• 66°

Councilmen have opinion on growth plan

Editor’s Note: City Council approved the revised growth plan described below Wednesday night after the News-Herald’s deadline.

A “focused growth” plan presented to Suffolk City Council Wednesday afternoon came under sharp attack from one council member who claimed it “left people of color behind.”

The plan, part of the city’s effort to update it’s comprehensive plan,

outlined changes to current zoning that would guide growth decisions in the city for next 20 years.

Representatives of the planning department and URS Corporation, which was hired by the city work on the proposal, presented their recommendations at Wednesday’s city council work session, a day after it received the endorsement of the city’s planning commission.

According to Bill Cashman of URS, the plan increases from four to six the number of development zones in the city. The current plan includes Agricultural, Rural Estate, Urban and Suburban designations. The new plan maintains Agricultural and Rural Estate, low-density areas that make of about 84 percent of Suffolk’s 430 square miles,

but expands the remaining zones to include Suburban, Inner-Ring Suburban, Core Support and Mixed Use Core, with density’s ranging from a low of one to four units per acre in Suburban to up to 30 units per acre in Mixed Use Core.

Cashman said existing zoning would accommodate the changes with few alterations.

He said the current comprehensive plan accommodates about 14,000 additional residential units in the city, while the proposed focused-growth approach would accommodate about 26,000 units.

He said the proposal would accomplish the following: More compact building design, provide a broader range of housing opportunities, create walkable communities, preserve agricultural and open space, create distinctive, attractive communities, produce a variety of transportation options and strengthen and direct development toward existing communities.

Cypress Borough Councilman Charles Brown took issue with the proposal’s recommendations for the area south of the downtown area.

The URS plan called for limiting development along the Carolina Road corridor compared to an earlier proposal submitted by Urban Design and Associates.

Specifically, Brown was concerned that the Skeetertown area had been left out of the plan.

“I think it’s very important that we all grow together and right now, you’re leaving out people of color in the plan,” Brown said, “and I’m very disturbed about it.”

Brown chastised planners for “wasting money to present something to council that is tainted.”

Councilman Curtis Milteer also saw the area south of downtown being left out of future plans for growth.

Milteer questioned the lack of any future “mixed development” zones south of downtown to the east of Carolina Road near the Suffolk Airport.

“I am hoping we are willing to give people of different areas in this city a chance,” Milteer said. “People to the south of downtown will need downtown; people up on Route 17 might go about their business and never even see downtown.”

Speaking for the city’s staff, Scott Mills said, “Our staff needs to go on and refine this … we want to meet with council members Brown and Milteer and see if there is anything we can do, and see if there’s something we missed.”

The URS plan does call for residential and commercial development between Hosier and White Marsh roads, along with construction of a connector road between Hosier and White Marsh, as well as construction of another road from about the point of the Route 58 Bypass to White Marsh.

The UDA plan had called for allowing up to nearly 3,800 single family residences, as well as an additional east-west connector. The revised plan reduced that number to 1,300 and added another 150 on Turlington Road.

Principal Planner Robert Goumas told council members the reason for the changes were to reduce costs associated with road construction, going from more than $100 million to $58 million, and to alleviate other infrastructure costs like schools and utilities. Goumas also said the original plan could encourage “leapfrog development” and sprawl, which the comprehensive plan was designed to avoid.

Another point of concern for members of council is having the city’s future residential growth outpace industrial and commercial growth, resulting in what a couple of members referred to as “a bedroom community.”

Councilman Calvin Jones said, “We need three new schools as it is right now, and I don’t see how we’re going to be able to do it.

It is possible to grow yourself broke.”

“I prefer more economic development over more residential growth,” said Councilman Leroy Bennett,.“The people that live here are already burdened down with taxes as it is.”

No action was taken on the proposal. Once city council adopts a plan, community meetings and public hearings will be scheduled to gather public input. Mills said January was the expected date for the council’s final action.

Cities are required to update their comprehensive plans every five years.