Alexa Doiron, Contributing writer
Discussions are underway regarding the change of the Wood Haven Road site into a business district as the Western Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority (WVRIFA) held a community meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31 to hear from residents that would be affected by this change.
The meeting was broken into a presentation which covered the background of the project team, a description of how the team chose the site, a look at why the site would be ideal for this purpose, a description of the master planning process and a community discussion. The team members on the project from WVRIFA include Beth Doughty, John Hall, Wayne Bowers, Jill Luke and Phillip Thompson.
Dowdy began the meeting by presenting the community need for a business development area. She spoke on the real estate demand for the area and how businesses require certain amounts of acreage in order to develop the area. More than 54% of potential investors in the area have a demand for at least 50 acres of land in order to see the area as becoming profitable and suitable for their needs. This creates a very limited amount of areas in the region that are available for this business opportunity.
The WVRIFA has been looking into this need since 2013 in order to help economic growth in the region. “To be successful in creating jobs, we need to be ready to go sites for business,” said Dowdy. “A site such as this one would help facilitate the goal of quality development and attracting good-paying jobs.”
The discussion about the land covered the topography of the area and explained the screening process through which the requirements were met. The team began looking at 169,000 parcels of land that was reduced to only 2,000, then reduced again from 31 sites to only ten. The Wood Haven site is the proper acreage and matches particular necessary qualities such as premier visibility, compatible zoning, and excellent topography.
The issue with the land, however, is the residential community surrounding it. The traffic and noise of construction from this new business development will interrupt the daily lives of those in the areas surrounding. With half the site being open land and half the site being wooded, residents around the area can expect a huge change in their community area should the site continue.
“We understand there is residential development on one side of the land, so we would be cognizant of our neighbors,” said Bowers, who discussed the master planning process. However, there was no real mention of exactly how the construction site would seek to maintain the needs of the surrounding residents.
The traffic in the area is a large concern for community members as some remember the Peter’s Creek construction from not too long ago and how Interstate 81 was impacted negatively in relation. The team is constructing an impact analysis of the area, though, in order to fully understand the site carrying capacity as well as the site sustainability. The site circulation is a large aspect of the development that goes into consideration because it is what happens internally at the site. “We want to identify a range of uses in the traffic circulation and understand what this means for the community,” said Bowers.
Martha Hooker, a member of the board of supervisors, was in attendance and was concerned about the traffic interruptions for the community as well. “I’m hopeful that it’s something that we can work on together. If it is going to work we need to have cooperating traffic,” said Hooker. As she sat and listened to the discussions going on around, Hooker saw this meeting as a great opportunity for the community to speak about how they feel. It is in forums such as this that the members of the community really get to have their say in the matter. “It’s great that we are addressing the proximity of the neighbors and addressing their concerns because it will shape the outcome of the property.”
The community discussion was set into a forum where groups discussed the issues and their community at their table. Each group was handed a large piece of paper that was broken down into three questions: “What do you value most about living/working here?” “What are the opportunities you see for this site?” and “What are your issues and concerns?” The groups then wrote their responses down on sticky notes and placed them under the corresponding category so that the project team could address the responses later.
Resident Heather Russell, who has lived in the area for six years, worked with her table to discuss the issue of the truck traffic on the roads. “I’m not a fan. There’s a lot of trucks already. So my fear that something that requires more truck traffic in the Wood Haven area is going to come through and cause even more problems and that’ll move all of those backups that happen on 81 onto 581 and into the neighborhoods,” said Russell.
Other residents of the North Lakes area spoke about the need for modifications in the traffic patterns similar to those of the Peter’s Creek Road extension a few years ago. “Well, I was concerned about it at the time, but I have not noticed that Peter’s Creek has suffered,” said a North Lakes resident. “I have not noticed a big difference in traffic since they did that extension and it certainly makes it easier to get to the other part of the county.”
The question, however, is not only how the development will affect the community afterwards but how construction will impact the lives of residents as well. “I think like with anything else, no matter what they do it will have an upside and a downside,” said one community member. “I think we would like to see something quiet, but even something quiet will have an impact on traffic.”
The WVRIFA will hold at least two other meetings in the future to create further communication with the community and meet the needs not only of the developers but of the entire region as a whole. For more information visit http://wvrifa.org/woodhaven/.