Zoning change would create approval route for ‘Cottages at Battery’

Published 12:34 pm Thursday, December 14, 2023

Smithfield’s Planning Commission is proposing a zoning ordinance change that, if approved, would provide a path forward for a stalled 14-acre housing development.

The town approved Virginia Beach-based developer John Mamoudis’ plans in 2020 to build 150 condominium units across 15 multifamily buildings behind Smithfield’s Royal Farms gas station at Battery Park Road and South Church Street, but the project never broke ground. When Mamoudis returned in 2022 with a proposal to swap the condos for an equivalent number of townhouses, the commissioners opposed the change, sending the project into limbo.

On Dec. 12, the commissioners heard a third proposal from Suffolk-based Quality Homes Inc., which is in negotiations to acquire the land. Quality Homes is proposing 130 detached, roughly 1,000- to 1,300-square-foot one- and two-story houses.

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Quality Homes’ proposal, branded as “The Cottages at Battery,” would equate to a roughly 13% reduction in the development’s proposed density.

What’s creating an issue is the proposed condominium-style ownership of the houses. Under developer Brian Mullins’ plan, the land wouldn’t be subdivided into individual lots. Each house’s exterior and the land surrounding it, rather, would be maintained by a homeowners association to offer maintenance-free living to homeowners.

Houses that operate under condominium-style ownership, even if they’re detached, can be classified as attached residential under the town’s existing zoning ordinance. Mullins is requesting an amendment to the ordinance to allow by special use permit any elements of what he’s proposing that currently conflict with the attached residential zoning standards.

The specific changes Mullins seeks would repeal a requirement that “minimum lot and yard requirements” be met “as if lot lines existed,” and replace it with language stating “all” zoning district regulations must be met “as if lot lines existed, unless approved by special use permit.”

Swapping the multifamily buildings and townhouses for detached houses, albeit without yard ownership, “gives you that town feeling,” Mullins told planning commissioners.

“This plan is better than the last plan in my opinion,” said Commissioner Randy Pack.

Commissioner Bill Davidson said while he prefers the detached houses over the approved multifamily buildings, he’s “never been in favor” of the proposed “zero lot line” ownership structure.

The commissioners, by informal consensus rather than a formal vote, directed town staff at the Dec. 12 meeting to begin working on adding Mullins’ requested language to Smithfield’s zoning ordinance. The decision, Pack said, is only a first step in what will be a lengthy approval process.

Once the draft changes are written, the Planning Commission and Town Council will each need to hold public hearings on the proposed revision before the council can vote to adopt them. If adopted, Mullins would be able to formally request rezoning and related special use permits.

“Right now, he can’t apply for any of that,” Pack said.

A report by town staff states that Quality Homes, in addition to rezoning, would need to request an amendment to the future land use map included in the town’s comprehensive plan, a Planning Commission waiver to allow non-contiguous open space and three special use permits. One would allow the proposed 9.3-unit-per-acre density, up from the eight-unit-per-acre maximum allowed under attached residential zoning. Another would allow smaller lot widths. The third would waive parking and loading requirements.

Once Mullins submits his application, another round of public hearings at the Planning Commission and Town Council level would follow. Only then would the council be able to approve Mullins’ rezoning request and related permits.

Mullins’ application would be required to include an updated traffic impact analysis. Documentation submitted with Mamoudis’ original proposal in 2019 estimated the then-proposed 150 condominium units would add 1,098 daily vehicular trips, or a roughly 5-10% increase in traffic, to the intersection of Battery Park Road and South Church Street.

A study Ohio-based Cooperative Strategies completed for Isle of Wight County Schools this spring estimated the originally approved 150-home development would have added 45 students to the school system.

Several residents of the adjacent “Villas of Smithfield” age-restricted community had raised concerns during the Dec. 12 meeting’s public comment period over the development’s impact on a shared stormwater pond that would connect both developments. Mullins said the 14-acre parcel is allotted 48% of the pond’s capacity.

“We do stay within that,” he said.