Proposed Bell Creek rezoning alarming residents

Mechanicsville residents along Bell Creek Road are already voicing fears that a recently proposed large, multiuse development could pollute a local waterway and add to existing traffic problems in the neighborhood and surrounding areas.

Near the intersection of Bell Creek and Pole Green roads, Hanover Land Investors LLC, owned by Henry Shield, hopes to build 65 town homes and 59 single-family homes along with a possible pharmacy and some retail businesses on a total of 25.4 acres of land, according to Attorney Andrew Condlin.

Condlin

Condlin

The developer is requesting rezoning the property from agriculture to B-3, a multiuse designation, allowing Shield to build residential and commercial structures, Condlin said.

Since the first draft proposal was submitted to the county in the summer, Condlin and his client held a Jan. 27 community meeting, where more than 80 residents weighed in on the proposed subdivision.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that many people show up to a community meeting,” Condlin said.

The biggest concern, he said, was the potential increase of traffic and the impacts the project could have on the community.

“The traffic is just horrendous here,” said Jo Battenfield, a Hanover school bus driver.

Battenfield said she believes it would worsen with the size of the proposal. Battenfield suggested widening Pole Green Road near Rural Point Road, because she routinely notices traffic congestion there on one of her bus routes.

Citizens like Battenfield are also worried that existing infrastructure in that area will not be able to accommodate the size of the proposed neighborhood, because of how narrow Bell Creek Road is and how crowded the intersections are at either end of the street.

The two-lane street is windy and narrow. Drivers already have a difficult time exiting their driveways without accidentally backing up into the opposite lane, Battenfield said.

Often the road is used as a cut-through for motorists traveling to Route 360 to avoid traffic and in hopes of a faster commute.

Mechanicsville resident Patty Thomas worries about the impact a proposed multiuse development could have on her pond along Bell Creek Road.

Mechanicsville resident Patty Thomas worries about the impact a proposed multiuse development could have on her pond along Bell Creek Road.

Another concern is how the proposed development would affect the adjacent property of Patty Thomas, a retired Hanover teacher. Runoff from the subdivision could trickle down onto Thomas’s land and into her pond, which she maintains.

“You have to take care of the pond,” Thomas said.

But tending to her pond has gotten more difficult since Thomas first moved into her home 30 years ago. The water’s PH levels have changed because of sediment and other run off entering the water. Thomas faults an existing subdivision near her property that was built in the 1990s. During its construction, the water was often cloudy even though the neighborhood did not back up directly to her property like the proposed Bell Creek subdivision would.

Thomas said algae and lily pads have started collecting on the pond’s surface, which makes it difficult for her fish to get oxygen.

To assist with protecting her pond, Thomas provided the developer with a number of suggestions that she researched to keep her property safe. Thomas has also taken steps of her own. She planted bull rush, a grassy plant, along the edges of the water to help prevent erosion.

The zoning district would require the builders to create a 50-foot buffer between the development and adjacent homes, said Condlin, the developer’s attorney.

“We are going to try and accommodate above and beyond in respect to details with stormwater [management],” Condlin said.

They will focus on infiltration methods, a tool to treat the quality and quantity of run off, he said.

Although stormwater managament practices are often not discussed until the plan is further into the process, Condlin said the community feedback has warranted early planning to make sure residents’ worries are addressed as much as possible.

The potential sediment pollution could affect more than just Thomas’ pond in the long run.

About a mile down Bell Creek Road from Thomas’ home is a 32-year-old business, Sandy’s Plants Inc., which was founded by Sandy McDougle and specializes in perennials. McDougle said the only water source for her plants comes from Thomas’ pond. She is worried about how the planned subdivision could impact the water if a lot of runoff seeps into the pond. If the waterway is damaged, it could affect the whole business.

“It’s my livelihood,” she said.

McDougle said it would also impact their employees. Sandy’s Plants Inc. employs about 20 individuals in the winter and 40 in its “prime season.”

Although many citizens have concerns, the plan is still in the early stages of the process.

“We still have to answer all these questions,” Condlin said.

He said there will be another community meeting, hosted by he and the developer, before the application goes any further. The plan is not scheduled on the Planning Commission’s agenda yet.

Condlin said he wants to address all of the citizens’ worries before that happens.

Although the concerned citizens understand the need for growth, they remain worried with the short-term and long-term impacts the proposed subdivision could have.

Thomas said she also recognizes development would be an investment for the developer, but she feels her future could be at stake. Thomas explained that the pond adds a lot to the property and not having it could hinder her ability to sell the home in the future.

“This is my life,” she said. “This is my investment for my future.”

Posted on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 1:39 pm