IW planners endorse ‘Project Air Station’ design for Shirley T. Holland park

Published 10:55 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

Isle of Wight County is one step closer to securing its first occupant of a long-planned third phase of the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park south of Windsor.

The county’s Planning Commission voted on June 27 to recommend approval of zoning ordinance exceptions for a roughly 130,000-square-foot proposed warehouse codenamed “Project Air Station.”

Air Station General LC, a Virginia Beach-based company, has contracted to purchase 135 acres along Walters Highway currently owned by the county’s Economic Development Authority.

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According to county officials, the business would employ over 200 people and specialize in accepting shipping containers trucked in from the Port of Virginia and redistributing those containers to third-party trucks.

The county’s zoning ordinance requires no less than 16% of any building facade visible from a public road to consist of windows and doors. It also prohibits loading doors from facing a highway, and requires any loading areas be located to the side or rear of the building.

Air Station General contends in its submitted narrative that the installation of glass windows or doors in the active shipping and receiving area of the facility is “not practical.”

The company’s plans call for 140 loading bays, half of which would face Walters Highway. This design, though in conflict with the zoning ordinance, is “dictated by the geography” of the narrow, 35-acre strip of buildable land surrounded by roughly 100 acres of wetlands, the company’s application contends.

In 2019, when county supervisors attempted to lure a Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice correctional center to the same parcel now eyed by Air Station General, an environmental study determined much of the Shirley T. Holland park’s proposed third phase is now considered wetlands due to the presence of loblolly pines, a tree the Army Corps of Engineers reclassified as a wetland plant in 2012.

The vote to recommend approval of Air Station General’s requested exception passed unanimously with Commissioner Raynard Gibbs absent and Commissioner James Ford abstaining because he serves on the EDA board.

Plans for Project Air Station have been in the works at least since January when county supervisors voted to grant an EDA request on behalf of the company to repeal a requirement that Phase III Shirley T. Holland businesses connect to public water and sewer.

Plans to develop the park’s third phase began in 2013 when supervisors rezoned 969 acres as “conditional limited industrial,” unaware at the time of the wetlands issue.

The requested exception to the county’s zoning ordinance will go to the supervisors on July 13 for a final vote.