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Growing smartly

Suffolk is going to grow—rapidly– whether we like it or not.

Every Suffolk resident needs to give thought to the oncoming population increase, as it can substantially affect everyone’s quality of life.

We have the opportunity to define our own future, but the process of defining the future is always fatally flawed when attempted in a vacuum without facts or, even worse, with incorrect information and assumptions guiding the process.

Currently there are two views of Suffolk’s future.

The first, and most reckless, calls for virtually unlimited growth for housing, few restrictions on property use, and lowered taxation seemingly without regard for community needs.

This view is championed by, a) people who do not understand the actual costs for the city to support each new home, which does not provide nearly enough tax revenue to cover the city services it requires and, b) developers who profit from home sales but pay none of the long term costs of supporting these new homes they have built.

This was the path taken by Virginia Beach and Chesapeake for the past 30 years and the good citizens of those cities have paid for this recklessness with increased traffic and congestion, overcrowded schools, overburdened infrastructure and strained budgets.

And ironically, this increase in demand for services eventually leads back to higher taxation and substantially lower quality of life.

The second vision of Suffolk’s future is one clearly rooted in facts, rather than incorrect assumptions, and one that is much more likely to lead to a satisfactory outcome for the citizens of this wonderful but rapidly growing city.

Suffolk needs to continue development in carefully chosen zones and continue to restrict development in its large rural and agricultural areas.

It’s OK to develop and grow, as long as it’s planned growth, as exemplified by the Harborview development in north Suffolk.

There, growth was carefully planned and carefully managed.

We also need to continue to support the creation of homes for people of all income and household types within areas already supported by existing infrastructure.

This is seen in the restoration of older homes, “infill” developments and the Fairgrounds project about to break ground in downtown.

The city also needs to continue to encourage pride and growth, and to fund community development in smaller existing communities such as Holland, Whaleyville, Eclipse, Chuckatuck.

Even if we remain true to the Comprehensive Plan and do not open the city up for any more development, we’re still going to grow significantly.

In 2004 the city of Suffolk had 5,292 residential units in the pipeline (already planned and approved for development in some fashion).

These units are predicted to be completed at an average of 1,038 units per year under current plans.

For the future there are already another 10,251 residential parcels zoned without applications yet for development.

These numbers add up to a combined 15,543 potential new homes being built in Suffolk over roughly the next fifteen years.

This represents relatively aggressive, but controlled growth; growth that is manageable.

To add more development to what’s already in the pipeline, however, would be irresponsible, at best.

Some ask, why should we limit development, why should we not allow anyone with land to build as many houses as they can sell on lot sizes as small as they want to divide?

In 2004 dollars each house constructed in Suffolk cost $9,318.00 in capital improvement in areas such as schools, parks and recreation, libraries, municipal buildings, fire and police services.

Using the average 2004 house tax assessment, it would take 3-4 years for each house just to break even in paying its way.

If the growth of development is not controlled, then the cost of running a city spirals out of control.

The best example of this is Chesapeake, which has seen explosive growth in population and housing and is now so strapped for money that it has had to turn to large-scale private donations in order to fund its schools.

That’s not an example we want to follow.

These calculations assume building homes only in areas currently zoned for residential development.

The costs for developing large numbers of homes outside of current residential zoning, with the added expenditures for water, sewer, and road construction, would be greater by millions of dollars each year.

All this and the city of Suffolk is supposed to keep lowering the tax rate and providing all of the increases in services its citizens keep demanding?

People should not fall for the misconception that tax revenue is increased by residential development in a city without greatly increasing costs.

Much has been said, most of it not based in fact, about the seeming bias towards certain areas of north Suffolk and downtown in regards to city expenditures.

What these critics don’t reveal is that for each dollar spent in a high density, commercial laden area the tax revenue generated is several times the initial investment.

On the other hand, money spent on low density areas actually loses far more than it creates in revenue.

By creating income growth with low cost investment in certain areas, the availability of funds actually increases sooner and makes the funding of more difficult and less cost effective projects in other areas likely much sooner, which is what every citizen wants, if they know the facts.

Marcus Pollard works and resides within the city of Suffolk.