The Amherst County Board of Supervisors voted during its Nov. 19 meeting to grant a special exception request to increase by a single unit the density allowed under county zoning at a planned apartment project on Phelps Road in Madison Heights.
Waukeshaw Development, Inc., of Petersburg, is working to transform the former school into 41 market-rate apartments. The county and the Amherst County Economic Development Authority in late 2017 entered into a performance agreement with the company for the project, which included a $50,000 sale and meeting certain timelines for the renovation.
The county recently allowed the density allowed under zoning to increase from 29 units to 40 units. The school closed 28 years ago and previous attempts to revitalize it under different owners have not come to fruition.
David McCormack, owner of Waukeshaw Development, said during a tour of the property in September the building has much character and potential as future apartments. Jeremy Bryant, director of planning and zoning, told supervisors 41 units is what McCormack submitted but if he could find the space seeks flexibility for 42 units.
Bob Hopkins, executive director of the Amherst County Service Authority, which is headquartered next door on Phelps Road, said during a public hearing he supports the request. The school, though historic, has been a source of blight and he welcomes the planned improvements.
“It hasn’t been a good thing to look at it,” he said of the building’s deteriorated state. “I’m very much in favor of seeing that go forward and making the neighborhood nicer.”
Jaunita Harlow, a Phelps Road resident, said during the hearing she hasn’t been able to tell where any improvements so far have been made to the old school. She asked the board what it would do if the developer comes back and asks for more apartments.
“I don’t think they ought to be allowed to come back and ask for more,” Harlow said. “I don’t think he should be allowed to add two more, five more or 10 more because you’re not helping the neighborhood.”
Ricky Gammon, a Phelps Road resident, also said he hasn’t noticed much improvement there in two years since the agreement was struck.
“We didn’t abandon that school, we didn’t create that blight,” Gammon said. “I do the best I can to try to keep my house up.”
The board voted 3-1, with Supervisor David Pugh opposed, to allow McCormack to go to 41 units. Pugh expressed frustration with not seeing more progress on the project and more visible steps to remove the blight.
“It’s definitely been a slow-moving project,” Ayers said.
Pugh said he doesn’t agree with increasing the density beyond 40 units as previously decided. “I think we have been more than amicable with the developer on this situation,” Pugh said, adding of the Phelps Road neighborhood: “I do feel for the people down there, the people who take care of their property.”
Supervisor Claudia Tucker said the project mostly has been held up because of regulatory oversight. “We all know how long it can take to get things done when the government gets involved,” Tucker said.
She said Supervisor Jennifer Moore, who was absent from the meeting, informed her she is much in favor of the measure and motioned on her behalf for its approval. The roughly $7 million project to renovate the 41,000-square-foot property recently underwent steps to remove asbestos and debris from the site as part of remediation efforts.
McCormack’s company also is restoring a former mill on Union Hill Road in Amherst into a new brewery and restaurant and in February finalized the purchase of the Winton Country Club and Golf Course, now officially known as Winton Farm, from Amherst County for $800,000.
In another matter, the board voted Nov. 19 to table a request from McCormack to amend the agreement on the Winton property so that a conservation easement for about 70 acres could be deemed voluntary rather than required.
The reason for the request is to receive tax credits, according to the county. Supervisors said they want to discuss the matter further with McCormack at a later date in holding off on a decision.
County Attorney Michael Lockaby told supervisors he doesn’t see much downside to McCormack’s request. Pugh said a major selling point for the Winton deal was the preservation of open space through the conservation easement and he expressed frustration with being asked to go back and change it.
Board members also said they want to ensure the Sarah Henry Manor House, a historic component of the Winton site of more than 280 acres, is properly taken care of and looked after under the recent ownership change. Lockaby told supervisors more oversight of the Manor House could be a point for the board to seek while discussing granting the conservation easement request with McCormack.
The county previously owned the Winton site for 51 years through a land donation. Since the sale, Tucker said she’s heard positive reviews on improvements to the 18-hole golf course.
“The folks I know who play golf there on a regular basis say the course has never been better,” Tucker said. “They’re real pleased with it.”
In other news:
Supervisors, acting in a dual capacity as the overseeing board of the Amherst County Service Authority, approved an increase to public water and sewer rates. The rate for 100 cubic feet of water metered is set to increase from $4.98 to $5.35, while the same rate for sewer is set to jump from $7.32 to $7.94, among adjustments to a range of connection fees and charges. A full description of the rate changes is available on the county’s website, www.countyofamherst.com, under the “Recent News” section.
Hopkins said the rate increases are needed to keep up with inflation, maintain infrastructure and extend services. The rates are also affected by the ongoing closure of the Central Virginia Training Center, a state-run facility in Madison Heights that historically has been the authority’s largest customer, according to Hopkins. CVTC is set to close in the summer of 2020.
Supervisors also approved a pair of special exception requests for separate short-term tourist rental of a dwelling applications. One is a restored cabin at 633 Buffalo Springs Turnpike in Amherst; the other is a one-story home at 507 Dixie Airport Road in Madison Heights.
The board also heard from Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek and Lynchburg Regional Airport Director Andrew LaGala on the City of Lynchburg’s consideration of a potential independent airport authority to oversee the airport’s management and operations. The city is required by law to invite surrounding localities to participate in the authority if they wish, according to the county. Supervisors did not discuss possibly joining such an authority during the meeting.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.