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County joins city in giving OK to Oakwood Villas project

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County's board of supervisors cleared the way for the controversial Oakwood Villas Townhomes project by a 4-3 vote.

Oakwood Villas is a condominium project which, its developers say, will be aimed at retirees or empty nesters who plan to downsize to a smaller home. The development straddles the Bedford city/county line near Bedford Memorial Hospital. Most of it is in the city but 10 acres of it lies in the county. The land was zoned R-1 (low density residential).

The 17 acres of the project located within the city was also zoned low density residential. The city rezoned its portion last summer, on a 5-2 vote, to planned residential development. This rezoning was made contingent on the county rezoning its portion.

The portion of Oakwood Villas in the county was originally slated to contain 10 four-unit buildings. When the planning commission considered the rezoning request, the developer offered a proffer replacing two of these quad-plex buildings with duplexes. This reduces the number of units in this section from 40 to 36.

According to Mary Zirkle, the county's chief of planning, 39 single family houses could be built there as a use by right under under the R-1 zoning, if there is public water and sewer. Without public water and sewer, the developer would be limited to nine.

Zirkle noted that current residents' view of the Peaks of Otter would be lessened by the project.

According to Steve Grant, a Bedford attorney representing the developers, the units will start at $250,000. The buildings will all be one story structures with maintenance-free exteriors. They will be marketed to people downsizing from a larger house and the developers do not expect school-age children to be living there.

"This is a nice project," Grant said. "It is where it needs to be."

Most of the speakers at the public hearing on the project disagreed.

"I would suggest they seek a more suitable site," said Sandra Boyes.

Boyes, who said she has lived in the affected neighborhood for 41 years, questioned the wisdom of building these condos directly under the flight path of Bedford Memorial's helipad. She doubts elderly people would be willing to pay the price the developers are planning to ask.

Others questioned the appeal that these units will have to retirees.

"We are retired," said Betty Fitzgerald. "We want our space like each of you do."

Fitzgerald said that there are between 250 and 300 single family homes in the neighborhood. She said that these are also retirees and questioned why all these people are being ignored for the sake of a few.

"We were here first," she said. "We have been paying taxes for 33 years."

Some of the project's neighbors had their own attorney. David Whitehurst presented a petition that, he said, contained the signatures of 331 people who live within a mile of the project. He said that they are not opposed to development, but want it to remain R-1.

"We would ask you to maintain that zoning," he said.

One speaker said that she will have a 975-foot property line with part of Oakwood Villas and she has peacocks on her property.

"They will scream every time the lights come on in the area," she said. "I'm not going to get rid of the peacocks."

Only one speaker spoke in favor of the project.

"We have a great need for this type of project," said Charles Oliver.

Oliver said that there are people in his age group who are not ready for a nursing home but want to get rid of yard work. He said that, currently, the nearest places similar to the Oakwood Villas project are in Roanoke and Lynchburg.

"This type of project is very appealing to me," he said.

Ben Shrader, a civil engineer who has lived in the affected neighborhood for 32 years, is concerned by traffic safety on Oakwood Street. There is a dip in the street, near its intersection with the Oakwood Villas' entrance. Shrader said that this creates a safety hazard that can only be corrected by taking 2.7 feet off the hump and raising the low spot by 1.5 feet.

Bill Berkley, of Berkley, Howell and Associates, representing the developer, disputed this. He said that the design for improvements to Oakwood Street solves the sight distance problem. Berkley said that the improvements were designed according to current Virginia Department of Transportation standards.

"Change comes and I can't stop it," commented District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler. "Let's end this tonight."

Wheeler moved to grant the rezoning request. The request was approved with Wheeler, District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp and Steve Arrington, the board's chairman, voting for it. District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard, District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer and District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek voted against it.

"Everybody wants to have single family homes on that property," said Neudorfer, who expressed concern about having quad-plexes backing up directly on R-1 property.

"This is about as close to spot zoning as we can get," commented Pollard, who felt that Oakwood Villas is a great concept in the wrong place.

Pollard also noted that there is no guarantee that there won't be school-aged children living in the project. She said that there could be as many as 20.

"Bedford Middle School does not have room for sixth graders," she said.

"We are not going to get income from these people to build schools," she added.

"It is R-1," said Cheek. "All these people request is that it remain R-1."

Cheek noted that there were restrictions in place on the property before the county adopted its zoning ordinance in 1998. People bought there expecting it to remain a low-density residential area. He also added that, while there are situations that call for rezoning, having zoning makes no sense if the county is going to constantly rezone.

"I am going to stand up for the people, tonight, and go against it," Cheek said.

Sharp agreed that Oakwood Villas is not the best use for the land. He would rather see it undeveloped. However, he noted that neither Bedford County nor the project's neighbors own that land.

"I don't think this is the best use of the land, but that is not my decision to make," he said.