At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority purchased the 2,057-acre Upper Magnolia Green property for $13 million in December 2020 as an investment in the county’s future.
With demand for housing in Chesterfield driving sale prices to record highs, county leaders were concerned that a real estate developer would acquire the property and build thousands of residential units there. Such development would exacerbate an imbalance in the local tax base that dates back to the early 1980s, when multiple years of double-digit residential growth began transforming Chesterfield into the most popular bedroom community in the Richmond region.
While Chesterfield has been successful in gradually expanding its commercial tax base, the county remains disproportionately reliant on residential real estate assessments to pay for public services, such as schools, police, fire, parks and libraries.
That leaves Chesterfield susceptible to major downturns in the housing market, like the one that touched off a global recession in 2008 and forced the Board of Supervisors to make severe cuts to core programs and services.
As the economy gradually stabilized, the board set Chesterfield on a course to more aggressively pursue commercial projects, which generate considerable revenue and diversify the local tax base while requiring far fewer public services than new housing developments.
It has been thwarted, however, by a lack of available sites.
More than 40 years after its initial population surge, the county’s northern half is significantly built out with residential. Because of Chesterfield’s ideal location and access to both regional and interstate transportation networks and the nearby Port of Richmond, many commercial parcels also have been taken off the market in recent years by logistics companies.
As a result, there currently are only two industrially zoned, undeveloped properties in Chesterfield that have 100 or more contiguous acres – preventing the county from competing with other localities for major economic development projects.
Faced with those realities, the Board of Supervisors concluded it could not afford to sit back and allow the Upper Magnolia Green site to be developed for additional housing.
Site consultants, state economic development leaders and others agree the property, with approved zoning, planned infrastructure improvements and access to a deep pool of educated talent, would be attractive to potential end users.
By purchasing it, the county (with citizen input) now has control over what can be built there at some point in the future.
Last fall, Chesterfield initiated two zoning cases totaling more than 2,400 acres, looking to rezone the original property and several smaller nearby parcels.
Case 21SN0676 seeks rezoning of 1,728 acres west of the planned Powhite Parkway Extension to industrial (I-2) for the development of a technology village similar to the county-owned Meadowville Technology Park, although with far less truck traffic given the nature of the proposed uses.
Case 21SN0675 requests rezoning of about 700 acres east of the future Powhite extension, which would allow for development of multiple public facility sites – including a new middle school to relieve overcrowding at Tomahawk Creek Middle -- and up to 600 single-family residential lots.
The proposed rezoning has several tangible economic and quality of life benefits for the county:
*First, it would permit the Economic Development department to begin marketing the Upper Magnolia Green West property to high-tech companies, such as computer chip manufacturers, and other advanced manufacturing operations.
Chesterfield has committed to pursue only 8 primary uses of the more than 200 commercial uses currently permitted in an I-2 zoning district. Three other uses are identified to be permitted as accessory uses only, in addition to a fire station and water tower. County departments are reviewing the cases and crafting proffers to mitigate the impact of development on nearby property owners, infrastructure and the environment.
Modern advanced manufacturing generally is much quieter, cleaner and has far less impact than traditional industrial development. Wooded buffers further reduce the visibility of such facilities from neighboring properties. High-quality technology parks similar to what’s being proposed here have been thriving near residential areas throughout the county for decades.
Advanced manufacturing also produces local tax revenue and high-paying career opportunities.
Meadowville Technology Park generates $3.33 million per year in county taxes. The Upper Magnolia Green West site is expected to have about 400 more usable acres than Meadowville.
Chesterfield graduates about 5,000 high school seniors annually, a certain number of which do not go on to college. There are many jobs suitable for college graduates in advanced manufacturing, as well. Rather than relocate from the county in search of employment, those young people could work at the technology village, make enough money to achieve financial independence and become part of the backbone of the local economy.
*Under Virginia’s formula for funding transportation projects, developing the Upper Magnolia Green West property as a major employment center would greatly improve Chesterfield’s chances of securing funding for construction of the Powhite Parkway Extension.
The 10- to 12-mile project is critical to reducing traffic volume on western Route 360 and collisions in the 360/288 interchange, particularly during morning and afternoon peak hours, by giving motorists an option to bypass that area.
Due to ongoing population growth in western Chesterfield, alleviating congestion in the 360 corridor has been identified as the county’s top transportation priority. But at an estimated cost of more than $700 million, funding the Powhite Extension solely with local dollars would require some combination of tolls and tax increases.
*The county’s plans for the Upper Magnolia Green East property include as many as three school sites, which likewise are needed to address capacity issues resulting from new residential development, and space for a new public library branch.
Chesterfield also has proposed the construction of a multi-use trail network that would connect the new residential sections to the public facility sites and enable residents to safely travel to and from Horner Park without the use of a vehicle.
*Revenue generated by the technology park and ancillary businesses would help pay for needed infrastructure improvements, while bringing greater diversity to the local tax base and alleviating the historic pressure on residential assessments.
That could allow for future reductions to Chesterfield’s property tax rate – a stated goal of both the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey.
Because the future development of Upper Magnolia Green is a topic of countywide interest, input from all Chesterfield residents is an integral part of the rezoning process.
Chesterfield has created a website with information about the two zoning cases, and Board of Supervisors members and county staff already have participated in multiple community meetings.
The Chesterfield Planning Commission held a work session on the proposed rezoning at its Jan. 18 meeting and the Board of Supervisors will receive a similar presentation during the afternoon session of its Jan. 26 meeting.
Another community meeting is expected to be held in February.