By Brandon Martin
The Henry County Planning Commission approved a request to rezone 9.92 acres of the Iriswood District from agricultural to a limited industrial district during its April 14 meeting.
Lee Clark, director of Planning, Zoning and Inspections for the county, said the total acreage covers two separate lots which New South Metals intends to use to expand its capability to manufacture and sell metal roofing.
New South Metals currently leases a property on Sandy River in Axton. The new location would be nearby on U.S. 58.
Matthew Kendall, part owner of New South Metals, explained why the business is looking to expand.
“We started New South Metals in September 2019 with two employees,” he said. “We are in the process of hiring our eighth employee. We’ve had success” and “we’d like to grow so we are looking for a site.”
Kendall said the business wouldn’t be building a new structure on the property. “It’s just a baby step to a site one day. We kind of outgrew” the current facility located near the old Rock House, “much quicker than expected and this lot suits us great for a lot of reasons.”
For instance, “we like to be on 58,” he said. “Axton is pretty central to a lot of neighboring cities. It’s not close to anything but close enough to everything for us.”
Kendall said the expansion involves a lot of site preparation and environmental studies.
“We want to make this a safe entrance,” he said. “Our plan is to make it safe on 58 and not have cut-throughs and work-arounds. As far as deceleration lanes, I understand there are site distances and volume counts that are required. I want to make it safe for the neighborhood but also for my employees because we do a lot of delivery.”
Diana Thibodeau, a neighbor, spoke against the rezoning of the property.
“My neighbors and I have talked about this and there are some concerns,” she said. “The number one concern is traffic.”
Thibodeau said that Sugar Tree Drive can only be accessed in one direction.
“In the past, if you exited Sugar Tree Drive onto 58, there were so many accidents crossing the median, but they blocked that median off,” Thibodeau said. “Now if you want to come to Sugar Tree Drive” from Martinsville “you have to pass Sugar Tree Drive on 58, do a U-turn around the median, and then come back up 58 towards Martinsville just to turn into Sugar Tree Drive.”
According to Thibodeau, the turn is difficult due to a hill on the other side of the road which blocks the driver’s view.
“You really have to time it and be ready to accelerate like a mad man to get up to enough speed not to be rear-ended by someone coming down that hill,” she added.
Thibodeau said the addition of New South Metals concerns the neighbors because of a landscaping business on the same road which “cuts onto 58” ensuring that “not only will we have to look to make sure there is no semi coming over the hill” when making a U-turn, but also that “there is no traffic coming out of that adjoining business.”
Currently, the landscaping business does not use the front entrance so Thibodeau said “it hasn’t been an issue” but “if this company is going to have a lot of 58 where they are coming and going” then “it’s just going to create more of a traffic hazard than we already have.”
Kendall said his business does not have access to Sugar Tree Drive “nor am I looking to get access to that road.”
Before opening the public hearing, Clark said that given that U.S. 58 has a mix of different land uses along the route and the “high voltage” power lines that run through the property, it was unlikely the land currently zoned as agricultural will ever be used for residential use.
“Being that it’s located on 58, businesses adjoining it, lots of other mixed uses out there, the likelihood of the property being used for residential purposes is very slim,” Clark said.
Even with existing power lines, “we don’t want to live in an industrial park,” noting the amount of businesses that are already present in the area, Thibodeau said.
“You talked about how there is not much possibility for residential use there, Because of the power lines it’s agricultural,” she said. “Most of us that are out there are because we like wide open spaces and big green fields. We don’t care about the power lines over the big green fields. We can still watch the deer, wild turkey and it’s still wide open and peaceful.”
Thibodeau said she does not have any issues with the Kendall family.
“They are a nice family,” she said. “Many of us have known the father, Max, for many, many, years. We don’t want to cause them any great difficulty, but we are concerned about the traffic.”
Another issue for Thibodeau was the wide range of what can be considered I-2 limited industrial, including fast food restaurants and hotels.
“I wish the Kendalls much success. Not every business makes it in this life and once it’s I-2, it is I-2 forever,” Thibodeau said. “What’s to stop” a fast-food restaurant owner from deciding “there is nowhere to get anything to eat between Martinsville and Danville,” and building one. “I don’t know if having a fast-food restaurant backed up to our nice rolling hills in our residential area is what we necessarily want.”
For a large commercial building like the one that is being proposed, Clark said he would like to see some “extra screening, planting, buffering” for the backline of the property that leads to Sugar Tree Drive.
“But for a land-use perspective, I think it is reasonable that the property could be zoned as light industrial,” Clark said. “We are not talking about a metal smelting plant. We are talking about the manufacture of the final product from coil stock and then the retail sale of that product which is not out of character for uses that are on 58, so therefore, I recommend approval of the request.”
As for the concerns about traffic, Clark said the county requires a commercial insurance permit from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) “for any site like this.”
If the site doesn’t meet VDOT’s entrance standards, then Clark said he won’t give site plan approval.
“We don’t have an engineering office for us to do our own traffic studies,” Clark said. “We rely on VDOT to do their job. VDOT will determine what is safe. Our opinion does mean something if we have one, but that’s not going to be the deciding factor on whether they get a commercial entrance and where it is to be.”
The Board of Supervisors will have a final vote on the matter at its upcoming April 27 meeting.
In other matters, the planning commission:
*Approved an application by Charles, Jared and Rebecca Harris to rezone approximately 24 acres in the Ridgeway District from industrial district I-1 to agricultural district A-1. The applicants intend to use the property for residential and agricultural purposes.