One foot on the brake

Published 9:44 pm Friday, October 24, 2008

A decision this week by the city’s Planning Commission to at least temporarily put the brakes on a proposed new North Suffolk commercial development represents good news for smart-growth advocates.

By postponing a decision on support for a mixed-use development near Bridge Road, planners sent a signal to Hampton Roads developers that Suffolk isn’t the anything-goes Wild, Wild West they may have thought it was.

The proposed development would include more than 200,000 square feet of space divided among retail establishments, warehouses, offices, multi-story storage buildings and mini-storage units.

Email newsletter signup

Whether there is an actual need for those enterprises is a question that the market eventually will answer, and the developers will be responsible to their investors for any answer that costs those investors money.

Taxpayers and nearby residents, however, have a right to a pretty accurate assessment of how this and other large projects will affect them, and it is such an assessment that Planning Commission members seek prior to making a decision on the project.

While they still may approve the project, planners took a prudent step on Tuesday by slowing down the process. Had they immediately agreed to recommend a rezoning for the development, they would have encouraged other investors to try to push through their own projects without providing sufficient information to allow informed decisions.

On the other hand, a negative recommendation based on incomplete information would have sent a message that the city acts arbitrarily when it comes to zoning and development, a perception that ultimately could be even more damaging than the Wild West one.

Considering all of the heat and light created by the issue of growth during the current city council and mayoral campaigns, it’s good to see that some government officials, at least, actually think ahead to the potential consequences of their decisions.