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Norfolk, VA 23510
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Owners, Developers: Franklin Turnpike Project Won't Help Danville As Is

June 6, 2010
By Tara Bozick

Property owners and developers said the Franklin Turnpike connector project — as currently designed — won’t help Danville’s economic development, as far as development along the highway.

Steve Richardson, managing partner for H & B Investment Properties LLC, says the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board haven’t listened to the needs of landowners or the city in building an extension of Franklin Turnpike to the Danville Expressway. The project is currently under construction.

“We should be on the same page sitting down trying to fix this and it isn’t happening,” he said.

Richardson would like “reasonable” commercial access to his commercially-zoned property. The project as designed doesn’t allow for that, he and his engineers say, even though the Franklin Turnpike Extension cuts a Danville city street — Spring Lake Road or Walton Avenue — and Richardson’s property. H & B Investment owns an 11.23-acre tract that is zoned transitional residential and a 29.57-acre tract zoned commercial.

The state originally offered $44,900 for taking 4.5 acres for the project, but Richardson refused that amount because the project would make his land lose its commercial value. The state came back with an offer about half of that, he said.

Richardson had a way to develop the land with access to American Legion Boulevard, but now can’t do it with the Franklin Turnpike Extension being built.

So now, a Danville Circuit Court jury will be asked to decide the value of Richardson’s land and award just compensation at the eminent domain condemnation hearing starting Wednesday morning.

Richardson and his team assessed the damages to his property for its loss of development potential at about $600,000. Yet, he doesn’t really want to see that money. He would settle to take the state’s offer if they broke the highway’s median and put a four-way intersection so drivers can turn left and right in and out of his property, which is why he spent more than $80,000 in legal costs.

An intersection would also benefit other landowners in the area, he said.

Currently, the design calls for two 12-foot-wide curvy or “S-shaped” roads, one on either side of the highway at a steep grade. With no break to cross a median, users can only go “right in and right out,” meaning a driver would have to make a 1.8-mile-long or longer U-turn using the highway if stopping at Richardson’s property and then trying to continue in the same direction.

No commercial users or trucks would be able to use those access roads.

Richardson’s engineers found that it doesn’t meet the city’s standards or the state’s standards for commercial use.

Engineer Fred Shanks of Shanks Associates, P.C., has been working with H & B Investment for the past year. He said the “right in, right out” is “detrimental” for commercial use. He called it “farm access.”

“The city will lose a valuable piece of property the way it’s designed right now,” said Shanks, who also is a Danville City Councilman. “The potential for that property to be improved, which in turn would increase the tax revenues that would be collected from that property, are diminished.”

H & B Investment had agreed to develop the area along with neighbor-developer Don Hardison, which means the area is one of the two largest commercially zoned places within the city limits, said Attorney Charles Lollar of The Law Firm of Waldo & Lyle in Norfolk. Lollar represents H & B Investment.

“How about jobs? With commercial development comes jobs,” Lollar said. “They zoned it commercial for a reason.”

Lollar would like to resolve the matter outside the courtroom.

Richardson said he would like to have some answer as to why the design can’t be changed. Engineers tell him what he is asking for is reasonable, and a four-way intersection is going in at Forestdale Drive behind Roman Eagle, which already has four other access points to a main road.

Richardson keeps a copy of former City Manager Jerry Gwaltney’s request — in a letter dated September 2004 — to the Commonwealth Transportation Board to put an intersection at Spring Lake Road similar to the Forestdale Road one.

VDOT offered another option, according to its response letter, to build an intersection further down and with a longer access road to Spring Lake Road because it was less expensive to build. Yet, the board’s “limited access control changes” motion included the right-in, right-out access. The board also noted that a public comment period was open and no public comment was received.

“What’s happened here is the property owners have been up against bureaucratic red tape that’s going to cost them and the taxpayers money that doesn’t need to be wasted,” Lollar said.

Lollar speaks of the potential tax base of commercial and retail development.

Richardson even called Delegate Danny Marshall, R-Danville, who listened to his concerns and toured the property with him.

Marshall can only network and mediate to get others to reach a resolution, but said he thinks what the property owners are asking for is reasonable.

Richardson hopes to resolve it soon, as the highway is currently being constructed and the window is small. It’s not too late, yet.

“With proper access, it’s good for everybody,” Richardson said. “It’s in everybody’s best interest.”

No VDOT or Commonwealth Transpo-rtation Board representatives returned calls for comment. Attorneys Martha Medley and Jim Daniel, who are representing the Commonwealth Transportation commissioner in the eminent domain compensation case, also didn’t return calls.