Apartment rezoning request on hold

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2021

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The Planning Commission has recommended against zoning changes to allow for a proposed 204-unit apartment complex off of Nansemond Parkway across from Northgate Commerce Park, and the developers have since delayed the project’s advancement to City Council.

City planning staff had also recommended denying the rezoning application, citing traffic and high school capacity concerns. Following the staff report and public hearing, and with no discussion, commissioners voted 6-1 at their Oct. 19 meeting to recommend denying the request. The proposed rezoning was scheduled to be on the agenda for the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, but was not on the agenda when it was released Nov. 10.

City spokeswoman Diana Klink said the proposed rezoning has been put on hold at the request of applicant C. Burton Cutright of HBKC II.

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“We anticipate the submittal of new information in advance of council’s Dec. 15 meeting,” Klink said in an email. “As of yet, we have not received any updated information.”

The 11.36-acre property is near the corner of Nansemond Parkway and Shoulders Hill Road and, if approved by council, would be rezoned from residential low-medium density to residential urban-18 zoning, which allows for multi-family and single-family attached apartments at a density of 18 units per acre.

The 204 apartments are the maximum allowed under the proposed zoning request and would be built as two, four-story buildings with 98 units each and two smaller buildings with four units each.

Estimated rental rates for the one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments will range from $1,271 and $1,892 per month, according to the applicant, C. Burton Cutright of HBKC II, which he said would help with increasing affordable workforce housing available in the area, according to the staff report.

Several large employers are in the area, including Amazon’s new robotics fulfillment center, Blue Bell Creameries, Frito Lay, along with warehouses and businesses in Northgate Commerce Park.

The property is currently used for agriculture and has a vacant single-family home, an out-of-use cattle pen and seven interconnected equipment storage and maintenance structures.

Two entrances to the property are proposed off of Nansemond Parkway, including full access about 900 feet west of Shoulders Hill Road and Northgate Commerce Parkway and right-out only access about 1,300 feet west of that intersection.

Cutright, on behalf of property owner Luther J. Upton of Upton Farms, has proposed 327 parking spaces, more than the minimum required 204 spaces. Jon Babineau of BECO Asset Management, an agent for Cutright, submitted the rezoning request.

Before it gets site plan approval, Cutright will have to abide by open space requirements in city code requiring a minimum of 200 square feet of usable open space for each multi-family development unit unless the open space requirement is cut by 50% by the zoning administrator with the provision of amenities for active recreation, such as a playground, tennis court or a pool.

The city’s traffic engineering division noted concerns with the level of service at the two closest intersections to the proposed project — the Nansemond Parkway/Shoulders Hill Road intersection and the Nansemond Parkway/Kings Highway intersection. The two intersections are rated as a D and F, respectively.

Level of service D means the area is “borderline unstable,” according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, and has a “high-density flow in which speed and freedom to maneuver are severely restricted and comfort and convenience have declined even though flow remains stable.”

Level of service F means a “forced traffic flow in which the amount of traffic approaching a point exceeds the amount that can be served (and) is characterized by stop-and-go waves, poor travel times, low comfort and convenience and increased accident exposure.”

Babineau, who represented the developer of the convenience store, gas station and fast food restaurant that will be going in across Nansemond Parkway at the entrance to Northgate Commerce Park, said he is familiar with the intersection of the parkway with Shoulders Hill Road and its traffic patterns.

While he said the apartments would contribute between a 1.6% to 1.9% increase in the traffic pattern, he pointed to road improvements in the works for areas surrounding the proposed apartments.

Also, Babineau said they would not generate a steady flow of traffic in the same way a retail complex would. Rather, it would generate the bulk of its traffic in the morning and evenings when residents leave for work and then return.

The proposed apartments, according to the staff report, can expect to generate five high school students for an already overcapacity Nansemond River High School. However, Babineau said

he did not expect there to be any high school students to come out of the proposed apartments due to the demographics of those who would be renting them.

Babineau said similar developments across the state he has been a part of, including one on Bridge Road, have not had a single high school student come out of them.

“In terms of high school burden, I don’t think that’s reality but certainly it is an element to consider,” Babineau said.

The staff report also stated that the project’s density does not comply with the city’s 2035 comprehensive plan and is not appropriate for the suburban use district it is in. The project density, according to the report, would be more than three times the recommended density and could not be supported by existing transportation infrastructure.

Addressing another concern raised in the staff report, Babineau said it is unrealistic to expect a few single-family homes to be built on the property across from the proposed Tractor Supply and convenience store/gas station/fast food complex.

However, the commission was not swayed, and only Oliver Creekmore voted against a recommendation to deny the rezoning.