What are they thinking?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I tuned in to a recent Suffolk City Council meeting on cable and Scott Mills, Suffolk’s planning director, was talking about a mixed-use development community proposed for a 132-acre parcel of land in northern Suffolk, south of Town Point Road and east of College Drive.

This development is to include two hotels, 600 condominiums, and some office and retail space.

Proponents of the project tell us that the new development will bring in $2.3 million dollars a year in taxes and create 2,400 jobs. The developers’ attorney,

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Whitney Saunders, argued that the new neighborhood will not increase traffic in Suffolk because residents can walk to work and stores. Of course, this assumes that every working-age resident of the 600 condominiums will find employment there, and this still fails to deal with the children who have to go to school somewhere.

In any case, Mills told the Council that the existing elementary and high school facilities were adequate to handle the added load for this, but that existing middle school capacity was not. He added that the developers were offering proffers totaling $865,000 to alleviate impacts to Suffolk’s existing education infrastructure. The Daily Press reported that the new development was expected to cost the city $18.1 million during construction and another $6.2 million once it’s built.

Five of seven Suffolk City Council members voted in favor of this project, including Mayor Linda Johnson, who, according to a Daily Press account, stated, &uot;The 2,400 jobs sounds good to me.&uot; She added that school officials may consider opening a magnet school in the new community, and that &uot;This is truly progress.&uot;

Well, let’s just consider this for a moment!

A good rule of thumb in City planning is that for every 1,000 new home building permits approved, another school will need to be built. Thus, this new development will require 60 percent of a new school.

If you use the cost of Suffolk’s most recent high school, Kings Fork, built at a cost of $46 million, our City Council just voted for new home construction that will create new school demand of $27 million in facilities alone — not staff! Thus, when we add this to the $18.1 million Suffolk taxpayers will pay for this project during construction, and the $6.2 million upon completion, it appears that Suffolk’s Council just voted to endorse a project that will ultimately cost city taxpayers another $51.3 million!

Of course, I don’t want to forget about the developers’ inconsequentially miniscule, one-time proffer payment of a fraction of a million dollars to reduce the impact on education facilities! And for all this investment, the City might collect another $2.3 million a year in added tax revenue-while adding another 1,200 vehicles to our roads!

What were they thinking?

How quickly we forget!

Suffolk voters booted two of our City Council members out of office while a third hung on to his seat with well under 50 percent of the vote because the opposition vote was spilt. And why did this occur? Primarily because city property owners were sick and tired of the Council’s support of grandiose Suffolk growth schemes funded on the backs of residential property owners and fueled by housing assessment increases of over 20 percent for 4 years in a row — and never by either the businesses or developers/builders enriched by this growth.

Of course I would argue that the real impact on the community for a new home is $15,000 per bedroom-or $27 million for 600 new condominiums! Ridiculous? I think not. This is barely

enough to cover the added educational facility infrastructure to support the new population without considering new road-volume needs.

So why does the Suffolk City Council allow Terry-Peterson companies, the developer of this new project, to get away with a proffer of $865,000

— or $1,442 per new condominium, or-assuming three bedrooms each — only $480 for each new bedroom added to our community?

Go back and review this past year’s General Assembly debates over road construction funding needs! Hotels and restaurants absolutely refused a receipts tax increase to pay for the road construction they all demanded. They all want more customers, but don’t feel any obligation to pay for the roads needed to bring them in. Similarly, the real estate and development lobby rejected &uot;impact fees.&uot;

Why cut profits with impact fees when municipalities have proven all too willing in the past to pass any and all growth-related expenses on to residential property owners? Our last local election suggests some of us are waking up, but we may need a sequel in 2008.

Big Hint: residential commuters will never benefit one iota from increased road capacity bought by new road construction projects, because businesses and developers know about those road improvements long before they occur and build or expand operations in anticipation of that added capacity.

The result will only be more through-put, more traffic, more homes, more employees damping pressure on increasing area wages, and more customers for businesses.

But an individual’s travel time from Point A to Point B will not be reduced!

Continue to say ‘no’ to all increased road taxes and ‘no’ to new residential projects until those who stand to benefit from the added volume are willing to pay something equivalent to real impact fees!

George H. Mears ME, MBA, CDR USN (ret)


(Editor’s note: This letter was designed to be published in Wednesday’s edition, however, when copied from the email, the wrong information was captured. We apologize to the writer for this error.)