desirable places to live on the Hampton Roads Peninsula, yet lacks the needed new housing to keep up with demand,” said Hunter Taylor, area division president of Stanley Martin Homes, which is planning the townhome project off Lightfoot Road.

The company’s interest has been heightened by the county’s 2005 projection that its population would exceed 76,000 by 2025. That would represent a roughly 12% increase from last year’s total. A recent Long and Foster market survey found the county’s inventory of homes for sale as of last month was down by 44% from last year’s level.

Morgan doesn’t think questions about development are going to go away — and he’s hoping the process will result in an agreement.

“You want to see where there’s overlap. On the one side, there’s the values that neighbors have; what they want to live with; there’s the developer, and what he can afford and can do; you hope there’s a place on the Venn diagram where those overlap,” he said.

“Then there’s the county, and wanting a neighborhood that has a quality of life in the long term … You hope that where all that intersects there’s a sweet spot … if there’s not, everyone goes back in their corners, and you maybe get what’s possible by right.”

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York-based developer plans 836-homes, mixed-use site in upper part of county

A Yorktown developer wants to build as many as 836 homes on undeveloped land south of Newman Road in upper York County, between Fenton Mill and Barlow roads.

The mixed-use development would be worth more than $300 million, generating some $1.3 million in taxes for York County, according to the developer’s application to rezone the land.

Fenton Mills Associates LLC, whose owners include Lamont Myers of Mid-Atlantic Communities, is planning a mixed-use development that would include 506 single-family houses, 230 townhouses and 100 age-restricted “active adult” units, according to its rezoning application. Those adult units will be either four-apartment buildings or patio homes.

Prices for homes will range from $250,000 to $600,000 and would average $370,000.

In addition, the developer plans 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

Myers said 47% of the site would be set aside as green space. Plans call for community clubhouses, a swimming pool, playgrounds and community gardens.

It also would set aside 16 acres for a new school, noting that it estimates the development would add 358 students to the county school system.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, at the gateway to the county,” Myers said. “We wanted to be respectful of that and to have something that would blend in with the neighborhood.”

Fenton Mill bought the parcels in 374-acre tract last year for nearly $4.9 million, county land and tax records show. Williamsburg Pottery sold the developer about 350 acres, and Judy and Roy Turman sold the rest. In addition, the development will include nearly 5 acres that will continue to be owned by Clarence F. Curry and his son.

Myers, who signed a deed of trust to secure a $3.7 million line of credit for Fenton Mill, and Mid-Atlantic have been involved with several Peninsula developments in recent years, including the Legacy of Poquoson, Turtle Creek in Newport News and Whittakers Mill near the Marquis Shopping Center.