What does Opal look like in the near future?
Probably not a whole lot different if the Virginia Department of Transportation gets its way, say some supporters of the recently filed Opal Gateway project.
Last week, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors tabled a vote on the application which – if approved – would include, among other things, a medical center, hotel and RV park.
It also includes a re-zoning and the addition of 83 acres into the Opal Service District.
The project, to be built on the north side of U.S. 17 near U.S. 29, has been widely critiqued by VDOT in recent months.
So much so, in fact, that the VDOT Culpeper office representative Dan Painter came to both the work session and public hearing last week to give his views on the matter.
Painter's opposition to the project is highly unusual, said both Opal Gateway representative Joe Wiltse and Cedar Run Supervisor Lee Sherbeyn.
Sherbeyn, who favors the project, made a motion to delay the vote so that he may talk a little more to VDOT about its concerns.
"I don't have a dog in the fight, but I need to know what's going on, and how to fix it," said Sherbeyn, who said some of the information he's received in the past from Painter has been incorrect.
"We have been confused for months about this," Wiltse added. "They [VDOT] didn't start this way with us. Their attitude when we first sat down with them was...very professional, very thoughtful, which is what I normally had with VDOT. I have never had a project with as little impact be brought out to this level."
According to the county staff report, VDOT sees current northbound U.S. 17 as eventually just a frontage road because of future improvements planned for that section of the road.
VDOT has also expressed concern that the development would spur motorists to turn left off U.S. 29 to get to the development on 17 as opposed to using the nearly finished $46 million Opal interchange.
Motorists who use the interchange could access the commercial property directly off Fayettesville Road; however, Fayettesville would be eliminated when and if the northbound lanes are reconstructed, according to the county staff report.
"We may have to change the pattern on Route 17 North if the development is built," Painter told the board Thursday.
Currently, there is nothing in VDOT's Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan referencing any plans to change or improve northbound traffic on U.S. 17, where current delays are much less frequent than those traveling southbound on 17 from U.S. 29.
The Fauquier Times have called and emailed Painter several times but did not receive a response in time for this story.
Center District Supervisor Chris Granger, who is concerned about proffer conditions and the overall tax revenue benefit of the project, said the developer and VDOT need to work it out before he's ready to cast his vote.
"It's like you got one party speaking Greek and one party speaking Italian," Granger said.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of Wednesday's Fauquier Times.
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