Planners table subdivision

Published 2:35 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The city planning commission postponed a vote on a massive new subdivision development Tuesday with the expectation that city staff, developers and nearby residents will get together to hammer out concerns in the next two months.

A public hearing on the proposed Four Farms development drew four speakers against the project, with more opponents sitting in the audience.

“We have a number of concerns about the proposal,” said Fred Taylor, an attorney with Stallings and Bischoff who is representing nearby property owners. “This is not the kind of change that must be taken lightly.”

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South Suffolk Properties, LLC, hopes to put about 2,000 single- and multi-family housing units and 164,000 square feet of commercial space on 462 acres south of downtown. The development would be situated between Hosier and White Marsh roads.

It would include space for office, grocery and retail establishments, a variety of parks, lakes and open spaces, and a 19-acre site for an elementary school. The development could attract more than 5,000 residents when completed in 2018.

Traffic congestion topped the list of planners’ worries, but nearby residents also cited the character of the area and a struggling housing market as concerns.

“I am very concerned about the scope and magnitude of the proposed development,” said Todd Morgan, a White Marsh Road resident. “I question the ability to sell and fill” the development’s homes and commercial buildings.

The developers are offering to provide the school site, to extend public utilities to the development from Carolina Road and to construct a new roadway to serve the development’s residents. In addition, the developers have proffered an initial sum of nearly $24 million for middle school and high school capacity, more firefighters and police officers and library resources.

Lori Locklear, also a White Marsh Road homeowner, said the development was exactly what she had feared when purchasing her home.

“We didn’t want to buy in Suffolk for this exact reason we’re sitting here today,” she said, adding that she now wishes she had looked to neighboring counties for a home. “This is a bad idea to do this at this time.”

The development’s master plan calls for two entrances on Hosier Road and six on White Marsh Road. The traffic study also showed the two entrances on Hosier Road would carry about 70 percent of the development’s traffic.

Recommended actions in the developer’s plan include coordinating the signals along East Washington Street and constructing improvements to existing roads. In addition, a new connector highway between Hosier and Carolina roads could reduce traffic on East Washington Street.

Attorney Whitney Saunders, who represents the developers, attempted to mitigate traffic worries by presenting a study that shows that traffic in future years will be just as bad without the development as with it.

City traffic engineer Robert Lewis, however, still could not recommend approval of the project, he said. Referring to a letter-grade system used to judge the service the roadway system gives travelers, he compared the developers’ traffic study to a child struggling in school.

“We probably all played those games with our parents when we were growing up in school,” he said. “Is a D that’s just barely passing the same as a D that’s almost a C?”

Lewis presented a simulation study he conducted with the developer’s own model, showing planners how the lines of vehicles “literally fall off the map” in only a few minutes of running the model.

“We’ve erred on the side of caution,” Lewis said. “At this point, we don’t feel we can endorse this study.”

The matter was continued to the Nov. 16 meeting. In the interim, developers, neighbors and city staff should meet to discuss the issues surrounding the development, planning commissioners said.