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2018-03-07 / Featured / Front Page

Group takes megasite fight to Matoaca

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

They’ve succeeded in rallying significant opposition within the Chester community to a proposed industrial megasite south of state Route 10. Now the Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development are broadening their efforts.

Mike Uzel and other BARD leaders gave a presentation to more than 100 people last week following a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting at Matoaca High School. Their objective: to alert Matoaca residents that the 1,675-acre megasite potentially could have adverse impacts for them, too.Members of the Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development at Tranlin's site off of Willis Road in eastern Chesterfield. Photo by James HaskinsMembers of the Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development at Tranlin's site off of Willis Road in eastern Chesterfield. Photo by James Haskins

“We’re trying to educate as many people as possible so you can digest the information and decide for yourself,” said Uzel, who founded BARD more than a decade ago.

In Matoaca, BARD is focusing mostly on the East-West Freeway, a road project that quietly has been part of the county’s comprehensive plan since the late 1980s.

Under the county’s current plan, the East-West Freeway would begin at the Ruffin Mill Road-Interstate 95 interchange and wind for more than 20 miles through south Chesterfield before terminating at Hull Street Road, where it would connect with a future Powhite Parkway extension. “For a long time, it was nothing more than a line on a map,” Uzel added. “The county told people there wasn’t much of a chance it would ever get built. Now they’re getting serious.”

County leaders envision the roadway as a key corridor for attracting new commercial development, which they maintain is needed to balance the local tax base. Unlike neighboring Henrico County, Chesterfield remains disproportionately reliant on residential property taxes to fund local government services.

BARD members, however, think many Matoaca residents would be opposed to such development if they realized the county intends to put it in their backyards.

“When the comp plan was passed in 2012, a lot of people in Matoaca said they wanted this part of the county to stay rural,” BARD leader Phil Lohr said.

Uzel suggested the East-West Freeway will cut a nearly 300-foot-wide swath through thousands of acres of heavily wooded property.

“It’s a gateway to development,” he added. “If you live in Matoaca and like living in a rural setting, you’re not going to have that any more with a four-lane road coming through.” Indeed, the East-West Freeway is critical to the megasite. According to Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director, the megasite can’t be developed without the first 2½-mile stretch of the roadway connecting it to I-95.

Any large-scale manufacturer that decides to build a plant on the megasite will require direct access to the regional transportation network – including the nearby Port of Richmond – to efficiently move both raw materials and finished products into and out of Chesterfield.

But Lohr told attendees at last week’s meeting that the county won’t stop once it completes the initial segment of the East-West Freeway.

“If they get this road, they’re going to extend it and open up Matoaca,” he warned.

Lohr, who has clashed with the county for many years on development projects, also is skeptical that the East-West Freeway will add primarily to Chesterfield’s commercial tax base. He speculates that as the roadway is extended to U.S. Route 360 west of the Metro Richmond Zoo and Grange Hall Elementary, the land around it is likely to be developed into new homes.

Jesse Smith, director of the county’s Transportation Department, has acknowledged that the county intends to move forward with the East-West Freeway regardless of whether the megasite is developed.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dorothy Jaeckle thinks that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, since the project has been part of the county’s plans for nearly 30 years.

She compared the East-West Freeway to the state Route 288 extension, which was shown on Virginia roadway planning maps for many years before then-Gov. George Allen found a way to pay for its construction.

“Nobody thought it was going to be built, then it was built,” Jaeckle said.

Several people at last week’s meeting expressed concern about the East-West Freeway’s potential impact on south Chesterfield. One mentioned the rapid transformation of Short Pump from a quiet, rural section of western Henrico County into an area that now is overrun with houses, shopping centers and vehicle traffic.

Uzel implored Matoaca residents who oppose the roadway project to spread the word about the county’s plans before the Board of Supervisors votes on the megasite rezoning case.

“It’s really about preserving your way of life in this county,” he said. “This is one case where everybody can make a difference. If you don’t do it, who will?” ¦

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