A wise decision

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ever since it opened, the solitary strip of offices that comprises Bennett’s Creek Commons has seemed a virtual orphan on a property that passersby could see had been intended for so much more.

The building stands nearly perpendicular to the road, so any signs that might identify the offices are impossible to see from Route 17. It sits well to the side of the site, nearly crammed up against the property line, while the rest of the site sits empty, except for a bit of curbing installed when the developer had higher hopes for eventually building the remaining office structures in his plan.

Years later, those plans have yet to materialize, having suffered from the ill timing of the recession and having left the site a visible reminder of the high water mark of speculative development in North Suffolk.

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In an understandable attempt to salvage the property, the developer submitted a request to rezone the property from office space to neighborhood commercial and then to get a conditional permit to allow 144 apartments to be built on the site. That request came before the Suffolk Planning Commission this week, and commissioners chose not to endorse it for the City Council, which will hear the request at its April 16 meeting.

The difference between building office space or apartments on the site, which is located near the Bennett’s Creek Bridge, is huge. Office space, for example, would attract fewer vehicles, which would also tend to cause extra traffic on Bridge Road only during normal work hours. Residential apartments would add many more vehicles that would be entering and exiting Bridge Road at all hours of the day and night, significantly increasing the danger of the heavily traveled road in that area. That’s one of the reasons the city’s Unified Development Ordinance discourages residences or strip retail centers near high-speed, high-traffic roads.

Office space also would be likely to have a smaller environmental impact on nearby Bennett’s Creek than would residential units, and a new pod of apartments would add an unneeded burden to North Suffolk’s already overtaxed schools.

The Planning Commission was smart to recommend denial of the rezoning and conditional use permit requests, even if it leaves the existing building on the site forlornly awaiting company. Members of the City Council should heed the wise counsel.