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Developer's plan must harmonize with VDOT

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By John Barnhart

A project that George Aznavorian hopes to build near Bedford will depend on whether Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) requirements harmonize with his plans.

Aznavorian has preliminary plans for a project to be called Harmony. Harmony's concept would be similar to that of Mayberry Hills in Moneta. There would be a commercial center, near U. S. 460, with a mixture of residential units farther back from the highway.

Residential units would consist of townhouses and various traditional-flavor single family homes. They would be clustered, leaving green space inside the development as well as a green space buffer around the perimeter. Aznavorian said that, in addition to providing green space, clustering housing gives a sense of community. There will be sidewalks and street lights.

Site grading would be minimal, adapting to the natural contours of the land, and a large number of mature oaks would be preserved.

The commercial center would be in the section within Bedford's city limits. Aznavorian said that his project would bring commercial development at a point where it can be best supported and is most practical. Having commercial development on the entire site would require heavy grading to make it work.

"This makes a better fit for the neighbors," he added.

Harmony, if built, would be just west of Bedford, near the YMCA, with a small portion extending into the city limits. Another part, a small strictly residential portion, would be on the west side of the Y's property. This would contain a section with walking trails that would be shared with the YMCA.

All of this would require property in the county and in the city to be rezoned, which means that Aznavorian would be working with two separate governments. That's not what makes the situation tricky as he expects no problems working with either the county or the city.

The problem is that the main portion of Harmony, the part with the commercial buildings, requires two commercial entrances onto U. S. 460. VDOT will tell him where these entrances are to be placed and the process for doing that changed when new rules went into effect on July 1. Aznavorian said that what VDOT representatives in Richmond tell him will determine whether he can even proceed to seek the city and county rezonings that he wants. If he can't put these entrances where he needs them to be, the project may not be economically feasible. The position of a traffic signal will also impact his plans.

"We can't even tell you if we can do it at all," he said. "We're in limbo."

"VDOT isn't hindering the project," Aznavorian went on to say. "It's just the process."

After he hears from VDOT, assuming the project still remains feasible, Aznavorian will conduct town hall informational meetings. He said he is delaying this because he wants to be sure he has a solid proposal to take to the public.

"I'm big about town hall meetings," Aznavorian said.

"The public will open your eyes to more things," he added.

Aznavorian said he adjusted the Mayberry Hills project based on public input he received on that project.

The site for Harmony was chosen because it is equidistant between Roanoke and Lynchburg.

Mary Zirkle, the county's chief of planning, agreed with Aznavorian that rezoning should be no problem. The largest section of Harmony, east of the YMCA, is now zoned agricultural, but would be rezoned PD1, the new planned district developed when Mayberry Hills and Downtown Moneta were proposed.

The section west of the Y is now commercial, but would be rezoned PRD (planned residential development).

A portion of this is in the city/county joint revenue sharing area. Rezoning of this portion will have to be worked out by the joint economic development authority that oversees this revenue sharing area. Zirkle doesn't foresee problems with this because only the portion immediately fronting U. S. 460 could be readily developed commercially.

"There are some access issues from 460," she said of the rest.

"I think it's a good development," she added. They went about the the right way."

Zirkle said that Aznavorian has, in other developments, done a good job working with people. She said he knows it's in his best interest to be up front with the public and work with neighbors from the beginning.

Zirkle said that the key factor in making it work, as it's currently laid out, is how VDOT responds.

A new state-mandated procedure, that Zirkle referred to as the "Chapter 527 Process," came into effect this year. It requires VDOT to review major plans for traffic impact and provide a recommendation. This requires developers to do a traffic assessment up front. It also slows the process because time must be allowed for VDOT's review.

Why is it called the "Chapter 527 Process? Zirkle said that the county's planning department doesn't know for sure where "527" came from. The state mandate's full name is Traffic Impact Analysis Regulations

"That's why we call it 527," Zirkle said.

Does VDOT know?

"No, VDOT doesn't know either," she commented.

What she and VDOT do know is that VDOT's Salem District, which includes Bedford County, was chosen as the first in the state to implement this new procedure. This makes it a learning experience for all involved.