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Orange delays decision on Signature Station

Orange County supervisors have delayed a decision on rezoning the Signature Station mixed-use development until next month. 

The decision followed nearly an hour of public comments at Tuesday’s meeting.

Signature Series Development LLC is requesting that about 76 acres of land just west of the Wilderness Walmart site be rezoned from agricultural to multifamily residential (48 acres) and general commercial (28 acres.)

Initial plans for the development called for a maximum of 230 townhomes on the rear area of the land and more than 220,000 square feet of commercial development along State Route 3 in the county’s eastern area.

Following a public hearing in February, the county Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning request.

Nine speakers, many representing various area groups, addressed the supervisors at their public hearing. Only one, Jonathan Chasen of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of approving the request in its present form.

Chasen said the chamber believes that Signature Station fits the plan for economic development in that area of the county.

Karen Quanbeck, executive director of the Germanna Foundation, expressed strong opposition to what she called a flawed proposal. Stating that her group supports economic growth, she cautioned that local historical resources can be routinely destroyed by development and rezoning approvals.

Approving the Signature Station request, she said, would “spoil the authentic experience sought by tourists at historic sites at that end of the county” and could affect the merchants who service them.

“The cultural landscape of the Germanna settlement is fragile,” she said, “and cannot be rebuilt, if lost.”

Other speakers from nearby developments questioned the need for residential development in the area and its effect on the local real estate market.

Bill Edens, president of the Wilderness Shores Homeowners Association, said there was “no public necessity for new housing in the area.”

Matthew Sutton of Somerset Farms said not a single resident of his community that he had spoken to was in favor of approving the request as it stands.

“A lot of us are still underwater on our homes. We are trying to dig ourselves out. Our house values are not there yet, and bringing in another 230 townhomes in the $200,000 price range is not going to help,” he said.

The Signature Series developers filed a revised proffer statement the day prior to the hearing. It increased the amount of proposed commercial space from 222,300 to 237,300 square feet, removed a financial proffer of $187,500 to offset the anticipated cost to county schools of the residential development, and added a monetary proffer of $300,000 to go for construction of a new E911 facility on county-owned property.

Other changes include deleting the offer to convey sufficient land in the proposed development to allow the county to build a 5,000-square-foot office building to be used for public safety or office purposes, and removed the word “landscaped” from the description of the 70-foot-wide buffer to be maintained along the Route 3 frontage.

Steve Satterfield of Rapidan, and Dan Holmes, representing the Piedmont Environmental Council, both questioned the adequacy of the proffers. The proffer proposal, Satterfield said, “effectively ignores the Orange County proffer policy.”

Holmes called the proffer proposal “not worthy of consideration,” pointing out that the current proffers were worse than those disapproved in Signature Stations’ earlier 2006 request for rezoning.

After discussions between the attorneys for the county and the developer regarding the intent of various new language in the proffer statement, and agreement that some adjustments could be accomplished, the supervisors voted unanimously to table action on the item until their May 14 meeting.

Dan McFarland: