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Spotsy planners OK Ni River church project

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A proposal for a 500-seat church, shops, offices and 89 homes off Smith Station Road in Spotsylvania County has the Planning Commission’s seal of approval.

Commission members on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of Ni River Community Church’s 28-acre project, which would be west of the intersection of Leavells Road and Smith Station Road.

The Board of Supervisors will have the final say on the proposal to rezone the property from commercial to mixed use.

If the project is approved, local developer Tricord Cos. says it will buy all but 3.5 acres of the land from the church to build the homes and commercial space. The developer will also pay to extend water and sewer lines to the site.

Two people, including a Tricord employee, spoke in favor of the development at a public hearing during a meeting on Wednesday.

Supervisors first rezoned the property, which is close to a Luck Stone quarry, from rural to commercial in 2005 at the request of the church and Tricord.

Back then, plans called for a megachurch with seating for several thousand people, in addition to retail and office space. The approved project didn’t include homes.

Travis Pauley, senior pastor at Ni River, says the church has undergone significant changes since those plans were made. “It’s a whole different vision, a whole different method, a whole different style of church,” he said, noting the church has changed pastors since the original rezoning request was approved.

The church currently holds services at a location on Five Mile Road, off State Route 3.

In addition to a smaller church, the new plans envision 89 detached homes, 32,000 square feet of office space and 13,000 square feet of retail.

The developer would also build a 2,000-foot trail along Smith Station Road and pay for a stoplight at the development’s entrance. If a stoplight is not needed, the developer would give Spotsylvania $150,000 for other road improvements.

Tricord has promised to build no more than 74 homes until it has constructed 2,000 square feet of commercial space.

County planning staffers, who are recommending that the project be denied, say they are concerned that the developer has not committed to any architectural standards. “They could come in and construct all-metal buildings, which would certainly have an impact on the surrounding residential neighborhoods,” said Assistant Director of Planning Leon Hughes, who noted that the developer also hadn’t committed to specific lot or home sizes.

Planning Commission Chairman Robert Stuber countered that the mixed-use zoning category was approved to give developers more leeway. Tricord says the homes will be similar to the dwellings in the nearby Fox Point subdivision.

Planning staff also recommended against the proposal because the developer isn’t offering cash proffers, which are per-home fees to offset the cost of more residences on schools, roads and other infrastructure.

The county’s cash proffer policy, which is under review, recommends a payment to the county of $33,285 per detached home.

Meanwhile, Tricord owner Mike Jones called the project a “revenue generator” for Spotsylvania.

Last year, Spotsylvania supervisors approved Tricord’s 188-acre New Post project, which is envisioned to have 425 homes along with commercial and office space near the intersection of Routes 2 and 17 and the U.S. 17 Bypass. Tricord isn’t paying cash proffers for that project.

In other business, the Planning Commission voted 4–1 to recommend reducing a planned 63-home, age-restricted subdivision’s cash proffers by $614,133—from $714,133 to $100,000.

The subdivision, which was approved in 2009, is called River Crossing and will have up to 33 detached homes and 30 attached homes at an 11.5-acre site off River Road. Eighty percent of the neighborhood’s occupants must be 55 or older.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to move a project forward that has minimal to little impact on county core services,” said Hirschler Fleischer attorney Charlie Payne, who is representing developer Spring Arbor LLC.

The development will surround a 90-bed assisted-living facility called Spring Arbor of Fredericksburg.

Opinion of cash proffers is mixed. Some criticize them as another tax that is passed on to homebuyers. Others say they are necessary to pay for capital projects without raising taxes.

Spotsylvania has formed a committee to recommend changes to the county’s cash proffer policy. The committee includes five developers, a Fredericksburg Area Builders Association rep and two attorneys—including Payne—who routinely represent developers.

Former Planning Commission member Cristine Lynch has criticized the committee for “putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

Stuber later appointed Chris Folger, chair of the Spotsylvania Greenways Initiative, to the group in the wake of the criticism.

Commissioner Richard Thompson, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the River Crossing proffer reduction, unsuccessfully proposed tabling the application until the proffer committee releases its findings.

Stuber and Planning Commission member John Gustafson abstained because they are members of the committee.

“I think for me to take a vote on this would cast the wrong impression on our hearings as an active committee with the community,” Gustafson said.

If approved, River Crossing’s request would be the third proffer reduction since 2013. Last month, supervisors approved a $1.5 million cash proffer reduction for the planned 127-home Summerfield development on Hudgins Road. And in April 2013, they cut about $240,000 from the proffers tied to the planned 43-home River Glen neighborhood off River Road.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402