Achieving balance

Published 9:36 pm Monday, April 21, 2014

Governments of, by and for the people have a responsibility to listen to the people they govern and to give the wishes of those people due consideration when it comes to making decisions that will affect them.

When citizens take the time to attend City Council meetings to register their thoughts on issues that are under consideration by council members, good governing practices dictate that their comments should be given appropriate weight when council members vote on those issues.

But in the end, conflicting priorities among citizens combine with the necessity to consider the needs of the city at large to make nearly any decision by City Council a complicated balancing act. And even the most impassioned and reasonable arguments by citizens who might be affected by such decisions can fail to sway council members seeking to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

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Such was the situation last week when three Suffolk residents asked City Council not to approve a land swap with the U.S. Army. The citizens argued that giving the army 96 acres of vacant land along Carolina Road in exchange for a 12-acre parcel on Bennett’s Creek Park Road would cause problems for people who live near the Carolina Road location, which would be used for an expanded Army Reserve Center.

The Carolina Road property had at one time been slated for use as a city utilities operations center. Suffolk no longer intends to use that property that way, and city officials want to turn the existing Army Reserve Center on Bennett’s Creek Park Road into a recreation center.

Three property owners near the Carolina Road site expressed concerns about access to their properties, drainage on the site, noise and their own property values. But all of those things would have been at least as much a concern with a utilities operation center on Carolina Road. It’s likely, in fact, that the new Army Reserve Center would create fewer such problems.

Suffolk’s fast-growing northern region is an obvious choice for one of the next in Suffolk’s string of recreation centers. And renovating an existing building to the purpose makes far more sense than building something new from scratch. The existing Army Reserve Center is in a great location, near the popular Bennett’s Creek Park, and using it will help Suffolk officials solve multiple problems, all at one time.

Sometimes — and perhaps more often than they’re given credit for — council members have to do the unpopular to achieve a greater good. In choosing to go along with the proposed land swap, over the objections of adjoining landowners, City Council achieved a balance that, while disappointing to the people who lobbied against it, will bring great benefits to the city as a whole. Sometimes that’s the best that can be expected.