Town Council approves developer-requested ordinance change

Published 5:03 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

Smithfield’s Town Council has unanimously approved a developer-requested rewording of the town’s zoning ordinance.

Developer Brian Mullins of Suffolk-based Quality Homes Inc. is in negotiations to acquire 14 acres behind the Royal Farms gas station at the corner of Battery Park Road and South Church Street. The council had approved rezoning the land to multifamily residential in 2020 to allow Virginia Beach-based developer John Mamoudis to build 150 condominium units across 15 multifamily buildings, but the so-called “Park at Battery” project never broke ground. 

Mullins proposes to instead build the “Cottages at Battery” – 130 detached, roughly 1,000- to 1,300-square-foot one-and two-story houses that would operate under condominium-style ownership rather than be deeded as individual lots to homeowners. Each home’s exterior and the land surrounding it would be maintained by a homeowners association.

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Mullins, who plans to seek attached residential zoning for his project, contends the version of the ordinance in place prior to the council’s Feb. 6 vote would have left him without an avenue to even submit a rezoning application. The old wording had allowed detached units in attached residential zoning only by special use permit, and only if such units don’t comprise more than 25% of the total units planned. The now-approved change repealed a requirement that “minimum lot and yard requirements” be met “as if lot lines existed,” and replaced it with language stating “all” zoning district regulations must be met “as if lot lines existed, unless approved by special use permit.”

Mayor Steve Bowman said his vote in favor of the change “should not be inferred or implied” to mean he will also support Mullins’ eventual rezoning application.

The text change, Bowman asserted, is “simply another tool in the toolbox” the council and Planning Commission can use when vetting Mullins’ application and others that may seek similar zoning.

Though no one spoke for or against the change during the same-day public hearing, Charles Bryan, the immediate past chairman and a still-sitting member of the town’s Planning Commission, had taken issue during the commission’s January vetting of Mullins’ request with the idea of rewriting the town’s ordinance to suit a specific developer. Town Councilman Randy Pack, who serves on both bodies, acknowledged that special use permits “tend to carry a negative connotation because you’re making an exception to the rule,” but asserted if a developer’s application were to meet every requirement of the town’s zoning ordinance without needing a special use permit “it would be passed almost by-right at that point.”

“Special use permits are really a nice tool for the planning commission to use because you have some control over what happens,” Pack said.

Town staff say if and when Mullins applies for rezoning, he will need to also seek an amendment to the future land use map 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 presently allowed under attached residential zoning. Another would allow smaller lot widths. The third would waive parking and loading requirements.