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The Bedford County Planning Commission voted unanimously, Monday night, to approve a rezoning that will open the door to a planned development called Harmony.
Developer George Aznavorian plans to build a project that will include retail business space and between 222 and 318 housing units divided up among apartments, townhouses and single family houses. The development is slated to be located on the south side of U. S. 460 right at the Bedford city limits. A portion of the land is in the city and already has the necessary zoning. Most of the tract, however, is in the county and currently has an agricultural zoning.
Aznavorian is seeking a PD-1 zoning. The portion in the county is in a section designated by the Comprehensive Plan as Urban Development Area (UDA). Recent legislation by the General Assembly required localities to identify and designate UDAs.
The public hearing on this rezoning began at the beginning of this month, but was continued to Monday night with the public hearing left open. During the earlier portion of the public hearing, Aznavorian had faced criticism about the impact that his project would have on public schools. Monday night, Aznavorian disputed that, saying that school enrollment has declined substantially in the Liberty Attendance zone and is expected to see additional large declines in the next five years.
This was supported by David Vaden, chairman of the Bedford County School Board. Before commenting, Vaden stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen and did not represent the School Board.
"The comments I make concerning schools are mine only," he said. "We do have a decline in school population in the Liberty Zone.”
Vaden went on to say that the school system has adequate school facilities for the additional students and that Bedford's reversion agreement with the county requires the county to build a new middle school.
"We have ample rooms in our Liberty High School," he said.
The neighbors are concerned. The development will adjoin the Town and Country subdivision and Gary Coppedge, representing the subdivision's residents spoke about their concerns.
"One of the reasons we bought in that subdivision is the 'Country' part of that subdivision," he said.
Coppedge was concerned about the density of the proposed development.
"Why such a density of population in an area that has been agricultural?" he asked.
Lisa Persinger was another concerned neighbor.
"I am the adjoining next-door neighbor who is going to be impacted by this," said Persinger, who said she owns the 156-acre farm that adjoins Harmony on its south side.
"I [already] get all the children and all the dogs [from the neighbors]," Persinger commented.
She is also concerned about a stub-road, that projects from the south of Harmony.
"I have a major, two-lane road that comes right to my front door. I wasn't real happy," she said.
"Down the road are you going to try to rezone me out?' she asked.
The stub road is required by both the county's subdivision ordinance and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to provide highway accessibility to Persinger's land. Aznavorian does not want to build it and is seeking a waiver from VDOT. The Planning Commission plans to meet next month to discuss a revision to the zoning ordinance that will allow Aznavorian to get a waiver from the county.
In the previous meeting, some opponents of Harmony criticized the Mayberry Hills development, a project similar to Harmony, that Aznavorian is developing in Moneta. David Lowry spoke to this Monday night.
"The Mayberry project provided B & A Investors a prime opportunity to make Bedford County and the developer, a shining example of cluster development," Lowry said, reading from a prepared text. "That opportunity was lost when B & A proposed the Mayberry plan focused on high residential density while ignoring cluster development constructs. After reviewing the Harmony design it is clear the same focus on high density while ignoring the factual constructs of cluster development are being proposed. The end result; Harmony will likely be the same as Mayberry, a cluster development failure."
B & A Investors is the corporation name under which Aznavorian is developing his projects. Lowry called for the rezoning request to be denied, saying that it doesn't comply with the Comprehensive Plan.
Lowry also called for financial impact studies to be required for projects such as Harmony and Mayberry Hills.
"Such studies should include financial impact on schools, traffic, law enforcement, fire/rescue services, etc." Lowry said.
In addition, Lowry called for developers to be required to post performance bonds, based on the recommended financial impact studies, to cover unintended costs to the county. This would cover items such as failure to provide sewer and water connections to which the developer had agreed, failure to complete the project on schedule and failure to adhere to county mandated requirements as well as the project's impact on school enrollments.
"Development performance bonds are routinely in use throughout Virginia," Lowry said.
During discussion, Planning Commission members questioned the lack of amenities, such as a community room or specific recreational facilities in the project. In response, Aznavorian wrote and signed a proffer promising to build such amenities within 18 months after the project reaches the 30-percent build-out point. Aznavorian wants to wait until this point so that the amenities built will be what the residents want.
District 3 Planning Commissioner Steve Wilkerson noted that the market will drive what Aznavorian will build.
"The fact that he put it in writing is good enough for me," he said.
District 2 Planning Commissioner Lynn Barnes noted that a developer wouldn't want provisions in his plan that would drive something artificial. Barnes also said that the market will drive the project's actual density and added that the UDA is there "thanks to the state legislature, whether we like it or not."
The Board of Supervisors, which has the ultimate say in this matter, is scheduled a hearing on Aznavorian's request at its April 23 regular meeting. Board of Supervisors' meetings are held in the Supervisors Chamber on the third floor of the County Administration Building at 7:30 p.m.