Chesterfield eyes zoning overhaul to boost development
In 1980, developer George Emerson stood in a wooded area of Chesterfield County’s Bermuda district and told a contractor where he wanted to build a road.
Without any formal plan endorsed by the county, Emerson built the Walthall Industrial Parkway, opening the adjacent land for industrial development.
Times have changed, and so has the process that developers must negotiate in Chesterfield to get things done. Nowadays, a zoning application in the county generally requires about 25 pages of documentation, hiring attorneys and engineers, and an approval process that takes about a year, Emerson says. Though he acknowledges these steps were created for the benefit of citizens, it’s also made it much harder for him to get a property rezoned.
“That’s why there aren’t that many real estate developers left around here,” says the founder of Emerson Cos. LLC and father of state Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield. “It takes a lot of money, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of patience.”
With an eye toward simplifying and shortening this process — and spurring growth — Chesterfield has embarked on a two-year effort to overhaul its zoning ordinance, which hasn’t had a comprehensive rewrite in decades. The county began accepting feedback late last summer and launched an online platform in May to further these aims.
“We’re trying to bring our land-use controls into a more updated fashion than they are now,” says Andrew Gillies, Chesterfield’s planning director. “Land use has changed a lot. The way we live our lives has changed a lot.”
For example, there’s technically no zoning for mixed-use development on the books. Emerson, who built one of the county’s first mixed-use developments and is currently at work on another, says the lack of zoning has added time and expense to his projects: “You end up writing your own zoning case, and they don’t really have any guidelines to go with.”
Karen Aylward, assistant director of the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority, notes that “the zoning ordinance has not kept up with the changes in technology that have made a lot of these processes much less impactful.”
The zoning overhaul will assist in attracting businesses, says Jake Elder, the EDA’s project manager for small businesses and site development. “The zoning ordinance modernization is really going to help us continue to grow our manufacturing areas.”