Oakwood Villas project moves ahead

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County's planning commission voted, Monday night, to recommend Oakwood Villas.

Oakwood Villas is a condominium project which, its developers say, will be aimed at retirees or those who will soon retire. Because the project straddles the city/county line both the city and the county have to approve a rezoning.

The 10 acres of the project that lie within the county is zoned R-1 (low density residential). The developers are seeking to have it rezoned PRD (planned residential development). Although other zones permit condos, Berkley said that the developers were requesting the PRD zoning in the county to match what the city has already done. The city rezoned its 17-acre portion of the development in July. The city's action also included an agreement to provide public water and sewer to the entire project.

The plan showed 10 quadruplex buildings in the county portion. This would provide 40 units. Later, Bill Berkley, representing the developers, agreed to replace two of the quads with duplex units, reducing the density of the county portion.

Berkley said the project started three years ago and he had originally hoped to have the two local governments act together on it with a joint city/county public hearing. He said that the city and county wanted to act separately.

According to Berkley, the development would be similar to Jefferson Village in Forest. Most of the condos would be two-bedroom units. The buildings would all be single story structures. Each unit would have a two car garage.

The buildings would have 50-foot rear yard buffers in the city and 25-foot buffers in the county. Berkley said that the 25-foot buffers could be expanded to 50 feet if he would be allowed to reduce the front yard buffers.

He said that no market study has been done, but that a study wasn't necessary because all the developers are Bedford area natives.

The entrance to the project is on the city portion of Oakwood Street and Berkley said that the developers would put a new asphalt surface on part of that street. There is only one entrance because the property has only one legal right-of-way that allows access.

According to Berkley, a similar project was proposed for that site 25 years ago. The city turned it down because the developers intended to include a 7-Eleven store and refused to change their plan.

Berkley said that the developers could build, as a use by right, 10 duplexes instead of 10 quads on that land with its current R-1 zoning. He said that a density of 39 units is allowed. Steve Stevick, who represents District 5 on the planning commission, noted that this is based on the availability of public sewer and water.

Without this, the maximum density would be 10. Lynn Barnes, who represents District 2, questioned whether public sewer and water would be available if the county turned down the rezoning request, noting that the city's July action is contingent on the county rezoning the area.

The planning commission set a four-minute time limit for speakers during the public hearing, although this limit was not strictly enforced. The commission also asked that speakers not repeat what previous speakers had already said.

"You don't need to beat us over the head 14 times with the same point," said Commission Chairman Frederic Fralick.

Ben Shrader, a county resident and land surveyor, called attention to a dip in Oakwood Street at the entrance to the project. He said that, unless this is eliminated, the entry creates a traffic hazard.

Charles Oliver, who serves on the county's economic development authority, called the project an asset. Oliver said that he is 80 and at some point will want to move some place where he won't have an acre of yard to manage. At present, there is no such place.

"I would ask you that you take it easy on us old people and help us out," he said.

Stephen Grant, a lawyer representing the developers, noted that the project is close to Bedford Memorial Hospital and that doctors' offices border it. He argued that it would make a good transition between this and the county's R-1 zoned property.

The proximity to the hospital was a negative according to some opponents. William Hurley noted that the project will be directly under the flight path to the hospital's helipad.

David Whitehurst, a lawyer representing some of the project's opponents, countered that property would no longer be in conformity with adjacent and surrounding neighborhoods if the rezoning request is granted.

The impact on current residents is an issue for opponents. Nat Harvey said that the project would mean that an additional 600 vehicles every day would go past his house within 30 feet of his bedroom. Berkley had earlier estimated that the project would create 550 vehicle trips per day.

Helen Huff said that she moved to the area to retire because of its serenity and mountain views without traffic and busy intersections. She called the project "unsightly" and questioned whether any retiree would spend that much money on a condo near a helipad in a project with no amenities.

Sandra Boyes, who said that she is 71, said that she has lived in that neighborhood for 41 years.

"I, too, know the community pretty well," she said.

"I wouldn't in 100 million years pay $250,000 for a quadruplex near a helipad," she commented.

Boyes said that Mayberry Hills, in Moneta, will fill the need that this project seeks to meet. This makes it unnecessary to pull the rug out from under the feet of people who purchased property in an R-1 zone or add 550 vehicle trips per day to a narrow street near a hospital that has emergency vehicles coming to it.

Twila Ross, who has led opposition to the project, said that the time frame of the project's build-out keeps changing. She is worried that there will be a helter-skelter build-out and that it may be abandoned before completed. She asked all the planning commission members to visit the site before making a decision.

"Please protect your constituents better than my [city] council protected me," she said.

Greg Modzelewski said that the county portion of the project does not conform to the requirements of a PRD. A PRD calls for more than one housing type.

Berkley, after the hearing, told the planning commission that the developers' improvements to Oakwood Street meet current Department of Motor Vehicle standards. He added that the project's entry would create a four-way intersection and four-way stop signs could be added. The intersection is within Bedford's city limits and it would be up to the city to install stop signs. Berkley said that he has talked to city officials about this and would advocate it.

According to Berkley, the project would have amenities consisting of a club house with gardens and walking trails. He said that most people would be interested in a gathering place.

"Very few people are interested in tennis courts," he said.

"Obviously we can't do something that will make everybody happy," he added.

Berkley said that the outer time limit for the project's build-out is 10 years.

"Obviously it is in our best interest to build out as quickly as possible," he said.

Berkley also said that developers have no plans to buy other property in that area and ask for a commercial zoning. He said that this is not the place for commercial development.

The planing commission voted 5-2 to recommend the rezoning to the board of supervisors. Conditions were added calling for two of the quads to be replaced by duplexes. Conditions also bar commercial development.

Barnes, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said that he had received a lot of information, Monday night, that he didn't previously know. He said that a PRD requires a master plan and he wanted to delay a decision until the developers filed one. Barnes said that by voting in favor of this rezoning without a master plan, the planning commission would be failing to uphold its own ordinance.

Stevick, who also voted against recommending the rezoning, shared Barnes' concern about PRD procedures. He was also concerned about funneling a lot of extra traffic in front of a hospital.

Fralick had wanted to delay a vote as he was concerned that they were force-fitting a PRD on this parcel of land. He was also concerned about the road. However, there was no consensus on the commission to delay action and, when Curtis Stephens, who represents District 7, made a motion to recommend it, Fralick voted in favor.

Supporting the rezoning, Rick Crockett, who represents District 1, felt that the PRD requirement for a master plan was intended for large projects. He felt it was not reasonable to insist on a master plan for 10 acres.

"I'm looking at the overall good the county gets out of this," said Stephens, agreeing with Berkley that such a project was needed at the county's center.

Robin Hartman, representing District 6, said she originally opposed the rezoning because the plan showed only one type of housing. Replacing two quads with duplexes eliminated that and she voted in favor of it.

Steve Wilkerson, representing District 3, said the project is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan. He also said that he would rather not see it developed under a use-by-right because the rezoning request allowed them to impose controls.

"I think it is clearly a reasonable transition area," Wilkerson said. "These are very nice developments."