Smart to take it slow

Published 9:06 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Discretion turned out to be the better part of valor for the Suffolk Planning Commission on Tuesday. After a lengthy public hearing, members tabled a decision on whether to recommend rezoning property for a huge warehouse and distribution center along Holland Road.

Especially in light of current economic conditions, planners were under significant pressure to recommend that the city allow the company, Chicago-based CenterPoint Properties, to develop the $325 million warehousing center. The city’s economic development office estimates that CenterPoint’s project would create more than 2,000 jobs and result in $3 million in new real estate taxes. And the company job-creation numbers are even higher.

With unemployment on the rise and in the face of huge state-level budget shortfalls that are already resulting in some government services being trimmed, it would not have been surprising to find planners thinking of CenterPoint as a gift horse that should not be examined too carefully. The company’s proffer of $3.46 million to help upgrade Route 58 to handle the increased traffic that would result from the facility made careful consideration of all sides of the issue even harder.

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But $3.46 million is a small portion of the estimated $94 million it would cost to widen the three-mile section of Holland Road to three lanes in each direction, and Suffolk has no other real funding commitments in place.

Planners were smart, then, to put the matter on hold for 90 days while developers and city officials work to see if they can get the state or federal governments — or even other developers — to step up and commit funds for the improvements. Without getting those commitments prior to approving the CenterPoint project, the city could be left with a huge traffic problem and a huge bill that nobody wants to share.