A 122-acre project that would add a hotel and a mix of commercial and residential development near the Chesterfield County courthouse received an initial “no” vote from the county’s Planning Commission this week.
Citing concerns about projected traffic impacts and the site’s proximity to the Chesterfield County Airport, commissioners were unanimous Tuesday in voting to recommend that county supervisors deny Courthouse Landing, an estimated $165 million development proposed for land southeast of the Route 288-Iron Bridge Road interchange, between the interstate and Courthouse Road.
Commissioners voted after hearing from several speakers who voiced concerns about the project, its impact on the Courthouse-Iron Bridge intersection and its location within the flight path of the airport, which is located on the opposite side of the 288 interchange.
Vice Chairwoman Gloria Freye asked developer Jim Dunphy, whose Florida-based Dunphy Properties is proposing Courthouse Landing with Atlanta-based Shuler Properties, if they would be willing to defer the case an additional 30 days to address speakers’ concerns and those of the county’s transportation department, which said it could not support the project as proposed.
Dunphy and local Roth Jackson attorney Andrew Condlin, who’s representing the developers in their rezoning request, responded that the project would not substantially change with a deferral, prompting commissioners to go forward with recommending denial. The case had been deferred two months previously, and the proposal was adjusted during that time, reducing some of its density to address concerns received.
“We have committed a significant amount of money to this project already,” Dunphy said, adding they were committing to $6.6 million in transportation improvements up front and $261 million in property investment overall.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity that is presented to us all,” he said. “I’m not quite sure what more we can do.”
Commissioners maintained that too many unknowns remained as to the project’s development and which uses ultimately would be built. While a hotel and medical offices were proposed, Commissioner Gib Sloan said, the case as presented would allow other uses and could not ensure those specific facilities.
“While I have every belief that everyone on the applicant’s team has the desire to see those things turn into a reality, in the written case, in the proffered conditions, other than reserving the space for those facilities, they don’t have to be built. None of this has to be built,” Sloan said. “The case clearly allows for other uses within the different zoning categories to be built on these different parcels. That’s what’s in writing.”
Traffic, flight path among concerns
The county had asked the group to commit, through proffered conditions, to phasing the project’s commercial and residential components to help balance out impacts, as well as further traffic studies and specific traffic designs. Condlin said they would not commit to phasing because they would need to recoup the $6.6 million spent on up-front road improvements with residential sales and other revenue from the project.
He and Dunphy also said they would not pay for the requested traffic impact analysis, arguing it would go beyond the scope of the project and its impacts.
“This development cannot solve all of the region’s traffic problems at this intersection,” Condlin said. “We can’t do it. We have proven and we’ve shown through our TIA that we are going to provide for a level of service (that is) a better level of service at buildout than it is today.”
Added Dunphy: “We would like to get past the zoning, then get into site planning where we can spend more time with you all and design the project through the site-plan process and have a lot more details to answer the questions that you’ve presented. I think that’s fair.”
Commissioners also cited concerns with the site’s alignment in the airport’s flight path, contending that development could draw additional waterfowl to wetlands on the site, increasing risks of birds striking planes. In response, the group said they would restrict building heights to 66 feet, and use sound technology to deter birds from the site.
But the proposal on the whole failed to satisfy commissioners.
“I can’t go against the transportation department,” Commissioner Peppy Jones said. “I can’t feel good about putting thousands of people in a flight path. I just can’t.”
Project density reduced
The latest version of the project calls for 300 apartments, 300 townhomes and “two-over-two”-style condos, 100,000 square feet of office and medical office space, a 120-room hotel, 100,000 square feet of self-storage space, and 265,000 square feet of retail.
Those numbers are down from the initial proposal the group filed with the county this fall, with 50 fewer residential units, 30 fewer hotel rooms, 30,000 less office square footage and 85,000 less retail square footage. Dunphy said the reductions were made in response to the traffic concerns and to accommodate the requested transportation improvements.
In addition to Dunphy and Shuler, the development team behind Courthouse Landing includes Atlanta-based investment group Batson-Cook Development Co., and commercial real estate brokerage NAI Dominion. Shuler’s retail developments in Virginia have included the Bed Bath & Beyond-anchored Towne Crossing shopping center at Courthouse Road and Midlothian Turnpike.
Ahead of the meeting, Dunphy told BizSense they had a contract with Reston-based Stanley Martin Homes to build the townhomes and condos, and with Indianapolis-based Edward Rose & Sons for the apartments.
Dunphy said the development would capture $5 million in commercial sales volume that he said is leaving that part of Chesterfield in favor of Short Pump, and the Midlothian and Hull Street Road commercial corridors.
“We’d like to retain as much of that in this area as possible,” Dunphy said in November, adding that resulting tax revenues would help the county pay for road improvements and other infrastructure needs such as public safety and schools.
“We’re not overburdening the schools,” said Steve Shuler, principal of Shuler Properties. “We’re actually adding to the tax base to help them grow.”
Shuler and Dunphy are working with NAI Dominion’s Jeff Doxey, who has been marketing the site for development for years on behalf of one of the property owners, listed in county records as WSWL Properties LLC, which owns the parcel closest to the interstate. The county owns two other parcels that make up the rest of the site.
The group is under contract with WSWL and the county’s EDA to purchase the land. Dunphy said the negotiated price for the county-owned land is $2.4 million. The latest county assessment valued the LLC-owned parcel, totaling nearly 65 acres, at $2.33 million.
The project remains scheduled to go to county supervisors for a final decision at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting. Asked if the plans would be revised in the meantime, Condlin said the group is taking the Planning Commission’s feedback into consideration.
“We are currently assessing the comments made by the Planning Commissioners,” Condlin said in a statement on behalf of the group. “While we are disappointed in the ultimate vote, the Planning Commission made very specific suggestions that we will evaluate to determine the appropriate response before bringing this to the Board of Supervisors.”