Proposed assisted living facility fails to find county support

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: April 24, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

Too many unanswered questions mar proposed project

DINWIDDIE – Developers of a proposed assisted living facility in Dinwiddie County now face steep setbacks after both the county’s planning commission and board of supervisors voted down a rezoning request to allow the facility to operate near Dinwiddie’s southern border.

Last week, the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors voted against a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would have allowed assisted living facilities to operate within a general business-zoned area as long as they have a conditional use permit, which in turn, nerfed any further discussion on a proposal to operate a facility aimed at veteran populations along U.S. Route 1 just outside of McKenney’s town limits. 

According to county documents, the applicant seeking the ordinance amendment was 21723 Boydton Plank Road LLC, which state business records show is registered to James Wilson of Richmond with a principal office listed in Rockville. The entity was formed and registered in mid-August of 2018.

When contacted, Wilson said he was simply the registered agent on for the LLC and didn’t have information related to the request or proposed facility.

The company bought the roughly six-acre property where the former Economy Inn motel stands in 2018 and began renovating it with plans to turn the building into an assisted living facility. In a report from Dinwiddie County Planning Director Mark Bassett, the project and proposed use came to their attention when building officials in the county “had to place a stop work order on the building renovation because they were doing renovations without building permits.”

Following that stoppage, the request was made by the county’s planning and zoning department to take a look at the county’s ordinances to see if assisted living facilities could be added, as they are currently not listed in any of Dinwiddie’s zoning classifications. If that amendment were to be approved, that would open the door for consideration of the company’s proposed facility, which would need a conditional use permit. 

The proposed location of the assisted living facility, according to county documents. (Google Earth)

The properties that would have surrounded the facility are currently zoned A-2 or general agricultural with a mix of single-family homes and large farmland and forestry land uses, with Sunnyside Elementary School a short drive away. County documents reveal there were a number of unanswered questions regarding the project’s scope and vision in the lead-up to the planning commission’s meeting and eventual disapproval of the zoning amendment.

According to planning records, county staff had requested that the company provide specific details regarding the assisted living facility’s operations, such as “patient to staff ratio, type of staffing the will be required, and the clientele that will be serviced but, specific details as to how the operation will be run have not been offered.”

Documents state the company advised the planning and zoning officials that approval by the county would be needed in order to find out exactly what the Virginia Department of Social Services, who oversees the operation of assisted living facilities in the commonwealth, would require of them. State regulators communicated to county representatives that the applicant could “request preliminary approval” for that facility, which would’ve allowed the company to learn exact requirements for the building the center would be operated out of and “allow them to start developing the specific details of the operation that is necessary for county staff to make a recommendation with conditions” for the conditional use permit.

Even though the site may be suitable for that kind of operation, county documents show the lack of information presented a challenge to the county’s planning staff as they tried to draw a definitive conclusion.

“Staff feels that the request to operate an assisted living facility on the subject property may be an appropriate use of the property; however, with the lack of specifics as to how this facility will operate and the physical uncertainty of the building, it is premature to contemplate and fully vet the request for the conditional use permit to operate the subject assisted living facility for veterans,” county officials said, going further to say it was “difficult” for planning officials to suggest either approval or denial of the conditional use permit, recommending that “no action be taken until preliminary approval is received” from Virginia DSS and the company “commits in detail as to how the assisted living facility will operate and as to how the current building will be functionally altered/renovated to allow for such use.”

Speaking to that functional alteration or renovation to allow for the use, county documents show the company was directed to also reach out to the county’s building official and fire marshal “due to concerns of changing a motel into an assisted living facility,” with a focus on “the safety of the residents as to their direct access to their rooms to the outside elements, as well as fire protection, food services, and nursing staff scheduling.”

Prior to last week’s vote, the matter of the conditional use permit for the facility was discussed by the county planning commission and, at that time, Planning Director Bassett said “a person could get preliminary approval” from Virginia DSS “without getting zoning approval from a county or locality” but, he added, as far as their department knows, “the applicant has not gone through the preliminary approval process with the Department of Social Services.”

Additionally, while no one from 21732 Boydton Plank Road LLC was on hand to speak at the April 10 planning commission meeting, some residents offered their own questions, which added to the growing list of queries directed to the company in connection with the proposal, ranging from the safety of those living there, to the building itself and how it will be improved, to, considering this facility would reportedly be targeting veterans as residents, the impact of noise, such as gunfire, on those who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and would have been living at the facility.

Further, while the closest hospital would be a half-hour drive away to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital near South Hill, Planning Director Bassett noted that “county ambulances are required to take individuals to Southside Regional [Medical Center] in Petersburg,” just off South Crater Road, which can be a 35 to 45-minute drive away, depending on the route taken from the proposed facility’s location. 

Commission member Everette Prosise said he was against the proposal, citing the fact the county has been without a facility of this kind “for this long and it has not negatively affected the county in any fashion,” among other reasons.

“Dinwiddie County being a rural and fairly large County with limited services that will be strained because of this type of facility,” he said. “It is too rural and too isolated to provide the services that are required for an assisted living facility. The closest hospital is 45 to 55 minutes away; there is limited ambulance service in the evening; there are no adequate food services; the doors enter right into the parking area, and there is are no indoor corridors for the persons living there to congregate in bad weather. With these items before me, I could never support this amendment.”

Those comments were echoed by fellow commissioners Sam Hayes and Edward Titmus prior to their 4-1 vote to recommend disapproval of the zoning ordinance amendment, with Anthony Simmons voting against the motion. 

“For the 30,000 people we have in the County and for those who are continuing to come to the County, we at least ought to consider having an assisted living facility,” Hayes remarked. “However, I believe it is extremely important that we place the facility in the right location and having it come with a conditional use permit allows us to have more control. I cannot support this assisted living facility, because I do not believe it is in the right location.”

That recommendation was heeded by the Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors last week as county leaders unanimously disapproved the proposed amendment 4-0, with Chairman William Chavis being absent.

As a result, the conditional use permit request did not proceed due to the amendment not being passed that would’ve added assisted living facilities to the county’s language. 

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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