On Tuesday, the people behind Southside Investing LLC held a community meeting at Shilo Missionary Baptist Church. I went to it and their plans have been the talk of the county for a week now. On Wednesday morning, Cardinal News put out an editorial by Dwayne Yancey supporting their project. Last week, they issued a press release announcing that they “filed a rezoning application with Pittsylvania County to allow for a transformative master planned community on 614 acres in the southwestern region of the County. The mixed-use community is proposed on 614.45 acres located just east of Martin Drive on the north side of Martinsville Highway (Route 58) within the Tunstall Election District. The location is ideally situated approximately 9 miles driving distance from the similarly transformative Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, VA and approximately 9 miles west of Danville, VA.”
The lack of available housing has to be listed as one of the top issues facing Danville and Pittsylvania County. There are very few homes listed for sale in the area, inflation has made the cost of building a new home astronomical, and the problem will only get worse if nothing is done about it with the prospects for future job growth from tourism and the mega park in the coming years. It’s hard to see how anything will ever be able to come to the mega park without more housing options and without that the area will face rising taxes without population growth.
At the meeting I found out some more about Southside Investing. The LCC is owned by a small group of four to five investors, two of whom grew up in the county. Their family has owned about half of the 614 acres of land for what sounded like a generation or more and contacted some of the other people involved in the LCC, who have expertise in real estate and making developments like this work.
About 50 people attended this meeting.
What they are proposing to build is a project that will take ten years to build. If they can get the zoning approval they are expecting to spend the next one to two years getting all of the permits they need ready to start construction.
Tom Gallagher served as the spokesperson for the company. He said what they were planning on building was a development with multi-family units (apartments), single family homes, independent living units, a small hotel, and a shopping center anchored with a grocery store. The area would have a community center, for residents, which might have a gym or swimming pool. The residents and owners would pay a HOA fee. They shared this image on an easel of what the types of units and homes they plan on building will look like.
He also had an easel with a map of the county behind him as he spoke, showing that the community is going to be close to the mega park. He explained that is the main thing that attracted him to this specific location. The community is not going to be built with government assistance and the current real estate prices would put its townhouses in the ball park of $175,000 – $250,000 and its single family homes over $350,000. That’s not a low income price range. He anticipates that it would generate over $3 million in property taxes for Pittsylvania County.
Most big economic development projects get some assistance from the government. Industries will play states off one and another to get more aid, but this project is going to be a pure private enterprise.
Gallagher said that some have expressed worries that the development would overburden the county school system, with its projected over 1,900 living units, but he pointed out that the population in the county has slowly fallen to the point that the number of students in Pittsylvania County has declined from 9,500 to 7,800 in the past fifteen years. The school superintendent told him that the schools in the Tunstall District, where the development would be built, have 25% available capacity for more students.
They have looked to make sure they will have enough sewer capacity, and determined that they will from the city sewer system, which has a two mile main hook-up from the properties location. They are going to work with VDOT to do a traffic analysis to make sure all requirements will be met to insure safety and Gallagher said he actually hoped that they would reduce the speed limit on some of the side roads along the property.
You can see a map of what Southside Investing is planning here.
I’d say there is a lot of excitement in the county about the project, but some that live right next to it spoke against it Tuesday. One person said that they have a farm right next to the property and moved to the county to move in the countryside and now feel like the suburbs are coming after them. Another person worried that if they put in a hotel on it that the drug trade would explode, expressing fears of people not living in the county coming into it to bring trouble. You wouldn’t know who they are, so you wouldn’t know what they are doing, seemed to be what they were arguing. Most of the others who spoke expressed concerns about county services, like poor internet and a few specific road problems, they feel have been unaddressed. Their concern seemed to be that they didn’t want this development to supersede already existing issues as a priority for the county.
Tunstall District Supervisor Vic Ingram spoke in favor of the project, arguing that “there is a housing shortage” and you need to fix that and get more jobs in the area, citing the mega park. He said you need “something here to make our children want to stay here” and not have to leave for jobs or for housing. He acknowledged that changes like this can bring discomfort, but argued that if the county doesn’t grow then the county budget could come under stress. He said that the county board of supervisors just passed a balanced budget with no tax increases, but to keep doing it they are going to need outside revenue in the coming years.
According to Tom Gallagher, the entire development would amount to $400 million in private investment in Pittsylvania County and at no cost to county taxpayers.
The Cardinal News editorial on Wednesday basically argues that this project is more than simply a big investment win for the county, but a necessity. In it Dwayne Yancey writes, “Another way to look at this: If you’re in favor of a major employer at the megasite, that implicitly involves support for more housing in Pittsylvania County. For those who might be against this development, the question then becomes: If not here, then where? If someone wants the jobs that would come to the megasite, you have to be prepared to deal with the housing demand, because there’s already demand for more housing even without something at the megasite. If you’re not keen on that much housing development, then that raises questions about whether there should be any development at the megasite, which then raises the question of where job growth can realistically come from?”
There will be another community meeting about the development on Thursday (6/1/2023) at 7:00 PM at Faith Memorial Baptist Church.
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