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Spotsy growth worries gun maker

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The chairman of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday he hopes Beretta will consider expanding its local gun distribution center in the future, even though it chose Tennessee for a new manufacturing plant.

Beretta USA, which recently announced plans for a $45 million plant near Nashville, had once considered a large expansion at its Spotsylvania location. But that is unlikely now because the company’s 70,000-square-foot facility at Crossroads Business Park off the U.S. 17 Bypass is in an area slated for residential and commercial growth.

“Certainly we would have considered our Spotsylvania facility as a candidate for our expanded manufacturing needs, but the Crossroads Station development rendered that consideration moot since we lost the ability to acquire additional industrial property in the area for our plans,” Jeff Reh, general counselor and vice general manager for Beretta, wrote in an email this week.

The Board of Supervisors last August approved Crossroads Station, which will have 610 apartments and up to 900,000 square feet of commercial space by the future site of the Virginia Railway Express station.

Beretta first raised concerns about the development and the planned VRE station in a letter to the county in late 2011, writing that the projects “could interfere” with a potential 60,000-square-foot expansion. Back then, Reh said, “We were thinking of some manufacturing and testing, but not … of the size of investment planned for Tennessee.”

Beretta reaffirmed its disapproval in a letter last June.

Supervisors Chairman David Ross said board members weren’t aware that Beretta was looking to buy land to expand in Spotsylvania and never heard anything about the county being considered for a major project like the one that was approved in Tennessee.

“Beretta is a most valued business in Spotsylvania County, and I certainly hope Beretta USA will consider expanding here in the future,” he said in an email.

The company’s existing facility in Spotsylvania—which opened in 2000 and employs about 30 people—will stay in business.

Beretta announced last week that it will open a manufacturing plant in Gallatin, Tenn., that will create 300 new jobs. The business said it refused to consider expanding in Maryland, where its U.S. headquarters is located, in light of stricter gun laws that the state passed last year.

Virginia had been one of seven states under consideration for the new plant. Reh said last year that the company had looked at sites in Warrenton and Caroline County.

But he said in an email this week that the election of Terry McAuliffe as governor “did not help any Virginia site in our evaluation.” He accused McAuliffe of running an “anti-gun campaign” in Northern Virginia.

State politics aside, Spotsylvania Supervisor Greg Cebula said the county’s approval of Crossroads Station despite Beretta’s opposition “sent a bad message to business.” Cebula—who took office this year—represents the Berkeley District, where the Beretta facility is located.

The Spotsylvania Economic Development Authority, which is appointed by the Board of Supervisors, had a different take in a memo last summer.

The EDA recommended approval of Crossroads Station because of “its strategic importance in securing the long-term success of Spotsylvania’s VRE station.” Spotsylvania’s decision to join VRE in 2009 “created a market-driven demand for surrounding development,” the EDA noted.

The county is in negotiations with businessmen George Lester and Fitz Johnson to buy land for the VRE station, which was originally scheduled to open last year. Lester and Johnson are also developing Crossroads Station.

Johnson, president of Johnson Realty Advisors in Fredericksburg, and Lester, CEO of The Lester Group in Martinsville, in 1999 bought about 800 acres to the north and south of U.S. 17.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402