After 5½ hours of reports, public comments and discussion about a rezoning that could bring 450 housing units to rural King George County, the Planning Commission voted to defer the project until next month.
“This is a lot to take in, an enormous zoning request, the largest we’ve had in years,” said Kristofer Parker, commission chairman. “This has huge impacts, potentially, on King George County.”
The Planning Commission gathered with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to hear the first formal presentation on the Villages at King George Crossroads, to be developed by Hertenstein Investment Group.
Developer Darell Hertenstein submitted project plans to the county in March, which have gone through several revisions. He’s been looking into the property for almost two years, said officials with his company.
No one from the Board of Supervisors, which has the final say in the matter, expressed an opinion. That’s because the supervisors let the planners discuss the rezoning first—and when the session lasted so long, the supervisors had to adjourn at midnight, per their bylaws.
The Planning Commission has no such rules, so it continued. Still, planners said they didn’t have sufficient time to review a proposal with such “density and intensity,” as Planning Commission member Ross Devries described it.
“The developer owes it to us” to better explain the plan, Devries said. “If they’re demanding a yea or nay tonight, they’re cutting off the dialog.”
The meeting was unusual for several reasons, including the scope of the proposal. The Villages spans 110 acres from the Sheriff’s Office on State Route 3 to U.S. 301. Its residential portion would cover 82 acres and probably include a mixture of townhouses, apartment buildings and villa-style units for those age 55 and older.
The commercial portion could include restaurants, businesses and an urgent care facility operated by Mary Washington Healthcare.
The developers haven’t nailed down the residential mix or presented any specific plans, which also were sticking points with the Planning Commission. Hertenstein officials said the details would come with the site plans.
Planners also expressed concerns about the development’s impact on county water and sewer capacity, first responders and schools. Hertenstein officials countered it’s not their fault the infrastructure already is stretched.
Rezonings usually are brought before planners first, who review the technical aspects, then gather comments from residents. The Planning Commission then makes a recommendation to the supervisors, who undertake a similar process.
On Sept. 17, the Hertenstein company requested the joint public hearing, saying contracts for the land involved expire the end of October. Members of the Board of Supervisors agreed to the accelerated schedule.
Almost 150 people tried to crowd into the boardroom of the Revercomb Administration Center on Tuesday evening. King George deputies had to close off entry because of a potential fire hazard and keep the overflow crowd in the lobby.
While members of the two boards sat at tables in the middle of the room, representatives of other county departments occupied the dais behind them. The standing-room-only crowd wrapped around the boardroom, and three deputies stood at attention.
Residents who wanted to speak—and 34 people did—were told the 3-minute time limit would be strictly enforced. When Anthony Scaramozzi, a former Planning Commission member for 12 years, went past the limit, after saying “this rezoning is the hinge point for everything to follow,” chairmen of both boards politely told him to stop. When he didn’t, a deputy came to the podium and escorted him away.
By the end of the long night, 17 people had spoken or submitted written comments against the project—15 were in favor of it and seven didn’t give an opinion, but expressed concerns about growth in general and the impact on the county’s infrastructure.
Gary Butler, a real estate broker, applauded “everybody for their great decorum” while dealing with such an important matter. “In days past, it wasn’t so nice,” he said.
‘I FEEL RUSHED’
Angela Mersiowsky, who lives in the “golden triangle” between the Sheriff’s Office and Route 301, expressed concerns that planners later echoed.
“I feel bullied, I feel rushed,” she said, wondering why the boards went against protocol because a developer’s options were expiring. “I see more of a profit for the developer, I see homes that he’s going to make money from.”
Other speakers said that’s how business is done in America, and because growth is coming to King George, development might as well be done by local people.
“He’s got a little bit of money, he’s looking to make more, hey, that’s what people do,” said Mary Melber, who added that “supporting local business is a no-brainer.”
Hertenstein said on Wednesday that if he can’t get the contracts on the property extended, he will purchase the land before either board makes its decision. He’s looking to spend more than $1 million for three parcels, he said in an email.
Sherman Davis, who pastors Tabernacle Baptist Church across from the proposed site, said more people typically drive the need for more services, which causes taxes to go up, and that’s the “no-brainer.”
“The folks that come here have to accept the fact that this is a rural community,” he said, “and we want to keep it that way.”
‘AN ER WAS DANGLED’
Many who supported the proposal cited, as Yvonne Richard did, the need for better medical facilities. She mentioned how scary it was to make the 45-minute drive to Fredericksburg when her child had a medical issue that required emergency care.
Bob Baird represented the opposite end of the age spectrum, saying he and his wife soon will need senior living facilities. Both have medical issues and need to travel long distances to see doctors.
“We need a treatment facility closer,” said Baird, a real estate agent with Exit Realty Expertise, which is owned by Hertenstein. “The benefit to this county will be immeasurable.”
Philip Brown, director of strategic development for Mary Washington Healthcare, explained his company’s plan: to open an urgent care clinic at the Villages, not a stand-alone emergency room.
That was contrary to what some speakers thought was coming, said Planning Commission Vice Chairman Andrew Westling.
“It does seem like an ER was dangled in front of them,” he said.
Brown said MWH would “never say never” to the idea of an emergency room in King George, but the population would have to more than double before the $15 million investment would be warranted.
MWH already is opening an urgent care facility next month, on Journal Parkway off Route 3. It’s leased space there for three years and would like to move into larger, more modern space in the Villages, Brown said.
The hospital administrator also said MWH appreciated the generous incentive provided by Hertentstein: the gift of 8.45 acres and $500,000 in cash. Hertenstein’s group initially said the incentives totaled $1 million, but on Tuesday, Hertenstein’s lawyer Landon Davis said the offer is worth more than $2.5 million.