Four Farms dialogue held

Published 10:33 pm Wednesday, October 27, 2010

About 45 people arrived at a rare Planning Commission work session Wednesday night to have a dialogue on the proposed Four Farms subdivision.

No decisions were made in the 90-minute meeting, but residents, city staff, developers and planning commissioners asked questions and got answers. Five residents who live or manage property near the 462 acres proposed for the development voiced concerns about numerous aspects of the proposal. Traffic congestion again emerged as a chief problem, but other worries included the sagging real estate and employment markets, price range of the new housing, environmental and wildlife effects, and more.

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.

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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.

Area resident Bill Bristow told the Planning Commission he opposes the project for a number of reasons. The U.S. Joint Forces Command employee and his wife moved to Suffolk so they could keep horses on their own land, he said.

“I’m looking at the very real possibility of me and the rest of my coworkers being displaced workers,” he said. Noting the local housing market already has several months’ supply of available homes, that problem will only get worse once 2,000 more housing units come online, he said.

Chris Lowie, the refuge manager at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, said he is concerned about the effects the development will have on water quality and groundwater levels — aspects that could affect the vital ecosystem in the swamp.

Lowie added he had not been contacted by the developers regarding the project.

Though the developers are offering to pay for a new roadway to serve the development’s residents, some speakers felt it should be constructed before a single house is built.

Commissioner Ronnie Rountree agreed.

“I like this project, what it could do for the city,” he said. “But I think we’ve got to get the horse before the cart.”

Whitney Saunders, who is representing the developers, responded to many of the residents’ questions during his time at the podium and also answered queries from the commissioners.

“We have, in my opinion, had a good process here tonight,” Chairman Howard Benton said, summarizing the meeting.

Laurie Locklear, a nearby resident, said she felt the meeting was better than the previous Planning Commission meeting.

“I do feel better tonight than I did at the last one,” she said. Locklear and others have organized a group called Suffolk Citizens for Responsible Growth in response to the development. Representatives from that group also attended Wednesday’s Downtown Business Association meeting earlier in the day and reported a good meeting with downtown business owners.