Let commission do its job

Published 10:42 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

At the very end of the Nov. 19 City Council meeting, a motion was made to decrease the size of the Planning Commission from 14 to 7 members, effective Jan 1. Some council members expressed support, but others questioned the need to rush to judgment on this issue, and a vote was deferred until the December meeting.

Was this done to save money as purported? Possibly. If this was the case, though, you would think that it would be part of a comprehensive review of funding for all Suffolk boards, commissions and agencies, not just the Planning Commission.

A much more likely explanation can be found in what happened at the monthly Planning Commission meeting the day before.

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The controversial CenterPoint warehouse/distribution project on Holland Road was presented to the commission, which decided to table a decision for up to 90 days. They worried that the project has a potentially fatal flaw.

The project will add an estimated 10,000 vehicles a day, many of them trucks, to an already congested, high-accident area of Route 58. What convinced staff to finally recommend approval was the developer’s pledge of $3.8 million toward an estimated $90-million road improvement project in the area.

Commissioners wisely pointed out that this pledge would be meaningless, unless funding for the other $86 million is secured. Given Virginia’s long list of approved but unfunded road projects, this additional funding is far from certain.

Whether one agrees with approving the CenterPoint project or not, it is clear the Planning Commission is taking a prudent, reasoned approach to this decision, with the safety of Suffolk residents a primary concern.

To attempt to hurry this process along because certain council members are determined to ram this project through with or without road improvements would be a travesty. Imagine a judge trying to dismiss half of a jury in midtrial, because he can sense by the questions they are asking that they are leaning toward a decision that he would not agree with.

The U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent this type of abuse of power with a system of checks and balances. The Planning Commission is an important part Suffolk’s balance.

If it is determined that Suffolk cannot afford the relatively small stipends that 14 citizen Planning Commissioners earn, then so be it. But please let them serve until the matters they have already begun investigating are resolved.

If you ever attend or watch their meetings on TV, you will be impressed with their dedication and knowledge. I would guess that many would continue to serve for free. Then the council would have to think of another excuse to fire them.