Council vote showed arrogance, contempt

Published 7:19 pm Saturday, December 20, 2014

Given the opportunity to leave their last City Council meeting with grace and humility on Wednesday, three ousted council members chose instead to demonstrate a breathtaking level of arrogance and contempt for the people of Suffolk.

In voting to approve a conditional use permit for a 144-unit apartment complex on Bridge Road, lame-duck councilmen Charles Parr, Charles Brown and Jeffrey Gardy — along with Councilman Curtis Milteer — chose to ignore the recommendation of Suffolk’s planning department staffers, the unanimous vote of the Planning Commission and the pleas of some Suffolk residents who attended the City Council meeting.

Instead, they supported a developer from outside the city who had been unable to market the property near Bennett’s Creek under the zoning designation that existed when he purchased it, and instead of heeding the wishes of the people of Suffolk who were opposed to the apartments, they chose to mollify a group of business owners who also have no personal ties to the city.

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In short, they metaphorically thumbed their noses at the people of Suffolk, except their noses weren’t involved, and they used a different digit to make the gesture.

When the developer tipped his hand about the apartments last spring during his initial request to have the property rezoned from its Office and Institutional designation to a Business designation, council members made a big deal about telling citizens there was no chance of apartments being built on the property.

In June, Parr said in an interview with the Suffolk News-Herald, “I won’t support any type of residential element.” In an apparent attempt to cover his bases during Wednesday’s meeting, he asked the developer if he’d describe the apartments as a commercial use. Parr’s attempt to gloss over the fact that he was utterly breaking a promise made to the people of Suffolk was a clear indication of the disdain he holds for the electorate and an example of why that electorate overwhelmingly turned him out of office in November.

Gardy claimed the council’s hands had been tied in the process, noting that the property was zoned B-1, a designation that allows apartments with conditions. But if council was shackled by the B-1 zoning, it had placed the shackles on its own hands with its vote in November to rezone the property from Office and Institutional. Gardy’s claim on Wednesday was disingenuous, at best.

Even Councilman Mike Duman, who opposed the project in the 4-2 vote that approved the conditional use permit, was surprisingly tepid in his opposition to it, considering his statements in the spring that apartments on that property were “not going to happen.” Explaining that he was going to vote against the project Wednesday, Duman then pivoted and thanked the developer “for coming to our city and for doing business.”

Duman further stated that he had been hoping the developer would have brought a plan for the property that included “maybe a little less residential and a little more commercial” use. In interviews since then, he has praised the developer as a “very reputable developer who I believe will have the best interests of the citizens in mind to ensure a quality project is built.”

But the question was never about whether the project would be done well or whether some apartments would be appropriate there. The issue was whether any residential use of the property was appropriate, and the preponderance of evidence showed that it is not.

Council’s actions regarding this property are a sad reminder of the reasons the people of Suffolk so often suggest that City Council cannot be trusted to do what’s right for the city, much less what its members promise they’ll do.