After months of community input, which culminated with a pair of public hearings Thursday night, the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors approved both zoning cases that will guide development of the 2,400-acre Upper Magnolia Green property.
The board voted 3-2 to rezone 1,728 acres west of the future Powhite Parkway for use as an employment-generating technology village, along with sites for a new high school and fire station.
Supervisors Chris Winslow (Clover Hill), Leslie Haley (Midlothian) and Jim Holland (Dale) cast votes in favor of the Upper Magnolia Green West case.
Saying the case needed more work, supervisors Kevin Carroll (Matoaca) and Jim Ingle (Bermuda) initially asked to have it deferred until the board’s June 29 meeting. When that motion failed, both voted against the case.
Winslow, chair of the Board of Supervisors, thanked the many Chesterfield residents and business owners who participated in community meetings, spoke at Thursday’s public hearing on the West case and submitted comments through the county’s online portal.
“The case is absolutely better because of your input and involvement, and that of staff and the planning commission,” he said. “I am very grateful to all of you.”
Immediately following its vote on the West case, the board unanimously supported rezoning the 700-acre Upper Magnolia Green East property to accommodate construction of a new middle and elementary school, a public library and as many as 600 single-family homes.
At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority purchased the Upper Magnolia Green property in December 2020 with the intention of developing it primarily for future economic development opportunities.
In a news release announcing the acquisition, Haley, who at the time was the board’s chair, noted “There are precious few large acreage sites in Chesterfield for the county to better manage growth and focus on jobs-centric opportunities and related amenities.”
Since then, Chesterfield has received endorsements from state and federal officials for both its plan and the site’s potential for attracting high-tech advanced manufacturers.
Amid a worldwide shortage of computer chips, Congress passed a bipartisan bill last year appropriating $52 billion to bolster domestic computer chip manufacturing.
America’s share of the global semiconductor market has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, leaving the country increasingly vulnerable to interruptions in the overseas supply chain.
Likewise, Virginia has a dearth of large industrial properties capable of accommodating major economic development projects and the infusion of quality jobs and capital investment that come with them.
According to Jason El-Koubi, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia has lost out on more than 47,000 direct jobs and $115 billion in capital investment since 2016, as well as an estimated $300 million in annual state tax revenue, due to the lack of project-ready industrial sites 250 acres or larger.
In a Jan. 26 presentation to the Board of Supervisors, El Koubi said Chesterfield has “an opportunity to develop one of the most attractive site-related assets in the commonwealth of Virginia.”
Semiconductor fabrication is one example of the high-tech advanced manufacturing Chesterfield wants to attract to Upper Magnolia Green.
Because of interest in the Upper Magnolia Green site, leveraging its development as a technology village also gives Chesterfield the best chance to secure state and federal funding for construction of the Powhite Parkway Extension.
The roadway, which is critical to alleviating vehicle congestion in the fast-growing western Route 360 corridor, has been on the countywide thoroughfare plan since 1989. But its cost – currently estimated at $700 million – has prevented Chesterfield from moving forward on the project.
“We have an opportunity that has never existed,” Haley said Thursday. “We would not be talking fairly if we told you Chesterfield can build the Powhite Parkway Extension on our own. Twenty years we’ve been talking about it and it hasn’t happened … twenty more, it’s not going to happen.”
For that reason, as well as the technology village’s potential for creating high-quality jobs and diversifying Chesterfield’s tax base with commercial revenue, Ingle noted “I want to be for this case.”
“But there are concerns out there [in the community],” he added, echoing Carroll’s desire to put “guardrails” in the West zoning case that might limit a future Board of Supervisors from making substantive changes to the development plan for Upper Magnolia Green.
Over the past several months, staff from many county departments – including Planning, Economic Development, Transportation, Environmental Engineering and Utilities – have worked to craft proffered conditions that will mitigate adverse impacts on nearby property owners and the Swift Creek Reservoir, one of Chesterfield’s three drinking water sources.
County staff say the West case is far more restrictive than one typically submitted by a private developer. For example, only seven primary uses are proposed from among 345 potential uses available in a general industrial (I-2) zoning district: computer equipment manufacturing, data centers, electronic component and accessories manufacturing, laboratories, offices, pharmaceutical products manufacturing and research and development facilities.
Carroll and Ingle sought to defer the case for 30 days and include additional regulatory language.
“I just think this case is not quite ready,” Carroll said. “I have great respect for all of my colleagues on this board. I trust them. We can all work together with staff and make the right decision. But depending on who gets elected and who sits in those seats [in the future], we don’t know how that’s going to look.”
The most immediate activity at Upper Magnolia Green is making space for a much-needed middle school to relieve capacity issues at Tomahawk Creek Middle. But through its Business Ready Sites program, the state government is working with Chesterfield to market the property to suitable prospects; any end user must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Holland said development of the site will be “transformative” for Chesterfield, which is overly reliant on residential real estate taxes to fund critical public services such as schools and police. While the county has had success in attracting commercial projects in recent years, it also remains a net exporter of jobs – meaning more people leave Chesterfield to work in other parts of the Richmond region than vice versa.
“The question really is, ‘Is this case in the best interest of Chesterfield County?’” Holland added. “I have to say yes.”