Planning commission puts projects on hold

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The two most contested topics to come before the Suffolk Planning and Zoning Commission in the last couple months were back for discussion yesterday, but the group tabled them again in hopes that better solutions might be found.

Roger A. Leonard, of RSR Development Associates, Ltd., requested a conditional use permit to build a helicopter landing pad across the street from the Suffolk Executive Airport. He would use it for both private and commercial activities, including helicopter flight training and charter/sight-seeing trips over the Great Dismal Swamp.

The request went before the Suffolk Planning Commission last month, but commissioners tabled it to allow the Airport Commission a chance to weigh in on the project. That group, at its Dec. 12 meeting,


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voted 4-1 to recommend the planning commission not grant Leonard a permit. They cited safety, noise and economics as their main concerns with the plan.

Many of those same opponents reiterated their worries to the Planning Commission

yesterday. Though it was not officially a public hearing, commission members agreed to let those interested have three minutes to speak.

Several people, including airport and planning commissioners, said they would rather see Leonard build his helipad within the Suffolk Airport. He has maintained that he has tried for five years to do so, but, for reasons unknown, has been blocked.

However, in an expected twist yesterday, Leonard asked that the Planning Commission to consider tabling his request because in the last few days the city manager and the director of Aviation Facilities have indicated they are interested in talking with him about getting the helipad in the airport, he said. They plan to meet Jan. 9.

The developers of Obici Place hit the same roadblock as last month: traffic safety concerns.

Developers hope to turn 27 acres on the old Obici Hospital site into a mixed-use development with 250 residential units, 126,800 square feet of commercial/office space, and a 42,000 square foot multiplex cinema complex, as well as a restaurant, bank and two-story parking garage.

Most all the commissioners agreed that project would be good for the city, but the resounding cries of the dangers of U-turns from residents of the Northgate Neighborhood had a few of them questioning the developers’ efforts to improve the safety of the design.

Last month commissioners sent them back to the drawing board, suggesting they meet with city planners and area residents to find an agreeable solution. But residents said all the developers and city staff did was try to convince them that U-turns are a way of life.

The developers maintained that there is no other way to arrange the homes and businesses, and that adding medians, left turn lanes and U-turns at stop lights would actually make the road safer for Northgate residents than it is now.

Some commissioners agreed, but others, including Ross Boone, wanted to see more of an effort. So far developers, staff and residents have reached agreements on other issues, such as drainage, lighting, a new pump station and access for emergency response vehicles.

“I’ve seen real progress, and there may be more progress out there if we give people a little more time,” Boone said.