Apartments approved

Published 10:36 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2014

After months of saying they wouldn’t vote for a 144-apartment complex on Bridge Road, some members of the City Council did just that on Wednesday, passing a conditional use permit request on a 4-2 vote.

Council chambers were full of people both in support of and in opposition to the request. Those who opposed it were stunned after the vote.

“I don’t know why they have staff and a Planning Commission if they don’t listen to them,” said Kittrell Eberwine, who has been among those leading the charge against the development.

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He referred to the fact that staff recommended denial of the project, and the Planning Commission twice voted unanimously to deny the project.

The site at 3345 Bridge Road was initially planned for an office park, but market conditions have not materialized to make that a reality, the developers have said. Only one building has been built, and even that one has vacant spaces.

Those who spoke in support said the area needs rooftops to support businesses. Development on the Route 17 corridor “has been less than optimal for our businesses,” said Alison Dodson Anderson, who owns three properties near the development. She promised that if the development were not approved, “We will suffer as property owners and as businesses.”

Opponents said in Wednesday’s public hearing that the site is not the right place for a residential development. They are concerned about traffic, about children living between a high-speed roadway and a waterway, and about the general character of the area.

Developer Sam Cohen said there will be an aluminum fence separating the development from the water.

Councilman Roger Fawcett blasted his fellow council members for changing their thoughts on the development.

“Some of you sat here and said you would not see apartments done, yet we’re going to sit here and make a motion to approve,” Fawcett said after Councilman Charles Parr had done just that. “This is the most unconscionable thing we could do for this piece of highway. This is absurd, folks. I hope the citizens out here give you an earful. Where are your principles and standards at?”

In June, Parr said in an interview with the Suffolk News-Herald, “I won’t support any type of residential element.”

He appeared to try to work around that statement when he asked Cohen on Wednesday if he considered an apartment complex a commercial venture.

In response, Cohen noted the roads and trash collection are done privately and that the development will bring in more tax revenue than the current plan for office space.

Some opponents of the apartment complex noted Cohen contributed campaign money to Brown and Parr.

In addition to Fawcett, Councilman Mike Duman voted against approving the apartments. Brown, Parr, and Councilmen Curtis Milteer and Jeffrey Gardy voted for them. Mayor Linda T. Johnson recused herself, because the developers received funding from TowneBank, where she was formerly on the community board. Councilman Lue Ward did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.