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Essex Board Of Supervisors Nixes Brays Fork Development


The Essex County Board of Supervisors last week voted 3-1 to deny a rezoning request that would have created a mixed-use development at Brays Fork.


The application was submitted by Shiree and June Monterio for the project called Essex Point at Mt. Clement.


The 13.186 acre site is near the top of Brays Fork Hill adjacent to James River Equipment and the LaGrange Industrial Park. The property fronts approximately 554 feet along the westbound lane of Route 360 and is approximately 1,500 feet west of the Brays Fork interchange.


Shiree Monterio is the president and founder of project developer 7 and M Development, LLC. She is the granddaughter of the late Thomas Harris, a prominent Tappahannock businessman, whose property was to be utilized for the project.


The developers sought to bring a variety of housing and business opportunities to the location, including housing for ages 55-plus and workforce housing for teachers, nurses, law enforcement and local government employees.


Shiree Monterio issued the following statement to the Rappahannock Times the day following the decision: “We are disappointed in the outcome. We are not giving up at all. We are very proud of the plan and vision that we as a team put forth. We continuously tried to work with the county to bring something positive for the overall county, community and the people.”


North District Supervisor Sidney Johnson, who has been a vocal supporter of the project since the outset, motioned for approval of the Monterios’ request which included a preliminary site plan. At-Large Supervisor Edwin “Bud” Smith Jr. seconded the motion, but he and Central District Supervisor John Magruder voted against approval.


Board Chairman Rob Akers only votes in the event of a tie, but ultimately his vote supports the majority decision, resulting in the 3-1 outcome.


South District Supervisor Ronnie Gill recused himself from a vote. Two months ago, Gill, the chief lending officer for Colonial Farm Credit, announced that he has had financial dealings with James River Equipment and Tidewater Lumber Corporation whose owners opposed the rezoning.


The applicants sought the rezoning from B-1 Business to Planned United Development to accommodate the project.


Three exceptions were also requested:

• Less acreage than the 15-acre minimum requirement;

• The desire for private roads to be created within the project by Virginia Department of Transportation standards. Such roads would have public easements.

• A single entrance/exit off Route 360 with a secondary emergency only access while providing two future connector roads to adjoin Hospital Road. A right turn lane onto the entrance would also be created.


Prior to the vote, the supervisors were given an opportunity to express their viewpoints.

Magruder and Smith both cited the exceptions for the reasoning behind their votes.

Magruder said he read all documents related to the proposal.


“I still remain very concerned about the fact that if we do make an exception on the acreage, we are spot zoning,” he stated. “If we make an exception for this, then we have to make exceptions for others.”


Magruder noted that the county’s Planning Commission recommended denial of the request.


Moreover, he said the private roads issue was a concern.


“I’ve talked to planners in other counties and they are very surprised about that,” he said.


“They say that is not a good move for a county to have private roads for such a development as this.”


He also said the requirement of two access roads is included in the county’s zoning document for safety reasons.


“I have a strong belief we have a zoning ordinance for a reason,” Magruder said. “It’s there to protect the people in this community.”


Smith said he has “spent more time on this project than any other project in the 22 years I’ve been on this Board.”


He added that he felt the project location was a drawback.


“The highways are a dangerous problem,” he said. “The intersections are a dangerous problem. The access points are a dangerous problem. Everybody who goes in and out of that project will have to make a U-turn somewhere.”


The proposed location is approximately 1,500 feet west of the Brays Fork interchange where approximately 12,000 vehicles pass through daily, Smith said.


“With the three exceptions you ask for, I cannot support having that amount of problem submitted to the county,” he added. “We just spent two years and $125,000 updating, rewriting, and bringing our codes up to date. If we are not going to follow them, we might as well throw them in a trash can.”


“The proposed usages have been identified in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan,” said Johnson, who noted the applicants filed documents with the county in September 2022.


“The applicant has done everything the plan asks for. We have no basis to vote this project down. The applicant has come before us three times answering every question we have had.”


No one spoke during a public hearing (there had been at least four hearings held previously) although Shiree Monterio did address issues that were brought up by the supervisors at their October meeting.


“With the county population and the number of businesses declining, and no real development occurring, if you decline (this) development that’s providing the opposite message,” Monterio said near the end of her remarks.


She also expressed appreciation to those who have supported the project in public hearings — even those who have voiced opposition.


“We want to thank everyone for coming out,” she stated. “You have shown up and showed out for us and we heartfully appreciate it.”


“I’d love to see this project come to fruition in some kind of way,” Akers told Shiree Monterio. “It’s inspiring to see something like this in the county. I know you’ve said you are not giving up on this, so I expect I will see you again sometime soon.”

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