Planners deny Bridge Road rezoning

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Viewing a rezoning request that opponents said was no different from the one they had recommended denial on seven months ago, the Planning Commission again voted on Tuesday to recommend denial of a request pertaining to a parcel of land on Bridge Road.

The owners of the 18-acre site at 3345 Bridge Road hoped for a change in zoning from Office-Institutional, which permits things like office parks, to Neighborhood Commercial, which permits things like small commercial buildings as well as some multi-family residential uses.

The market has not materialized for the office park they had hoped to build there, said Sam Cohen, one of the principals. Only one building with seven units has been built, with only five of the units sold and one leased.

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Back in March, the rezoning request was accompanied by a separate conditional use permit request to build 144 garden apartments on the site. But when the plan came before City Council with a recommendation for denial, they made it clear they will not approve a residential use there.

City Council sent the rezoning back to the Planning Commission, where it finally was heard again on Tuesday after being continued a couple of times.

In the interim, the applicants added some conditions onto the rezoning. They include restricted uses, buffering, architectural design and a $3,000 cash payments per unit for school capacity, anticipating students that may be generated by any future residential use.

Cohen noted that the city would receive about 10 times the tax revenue it currently gets if the application were approved.

Local business owner Alison Anderson also spoke in support of the application, saying more people are needed in the area.

But opponents didn’t change their minds. Despite the proponents’ insistence that the rezoning would allow commercial use, the opponents remained concerned about traffic, having children living between a busy roadway and a waterway, and the appropriateness of having apartments on a main corridor.

“You don’t put rooftops on your most valuable parcels of property,” said attorney Whitney Saunders, representing a couple of the opponents. Eight people in all spoke against the rezoning.

George Eberwine, who owns nearby property and used to own the property in question, said there was not enough movement to satisfy him.

“I don’t see any change, other than prettier pictures maybe,” he said, referring to the renderings submitted by the applicant.

Planning Director Scott Mills, responding to questions from commissioners, said the conditional use permit request for the apartments remains at the City Council level, waiting to be acted upon if a rezoning allows it.

The vote to recommend denial was unanimous.

In other business, the commissioners also voted 7-1 to approve an exception request to allow a new home on Ferry Road to encroach into the 100-foot resource protection area buffer, the vegetated area adjacent to the shoreline that provides a natural filter for stormwater before it enters the waterways.

The new home would be built on the site of an existing home that the owner considers too deteriorated to rehabilitate.

Nearby residents as well as the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance had opposed the request. Commissioner Johnnie Edwards was the sole vote against it.