Manassas Journal Messenger | Residents to challenge rezoning

Manassas resident Betty Busby has lived on the south side of Grant Avenue for 72 years.

She likes that neighborhood just the way it is, sans the planned 5.35-acre commercial development that might be in her neighborhood’s midst as early as fall 2006.

She and other residents of the south Grant Avenue corridor — which runs from Hastings Drive to Wellington Road — say that urban sprawl has already sprawled too far.

“We’re very concerned about the influx of people from outside of our area gaining access to our area through a shopping center,” said Busby, who said too many empty stores and strip malls already dot the city.

Charlotte, N.C.-based developer Raley Miller Properties LLC intends to develop a triangularly shaped property at 9906 Grant Ave. for retail and office use. The company has applied to have the site, which is at the southeast corner of Wellington and Dumfries roads, rezoned from residential to commercial use.

The Planning Commission recommended that the Manassas City Council approve the rezoning after a Wednesday night public hearing. That was the second of two August hearings that brought out some strong neighborhood opposition; about 35 residents spoke at those hearings.

The City Council will hold its own public hearing Sept. 19, before its scheduled vote Sept. 26.

Citing such burdens as increased traffic congestion, inadequate buffers between nearby neighborhoods and the development and safety concerns, residents urged the Planning Commission to consider retaining the current zoning for homes. Some said that there was enough empty shopping center space within the city to warrant Raley Miller’s consideration.

The Department of Community Development works with existing shopping center owners to obtain tenants, but state law prevents the city from suggesting alternative sites for new development, said Elizabeth S. Via, director of community development.

“But if someone submits an application on this, we can’t tell them, ‘no, go look at some other site,’ ” Via said. “We have to take through the application.”

The annual real estate tax revenue from such a development would be about $116,940, while 10 to 12 homes on the site would generate about $66,932 at most, Via said.

The Planning Commission took note of the strong turnout at the August public hearings, with the 4-3 decision being decided by commission Chairman Jonathan L. Way.

Commission Vice Chairman Gary Howard voted in favor of the proposal, saying that the site’s proximity to Dumfries Road would be dangerous for residential neighborhoods, while commission member Nancy Breeden voted against the proposal, taking issue with the commercial development being about 70 feet from established neighborhoods.

Disappointed with the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the group of south Grant Avenue corridor residents plan to voice their opposition to the proposal at City Hall.

“We’re going to pursue it with the City Council at the next public hearing,” said Gregory’s Grove Court resident Bruce Wood, who disputes the city engineer’s assessment that the development would not significantly affect traffic.

“There are going to be about 2,200 vehicles added to Dumfries Road and South Grant that is already overcrowded,” said Wood, who sent a petition signed by 170 people to the Planning Commission.

The city’s comprehensive plan designates the 5.35-acre site for transitional land use, so a commercial or residential developer could stake a claim as long as it provides enough proffers — steps taken or money provided to reduce the burden on neighbors and city infrastructure — and gets the City Council’s stamp of approval.

Since the first public hearing in August, Raley Miller has proffered several modifications into its proposal, such as changing the operating hours of a planned drug store from 24 hours to 6 a.m. to midnight, increasing noise and sight buffers, reducing signage and limiting building heights to 35 feet.

Most buildings are planned for about 25 feet high, said Mike Vanderpool, an attorney representing Raley Miller.

“We think we’ve followed the comprehensive plan very carefully,” Vanderpool said. “And we think the modifications that we have made and the design that we used really addressed all of the impacts.”

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