Growth plans formed at retreat

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 17, 2002

The Suffolk City Council walked away from its three-day retreat in Hampton on Saturday with plans to help the city get a better grip on its rapid growth.

Even with the city’s Unified Development Ordinance, the city has been gaining an average of 950 new homes annually for the past six years, Assistant Planning Director Cynthia Taylor told council members on Friday. Most of that growth has been in the northern and downtown sections of the city.

Both the UDO and the 2018 Comprehensive Plan call for 600 to 800 new homes to be built in Suffolk each year.

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&uot;We currently control where the growth occurs through our land-use policies and regulations,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;But we do not control how fast it occurs.

&uot;We can accommodate a certain rate of growth but not one which continues to exceed 600-800 dwelling units per year.&uot;

The additional development puts additional strains on existing public facilities, including schools, libraries, roads, and the like. A city official suggested that one way to that would help absorb some of the problems is to begin having developers pay for providing those services.

If the high rate of growth continues at its existing rate, Suffolk’s 28,000 households could double in 10 years, City Manager Myles E. Standish said.

Other tangible goals established by council include:

*Moving ahead with plans to build a $5 million library in northern Suffolk. The 25,000-square-foot library will be going on four acres on Harbourview Boulevard. The site, which is a total of 15 acres, would have plenty of room left for parks, an athletic field of other public uses.

At the same time, council opted to continue its search of a site for the new downtown library. Although the two were supposed to be built simultaneously, the lack of sufficient sites in Suffolk has slowed the process down.

*Moving ahead with the renovation of the recently acquired Sleepy Hole Golf Course and the Obici House. Several council members stressed the importance of making sure both projects were done at the same time.

&uot;One is going to complement the other,&uot; said Johnson. &uot;It’s a hand-in-glove opportunity. I think we would be missing a golden opportunity if we didn’t go after them both at the same time.&uot;

*Support for Dr. Larry Gernon’s proposal that the Suffolk Health Department give up its site on North Main Street. The department is looking at several options, including a site for a 25,000-square-foot building along the East Washington Street corridor.

&uot;Our current site probably could be of more value to the city as a commercial property,&uot; said Gernon. &uot;Our site on North Main has outlived its usefulness.&uot;

There is also some consideration of the health department and Western Tidewater Community Services Board sharing a building.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett applauded the proposal, saying he supports it because it will bring necessary medical services to closer to the people.

&uot;The concept of one-stop shopping for services will make things a lot more convenient for a lot of people,&uot; Bennett said. &uot;Anytime we can keep services close to the people, this great.&uot;

Even though the retreat was close enough to Suffolk that he commuted home on both nights, Bennett deemed the retreat an overwhelming success.

&uot;I have appreciated the dialogue we have had among ourselves,&uot; he said. &uot;I feel like we’ve respected each other by listening to one another.

Some have questioned why some staff and council member opted to stay one or both nights, several council members were firm in their belief that the bonding between council members is beneficial. Citizens should be willing to foot the bill for council to get away from town, bond and chart the course of the city’s future for once a year, Councilman Charles Brown said.

Typically, the council does just take one annual retreat.

This year was an exception. In August, the council went to the upscale Tides Inn for two days of workshops with a Florida-based facilitator, Lyle Sumek. Whatever the retreat costs, the amount is small when you realize that the council members are charged with overseeing a $220 million city budget, said Brown, who stayed at the hotel both nights.

&uot;Taxpayers should be willing to make that sacrifice,&uot; he said. &uot;All we have is one opportunity to build the city. If we screw that up, everyone would suffer.&uot;

The retreat has been helpful, agreed Bobby Ralph.

&uot;I view this as a continuing education process,&uot; he said. &uot;I feel like we have been able to talk and get a lot of bonding done here.&uot;