BRISTOL, Va. — A group of city residents isn’t declaring victory but came away satisfied Monday after the city Planning Commission rejected a staff recommendation regarding a proposed rezoning for an RV park and campground.
Commissioners voted 4-0, with member Kevin Wingard abstaining, to reject the report’s pro-rezoning recommendation. Commission member Jordan Pennington was absent, and another — Todd Buchanan — submitted his resignation last week.
The commission will now send a negative recommendation to the full City Council, which could consider the matter at its meeting next Tuesday.
The vote followed a sometimes contentious, hourlong meeting attended by about 40 residents opposed to the plan to rezone 19 acres off Long Crescent Road from R-1A residential to B-3 business. The request came from Long Crescent LLC, a group comprised of members of Wingard’s family, which bought the vacant land in August 2018.
“I’m overjoyed in this first move,” resident Loretta Trayer said after the meeting. “But the fight is not over yet. I know it goes back to City Council, so it’s not done until they make their determination.”
Trayer is among residents whose property directly adjoins the steep hillside site overlooking Interstate 81, just west of Exit 5.
Attorney Ken Hale, who said he represents nine homeowners in the affected area, urged the commission to weigh the concerns of those homeowners — many of whom spoke out last week during a public hearing.
“We’re pleased, obviously,” Hale said after the meeting. “They heard and considered, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Rachel Gibson, a principal member of Long Crescent LLC and Wingard’s daughter, expressed disappointment.
“I just hate we’re not going to be able to help in growing and prospering the city,” Gibson said. “This was a venture that intended to help the city, grow the city and offer something that the city does not have.”
Asked if they were stopping, Gibson said no.
“It goes on to council, so there is still hope — not much but some. Some members of council have already voiced their vote publicly [on social media], which is kind of disheartening,” she said.
Gibson said she invited members of the Planning Commission and City Council to visit the site, but none responded.
Resident and retired Judge Larry Kirksey presented the commission with a petition signed by about 300 residents, all opposed to the rezoning.
One of the issues that arose was how the development would access sewer service. City Manager Randy Eads said the developer would likely have to negotiate and obtain sewer easements from adjoining property owners. Kirksey said he could assure them that no property owner would be willing to agree to that.
“I can assure everyone in this room the city is not going to use its condemnation powers to obtain these easements for a private enterprise, at least while I’m here,” Eads said.
The commission heard from a few residents, and staff took some public questions despite no provision on the agenda for public comment on the matter. Just after 1 p.m., commission member Susan Long called for the vote and then made the motion to reject the recommendation — earning cheers from the crowd.
Long, Breanne Forbes-Hubbard, Ric Watts and Chairman Michael Pollard voted to reject the recommendation.
“There were a lot of concerns that couldn’t be resolved. But in the application, as proposed, we couldn’t support it,” Pollard said after the meeting. “There could be ways to handle it, but they would have to be handled through negotiations.”
Pollard said he sees both sides to the issue and would typically favor a business owner as long as “nobody gets hurt.”
“In this situation, a lot of neighbors are afraid of getting hurt. They have some serious, valid concerns,” Pollard said.