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Property owners oppose rezoning; council gives OK

South Boston Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance rezoning Somerset Assisted Living and an adjoining, subdivided two-acre parcel of land following a public hearing at Monday’s meeting.

Adjoining property owners, led by Don Bagwell, objected, arguing the rezoning would damage property values and open up unwanted development of the land in question.

The current owners of Somerset, DECCA and LGCK Inc., requested rezoning of Somerset and an adjoining, subdivided two-acre parcel of land from R-1 low density residential to B-2 general business district to accommodate sale and transfer of both parcels to Commonwealth Assisted Living of Charlottesville.

Tommy Elliott, speaking on behalf of DECCA Group, told council Somerset has “never received a complaint or notice of concern from anyone.”

Noting an aging community, his group thought the time was right to expand, Elliott explained.

Somerset Assisted Living has not been sold, and it’s contingent on this land being rezoned,” Elliott emphasized.

Speaking for himself and on behalf of his neighbors, Bagwell raised objections to the rezoning, which was recommended for approval recently by South Boston planners.

“I’m opposed to rezoning, but not because of the people. They’re the salt of the earth and the best people you can imagine,” began Bagwell, a resident of 2502 Halifax Road.

“Right here at the back of my property and their property is going to be a commercial institution, a business that will damage the value of my home and damage the value of their homes.”

Once the parcels were rezoned, there “was no going back,” added Bagwell.

If for some reason the sale of the property did not go through, Bagwell told council, what was going to stop commercial businesses like car washes, service stations, motels or retail stores from locating there.

“What if the deal falls through?,” said Bagwell, who suggested proffers and the conditional use permit and special use permit processes would be better suited to the situation than “blanket zoning.”

He also was opposed because “in the context it’s been presented, it’s clearly spot zoning,” Bagwell said.

“The purpose is to accommodate sale and transfer to Commonwealth Assisted Living. That is clearly promoting a private interest,” Bagwell surmised.

Council considered continuing the issue in order to get more information and pursuing the conditional use option before agreeing rezoning would be the best option.

“The thing that struck me was your concern over blanket rezoning,” Councilman Coleman Speece told Bagwell.

“I’m all for Somerset, it’s a wonderful facility, and I want to see it expand. I know it’s close to you, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t alter that neighborhood that much. It was there when you bought your house, so if they put up a reasonable buffer, I don’t see that as an issue,” Speece added.

Town Manager Ted Daniel told council Bagwell and his neighbors are already impacted by close proximity to the B-2 zoned Hupps Mill Plaza Shopping Center and the hospital, itself essentially a commercial area.

“I do not agree with Mr. Bagwell. It’s not spot zoning,” said Daniel, adding rezoning to B-2 was the best possible option.

Commercial enterprises are a permitted use in a B-2 zone, but the town still has “checks and balances” to ensure the integrity of the neighborhood, Daniel continued.

“You have to approve site plans,” Daniel pointed out.  “If someone comes in there and tries to put in something other than an assisted living facility, the town would have to go through a site approval process. The town would have checks and balances to keep something like that from happening.”

Michael Strumbaugh, construction and development manager for Commonwealth Assisted Living, told council the addition would house 10-14 memory care units along with spaces for dining, bathing and activity rooms.

The addition to Somerset, which was built in 1998, would “wrap around” the existing structure and make the best use of space, he added.

The concept plan includes a 25-foot buffer with flowering shrubs and trees, such as cypress and red oak, according to Strumbaugh.

“I think 25 feet is sufficient buffer considering the type of trees the new owners propose to use,” said Councilman W. R. “Bill” Snead.

A similar buffer exists between his home and a neighboring residence, he explained, telling council he can’t see his neighbor’s house when walking out his side door.

“I think 25 feet is a good buffer from what I’ve seen on the diagram,” Snead concluded.

“Maybe it’s because I live simply, but anytime I’ve ever bought a dwelling I didn’t inquire as to whether or not it was B-2,” said Councilman Bob Hughes, 

“I’ve bought a bunch of them in my life,” he continued.

“I’m not in real estate, but I don’t see this change detracting from the value of that property,” Hughes noted when answering Bagwell’s concerns.

The ordinance rezoning the parcel housing Somerset and the adjoining two-acre parcel was approved unanimously on a voice vote and takes effect Sept. 10.

In other business, council proclaimed the week of Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week, commemorating the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

This year marks the 58th anniversary of the Daughters of the American Resolution-initiated first resolution of the U.S. Congress to observe Constitution Week.

Nancy Chandler, regent for the Berryman Green Chapter, NSDAR accepted the proclamation, which was signed by South Boston Mayor Ed Owens. 

Carried over for consideration at the Sept. 30 work session were a request for funding from the Virginia Coalition and appointments to the Lake Country Development Corporation.