Discussion about James City County’s Economic Opportunity zone turned into an ideological discussion Tuesday, with slow growth-minded supervisors looking at the plan with suspicion and business-friendly members embracing it.
County staff members are working on crafting the language for an EO zoning district ordinance (read the draft here). The EO zone is intended to be an area that will facilitate economic development and bring jobs to the county. Staff used the county’s mixed use ordinance as a starting point for the draft, but made significant changes to areas such as percentage of allowable residential areas (reducing it to 15 percent), density, and height of structures.
The EO zone is also intended to be a ‘receiving area’ for a possible Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, which shifts density from one area (a sending area) to another (a receiving area) to help control growth.
On Tuesday afternoon, Supervisors met to discuss the draft at their work session, and it was clear that the Board is split on their support for the idea. Generally, the Republican supervisors find an EO zone attractive because it will bring jobs, offer a long-term development plan, limit by-right development and transfer costs for preserving rural land from the government’s pockets to those of developers. Democratic supervisors are concerned it will lead to more unchecked growth, will bring only limited revenues and doesn’t have a coherent strategic vision.
Discussion began with the suggested height limits for buildings in the zone, which staff had set at 75 feet, based on York County’s EO ordinance. Staff used York County as a reference because York’s EO area is adjacent to the EO zone planned for the Hill Pleasant Farm area in James City County, and staff was looking for some consistency.
While supervisors agreed to reduce the height to 60 feet, Chairman Mary Jones pointed out that there is less of an environmental impact when building up versus out.
Economic Development Director Russell Seymour told the Board that York County is ahead in the EO process already, and one of his concerns is that James City County’s area could become a “residential niche,” with businesses locating in York and looking to its neighbor to provide the housing.
Supervisor Bruce Goodson said he liked the idea that an EO district would help stop by-right development.
Supervisor Jim Icenhour said the county “should work on using what [business development areas] we currently have, where we have unfilled areas,” instead of creating a new one.
“Areas set aside for development are a dwindling resource,” Seymour said, and it would “protect us in the long term” to develop a plan for the area.
Goodson agreed. “Let’s stop sitting here waiting and hoping for the right development to come – let’s plan for it.”
Supervisor John McGlennon pointed out that there is also a TDR component to the plan for an EO area. “People want to know the reduction in the number of units outside the PSA [Primary Service Area]. We need all the pieces on the table.”
Supervisor Jim Kennedy said he liked the idea of TDR “because the developer pays for it, not the government.”
McGlennon responded that “three-quarters of the electorate agreed we should be prepared to pay for it,” likely referring to the bond referendum approved by voters several years ago to purchase greenspace in the county.
The Board intended the EO zone to bring higher-paying jobs to the county, such as those in research and development fields. McGlennon said he is concerned that these jobs will only bring limited revenues to the county to support needed services.
Kennedy asked McGlennon what his alternative proposal would be to encourage higher-paying jobs. McGlennon said he supported the idea of encouraging businesses devoted to regional energy retrofitting, and that he supported the business incubator. He said, “When you talk about bringing in big employers… you’re talking about stoking growth.”
When sharing his plans to run this fall for the Roberts District seat, McGlennon said that the EO zone is a “poorly designed attempt to turn rural farm land into an urban complex of eight-story apartments and office buildings.”
McGlennon also questioned the intent for the EO zone to be an area intended for light rail, pointing out that it likely won’t have sufficient density. Staff agreed, but the prospect of light rail still exists if there is ever sufficient density to suport it.
Staff will take the discussion points from the meeting and apply the ideas to the draft. The EO ordinance is expected to be considered for adoption in October. The TDR program is under study, and staff expects the Board to decide on implementation of a TDR plan in spring of 2012.