No changes to Foxfield plan

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, June 23, 2011

During the five years since the Suffolk City Council approved the Foxfield Meadows subdivision off of Pitchkettle Road, things have changed pretty radically in the housing market.

Rampant foreclosures, declining equity and falling home values have cut the legs out from under the economy and turned the real estate industry on its head. Developers who had can’t-miss plans for sprawling subdivisions peppered with McMansions financed with balloon mortgages and no-doc loans have watched many of those homes enter the foreclosure market, where they’ve sold for as little as half their previous value.

Having received the go-ahead from Suffolk for its Foxfield development near the end of the real estate boom, Cloverleaf Development was left with what it now clearly considers an untenable plan for 128 single-family homes and 114 multi-family units on the 73-acre property. Company officials have asked the city to amend the permit to allow 30 more houses and to reduce the square-footage requirements and relax the design standards for all of the houses in the development.

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Clearly, the company is going after a different market for the Foxfield development than it originally had envisioned. Company officials can hardly be blamed for angling for the starter homes market, the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak real estate industry. There is little opportunity in the foreseeable future to make money developing a subdivision at a higher price point.

Still, when it considers the issue during its July 20 meeting, the Suffolk City Council should follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission and turn down the request for a change to the permit. Opponents have charged that the change would create a substandard development that offers less money for infrastructure improvements while putting more of a burden on that infrastructure. And they’re right.

The developer has sought a 60-day postponement on the decision to allow for more time to talk with neighboring residents about potential traffic concerns. But the bigger concerns that arise from its request — the quality of life issues raised by opponents and the Planning Commission — cannot be addressed by talk. Those issues are part and parcel of the change request.

In pursuit of the greatest level of fairness and equity, City Council should hold the developer to its original plan. No doubt, that decision would be painful for Cloverleaf Development, but it’s the best decision for the neighbors and for Suffolk at large.