Following a string of permit approvals and court decisions in its favor, Wegmans Food Markets has moved ahead with purchasing the site of a planned distribution facility and regional headquarters in Hanover County.
But at least one legal challenge to the project remains in play.
The supermarket chain closed July 20 on the nearly 220-acre site where it’s approved to build the 1.1 million-square-foot, $175 million facility. Commonwealth Commercial Partners, which brokered the deal, reported the purchase price at $4 million.
The closing came five days after a Hanover Circuit Court judge issued an opinion letter calling for the dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged the county’s approval of the project last year. The suit, which had been amended after an initial opinion last fall, this time was dismissed in its entirety and with prejudice, meaning the group of homeowners behind it cannot bring the case again.
A draft order to that effect was filed with the court July 29. An official order from Judge J. Overton Harris had yet to be entered as of Monday.
The purchase signals a major step forward for the project, which was announced in late 2019 and has faced opposition from the group and the Hanover County NAACP, who argue that its location would adversely impact neighboring communities that are largely African-American.
The site is between Hanover County Municipal Airport and the intersection of Ashcake and Sliding Hill roads. The wooded property was zoned for manufacturing use in the mid-1990s.
The seller was Air Park Associates LP, which purchased the property for $202,000 in 1986. The county most recently assessed the property at $4.7 million.
A Wegmans spokesperson on Monday confirmed the closing and said that work on the site “will begin soon.”
The purchase follows several steps that have needed to be taken for Wegmans to be able to move forward with the project.
In March, the State Water Control Board awarded a water protection permit needed for the project, and in June, a wetlands disturbance permit was awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The water protection permit is being challenged in Richmond Circuit Court by the homeowners group, called Protect Hanover, the Hanover NAACP and other plaintiffs. Their attorney, Brian Buniva, said they’re weighing a potential challenge of the wetlands disturbance permit in federal court, as well as an appeal of the Hanover lawsuit’s dismissal to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Buniva said he was surprised that Wegmans went forward with the land purchase in light of the legal challenges that remain outstanding. The case against the Water Control Board’s decision, which Buniva filed in April, remains active but hasn’t progressed since May, as Buniva said an administrative record of the board’s decision that’s needed for the case to proceed has yet to be filed.
Buniva said he was planning to inquire with the attorney general’s office about the filing and would ask the court to order the filing if it isn’t done soon.
As for the project, Buniva said, “If they start construction, we certainly would seek an injunction to stop it, so that irreparable harm isn’t committed while the lawsuits are pending.”
A timeframe for the project has not been released. The company spokesperson did not indicate a schedule for development.
A site plan for the project, prepared by Richmond-based Timmons Group, was approved by the county planning department last month. A land disturbance permit was applied for July 21.
Commonwealth Commercial’s Bill Barnett, who represented Air Park Associates in the deal along with colleagues Joe Buhrman and Chris Jenkins, said the timing of the purchase was reflective of the recent developments surrounding the project.
“I think Wegmans satisfied themselves that if they closed on the property, they’d be able to go forward with the project,” Barnett said.
The facility is planned to deliver products to Wegmans’ southernmost stores and support further growth for the company. It is expected to create 700 full-time jobs, 140 or so of which would be executive-level positions.
The company is set to receive $2.35 million in state incentives that Gov. Ralph Northam approved through a Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund grant, which Hanover matched. The county also is allocating $1.5 million for infrastructure improvements to accommodate the project, including utilities and transportation upgrades.
Meanwhile, another distribution facility for a major retailer appears to be moving forward in another part of the county. A two-month land disturbance permit involving a stream diversion plan was issued by the county this spring for the 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center for Lowe’s Home Improvement planned at Hickory Hill Road and Interstate 95.
Destroying Hanover County one acre at a time.
That’s how land rights work, no? This property is within an industrial park and it’s close to 95/295, so it isn’t like this is a surprise.
It had to be rezoned by the BOD without the proper processes in place to allow citizen comment and appropriate review. It was announced right after BOD elections despite it being known by BOD well in advance. It was never zoned for this application. Additionally, it is routing thousands of trucks through back roads – all because the land was very cheap compared to other places and the millions in tax incentives to Wegmans. The land was cheap because it is mostly wetlands (protected) and drains to the Chesapeake (believe it or not). The fix is in – all you… Read more »
I agree the project has issues, but this isn’t an isolated incident. Developers place homes and commercial property in/next to wetlands all the time, unfortunately. Hanover is not alone and a lot of its more valuable real estate along 295 is very low lying. Similarly, The new subdivision at Studley Rd and Williamsville Rd is a perfect example (near Studley Store) because the area that is wooded is clearly in a flood plain based on how often the area is holding water after storms. However that’s not stopping them from selling $700k+ homes there.
Of course it drains to the Chesapeake. Or do you think it flows directly to the Atlantic, or better yet, the Mississippi?
Is Sliding Hill Road a “back road”? I don’t see any reason truck traffic would be on Ashcake road at all unless they put a Wegmans on 301 or in Ashland. That’s a slow road to no where in terms of getting back on the interstate where most trucks will be coming from.
Protect the water – Yes
Protect the wetlands – Yes
Protect the poor people – Dismissed with “Prejudice”!
Oh, and here’s some taxpayer dollars to make it nice and easy……
Those who want to keep areas like Hanover County rural are likely to also bemoan the lack of jobs opportunities in the country. Warehousing/shipping and manufacturing have traditionally been welcome employers in rural areas. For years the general public has griped about the lack of rural job opportunities besides agriculture. I understand nobody wants “change” in their neighborhood, but if you can’t build a distribution center or factory in the country, where do you expect them to build?
I truly struggle with how groups are making it seem as if Wegmans is the bad guy when in fact, Hanover County and its past and current racism is the underlying cause. Here are some specific examples of why a company such as Wegmans might feel that the Brown Grove community in a county like Hanover is an ideal place to build their warehouse. Keep in mind that Hanover County is home to the now jailed, KKK grand dragon (or something like that) who ran down peaceful BLM protestors in Richmond in 2020. Hanover County is also home to a… Read more »