The Salem City Council late Monday night voted to postpone a vote on a controversial residential development after a contentious public hearing.
R. Fralin Companies Inc. has a contract on nearly 67 acres of land off Upland Drive commonly referred to as Simms Farm. Robert Fralin, the company’s owner, proposed building 139 new homes on the property, which is currently zoned as agricultural land.
The neighborhood would feature a mix of one- and two-story unattached homes, including patio homes for older buyers, ranging between $275,000 and $500,000.
Nearly 40 residents spoke against the proposal with concerns about traffic, stormwater drainage, density and potential costs to the city. The city council voted unanimously to move the vote to its Nov. 25 meeting to allow staff time to answer questions brought up by the dozens of citizens who spoke at the public hearing and wrote in with concerns.
The planning commission narrowly recommended approval of the proposal earlier this month after a three-hour meeting attended by about 250 residents. The project requires a rezoning of the land and a special exception permit to allow for smaller lots.
“I think it makes sense for it to become a place for more people to call home in Salem, but I think we need more due diligence on the project,” council member James Martin said Monday.
The project has gone through four different revisions to accommodate requests from neighbors and officials. Developers reduced the number of homes from 150 to 139, eliminated a cluster of attached housing and amended setbacks and buffers. They also added restrictions on construction activity and architectural styles, which one neighbor called “kitschy McMansions.”
Fralin defended the proposal, saying the development will add a housing type that Salem does not currently have and will add a real estate tax base of about $40 million. Many neighbors questioned the accuracy of that number.
Fralin also noted the comprehensive plan supported the residential development of this land.
He told council members, “The question for you tonight is, is this the time and is this the development? And I believe it is.”
Many residents voiced concerns about already present stormwater runoff and flooding issues in the area. They questioned why the city council would approve 139 new homes without first addressing infrastructure problems they claimed would worsen with the added home density.
Other neighbors complained about traffic congestion on Homeplace Drive, Upland Drive, Franklin Street and Diamond Road. Developers insisted that traffic studies showed little effect on local traffic. They said additional traffic would add a second and a half delay in the worst-case scenarios, which drew laughs from the crowd.
Most residents said the home density, which is just over two homes per acre, is too high for the area. Tom Fame, who lives on Homeplace Drive, said he knew one of the original owners of the property and said the man used to drive around just to look at the beauty of his land. Fame compared the property to the face of a woman crowned Miss Virginia.
“Now place a tattoo over her face,” Fame said. “It might be a wonderful tattoo, well planned out, but it just doesn’t belong there.”