Take the right approach to Kimberly

Published 9:37 pm Thursday, August 16, 2012

As it pursues a solution to the frequent flooding that takes place during heavy storms in the Kimberly area, where North Main Street crosses the Nansemond River, Suffolk should take a simple lesson from its recent, highly successful and broadly praised efforts to overhaul the city’s sign ordinance. The lesson? Listen more.

As city officials sought to address what some considered inequities in the application and enforcement of the rules governing the type and placement of signs promoting businesses and residential developments, they held a series of meetings with the people who held arguably the greatest stake in the process, the business owners who use those signs to advertise their products and specials.

Those meetings gave businesses a say in the process and resulted in a sense of shared responsibility for the new ordinance. The new code has passed the muster of Suffolk’s Planning Commission and awaits the approval of City Council, which considered it on Wednesday but postponed a decision until some minor changes can be made to the wording.

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The process for the sign ordinance change is a good model for what should happen during the planning process for upgrades in the Kimberly area, which is notorious for being impassable during extraordinary high tides and heavy rainfall. Suffolk has asked for proposals for engineering studies examining potential solutions to the problem, and it will likely seek federal funding to help pay for any eventual fix that is settled upon.

But no project should take place in Kimberly without the city opening the process to the public, especially those businesses located in the area. Some business owners there have cleaned and refurnished their facilities multiple times in recent years and have learned to prepare for potential floods by using materials and methods that make their buildings easy to repair and restore to service. All of the businesses there have significant investments in real and personal property. And all of them stand to lose money if the road is closed for construction there for long periods of time.

North Main Street is too important as a link to Suffolk’s downtown core for the situation not to be remedied somehow. And it may very well be that there are no solutions to the flooding that satisfy the needs and desires of all the stakeholders. But city officials should work closely with those stakeholders to ensure any solutions result in the very minimum amount of sacrifice possible by Kimberly businesses. The best way to understand how to achieve that result is to listen to what the owners of those businesses have to say.

The approach worked with the sign ordinance. It could be successful in this case, as well.