Branner Station neighbors organize: Petersburg VA Progress Index, 10/19/07

By Patrick Kane

There were many questions but few answers at a citizens’ meeting on the Branner Station development. A standing-room-only crowd at the Chester [VA] library heard from an eminent domain attorney and discussed the impact the massive development — and its promised roads — will have on its neighbors.

Organized by Mike Uzel, a local real estate agent, the meeting aimed to get information out to those in the impact radius of the mixed-use project located between Chester and Colonial Heights. No county officials or developer representatives were on hand to answer questions.

Branner Station passed in September on a 2-1 vote. Bermuda Supervisor R.M. “Dickie” King and Matoaca Supervisor Renny Humphrey voted for the rezoning, Chairman Kelley Miller was the lone opposition vote and Art Warren of Clover Hill and Donald Sowder of Midlothian abstained. The project calls for 5,000 homes, townhomes and apartments on 1,600 acres west of Branders Bridge Road. Developer H.H. Hunt promised to build major north-south and east-west connector roads, which will mean buying land from some in the crowd.

Eminent domain attorney Charles M. Lollar of Norfolk said only the government, not a developer, can take land. He said agents for H.H. Hunt would probably try to buy the land they need, and if unsuccessful, turn to the county. Chesterfield agreed to use eminent domain to take private property for the roads. Lollar questioned whether the roads were squarely “public use.”

“That public use has been watered down to maybe public purpose,” he said of recent eminent domain cases in Virginia and the country. The attorney said it was too early to know what defense could be mounted.

Lollar said that property owners in areas planned for redevelopment are in a “state of purgatory” because of the stigma of possible change, and advised them to live their lives as normally as possible and keep up their property.

The 2-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors was also discussed. Uzel presented a Code of Virginia section saying that board members should vote unless they have a conflict of interest.

“What that says to me is that unless there is some conflict of interest, the members should have voted,” he said.

Uzel said many factors — including where exactly the roads will go and when they’ll be built — are still up in the air.

“That line could swing to either side to try to miss as many homes as possible,” he said of the east-west road from Branner Station to Interstate 95.

Jeff Brown, who is helping the group, said the lack of information at this stage is troubling.

“That’s part of the problem. There’s no answers,” he said.

A second meeting for the still-coalescing group wasn’t announced. Attendees offered their contact information, signed petitions and many stuffed cash into a coffee can for the cause. They were asked to contact the media, candidates for office and speak at next Wednesday’s board meeting.

“As an organized group we should be able to do more,” Uzel said.

Petersburg VA Progress Index: http://www.progress-index.com