After a lengthy planning process, controversy and death threats, the tiny town of Scottsville could see its first substantial housing development in the town’s modern history if its Town Council approves a special-use permit Monday night.
The council is scheduled to vote at its monthly meeting on the permit for 36 homes on about 12 acres of a property on Bird Street next to the former Hyosung Tire plant. Scottsville’s mayor, who supports the plan in part to stanch an exodus of residents in the town of 524 residents, can cast a tie-breaking vote.
The permit request and a possible increase in population have prompted concerns from Scottsville residents and surrounding community members, who worry about maintaining the area’s small-town character.
“Could this be the best thing that happens to Scottsville? Possibly. Could this be the worst? Possibly, but I think we’ve done our due diligence, and we have to make a call about whether we want to have more people in Scottsville or not,” Councilor Stuart Munson said in an interview.
Since the special-use permit application was submitted last year, the number of proposed houses has decreased from 48 to 36. Another application for 24 houses on Blenheim Road has been put on hold.
The proposals already have sparked controversy and even threats. A former councilor resigned in November, sold her house and moved out of the area after she was threatened and intimidated by community members who were against the proposals.
“One bad apple just puts a blemish on the whole pile, and 99.9% of the people in Scottsville are nice, decent, honest, care-for-your-neighbor type people, but there are three or four out there that have shown themselves to be real jerks,” Mayor Ron Smith said at a work session after the resignation.
He said the people said things to the councilor like “we know where you live” and “if this thing passes … we’ll take care of it.”
Community members who have spoken at public meetings about the permit have expressed concerns about traffic, storm water runoff and the size of the development.
“We want development, but we want responsible growth commensurate with the size of our town,” Cenie Re Sturm, a town resident, has said at multiple town meetings. “We want growth to be community driven, not developer and landowner driven.”
Retreading a factory site
Since the tire plant closed more than a decade ago, the town has been discussing visions for revitalization of the former factory and the surrounding land.
The plant on Bird Street was purchased in 2011 by Charles W. Hurt, a local real estate entrepreneur, developer and founder of Virginia Land Co., for $600,000. The plant sits on 41 acres and is adjacent to an empty nearly 20-acre parcel, both owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, under Hurt.
A company that produces apple spirits looked into buying the building in 2010, and it was suggested as an alternative to a proposed outdoor police firing range in 2012. The former factory and nearby property haven’t been sold since Hurt’s purchase.
Scottsville’s Town Administrator Matt Lawless said at a council work session this month that part of the work he’s done with state economic development officials is to try to recruit another industrial user to the factory, with only a handful of tours and responses from prospective code-named businesses.
“I’ve responded to five of these code-named projects over the years, and none of them got very far,” he said. “The feedback I get from the state government is that the Hyosung building is obsolete,” mainly due to its distance from the interstate and its 15-foot ceilings, which are low by today’s standards.
Since 2018, when the town’s Comprehensive Plan was last updated, Scottsville has been planning and trying to generate interest for someone to redevelop the former factory into a mixed-use site. The town has received multiple grants totaling $341,000 for studying, planning the area and preserving wetlands with public access, which have resulted in a market study and a small area plan for West Downtown.
In 2020, the council approved the small area plan, which included recommendations for the factory site, as well as support for private-sector construction of homes on the factory hillside.
The town has taken a number of other steps to promote redevelopment of the specific Bird Street property where the special-use permit for housing is being proposed. Last year, council voted 4-3 to rezone it from Industrial to Village Residential. Council also voted to add incentives for cluster development to Village Residentially zoned land where there is public water and sewer service.
A $123,000 grant awarded last year is funding a survey and floodplain map amendment for the town and the factory site.
This past week, it was announced that the town won a $75,000 planning grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Industrial Revitalization Fund, which it can use toward more detailed environmental studies, site surveys & measurements and traffic studies around what the community hopes to see in the redevelopment. Lawless said that can be used as a “package of data” to give to investors who may be interested in the site.
Permit in process
The special-use permit has been working its way through town processes since September. The Planning Commission in November voted 2-1 to recommend approval of 36 houses instead of 48 houses.
The town has also worked on conditions for the permit, which as of now include requiring the final site plan to conform generally to the concept plan shown in the application; building at least six and no more than ten duplex homes on the site, with the remainder being detached single-family houses; a phase two environmental impact study on the site; publicly-accessible trails; sidewalks; and native plants used in the development.
“It’s certainly been an iterative process; we’ve worked through it with our client, every word of those conditions,” said Kelsey Schlein, a project manager at Shimp Engineering, the firm representing Hurt on the permit application.
Most special-use permit and rezoning requests do not include direct involvement from possible homebuilders during the public portion of the process, but since that has been a concern from some councilors, a representative from Charlottesville-based Southern Development, which will pursue development of the site if approved, will be at Monday’s meeting, said Justin Shimp, founder and principal engineer of Shimp Engineering.
In February, the council voted 4-3 to defer the final special-use permit vote to its March 21 meeting to address additional questions and hear from the builder.
Munson, the town councilor who has said he wants to see a contract from a builder, said he wants to see a serious attempt to move forward on homes built if this permit is approved.
“That’s the core of my concern — [I want] to be sure, as much as possible, that what we see proposed is going to be what we get, and we get it sooner rather than later,” he said.
The town, which is about 1.5 square miles, lost 42 residents between the 2010 and 2020 census. The mayor, who only votes to break ties, supports the project, in part to support the town.
“If we added 50 new residents over the next two or three years, we’d be back where we should be right now,” he said. “As far as our residents go, it’s just hard for me to understand why some people can’t grasp this particular concept that in order to keep a community vibrant and keep that community and the town functioning, you need residents.”
The Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Victory Hall, 401 Valley Street. Virtual access is also available via Zoom, and a link is available at Scottsville.org.