Opponents to high speed rail organize group

March 29, 2016

Source: Jim Ridolphi | Richmond Times Dispatch, Mechanicsville local

HANOVER — The possibility of high-speed rail invading western Hanover County has prompted some affected citizens to mobilize and initiate a nonprofit group in opposition to the proposed western route.

Mike Valentine told members of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors last week the group plans to present a petition that currently boasts more than 400 signatures in opposition to any 

“Families Under the Rail is dedicated to the opposition and the education of our citizens to the possibility of a high speed railway passing through out county and through our community,” Valentine said.

The group is comprised of citizens, business owners and elected officials who, according to Valentine, “share our core belief that combating imminent domain for private use and our opposition to any tax subsidized railway in our western county community.”

Valentine said the group will erect signs throughout the area expressing their opposition to the project, and will become more active as the process advances.

“We know we are not here tonight to negotiate with anyone on this board on whether or not a high speed rail will or will not be built in western Hanover County,” Valentine said. “We are going to try to keep this elevated in the consciences of the county.”

He outlined three “pleadings of support” the group is requesting. They included a request to track a letter sent by county administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris Jr. to Virginia Department of Rail and Transportation official Emily Stock, and a request that the board express its opposition to any proposal that routes the rail west of Interstate 95.

He also requested more transparency on the agency’s decision to remove a third option from the discussion that involved placing the rail system east of I-95, and asked supervisors to support that option.

“Right now, we live under a black cloud,” Valentine said. “Until we can raise this off our backs, we are going to live with decreased property values, anxiety and everything that comes with the uncertainty that your life as we know it has the potential to be destroyed.”

He said it’s not a battle between the Town of Ashland and the western Hanover community, both of which are on record in opposition to the project.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Transportation will address citizens at a public meeting scheduled to be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 4, at Patrick Henry High School.

In other matters, Kathleen Seay, director of Financial and Management services, presented some good budget news as a result of the recently passed budget by the Virginia General Assembly.

Extra funding is coming the county’s way in the form of $463,000 in additional revenue. The largest chunk of that money, $418,000, is earmarked for education and will allow the system to add a technology position and provides funds for greater flexibility in staffing demands due to increased enrollments.

The remaining funds will be used for matching contributions to the Chickahominy Health District ($10,000) and $35,000 to address public safety needs.

Supervisors also approved a rezoning request for a proposed development located at the intersection of Holly Hill Road and Cedar Lane.

Chickahominy Falls is envisioned as a unique living space for seniors, but the community will also provide housing options for all ages.

“We feel being intergenerational is an advantage and makes it a better development,” said applicant attorney Andy Condlin.

The 404 proposed detached and attached single-family homes are located on 180 acres that slopes down to the Chickahominy River at the fall line. Condlin said 300 of those homes will be age restricted (55 or older) and that lessens impact on traffic and schools.

Many residents in the Cedar Lane and Holly Hill area have longstanding roots with the community, and many came forward to endorse the proposed community that features walking trails, a clubhouse and community gardens. Some voiced their intention to live in the community.

Condlin said the development is not only unique to Hanover County, but is one of the first developments of its kind in the nation.

The development is adjacent to a 10-acre farm site that will be professionally managed to provide produce to residents in Chickahominy Falls and others.

The community farm could provide educational opportunities, retail opportunities and even a farmer’s market in future years. Although owned by the same landowner, the farm is not included in the rezoning request.

The property outlined in the request is currently zoned A-1 (agricultural) and the preferred RM zoning would allow private roads within the development.

The 2.25 units per acre density is slightly above limits recommended on the Land Use Map, but Planning Director David Maloney said the development “respects the rural nature of the area.”

Wayne Hazzard, South Anna District supervisor, moved for approval of the request and his fellow board members agreed unanimously.

Chickahominy Falls is located within the Suburban Service District.