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Harmony decision delayed

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PC continues hearing on development

By John Barnhart

    Harmony, George Aznavorian’s latest planned development, encountered push-back from some citizens during a public hearing last week.
    All but 10 acres of the land where he proposes to build Harmony is in Bedford County and is currently zoned AR, an agricultural zone, and Aznavorian needs it rezoned to PD-1, a planned development zoning, in order to build the project.
    The project will occupy about 60 acres off US 460, just west of Bedford. It would consist of commercial lots, including a space for a big box retailer or a major grocery store. It would also contain 236 housing units divided among single family residences and town houses. The entire project would be phased in over a 15 to 20 year period. An Army Reserve Center will occupy 20 acres. Aznavorian said that the actual footprint of the center covers five acres and the rest is a buffer area.
    “Harmony is a mixed use community with retail on the front,” Aznavorian said.
    Aznavorian said that the project will improve traffic safety. Woodhaven Road will be rerouted through Harmony to come out on US 460 at Harmony’s entrance. He said that this entrance would eventually have a traffic signal.
    He said that the Army Reserve Center will also help existing hotels and restaurants in that immediate area.
    This was an assertion that Greg Modzelewski, one of the citizens who spoke against the project, disputed. 
    “I was a reservist for seven years,” said  Modzelewski.
     Modzelewski said that, during those years, the reserve center provided food on training weekends and reservists tended to go home in the evening. He said that the reserve center won’t bring in restaurant or hotel revenue, and it won’t be paying any local tax money, either.
    He and others were concerned about the impact the residential portion of Harmony would have on county schools.
    “Maybe we won’t have to build [new] schools, but we still have to educate the children,” he said.    
    Edmond Coffey questioned whether Harmony will be a good place for a major grocery retailer.
    “We have a basically dead shopping center,” Coffey said, referring to the shopping center on the west end of Bedford that formerly housed a Winn-Dixie store. He also wondered if a major grocery retailer in that location, should it be successful, would drive Vista Foods out of business.
    Others spoke in favor of Harmony.
    “We are in favor of productive, meaningful development,” said Mary Jo Boone, CEO of the Bedford Area YMCA. Aznavorian had earlier said that the Y would be within walking distance for Harmony residents.
    Linda Zimmerman, who along with her husband owns Westside Food Market, also supported Harmony.
    “The big thing is changing 460,” she said. “We hope that this development will go through and the road will be changed.”
    The Planning Commission chose to continue the public hearing until its March 19 meeting. District 4 Planning Commissioner Fredric Fralick made the suggestion, noting that Aznavorian had made some proffers that are not yet in writing. A delay will give time for community development staff to review them. District 3 Planning Commissioner Steve Wilkerson noted that they are still waiting on the traffic impact study for the project.
    Although Aznavorian said that this will put him a month behind, it may not turn out to be a delay after all. Tim Wilson, the county’s director of community development, said that the rezoning request is tentatively scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors in April. The Planning Commission can only make recommendations. The decision on whether or not to approve the request rests with the supervisors.