Hold out for the right thing

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, June 19, 2014

It should have been a simple decision.

By all rights, members of the Suffolk City Council on Wednesday should have sat and listened politely to the developers who were asking for a Bridge Road property to be rezoned to allow an apartment complex. And then they should have quickly and judiciously voted to deny the request.

The 18-acre site at 3345 Bridge Road was permitted as an office-institutional park in 2008, but developers built only the first of their planned buildings there, and they’ve had a hard time keeping even that one occupied. In other words, the original development plan — for whatever reason — was a flop.


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Now, what they’d like the city to do is to give them the right to build effectively whatever they want on the property so they can recoup their investment. The problem is that what the developers want to build there would be perhaps the worst possible use of the property.

The 144-unit apartment complex they propose would contribute heavy levels of traffic to an arterial highway, it would add a potentially large number of students to an already-taxed school zone and it would put a residential strip right in the middle of what is expected to be one of the city’s most important commercial areas.

Suffolk’s Uniform Development Ordinance — which was adopted to help deter spot zoning such as that requested by these developers — recommends against apartment complexes and small retail outlets along major corridors like Bridge Road. Suffolk’s planning staff recommended against the request. And the Planning Commission recommended against it, too.

Those three recommendations should have given City Council ample direction on how to proceed when the rezoning request finally came before it on Wednesday. Instead, nearly two hours after beginning the public hearing on the request, council members chose to send the matter back to the Planning Commission for another round of hearings.

It’s hard to imagine just why city staffers or members of the Planning Commission would change their minds about the matter, except, possibly in response to the statement of support implicit in council’s long discussion of how it might accommodate the developer’s need to recoup its investment without permitting an apartment complex.

But the discussion missed the point. It’s not City Council’s purpose to help developers recover from bad decisions. Suffolk is in no position to play the role of the federal government in the bank bailouts. Instead, it’s City Council’s job to make decisions that are best for Suffolk.

If that body found it in Suffolk’s best interest to permit an office park on Bridge Road, then an office park is what Suffolk should get — whether it’s this developer or the developer’s investors that finally bring the project to fruition, and whether it happens next year or 20 years from now.

Considering the wave of growth rolling toward North Suffolk, the city has no need to chase after projects that will not be good for it in the long term. Better to hold out for the right thing a few years from now than to settle for the wrong thing right now.