Planners green-light new funeral home

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of a new funeral home on East Washington Street.

Metropolitan Funeral Service, which owns a chain of three funeral homes in Norfolk and Portsmouth, is looking to expand its business to Suffolk with a new facility on the corner of East Washington Street and Suburban Drive.

The 4.4-acre site currently is undeveloped. The business plans a 17,544-square-foot funeral home and crematorium along with a 10-car garage and a caretaker’s apartment above the garage.

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No one spoke in opposition to the plan during the public hearing, but Commissioner William Goodman had several concerns about the plan. He was the only vote against it.

“I’m a little concerned as to whether those residents who live out there are really aware of the enormity of what was about to take place,” Goodman said, noting he had not seen a sign alerting passersby of the hearing along East Washington Street. There was one on Suburban Drive, and Planning Director Scott Mills said one was issued for East Washington Street but that something may have happened to it.

Goodman said he was concerned about traffic in that area, as many nearby residents cut down Suburban Drive to get to a grocery store and other businesses on Portsmouth Boulevard.

“They’ve really taken a beating out there as far as traffic is concerned,” he said.

But Mills responded that a traffic impact analysis showed no concerns. The funeral home will have one entrance each on East Washington Street and Suburban Drive.

The funeral home plans to use permeable pavement and install rain gardens as part of its plan to mitigate runoff, the planning department added.

Also on the agenda, the commission voted unanimously to table for 30 days a request for an exception to allow a property owner to demolish a house and construct a new one, along with a new in-ground pool, within 100 feet of Bennett’s Creek.

Corey Cutright said the house on the property, constructed in 1954, isn’t worth rehabilitating. He hopes to construct a new home on top of the existing basement.

He also plans to take out two trees, an oak and a poplar, one of which he said is unsafe because it is large and leans toward the house.

Given that the lot sits on a peninsula, the vast majority of the lot is within 100 feet of the water. The only part that is not is a narrow portion toward the very front of the site, which is not suitable for a home, Mills said.

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act mandates against development within 100 feet of the water. However, exceptions can be granted when the exception would not confer special privileges that have been denied to others, the exception request is not based on conditions that are self-created, and it is the minimum necessary to afford relief.

Exception requests that do not encroach into the 50 feet nearest the water and that promise landscaping to improve water quality are more likely to gain approval.

Mills said since the lot was created and the original house built before the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, the first two conditions are met. A requirement to reduce the surface area of concrete around the pool, which planner David Parks called “excessive,” will be included and makes the request the minimum necessary to afford relief, Mills said.

Five people, all nearby residents and one who said he was representing the Friends of Bennett’s Creek group, spoke in opposition to the plan.

“If you grant this exception, you may be opening yourself up to a lot more requests,” Elizabeth Eberwine Johnson said.

After saying he was uncomfortable making a ruling without seeing the property, Commission Chairman Howard Benton joined a unanimous motion to table the request for 30 days.