Council must revisit family transfers

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2004

During Wednesday’s Suffolk City Council meeting, speaker Dennis Godwin could not have been more right when he blasted the governing body for putting a family in the position of putting their personal affairs on the table in public to request a variance from the Unified Development Ordinance, pertaining to family transfers.

It seems that Valerie Robinson and her husband bought a parcel almost 4 years ago to build their dream home and subdivided the property in accordance with family transfer guidelines, which also stipulates that the property cannot be sold for 10 years.

As fate would have it, the Robinsons, both military and anticipating retirement, learned that they would be stationed in Alaska due to Homeland Security measures taken after 9-11. Unable to maintain two homes, the Robinsons need to sell the Crittenden Road property. Valerie Robinson spoke, in tears, before council pleading to be released from the family transfer restrictions, an animal that has haunted the city on many occasions in prior years.


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Amid mounting criticism, council took action in the 1990s when they found that people were abusing the family transfers provision, selling off lots that ultimately resulted in unanticipated demands on the city for municipal services. The 10-year rule was intended, officials say, to slow the rate of development and keep speculators out.

This is a good thing, but council must apply common sense as well as sound government practices in the process.

Councilwoman Linda Johnson rightfully apologized to Valerie Robinson that she had to make a trip from Alaska to approach council on such an issue that impacted her family. Considering that the Robinsons obviously had no control over Uncle Sam’s call to action and certainly did not foresee it, there should be exceptions in the family transfer guideline for crystal clear scenarios like this, especially given the area’s large military population.

Also, Johnson is to be commended for her request that city council give family transfers another look with regard to the 10-year rule.

&uot;I want to apologize that local government has entered your life to this degree,&uot; said the councilwoman. &uot;10 years is a burden. A lot can happen in 10 years.&uot;

And indeed it can.

Council has a responsibility to not only set policy that sounds good on paper, but to carefully calculate the cost for all Suffolk citizens. It’s a no-brainer that the Unified Development Ordinance and the family transfer provision are flawed.

It’s time to stop talking about it, and just fix it.