When Spencer Murray took control of the Board of Supervisors last January, the first major effort was to repeal the County Zoning Code and Map which had just been passed on December 8th 2015. The resolution was touted as a return to the perceived pristine 2009 Ordinance. This brings us to tax map parcel 112-A-14, the current site for a new Royal Farms complex near Kiptopeke State Park. In 2002, the original plan by Cloverland Dairy was to build a convenience store at that site; a Special Use Permit was issued for the project in March of 2002. In the years that followed, no movement, or work has taken place on the parcel. That changed this March when at a Public Hearing, representatives from Royal Farms requested that the parcel be rezoned Commercial (C-1). Below is a brief history of parcel 112-A-14:
- In 2000 it was zoned RVC – Rural Village Commercial (adopted Dec 28,2000)
- In 2009 it was zoned A/RB – Ag/Rural Business (Adopted Oct 21, 2009)
- In 2015 it was zoned C- Commercial (Adopted December 8, 2015)
- In 2016 it was zoned C-1 (Adopted April 12, 2016)
In 2009, parcel 112-A-14 was rezoned Agriculture, and remained so until the 2015 zoning ordinance came to pass in December. While there were several amendments to the 2016 ordinance, 112-A-14 was not mentioned, and was assumed to be going back to Agriculture/Rural Business (it was advertised as such for the 2016 Zoning Ordinance and Maps). On April 12th 2016 it was instead rezoned Commercial C-1.
Rezoned C-1, Royal Farms plans to move ahead with a fairly robust gas and retail complex. However, plans to attract tractor-trailers, RVs and vehicles towing trailers has led to concerns over traffic and safety. These concerns are not new–Granville Hogg voiced similar protests when the project was first proposed in 2002. Given the project has sat dormant since 2003, Hogg, has raised concerns that the site plans, and possibly the Special Use Permit are no longer valid.
The Mirror contacted former Administrator Katie Nunez regarding the SUP and building permit, “In 2002, there was no actual permit that was issued when an SUP was approved by the Board. A letter from the Board’s clerk would be issued indicating that the Board of Supervisors voted to approve and list the conditions – if you would like a copy of that letter, we would be happy to retrieve that from our archives but I felt that a copy of the minutes of that Board Meeting provides you the information you are seeking. Regarding the building permit, no permit has been issued – the applicant has only submitted an application, dated 4-4-16 and 5-3-16, which is still under review by the Building Official.”
In a conversation with District 1 Supervisor Granville Hogg, the site plans lie at the heart of the issue. Hogg contends that while they were ‘DEEMED TO BE APPROVED’, due to revisions that took place up through 2004, they were for various reasons, such as incomplete traffic safety analysis, never fully completed. Given the project has remained dormant for so long, there is debate as to whether this constitutes a ‘LACK OF DILIGENT PURSUIT’, and if is so, whether the developer has lost their vested right to develop the property.
The Board requested that County Attorney Bruce Jones review the project, and he has provided an opinion and guidance that the site plans are valid until 2017. Whether the public was given proper notice regarding zoning changes, mainly rezoning the parcel to Commercial (C-1), is being questioned. While there were notices indicating the parcel would return to AG/RB, correspondence with staff stated that “The Board could reclassify this property to C-1 zoning without further re-advertisement.”
Over 100 residents have signed a petition against the Royal Farms project. Several have told the Mirror that this appears to be a first shot fired across the bow in the effort to “strip mall” the lower end of Northampton County, and by rezoning AG and residential lands to prime Commercial, fundamentally alters its rural character. Others voice serious concerns with public safety, and that due diligence has not been done in regards to truly assessing access to Rt. 13 and Traffic Safety.
While votes have been cast, Supervisor Hogg continues to press for a second opinion from the Attorney General on the validity of the project, as well as encouraging more dialog with the Virginia Department of Highways regarding Assessment Management and Highway Safety. Hogg also contends that Mr. Jones’ opinion is just that. The only way to be sure that the County has not made a fairly egregious error is to stop work, and get a final opinion from the state Attorney General. Given the amount of concern and protest from the folks that actually live in that area, getting that opinion might be prudent. One resident told the Mirror, “For so long all we heard about the old Board, Hubbard and all of them was, ‘who’s the man behind the curtain’. Well, seeing this is going on, without any regards for us that live here, that is still a good question…”