The Pittsylvania County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval for a 1,900-unit housing project Tuesday evening. It will go before the county board of supervisors July 18.
The project developers, a local group called Southside Investing LLC, applied for a special use permit to change the zoning of a 614-acre property in the southwestern part of Pittsylvania County.
This project could bring in as much as $3 million in annual tax revenue for the county, according to a preliminary, conservative estimate by Southside Investing. That number is subject to change, said Tony Salah, a partner with the investment group.
The parcel along Martinsville Highway, or U.S. 58, is currently zoned A-1, agricultural, but Southside Investing would like to see it rezoned to RPD, a residential planned unit development district.
The property has been on the market for about 30 years, said Thomas Gallagher, partner and spokesperson for Southside Investing.
“This opportunity is unlike anything in the area,” Gallagher said in an interview. “It’s going to really provide another catalyst for progress and growth in the county in addition to everything else that’s going on.”
The property is just 9 miles from the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, where the county and Danville are working to attract a major developer, potentially bringing thousands of jobs to the area.
This project would provide homes to address the region’s current housing shortage, as well as prepare for the increase in housing demand when the megasite is claimed, Gallagher said.
The 1,900 residential units would be a mix of housing types: townhouses and single- and multi-family homes, as well as senior housing.
But Southside Investing wants to bring more than just housing to the property. The proposal is for a master-planned community, a mixed-use, custom-built neighborhood with commercial opportunities as well.
The proposal includes plans for a grocery-anchored commercial district, a hotel, a child care center and a community center.
“The mix of uses does two things,” Gallagher said. “It creates a sense of community, and it has a commercial element that would provide services not only for the folks that live there, but also for other people in the vicinity.”
The homes would be market rate without any government subsidies, Gallagher said. According to a rough estimate, townhouses would sell for $175,000 to $250,000, and single-family homes for $250,000 to $350,000.
But that could change depending on what the market looks like a few years down the road, because this project would take a decade or more to build out, Gallagher said.
If the proposal is approved by the board of supervisors, it would require another year to 18 months of additional permitting, he said.
“The soonest we’d be moving dirt would be probably a year and a half from now,” Gallagher said.
The community would be built in phases, with the residential portions in the first phase.
Southside Investing has held three community outreach sessions in Pittsylvania to share the proposal with the public and answer questions from county residents. Public input is important in projects like this, said Gallagher, who said he has been in real estate for 28 years.
“It’s all about outreach and over-communicating,” he said.
Salah said that communicating with residents is one part of listening to the market.
“The viability of this planned unit development is in response to what we hear in the market,” Salah said. “If we’re approved for something that nobody’s going to buy, then what’s the point?”
Another goal of the project is to retain talent and young people in the county. The variety of housing for different age demographics makes this project a “multigenerational” endeavor, according to a May news release from Southside Investing.
“Southside envisions building a multigenerational community that will assist Pittsylvania County in providing new opportunities for current and future residents, especially for younger generations who have had to often times look elsewhere in the past for viable job and housing options,” it says.
At Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, 13 residents spoke in opposition to the project and one spoke in favor. Those opposed were mostly from the Tunstall district of the county, where the parcel is located.
Concerns included increased traffic, the possibility of increased crime, and loss of agricultural land.
“This is a big-city development,” said Michael Kendrick, a Tunstall district resident. “Who here would want that in your backyard? Not many, especially when you’ve moved into the country.”
Stephanie Smith, who lives on a farm that borders the parcel, is concerned about services like law enforcement and the fire department.
These services are already stretched thin in the county, and a new, densely populated community would add additional strain, she said.
“If we’re going to grow, we need more resources,” Smith said.
But Joshua Jennings, a resident of the Chatham-Blairs district who owns land in the Tunstall district, said this project could help with county problems like population decline.
“We’re looking to augment our growth and I believe Southside is able to do that in a positive manner,” Jennings said. “This is not just about tax dollars, this is about our children and our children’s children, as well as strengthening our community’s economy.”
According to census data, the county’s population dropped by 8.5% between 1950 and 2020. Estimates released earlier this year show another drop of nearly 2% from 2020 to 2022, bringing the county’s population to 59,366.
One of the biggest resident concerns was traffic.
Southside Investing already has met several times with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Gallagher said.
“While the county ultimately approves the zoning, obviously VDOT is the one that’s going to make the final decision with respect to infrastructure and roads,” he said at a May 30 community outreach session at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. “At this point, we think we’re going to be in good shape. We’d have multiple meetings with VDOT over the next year as we go through the process.”
Also at that community outreach session was Vic Ingram, the county supervisor who represents the Tunstall district.
“This is one of the best projects that I’ve seen in four years,” Ingram said to the group of about 60 residents who attended.
After the planning commission meeting, Salah said that he’s pleased with the result, but that Southside Investing is still committed to listening to resident concerns. He said the group is open to more community outreach sessions, if residents want them.
“We’re here to listen,” he said. “We’re wanting to build a community, and therefore we’re wanting to listen to what the existing community has to say.”