Attorney: Don’t bypass denser housing

Published 9:21 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Suffolk attorney whose areas of focus include real estate, says the city’s comprehensive plan should allow more multi-family housing just outside the Route 58 bypass.

Whitney Saunders told the Planning Commission on Tuesday the city is at risk of squandering its only opportunity to concentrate population density either side of Suffolk’s most important piece of infrastructure.

More multi-family housing should be available for current and future workers in the city’s commercial and industrial precincts, he argued.

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“The infrastructure to support that kind of development, in most instances or in many instances, is on both sides of the roadway,” Saunders said.

A “tremendous” amount of developable land exists west of the bypass sections of routes 58 and 13, he said. “I think what we are going to see in the not-too-distant future … (is) continued development of commercial parks in those two areas,” Saunders added.

“We currently don’t have significant multi-family development to support those commerce parks close to those nodes. We are not providing the kind of housing that is going to support those commerce parks.”

Higher density close to the “ring road,” Saunders said, would also divert it away from secondary roads less able to carry it. “If we are going to designate job growth in those areas, we need to designate housing that’s appropriate, as well,” he said.

City planners said they are proposing to build flexibility into the plan that would allow multi-family housing in large sections of the area Saunders referred to. They pointed to three areas around Turlington Road, Godwin Boulevard, Reids Ferry Road and Lake Kilby Road.

The areas would allow consideration of multi-family housing on a case-by-case basis, Planning Director Scott Mills said. “That’s proposed to be added to somewhat address that issue,” he said.

But developers — who he often represents on planning issues — would need to jump through too many hoops, according to Saunders. “I’m not sure that that the flexibility that has been built in with that … amendment would allow you to move forward if you met that definition, without having to come back to you and the City Council for both a comp plan amendment and a rezoning,” he told commissioners.

Commissioner James Rountree said the comprehensive plan is reviewed every five years and could be tweaked later. Commercial growth “has slowed down quite a bit,” he observed.

But Saunders said that approach runs the risk of pushing multi-family housing away from current infrastructure, adding that higher-density development cuts down on suburban sprawl and environmental problems.

The bypass “is not going to be recreated,” he said. “If you don’t use it for the underlying purpose of this exercise, then it’s gone. You don’t have that chance again.”

Commissioners eventually voted unanimously to recommend the plan’s approval, without Saunders’ suggested revision, to City Council, now set to take it up Feb. 18.

Among other business Tuesday, commissioners also recommended approving conditional use permits that would allow development of a hot-mix asphalt plant and concrete crushing facility straddling the Suffolk-Chesapeake line in Pughsville, and a U-Haul business off Hampton Roads Parkway.